Home is Where the Heart is

Sunday 29 August 2010: 3 years 11 months on …

I was born on 18 September 1956 in the Provincial Hospital at the top of Merriman Street in Stellenbosch.

Just twenty years later, in 1976, I returned to Stellenbosch – this time to the house Helshoogte, the Stellenbosch University Men’s Residence also at the top of Merriman Street and directly across the road from the Hospital! I had sort of come home.

Prior to that I had matriculated at Hottentots-Holland High School in 1974 where I was the Deputy Head Boy and the Dux pupil of that year. In 1975, I completed Grade 12 at Sulphur High School in Sulphur, Oklahoma, USA where I became the secretary of the Students’ Representative Council and an honorary citizen of the Great State of Oklahoma.

Helshoogte was but three years old when I arrived there. It was a narrow building that had been built on a small piece of land between two existing university residences, Eendrag and Simonsberg. What it lacked in floor area it made up in height. At ten stories high (plus a basement and a water tank on the roof), it was the tallest building in Stellenbosch.  

Literally translated from Afrikaans, Helshoogte means “Hell’s Heights”. It is also the name of one of the many mountain peaks that surround Stellenbosch and give the town its unique beauty. Simonsberg is another of the peaks and Eendrag means “Unity”.

Building on the residence Helshoogte commenced in 1971. It was “christened” by the students of Eendrag in May 1972 when they painted the name “Ellehoogte” on the walls of the building in progress. (This was later changed to Helshoogte!)

The first 317 men students moved in at the beginning of 1973 and Helshoogte was officially opened at a tea party attended by 600 guests on 11 May 1973.

When I was there, we called ourselves “Hellies” or “Helshoogters”. Today Helshoogters are known far and wide as “Hoenders” (Chickens), thanks to a few previous residents of the House who during an initiation ceremony had allowed a chicken to parachute from the top floor to the ground! The House also carries the name Hoenderhok (Chicken run) on occasion!

It is also just called Die Huis (The House) and often that term refers not to the physical building, but to the people who reside within it, and to the spirit and gees of those residents.

Today, a symbolic bright blue chicken is attached to the side of the water tank, a blue chicken is used as a symbol of the house and residents carry the name Hoenders with great pride!


The emblem of the house displays three pillars, depicting the education that one receives at university:  the academic life (the main reason and the tallest pillar), the social life (where relationships play a large role) and the sporting life (where physical development plays a role in maintaining a spiritual balance). It is also about Tria Juncta in Uno, which I wrote about previously in the article with that name.

When I arrived in 1976, we were the fourth batch of students to have the privilege of staying in the brand new house. I was the first child in our family to attend university and it was a sense of occasion. My father was paralysed as a result of a stroke in 1969 (he died in the May of my first year) and my Mom insisted on wearing a hat when she took me to Stellenbosch in her blue Renault 16TS on that first day to attend the first year students’ parents dinner. I was most embarrassed!

Despite the embarrassment, I considered myself extremely privileged (and still do!) to have been able to go to University, to be able to go to Stellenbosch University and to be able to live in that House Helshoogte! Today, many South African youngsters consider tertiary education a right owed to them, and paid for, by the state and for which they have to do as close to nothing as possible!

I arrived privileged, embarrassed and with a bursary from AECI Ltd to the value of R1000 per year payable for three years. That paid my full year’s accommodation fee of R600 (including food, laundry and everything associated with living!), my study fees for a B.Com degree of R250, my book fees of R100 and about R50 for pocket money!

I arrived with the sole intention of studying and not getting involved in any other activities. I deliberately avoided any positions of involvement in any activities. I thought I had had my fair share up to that point.

But I loved Stellenbosh and eventually tried anything to stay just another year! That led to a sojourn at the University and in Die Huis (The House) of six years. And so much for no involvement – I served on many committees including the Rag Committee, the Intervarsity Committee, the Publications committee (Die Stellenbosse Student), the deputy chairman of the Commerce Students Committee and AIESEC, the House Committee and, in somewhat controversial circumstances, became the head of Die Huis, known in Stellenbosch as Die Primarius.

At the end of 1981, I left Stellenbosch, with degrees, diplomas, knowledge, organisational skills, life experience and acquaintances and mates and friends that I have accompanied me on my journey ever since.

Last Saturday, 21 August 2010, I excitedly returned to Stellenbosch and Die Huis to attend a new tradition that was started last year – it is called Pa en Seun Naweek (Father and Son weekend). Current students invite their Fathers to spend the weekend in residence and to attend various functions with them. It is all about relationships and the social pillar of Die Huis.

When sixty Helshoogters toured the Eastern Cape in July, they had invited me to attend, despite me not having a son there. I was allocated a voog seun (guardian son), Schalk Burger from Windhoek in Namibia (who also happens to be the newly elected Primarius for 2011).

