Herman Charles Bosman’s legendary character, Oom Schalk Lourens, opined that the art of storytelling was to pause, tap your pipe on your boot heel, and know what to leave out.
Not being Bosman I never know what to leave out. In fact, I hardly know what to leave in.
The Aboriginal people of Australia have a wonderful gift of telling it in the shortest, most expressive patois. For instance, they express admiration for a fellow man thus: ‘Tellum story Big Fella.’ In their inimitable way a Big Fella is not a very large man. A Big Fella is a man universally admired, liked and lauded in their culture. Who is to argue with a people who roamed Australia for thousands of years before Captain James Cook stumbled across Botany Bay?
In our UCT rugby culture there is one such ‘Big Fella.’ His name is Basil Bey, and like so many men who qualify for the title of ‘Big Fella’ he dislikes being lauded and applauded. We, his contemporaries at UCT and in the grandest game of all, rugby, are a cunning lot. In order to celebrate Basil’s 80th birthday and to gather together in one place as many of the compatriots who starred in the UCT rugby teams of 1960 and 1961, plus a few of us who trailed in the wake of that illustrious band of brothers, we called upon another ‘Big Fella’, Louis De Waal, to organize a gathering to celebrate life and fellowship before our maker taps us on the shoulder.
On April 6th 2016, Basil’s actual birthday, Louis, in collaboration with a handful of other rugby folk, organised a splendid venue, False Bay Rugby Club, complete with excellent tucker and liberal libation; and somehow persuaded almost 70 men and ladies to join in the celebration of Basil’s birthday and the UCT teams of 1960/1961.
The fellowship between UCTRFC and False Bay Rugby Club is a special one, which goes back to the 60s when UCT luminaries like Louis De Waal, John Benn and Basil Bey joined False Bay after leaving UCTRFC. Many prominent UCT rugby players followed over the years. Louis De Waal has been president since 1981. Basil Bey coached the 1972 False Bay team which won the Grand Challenge that year.
As usual I digress, but with good intention. The big day dawned and the weather was fitting. The sun shone on the gathering, and showed up the lines and wrinkles of experience and passing time since the men who made up the UCT teams of the early sixties were very young men.
It took a woman to best sum up the magic and mystique of rugby. Miranda Devine wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald (courtesy of the best little book ever written about rugby: ‘How to watch a game of rugby ‘- by Spiro Zavos):
‘You can never understand rugby unless you’ve watched it played by six-year-olds on cold winter mornings on hard suburban football grounds. You can never comprehend the absurd spectacle of grown men running to and fro for 80 minutes hurting each other and getting dirty in pursuit of a little oval ball unless you have watched little boys in junior teams play the game. It is how they learn to overcome fear and pain. It is how they learn to be noble, for the good of the team, to voluntarily subsume raw individual ambition and submit to the rules of the game. It is how they learn to be men.’
It is heartwarming that so many UCT rugby men of that era, accompanied in many cases by the remarkable ladies they met and married in the sixties, made the journey to False Bay Rugby Club. I hope I am correct in quoting Basil when I say that 13 of the players in those two teams were present. If I am wrong Basil will excoriate me in his terse style. I leave the words to your imagination.
Starting where all good teams start, the mighty front row of Basil Bey, Rob Bertram and Andrew Sass, lined up for another scrum. The lineout supremo, John Rushmere, still tall and trim, but minus his mop of hair, was a very welcome visitor from Port Elizabeth. Kalfie Horn and the Silent Assassin, Gert Liebenberg, plus Louis De Waal, made up the loose forwards. David Barrow and John Benn were the halves, Mike Gillies, Piet Olivier and Zed Tomes, the rest of a potent backline, still going strong. That splendid hooker come doctor, Peter Folb, popped in briefly. We all wish him well.
It was also a good time to remember those still around but not present on the day. They include Fanus Du Toit and Richie Dollar.
