Personal

I was born on 30 November 1954 in the town of Ndola, Zambia, the former British colony of Northern Rhodesia. I was named Harry after my father and grandfather and given the second name Distin, my mothers maiden name. I have two older sisters Ann and Sue. Ann was born in Johannesburg on 8 December 1946 and Sue in Ndola in 7 March 1951. I was fortunate to be brought up on a farm 11 kms outside of Ndola in the farming area called Misundu.

My parents Harry and Joyce Curtis, whom I loved dearly and much admired, were born in Johannesburg and emigrated to Zambia in 1949. My father had an older brother John, nicknamed Buster, and younger sister Joyce. His parents, Harry and Freda lived in a Crown Mines property in Johannesburg, Harry being a mine manager. My mothers maiden name was Distin. Her parents Arthur and Elizabeth had three daughters, Rita, Edna and my mother, Joyce. My mothers life is recorded on a separate page titled Joyce Peace Curtis – My Mother. Click here to view

My father who worked on the gold mines in Johannesburg, had been persuaded by his older brother Buster, to join him in on the Copperbelt in Northern Rhodesia. Buster had also served on the mines and was attracted by the excitement and adventure of moving and starting a new life in the largely unknown British colony.
Buster started the company J L Curtis Ltd, trading as Reid Brothers & Curtis, a retailer of mining equipment and supplies. The association was with Reid Brothers of the United Kingdom who supplied much of the equipment and spares. The company had also secured the agencies with Castrol Oil and Norton Abrasives.

My father was a very social character and well liked by his many friends. He was very much the outdoor, physical man and it didn’t take him long after arriving in Ndola to accomplish his dream of owning his own farm. He bought the farm, which was owned by the Dominican Convent in Ndola and run as a school for the blind and a retreat for the nuns.
He enjoyed his farm, planting maize, building chicken houses for hens and broilers, maintaining lighting plants and water pumps and having the wild African bush all around him. He maintained the water wells, lining them with concrete pipes to prevent the walls caving in and laid the many water pipes to the farm house, lawns and vegetable garden.

He opened a trading store for the benefit of the local rural Zambians supplying cooking oil, mielie meal, sugar, clothing etc. As children, we spent most of our weekly pocket money, a tickey or thrupence, on sweets – marshmallow fish, gobstoppers and apricots. We were never able to afford a chocolate.

My fathers life is recorded on a separate page titled Harry Curtis – My Father. Click here to view

My primary school years were at Ndola Primary. We wore khaki uniforms with a green and white stripped tie. The girls wore green dresses. I only have wonderful memories of the six years spent at the school. The teachers were good and I enjoyed all the sporting activities provided by the school, namely soccer, cricket and athletics.

My sisters attended the Ndola Dominican Convent for both their primary and secondary schooling. I had the privilege of being brought up on a farm and because of the many interesting and exciting events I can remember, have recorded these on a separate page titled Highlands Farm – My Home.
Click here to view

Concerned about the quality of education in Zambia and the career prospects after school, my parents sent me in 1967, my grade 7 year, to boarding school in Johannesburg St Davids College, the Marist Brothers College founded in 1940 situated in the suburb of Inanda. My parents had corresponded with the school and liased with my mothers sisters, Rita Frank and Edna Duthie who lived within walking distance of the school. I didn’t give it much thought at the time, being too preoccupied with the fun at Ndola Primary and farm life.

It was a tearful departure having to say goodbye to Mum, Sue and Rex, my faithful hound and a best friend. However this soon passed as I was on my way with my Dad, driving to Johannesburg on this new exciting venture. Little did I know how devastated I would be a week later. We had a fun drive down stopping over in Harare to spend a night with my fathers brother, Buster and family. Buster and his family moved to Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe after Zambia obtained independence in October 1964. We spent the next evening at the Ranch Motel in Pietersburg, South Africa and then to Johannesburg. I always enjoyed the company and the fun experiences of being with my father.

We stayed with my mothers sister and her family, Rita and John Frank and daughters Lynne, Diana and Vivienne. The following day we bought school uniforms and other items required for boarding.
We had a brief look around the school on the weekend. On the Sunday afternoon we arrived at the school and met the Headmaster, Brother Anthony after which we went to the dormitory and locker room where I would spend the next 6 years boarding. This would be my second home and the Marist Brothers my foster parents. My first evening as a boarder was 23 January 1967.

My father stayed in Johannesburg for a week before returning to Zambia. I did not enjoy boarding school from day one. I had the comfort of knowing that I would be seeing my father the coming weekend, 5 days time.
I spent my next 6 years as a boarder, matriculating in 1972. I was a keen cricketer and athlete in my early years and really only started playing rugby from grade 11. In my matric year I played for the first rugby and cricket teams and shared the athletic Victorlaudorum having excelled in the shot-put, discus and high jump. I was awarded my honors blazer in 1972 on receiving my prefect, merit and athletic scrolls. Being appointed a prefect and then the awarding of a honors blazer were my most memorable achievements.

