Tales of the legends - The oval ball chasing legal guru The unknown side of Namibia’s Ombudsman Adv. John Walters
The revered University of Western Cape (UWC) did not only produce well-respected academics, but the reputable learning institution has also unearthed a significant number of athletes, notably in the oval ball discipline (rugby).
Amongst the many beneficiaries from that neck of the woods is none other than Namibia’s incumbent Ombudsman, Advocate John Walters.
A protege of the rugby-mad Dr Lemmer High School in Rehoboth, the legal guru also skippered the star-studded Tygerpberg Combined Rugby Fifteen with great aplomb.
Back in the day, a sizable chunk of universities in South Africa, notably the Coloured/Indian dominated institutions threw their weight behind the militant South African Council of Sport (Sacos) under the strongly-worded slogan “No Normal Sport in an Abnormal Society”. The uncompromising sport umbrella body sought to decolonise education, make it a place where students could be educated on their own terms, ultimately for their ends. In that respect, the South African Rugby Union (SARU) created a conducive platform and environment for athletes from marginalized communities to participate freely in the sport without racial prejudice.
Born John Walters in 1956, the likeable legal guru started playing rugby at the Dr Lemmer High School in Rehoboth and continued to chase the oval ball after he matriculated in 1974.
Although he arrived at Dr Lemmer in 1971, “Big John” only started playing competitive rugby in his last two years between 1973 and 1974.
Apart from the school team, students and school teachers from Dr Lemmer would occasionally be teamed up playing against local clubs in the highly competitive domestic battles. Sadly, in those days, there were very few native schools playing competitive rugby apart from Augustineum, Dobra, Suiderlig and Ellah Du Plessis.
With time passing by, the school got a chance to participate in the highly competitive Midlands Central Rugby Union League.
“It was a very tough competition, I had the privilege of playing with some of the finest players of that era during the height of apartheid.
“School teachers Herbie Schultz, Norman Titus, Chrissie Witbooi, Tinie Drostky, the Isaacs siblings Maans and Naughty, James Camm and many others were amongst the most outstanding players,” recalls “Big John”. The majority of the boys were hardly out of their pairs of shorts when they started playing competitive rugby against rugby giants in the mould of Tigers, Kudus, Wycombs, Villagers, Flying Eagles and Katutura outfit Jaguars.
Then, school principal and rugby coach, the late Theo Sawyers was a formidable coach, who not only loved the game but had a deep understanding of the oval ball game.
«Whenever we ran onto the field, we always outwitted our opponents with fitness, confidence and individual skills that were forged into a solid unit.
In his final year at Dr Lemmer, “Big John” played a pivotal role when the hosts played six consecutive matches on a gravel field in a fiercely contested two-day tournament. After a marathon three matches on an opening day, the hosts clinched the first trophy before losing in the final against Ocean Swallows of Luderitz.
“Back in the day, league matches were played on gravel pitches apart from the Augustineum’s lawn turf where we had a whale of a time.”
Dr Lemmer had the rare opportunity to match their strength against the visiting Bergsig High School from Springbok (RSA) at their home ground. The fired-up boys from Rehoboth played the game of their lives.... emerging victors against all odds stacked against them with ‘Big John” leading the victorious side as a proud captain. As a reward for their victory, the players were ushered to Windhoek to watch the great Willy John McBright’s visiting Lion’s team against the lily white South West Africa rugby fifteen in 1974, needless to note which team the boys were shouting their lungs out for.
Experiences gained as skipper of Dr Lemmer rugby team helped “Big John” to shape his leadership qualities. In his own words, he owes a lot of gratitude to those that contributed to the monumental erection of a library for fallen and living heroes entrenched in his legal mind, excuse the pun.
“Big John” broke into the WCU in his second year in 1976 and was a regular starter for the varsity team until his final year of studies.
Despite there being not much rugby played, the Eastern Cape Tour in June 1976 was a memorable one, though the following year proved to be a difficult one after a pair of prominent technical staff members, head coach “Mr A” and inspirational leader Julian Smith, parted ways with the university side.
Fortunately, a certain “Mr Dominee” offered his services to take the boys through the ropes but the players’ morale has already reached low levels while few decided to prematurely hang up their boots.
Nonetheless, come 1978, a new dawn and new beginning as the students raised funds through “scenes” at the campus’ cafeteria and managed to purchase their first set of new playing gear in a decade.
Two years later, “Mr A” returned as head coach at the “Golgota” and things started to shape up again. The old guard of Hennie Botha, Gilbert Reid, Okkie Muller and Chris Rose also returned to the fold.
The team was further strengthened with young blood in the shape of Ronnie Korkee, Eric Sauls, Des Grove, Clive Smith, Seth Strauss (both from Namibia) Greg (Doring) Thorne, Elmo Cupido, Ronnie Mathys, Peter Radcliffe, Vincent Paramore, Richard Kroutz and others. “Big John” was given the honour to wear the captain’s armband, overseeing a good mixture of formidable players that included Hannes Appel and was subsequently rechristened “Kapooza”, in reference to his captaincy.