Unfortunately, I missed out on the Friday’s activities because I attended Sean’s last rugby match – BODA’s vs DAYPOTS – and the BODA braai back in Port Elizabeth.

The fathers and sons in Stellenbosch had attended Koshuis rugby at Coetzenberg, had supper and speeches in the dining hall, and spent the rest of the evening (and night and early morning!) in the Helshoogte Klub on the 4th floor and at Die Bokkie – a student watering hole in town!

It had taken an hour to fly from PE to Cape Town. I had been given the wrong instructions as to where the group was at that time and so it took me two hours to find them! Eventually I found them and joined the somewhat bleary-eyed group for brunch and champagne tasting at the JC le Roux Winery (home of South African premier champagnes) just next door to the Devon Valley Hotel – what memories there!

From then on, I became Die Oom (The Uncle – as Afrikaans youngsters are taught to address their elders as a mark of respect and endearment) en ons het net Afrikaans gepraat! (We just spoke Afrikaans – even though mine has become a bit rusted over the years, it just comes back from nowhere!) When you think you are still twenty years old and fit in just like any one else there, it comes as a bit of a shock to be called Oom – it just rubs it in that many years have passed by in the interim!

Then back to Helshoogte, where an interfloor potjiekos competition was taking place, watched the Springboks lose to New Zeeland, had a spit braai, were entertained by Rooies ( a portly red headed and red bearded Afrikaans singer – die manne het dit gelike – the guys liked this!) and kept the Club ’95 on the 4th floor going until the early hours of Sunday morning.

Some of the fathers were my contemporaries, and so it was great meeting up with the likes of Noel, Norris, Johan . . .

In our day, that area was our Ontspanningsaal, our games room and TV room. Television had just come to South Africa and that was the only TV set in the house! There, we watched all the programmes on the one channel from six pm, including the Scripture reading, Heidie, Wielie Walie, Dallas, Long Street, The World at War and the singing of the national Anthem when the transmission closed down at 11pm.

We drank there – copious mugs of coffee, then, because alcohol was banned in the house. Now, where our table tennis table stood, there was a fully licensed pub and copious amounts of beer, wine, spirits, shots and shooters are consumed until the wee hours of the night! 

I slept on the 4th floor, too, in A415 – thanks to Willem – which was just across the passage from where I finished in 1981 in the then Prim’s room and lounge at A401 and A402. (Previously, I had lived on the second floor (2A and 2B – “2B or not 2B” was on our t-shirts!) and the seventh (7B) floor. I never got to wear the t-shirt that read “Sexy 3C”!)

I miraculously woke up at 9h30 (not really miraculously, because Willem had considerately set his alarm radio!), just in time for Huiskerk (House Church) and a brunch in the dining hall.

This room brought back so many memories – from meals to house meetings, from Wednesday evening sokkies (where I learned to langarm dans) to formal house dances, from hingsdinees to sing-alongs, from listening to the records (ABBA and Smokie!) on the turntable and tape deck in the music cupboard to tuning in to Radio Matie, from sitting on a brick as a gwap to occupying the prim’s chair at the main table!

In between listening to the sermon about fathers and sons, I must admit that I dozed off a few times and then read the many name boards that now decorate the pillars in the large double-volume room, and which acknowledge the achievements of house members over the last 37 years. Amazingly, although it all feels like yesterday, not one student in the present house was even born when we lived, played and worked there!

On the front wall is a board that displays the names of all the prims and deputy prims of the house. My name is the first English name on the board.

It is the ninth name in the ninth year on the deputy side of the board.

It is also the tenth name in the ninth year on the prim side. 1981 is the only year that displays two names in one year. Numerous theories abound and present students in the house often query that. But it’s really quite simple:

After having been elected as the ninth prim in the elections at the end of 1980, Piet Bosch, in unusual circumstances, did not return to residence in 1981. Thus it was, that Eddie Lunnon (as I was and am known in Stellies) became the tenth prim in the ninth year! Being the first English speaking prim was a cause of some concern in certain quarters of the house.

(Incidentally, my sister, Ingrid, became primaria of her residence, Serruria, in the following year, and so, for a few months, we overlapped our duties, and became the first English-speaking brother and sister duo in Matieland!) 

As then, it appeared to be now, dit gaan goed met die gees in die Huis; altans dit gaan goed met die Huis! (All goes well with the spirit in the House; indeed, it goes well in the House!)

After brunch, I left the House – non-emotional, as on previous occasions, because I had planned to stay in the area for a while, and I was scheduled to come back later in the week.

There was still unfinished business to attend to …

(Thanks to Buys, Schalk, JD, Willem, Miles, Charl, …  and all the others for adding to the memories)