How we ended up at Frasers
On 1 December 1973 I married the love of my life, Maggie. We decided to go away for the weekend and came home afterwards to discover that my mother had suffered a stroke. My first son made his appearance the following year – we called him Mark. After that we moved to Cape Town where my second son, Michael was born.
I thought Cape Town was going to be a fantastic place to live and work in but after two years we moved back to Johannesburg. Fortunately, a company that supplied coal crushing machines and conveyor belts to the mines employed me and I was rewarded with a salary increase, back pay and a December bonus that year. I bought a white Ford Cortina because we needed a car.
Life seemed very good but in January the following year my supervisor walked into my office and casually told me that I was being retrenched. I had two months to find another job and leave. I recently Googled my old company and discovered that they had been taken over by a bigger UK-based company. I was just considered to be excess baggage.
Well, another door was being prepared to open for me in another country and I didn’t know that. Within the two months given to me I eventually landed a job in Namibia/South West Africa. I was part of a team of “specialists” recruited to identify and count the engineering spares and machine parts at different warehouses at the Tsumeb Corporation mine. My knowledge working at Nortons-Tividale (where I was retrenched) with equipment for the mines and my experience at Chrysler Corporation being responsible for car parts opened that door for me.
Sometimes we are led into situations where we are unaware of unseen dangers. After accepting my new position, we drove with my second-hand Cortina across the country to the border of Namibia. Then up to Windhoek and Okahandja where we had to get a permit to fill the car’s tank.
Imagine Maggie, our two kids and I driving into the night heading North along a road with tall fences on either side and dark, dense bush beyond that obscuring the unknown landscape further away. What didn’t help at all were the rumours that SWAPO insurgents were active in the area at night because they could strike under the cover of darkness and then disappear. So, on we drove all the while feeling brave and scared at the same time.
We stopped at Otavi to sleep in the car a while, but a police van came and stopped next to our car and the officer told us that it was unsafe to be there – we had to leave. We drove even further North in the pitch-black darkness to Tsumeb where we again slept a while in the car. At least we had arrived safe and sound at our destination.
A whole new country and new experiences in Tsumeb and Kombat for two years followed. Many of the locals were German speaking. Our first trip into Tsumeb to look for a loaf of bread was rather confusing because they didn’t seem to understand what we were looking for. Maggie explained that we wanted to fill our hungry stomachs and pointed to a French loaf they said, “Ah! A brechen.” When we rode the bus into town during our two-hour lunch break, the guys on the bus would wish us a blessed lunchtime by saying, “Gesegene mahlzeit.” We soon learned to be polite and speak their lingo.
At the smelter warehouse where I was stationed with David and Peter we worked in very harsh conditions with high temperatures and lead dust covering everything we had to count. To not get lead poisoning we had to wear rubber gloves, special protective glasses for our eyes and respirators. The building we were working in was a corrugated tin structure that amplified the temperature and to add to that we were downwind of the smelter works. The wind mostly blew from the smelter into the warehouse carrying harmful fumes with it. The warehouse yard also had rusty leaking drums marked with cyanide on them and pools of diesel spills mixed with water. Fortunately, we were well-protected with overalls, safety boots, hard hats, and rubber gloves for protection.
When the mine management chose us to work in that place, they probably thought we wouldn’t last working in those appalling conditions. After all, we were “softies” from the city! Well, we lasted there pretty well and at our Saturday morning progress meetings our team was miles ahead of the other guys because our graph on the wall always climbed higher and faster than the others’.
Our little secret was that we often kept ourselves busy by talking about our lives and sharing our experiences. We made jokes and Peter used to wow us with his escapades in Germany. Sometimes it seemed as though we were having more fun than working but on Saturday mornings our progress proved that we were doing things right, so we didn’t feel guilty at all. I think our humour and chatter dismissed a lot of the hardships working in that hellhole of a warehouse.
With not having TV and only shortwave radio there wasn’t much to occupy ourselves with. A favourite pastime was to go for a drive outside of town and view the Kudu buck that would usually jump over the fences and graze next to the road. It was like living in a wildlife park. We also used to drive to the Otjikoto Lake and throw some bread onto the water and see the fish devour it in a frenzy.
Yes, we kept ourselves busy with simple things. Sometimes we were invited over by friends who wanted to check out the “new blood” in their town. Apparently, they had ulterior motives that we were unaware of, but let’s leave it there.
Behind the scenes and unknown to us we were not too far from huge battles being fought on the border with Angola. That was a mere 120 km from where we lived. I can just thank God for keeping us safe while we were there. In 1978 our daughter, Janine, was born in Tsumeb. Maggie felt that we needed to move back to South Africa, but I wasn’t too enthusiastic about that. Fortunately, she won.
When it was time for my annual leave, I drove us all to Maggie’s father’s place in Boksburg. It was the ideal opportunity to look for a job, so I scoured the newspapers for positions. That’s when I ended up driving to D & DH Fraser at Heriotdale for an interview.
After that, I had to drive on my own all the way back to Tsumeb to work a month’s notice before returning to Boksburg and start working at Frasers. We moved to a flat in Benoni. I was faced with the huge responsibility of creating a catalogue which the reps could use when visiting customers.
That must have been in 1979 because my youngest son, Lee-Roy, was born in Boksburg.
Aubrey Silver, whom I reported to, had organized a blanket competition for customers and the winner was in Gaborone, Botswana. The boss’s secretary booked a plane ticket for me to fly over there to photograph the winner receiving a brand new bakkie as first prize.
So, after being a relieving clerk at the Post Office Witwatersrand Regional Director’s offices in Johannesburg, a material controls clerk at Chrysler in Pretoria, again a clerk at the City Council in Cape Town, a contracts assistant at Nortons-Tividale in Johannesburg, a stock computerization specialist at Tsumeb, I became involved in reps’ catalogues, photography and marketing amongst other things at Frasers.
Thus started a new era of my life. What better place to grow in knowledge, experience, friendships, challenges, and opportunities? For those of you reading this article and aren’t aware of what Frasers was all about, I would like to mention that it was such a huge combination of many disciplines that specialized in sourcing products from local and international companies and made them available to consumers so varied that it would boggle your mind. The skilled staff of Frasers were so good at doing this that competitors sought to acquire the company and eliminate this threat to their existence.
I can testify to the fact that our buyers were top notch because I am still wearing a jersey more than thirty years old that Maggie knitted for me from wool she bought at Frasers. It still looks very good, and the wool doesn’t seem to age at all. I also have nail clippers from Frasers and can’t find any that work so well. It’s still as sharp as ever. Just two items of many we bought. We always provided our customers with the best goods and services. That’s why Frasers was such a success.