WCU began to make serious inroads in the highly competitive Tygerberg Rugby Union League. The team went on an astonishing unbeaten run in the first round of league activities while a quartet of its playing personnel including “Big John” made it into the Tygerberg Provincial Rugby Fifteen.
In the same year, WCU defeated the mighty Tigers of Pieter Jooste and Julian Smith by 11 points to six on a rainy Saturday afternoon that saw proud captain fantastic “Big John” lifting the coveted Tygerberg Rugby Union League trophy.
And what made the victory sweeter and memorable was the fact that it coincided with “Mr A”s 50th birthday. “Big John” was subsequently voted chairperson of the club. “In those days, money was a scarce commodity, we approached Pep Stores for funding whereupon the clothing outlet donated a cheque of R25-00. Needless to note that the gesture was turned down with the contempt it deserved.”
“Big John” was amongst three members of the title-winning side alongside Ronnie Korkee and Eric Sauls selected for the Tygerberg combined team that won the South African Cup and I Trophy.
With results hard to come by during 1979 season and failure to reach the playoffs, WCU undertook a fruitful tour to the University of Zululand to participate in the University Inter Games. An outstanding academic, how did “Big John” manage to balance books and sport?
“I played the game to express myself on my own terms and my mind is decolonised having built a monument for fallen and living heroes in my mind, lest I forget.”
Tygerberg Rugby Union was an affiliate of SARU and regularly competed in the annual S.A Cup against other Unions from the Western Province, Eastern Province, KWARU, Boland, City and Suburban Griqualand West, Somerset West amongst others.
At the end of the 1978 campaign, Tygerberg were deservedly crowned the S.A Cup Champions after beating Boland 6-0. The strongly built Namibian also had the distinct honour of playing with some of the finest players such as Clive Thomas, Peter Jooste, Josy Ontong and many others. He cites the latter as a phenomenal player and one of the greatest midfielders in the game. “Believe me, I watched many of them, Josy was in a class of his own apart from the fact that he was also mentored by one of the greatest coaches in the history of South African rugby Millan Peterson.”
Upon completion of his legal studies in the mother city in 1980, “Big John” started working as a public prosecutor in Keetmanshoop, where he joined forces with local club Revolutions.
The well-spoken legal guru was transferred to Windhoek and wasted little time. He joined Western Suburbs. “Big John” was installed as captain of the ambitious Khomasdal outfit and went onto become one of the stars of the side that campaigned in the South West African Rugby Union (SWARU).
However, at the end of the 1986 term, the club decided at its AGM to sewer all ties with the whites dominated SWARU for political reasons. The big frame lock was subsequently elected chairperson of Suburbs in 1987.
Suburbs played few friendly matches to keep the players active, driven by the strong belief that they could no longer play normal sport in an abnormal society, hence the decision to find new shelter elsewhere.
Realising that the team needed to play structured rugby under a recognized union, “Big John” teamed up with fellow teammates Theo Hess, Keith Allies and Ralph September to map out the way forward. The trident spearheaded the inevitable establishment of a rugby union, which sought affiliation with the militant South African Rugby Union (SARU).
Suburbs led the revolution that convinced all other non-whites clubs to throw their weight behind the noble idea, birthing the Namibia National Rugby Union (NANRU).
“Big John” was duly elected as president of the newly formed union while an active magistrate in Windhoek. “We managed to bring the game back to the “Platteland”. It was a joy to watch how communities reacted in those towns.”
The climax of NANRU newly found romance with SARU was without an iota of doubt the historic match between the combined SARU/NANRU and Namakwaland Rugby Union team in Khomasdal in 1989. And even though the combined team lost by a big margin, brotherhood and “king rugby” were the ultimate winners.
Amongst his dozens of accolades, Big John served in various high profile portfolios until 1990 when both NANRU and SWARU were dissolved to form the unified Namibia Rugby Union (NRU).
He was elected vice Vice-President in democratic Namibia under the late Gert Muller but resigned after a year in 1991. Together with Hannes von Holtz and Keith Allies, “Big John” played a big role in the “restructuring” of the National Sports Council.
The retired lock proposed the new name, Namibia National Sports Council, which was adopted until it was altered to Namibia Sports Commission and also served as board member of NSC.
Owing his blossoming sporting career to his loving spouse Althia, family, friends and players loyal to the game that gifted him the greatest of support when athletes of colour faced inequalities, blatant racism and discrimination; “Big John” regrets that it the status quo still remains in the annals of Namibian rugby.
“As a team sport, the game of rugby shaped my leadership qualities. It helped me to achieve the highest accolade of my career, vice president of the International Ombudsman Institute (I.O.I) in 2012 and president of the I.O.I in 2014,” narrated Big John.
2020-06-26 08:47:10 | 16 days ago