Death has once again robbed the country a pair of noted athletes in the shape of iconic rugby player Heinrich de Waal and former Civics Football Club midfielder Reggie Willemse.
Heinrich, Sop-Sop or Soppies, call him whatever you like but there is no doubting that Soppies loomed large over the domestic rugby scene during the height of political unrest in apartheid South West Africa back in the day. The soft-spoken Swakopmund-born lad was one of the most influential figures in local rugby. His trademark laid-back style, good looks and keen belief that one cannot play normal sport in an abnormal society belies a deep passion for the oval ball game. Although apartheid constantly kept him out of team selection to represent his country of birth in the highly competitive Sport Pienaar and Currie Cup competitions – Soppies made up for that lost opportunity when he was the only player from north of the Orange River to represent the rebel Namibia Amateur Rugby Union (NANRU) at the South African Rugby Union (SARU), under the auspices of the vocal South African Council on Sports (SACOS). Soppies was a vital cog in the local rugby machinery and finally got the recognition he so dearly deserved after he was unjustifiably denied by the skewed selection policy under the apartheid regime.
The speedy winger was among the first set of players to represent a truly non-racially picked Namibian Rugby XV, when he turned out for his beloved country against the visiting Zimbabwean team marking Namibia’s Independence celebrations in 1990.
There’s a growing concern that Khomasdal outfit Civics Football Club is cursed following the upteenth death one of the club’s stalwarts. Former attacking midfielder Reginald Willemse lost a long battle against diabetes joing a long list of footballers from the Civilians who have gone West while still at the pinaccle of their promisng football careers. The latter was the old man of football sensation Kokorot Willemse.
SWAKOPMUND - Many coloured children growing up in the Cape Strand Township, one of Swakopmund’s most populated residential areas in years gone by, were dictated by circumstances beyond their control to chase an inflated piece of leather in the form of the beautiful game of football.
At the time, the most famous footballer in the country was Hermann “Pele” Blaschke, also known as “Kaffertjie” amongst his circle of friends.
He went onto enjoy a successful career with South African glamour football club Kaizer Chiefs and also had a succeessful career in America in later years.
Blaschke is probably the country’s most successful football export, albeit not in monetary terms but on the field of play.
Soppies was indeed a latecomer to the world of rugby as he began life in sport as an accomplished footballer and sprinter of note in the 100, 200 and 400-metre sprints at school level where he called the shots from his primary school days until high school.
The speedy Soppies was the undisputed champion at the Tamariskia Higher Primary School but met his match in the form of fellow noted sprinters Ludwig Ndandu and Wolfgang Erich.
As it tunred out, the pair made him play second fiddle in the annual SWAIKS Games and had to be satisfied with a 3rd place finish. Soppies enrolled at the Technical College Academy for Education in Windhoek in 1981 where he continued to combine football and athletics with great aplomb.
The multi-talented lad played as a striker for the Academy football team and would occasionally shift between the goalposts to man the sticks, if the situation demanded.
In the meantime, his late brother-in-law Ossie Campell persuaded him to try his hand at rugby and as they say, the rest is history. Soppies joined Western Suburbs Rugby Club starting out as hooker for the Khomasdal-based outfit.
“Suburbs had great players led by Karel “Hier Kom Hy” Persendt, Corrie Mensah, Peter Boonzaaier, Nimrod Williams, Keith Allies, James Camm, Clive Smith, Ray Maasdorp and the Walters brothers Gordon and Melwyn.
“I had difficulties breaking into the first team,” revealed Soppies during an interview with New Era Sport before his untimely passing.
Within a short time, Soppies was duly selected to represent the TISAN rugby team in the South African Athletics Championship in Bloemfontein in 1986, but he was eliminated in the heats in the presence of South African sprinting sensation Wessel Oosthuizen, who swept the boards.
Upon completition of studies, Soppies joined Rossing Uranium Mine and was immediately thrown into the mix of things when he was pitted alongside the legendary Frank Fredericks, Abraham Soa-Oabeb, Lucky Gawanab, Leon “Hare” Carew (late) Herman Garus-Oab, Giddies Gawanab and Patrick Basson (late) representing the star-studded Rossing athletics team in the highly competitive annual Chamber of Mines Games.
He was founder member of Dolphin Rugby Club and continued his fragile rugby career at the Swakopmund-based outfit until he eventually got to grips with the tough and demanding rigours of rugby - cementing himself a place in the first team’s starting fifteen.
The lightning fast Soppies was deployed as hooker for the team’s first few games before he was converted to a winger because of his amazing speed.
“There were many great teams competing in the Western League. The competition was very tough but we had a fairly good team and competed fiercely against our opponents.
“We also introduced the popular annual Day of the Dolphin, attracting lots of non-white teams from as far as Mariental, Keetmanshoop and Lüderitz,” recalled Soppies. May his soul rest in peace.
Being subjected to second-hand citizenship by those at the helm of Namibian rugby, Dolphin and other non white teams broke away from what they labelled racist South West Africa Rugby Union.
The disgruntled clubs formed the Namibia National Rugby Union (NANRU) with the muc despice slogan, “We can’t play normal sport in an abnormal society,” in reference to the prejudices stacked against players of colour.
“There were hopelessly too many injustices and prejudices, including preferential treatment when it come down to selection policies, deliberately biased refereeing and all sorts of oppressive and discouraging decisions. Truth be told, NRU had two different sets of rules, one for darkies and another for larneys.”
He became a regular figure in the NANRU Invitational Rugby XV under the auspices of the South African Council of Sports (SACOS).
Soppies represented the union against several South African provincial sides from the breakaway South African Rugby Union (SARU) touring palces such as Johannesburg, King Williams Town, Saldhana, Upington and Guguletu, Cape Town.
Soppies was amongst very few players of colour to feature for Henning Snyman’s “Biltong Boere” during Namibia’s Independence Celebrations in front of a large crowd at Windhoek’s Independence Stadium in 1990.
However, Soppies’ promising international rugby career was to be short-lived when he was mysteriously grounded after featuring for the Namibian shadow team in 2 test matches.
“Make no mistake, Namibia had a very good team with Andre Stoop, Gerhard Mans, Mannie Grobler, Shaun McCully, Bassie Buitendag, Casper Dirks, Sarel Losper and Arra van der Merwe doing a magnificent job.”
“Nonetheless, I still believe I was good enough to make the team but the selectors thought otherwise, so I just had to live by it.”
Despite the disappointment of being left to kick his heels in frustration following his omission from the national team – Soppies took solace from his involvement with his beloved Dolphin Rugby Club. He went onto enjoy immeasurable success in the domestic league.
The seasiders won a sizable haul of league titles in the 1st division and several club tournaments. Soppies succumbed to illness and was laid to rest at the Tamariskia cemetry in Swakopmund, last weekend. May his soul rest in eternal peace in one piece.
Go well Reggie
The late Reggie Willmese was a highly gifted midfielder with ambitious Khomasdal outfit Civics FC. He will be best remembered for his long range cracker against cross town rivals Ramblers in a fiercely contested Premiersh league match under flood lights at the latter’s stadium in 1991.
Reggie played an instrumnetal role in the Civilans’ unavoidable transformation to professionalism when the club was in the care of football cray Austrian Helmuth Scharnowsky.
Civcis enjoyed a great run in the domestic league – claiming an astonishing trio of back to back league titles in the process. May his soul rest in peace.
2019-01-11 10:38:19 5 days ago