Meet Johnny Coetzee
A lifetime in administration has kept Johnny Coetzee (94) interested in politics and the news of the world while he enjoys his days at Le Domaine Care.
He was the town clerk of Westville for 26 years in the days when every town had its own mayor and councillors, and he still reads the newspaper from front to back each day, filling his mind with all that is happenings outside of Le Domaine Care. “That was the way to do things then. It was the English way with each borough controlling its finances and issues. Now we have switched to the American way of having everything under one huge umbrella and that’s why so many municipalities are bankrupt and in trouble,” said Johnny. “There is no provision made for anything and money is spent irresponsibly.”
Johnny’s eyes are not great these days, but he also listens to the radio, another source that taps into his interests in politics and sport. “I have to keep busy and cannot just sit all day. I walk every day, up to the club, where I read the newspaper,” said Johnny. “I enjoy the news, especially sport, rugby in particular, and I am praying the Springboks pick up their game and become a respected force before next year’s World Cup.” Piet Retief in the Eastern Transvaal is where Johnny hails from, “in the olden days,” as he so aptly says. “We were 18 kilometres from the Swaziland border and, as a small town back then, it was a great place to grow up, far away from the big cities,” he said. “I have seen Westville and the Highway area grow through the years. I remember when I first came to Westville it was the place to live, anybody and everybody of importance in Durban lived there, in big houses with properties to match.”
“I am lucky to have Stephanie. Talking and reading keeps the mind active and keeps you thinking right,”
With age catching up, Johnny has settled into life at Le Domaine Care, fortunate to be with his partner Stephanie Thompson. They have been together since 1999 and she provides him with company and someone to talk to. They have travelled extensively and when asked about their favourite places, Stephanie highlights Austria while Johnny, the true faithful, just says Westville. Johnny played cricket and rugby at school and tennis and bowls in later life. He only stopped bowls when he was 86 due to his eyes giving up and not being able to see the white ball. “I played all over Durban and made great friends.
My late wife played bowls five days a week and won numerous tournaments,” he said. A huge advantage in Johnny’s life has been his fluency in Zulu. He speaks the language beautifully, able to converse and laugh with the care centre staff. “Growing up on the farm, I learnt Zulu before I could speak English and Afrikaans. All my friends were the African boys and we played together, in the bush, carefree youngsters, in a world which is just a memory these days,” he said. Besides his daily walks, Johnny also gets out on Tuesdays, heading into Waterfall to enjoy pensioners’ day at the local shopping centre. He craves company, people he can talk to and share his thoughts and views with. “I am lucky to have Stephanie. Talking and reading keeps the mind active and keeps you thinking right,” he said.
He has a son who is a lawyer and a daughter who lives in Canada. He has visited a few times but finds it way too cold.
With such a mind full of knowledge and stories of the Highway area in its heyday, Johnny is one of the few who can still recall those days. There is a twinkle in his eye when he speaks of all the hotels and characters, buildings and people who have long passed into memory, known only to a select few. “Those were the days. Now it’s all about development and changing everything. It’s hard to recognise the towns and villages I knew but, if someone cares to spend time with me, I can tell them many stories which have lived in my memory all these years,” he said.