Sadly, a few fine men have been tapped on the shoulder. They are Frank Duk, Geoff Holmes and Lloyd ’Feets’ Ferreira. Other great UCT rugby men such as Louis Babrow and Tom Hamman were sorely missed. We also remember Ivan Nurick with affection.
So much has been written about Basil Bey as a player, an inspirational captain, coach at schools, at senior club level, provincial level under 20s and at the ‘Purple People Eaters’, plus as a selector of players, that I need Oom Schalk Lourens to tell me what to leave out.
I was saving the next piece for another tribute to a special UCT sportsman of that era, John Rushmere, but John’s has captured the magic of Basil Bey, rugby captain, leader, astute judge of eliciting the best out of men, so eloquently, that his story of the ‘Coetzenburg Clash’ of 1961 is fitting for this tribute. John recalls as follows: A Memory.
‘Imagine the change room under the stand at Coetzenburg; 15 Ikeys tense and silent; Louis Babrow, their much loved coach, leaves to wish Stellenbosch a good match. He returns full of mirth to announce a sure omen of success… The Maties were on their knees praying, led by Ben-Piet van Zyl, their Springbok wing and aspiring dominee, hoping for a bit of help. Louis begins his team -talk; the whistle sounds beckoning us into the tunnel. Louis finishes his team- talk, and boots can be heard on the concrete… The Maties are ready. Basil begins one of his famous and epic team-talks. The whistle shrills a second time; Basil continues; the Matie boots are a background rumble; a Matie student wearing a cap enters with exhortations to move ass. Kalfie Horn jumps into action, grabs the intruder by the proverbial scruff of his neck and seat of pants and throws the unfortunate messenger into a toilet door across the passage. The combined slams of the toilet door and the change room door both induced by our hero reverberate in the hush that follows. Basil continues; the rumbling boots seem agitated; a third time the whistle shrills, accompanied by a knock and the voice of Piet Calitz is heard inviting the Ikeys to cooperate. Basil finishes and we all finally ‘cooperate.’
The Ikeys have won the toss and have the ball. After the stirring “ Gaudeamus”… they break up, throw the ball around as at a practice, and Frank Duk has a couple of drops at goal, all watched by a bewildered Matie side ready and waiting for The Big Kick-Off and Big Charge. It did not happen! The Ikeys kicked blind, the ball rolling unprotected deep into Matie territory. The rest is history, True Story by one who was there.
Four days late, on May 31st 1961, we became a Republic.’
What a wonderful story. I get goosebumps reading John’s evocative account of the prelude and opening stanza of that never to be forgotten game of rugby. It was a full house at Coetzenburg that day, and if memory serves me correctly, that other legendary ‘Big Fella’, Ian Jones, walked on the roof of Coetzenburg, transfixing all of us weaving his perilous way along the dizzy heights.
On reflection I suggest that we honour Jan Horn with a special commendation and award for his selfless act of devotion and magnificent cheek by creating a ‘Kalfie Horn Award’ for subsequent and future Ikey rugby players who perform an inspirational act before or during an Ikey game (Ikey games are all BIG GAMES).
In another wonderful rugby book, ‘The Book of Fame’, written by Lloyd Jones about the astonishing 1905 All Blacks, he describes the synergy of a great rugby team as follows:
Team member Freddie Roberts says:
‘That’s another thing’ says Freddy;
‘Think of us as fifteen sets of eyes,
pairs of hands and feet attached to
A single central nervous system.’
So many of us have our ‘Basil stories’ that it requires a more eloquent scribe to capture the man I affectionately call ‘ Bey Pasha.’ As one who is proud of his cosmopolitan heritage; Basil Bey- Rhodesian born, Greek father and Afrikaans mother, bestowing a title traditionally associated with the Greek’s arch enemies, the Turks, I am treading on glass, barefoot. The title is also associated with the ancient Persians who gave much of note to the world; and the British adopted it for no less a man known as Gordon Pasha; Gordon of Khartoum. It was the equivalent of a Knighthood. So, I boldly bestow the title on ‘BEY PASHA.’ The Maori greet folk they respect with the words; ‘Kia Kaha.’