Thursday, March 17, 2022


 Dear Readers,


After a year in Post Matric I went to Natal University in Pietermaritzburg to study Agriculture with no fixed idea of what to do afterwards.  Having scraped through Botany, Zoology, Chemistry, and Physics I changed course and went to UCT to complete a BSc degree majoring in Zoology, Botany and History.

Two years at Lincoln College, Oxford followed and these were magical and unforgettable.  I was fortunate enough to have a few games for the University cricket team with the only first-ball duck of many years of playing cricket being a low-light.  It wasn’t too much of a disgrace in that it was against County Champions, Surrey, and it was Alec Bedser (who Don Bradman had selected in his all-time-great cricket team) who had me caught at leg slip off a devilish off-cutter.

In 1957 I married Alice Hofmeyr, her brother Gys had been in Founders matriculating in 1949 having played centre in the 1949 first XV, often rated as one of the really great Bishops rugby teams.  Alice had been head-girl of Herschel in 1953, and taught at the Dragon School in Oxford in my second (calendar) year.  I duly completed a BA hons in Modern History which enabled me to get a job at Hilton College teaching History and Biology. I coached the U14A cricket side which had the highly talented Mike Procter opening the bowling - off the wrong foot, but most effectively.  After two years I returned to Bishops to teach, which in hindsight was probably an error and after two years I answered a Union Corporation (a prominent Mining House) advertisement in the Argus inviting applicants with University degrees for managerial training.

Mike and his wife Alice

To leave teaching was probably a good decision and Union Corporation top managers were very nice people to work for.  Aware that gold had a limited life, the Mining Houses at the time were looking to diversify, as Union Corporation had already successfully done in starting SAPPI.  When the work I did on the proposal to invest in the Durban shipping company, African Coasters, was accepted, I was sent to Durban to work under Murray Grindrod to ‘gain practical experience’.  African Coasters bought out its two rival shipping companies to form Unicorn Shipping Lines; and I stayed for 20 years, ending as Deputy Managing Director.  These were the challenging years of the introduction of containerisation, the revolution which transformed the shipping industry world-wide.  We had some 30 ships and traded from Lourenco Marques to Walvis Bay and established services to Chile, Brazil, the Congo, Mauritius, Sri Lanka, Iran and Israel.  I was then transferred to Grindrod and Company as MD.  Grindrod had several companies: Ships Agents, Stevedores, Sea Freight, Air Freight, Travel and Container consolidators.

For various reasons and at the age of 53 I resigned and took on the task of turning-around Freddie Hirsch, Bizerba Scales, a Cape Town company that was in poor shape.  With the aid of a brilliant Financial Manager we reduced the number of debtor’s days dramatically and soon posted good results. This was a signal to move on and move overseas to run Safmarine’s clandestine off-shore operations in Antwerp.   This involved the cruise ship ASTOR (which we sold to the Russians), 22 refrigerated ships running bananas from the West Indies to the UK, a container leasing company and one or two other shipping ventures. This was the time of heavy boycotts against South African companies and our Antwerp operating companies were all centred in the Caymen Islands where we had to go from time to time for Board Meetings, keeping it all strictly legal and most favourable tax-wise.

Mike speaking to Private Eye Jon Abbott in his hey-day

My final move was back to Durban to head up the SA Sugar Association, which undertook all the common activities of the Cane Growers and the Millers such as the five experimental farms, exports, marketing and liaison with the Department of Trade and Industry where the Minister had to be encouraged to control the tariffs against mainly Brazilian competitive sugar imports. The Deputy-Minister was David Graaff whom I had taught at Bishops. This was the time of great political change in South Africa.  My role included preparing the Industry for the new dispensation and I invited leaders like Trevor Manuel, Alec Erwin, Jacob Zuma, Dr Frank Mdlalose, Dr Ben Ngubane and others to address the Council.

Eventually I retired to Hermanus in the year 2000 where, together with two friends, I was involved in the start-up of the Overstrand Hospice.  After a few years as Chairman I became Honorary Life President so as to be on the letterhead to give credibility to the role of getting financial contributions to purchase properties for the offices and, importantly, for the Shop.   This enterprise has been hugely successful and their free services provide specialist care for an average of 69 terminally ill patients in their own homes at any one time.




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