Although the comeraderie and friendships that were built as a boarder were valuable, I would have far preferred to have been a day boy in Zambia enjoying the life as a farm boy growing up with my parents. I was only able to be with them for a total of 2½ months a year during the mid year and year end holidays. My father was only able to watch one of the games of sport I played in my entire 6 years, a cricket match in Grade 11. I have very fond memories of my holidays. I would wake up every morning with such excitement, as there was always so much to do. Picking the fruits for breakfast, helping the farm workers, feeding the chickens and collecting the eggs and going for long cycle rides or walking in the bush with my Alsation, Rex and later with Bonnie, were a few of the activities.   Ploughing and fertilising the lands, and then sowing the seeds for the summer rains was always exhilarating.   In the June holidays my father and I would attach the ends of a 50 metre heavy chain to the 2 farm tractors and together pull the chain, driving 50 metres apart and parallel to each other, to flatten the maize stalks after the maize had been picked. The cobs were hand picked from the stalks and put through a maize sheller which extracted the pips off the cobs and shook them into bags. These bags were then collected by the Ndola Milling Company to be grounded into meal. I also loved mowing our huge lawns and remember well, the smell of the cut grass and the beauty of the garden after the lawns were mowed.

I remember at the beginning of a rainstorm, the flying ants would appear from no where and the skies would be filled with swallows and swifts swooping down on their prey. It was a sight to be seen and again the smell of the rising dust when the rains first fell, is unforgettable.
At the end of the day my dad and I would get our golf putters, open a Castle Lager and for about an hour, on a flood lit home made putting green, have putting competitions. These were made quite competitive just for the fun of it. We would often pull out the telescope and search into the star filled skies for any unusual heavenly body.

Boarding school was harsh, not easy to adjust to, coming from a loving environment and experiencing the freedom of farm life. There was no longer any love, privacy and freedom to dream. Bullying was rife and the Marist Brothers were certainly not the caring people you would expect of those having received the religious habit. During the 6 years I was at the school and more so as the years have passed since matriculating, I was and still am amazed at their lack of compassion and support expected of Marist Brothers who had taken their final vows in the service of Christ.

Saying goodbye to my father the following Sunday was traumatic, as I would next see him 5 months later.   The precious letters we wrote on Sundays and those received was my only means of communication.

Paging through the 1967 St Davids College Review Album, I found a photograph of the school choir. There I was, the only picture relating to my past singing ability. The school also had a brass band that performed at numerous parades and functions. Sadly the choir and band activities soon came to an end. As boarders we had no cultural activities. Sport was our only release of energies.

My parents had done their homework and identified Rhodes University, in Grahamstown, as a good institution to study at after matric. Having no idea what career to follow, my parents decided that I should start with a B Com. If I decided to subsequently change degrees, this first year would not be wasted is it was useful for any one to know a little about accounting, economics, commercial law and business management.
I stayed in residence during the 4 years I was at Rhodes, completing the 3 year B Com in 1975 and then completing the Certificate in the Theory of Accounting (CTA) in 1976, a pre-requisite to writing the Chartered Accountant qualifying examination.

My first year was in Jan Smuts House and the remaining 3 years in Cory House. These were 4 great years. I met some wonderful people, had lots of fun, worked hard academically and became extremely fit spending up to 3 hours a day in the gym and running a lot. To increase my strength for field events during the athletics season I was introduced to weight training in my first year. I took to it very quickly and have trained weekly, on and off, ever since. In my last year I had done a 300lb bench press, 420lb squat and 520lb dead lift. I weighed 115kgms.

Whilst at university I would continue to go home during mid and year end holidays. The economy was deteriorating rapidly in Zambia, many of the skilled people having left. There was no point in keeping the farm. My father had now retired from Reid Brothers and Curtis, my mothers arthritis was extremely bad, now having to use 2 crutches to walk around, Sue was married in 1976 and lived in Johannesburg and I was to join my elder sister Ann in Cape Town to start my accounting career and articles. The farm was sold in 1976 and transferred early 1977. I was to start working in Cape Town in January 2007 and my mother and I took the train from Ndola to Johannesburg and then Cape Town where she was to have an operation on her knee.

Driving away from the farm that day was emotional but in my youth not too depressing as I thought I would be back to visit soon. My parents still aimed to live in an apartment in the town for some years, so I would be able to visit the farm again. Little did I know that the next time I set eyes on the land was in 2002, 26 years later.

I completed 6 months articles and then had to complete a years military national service training starting from July 1997. During our 3 month basic training at the Voortrekker Hoogte training base, the national service period was extended to 2 years. I completed my national service in July 1999 having served a short period in Pretoria and the rest in Cape Town at Western Province Command. I served at the internal audit offices of Inspector General and was fortunate to meet many excellent colleques, both national service and permanent force members. Being a graduate, I was fortunate to qualify for the rank of lieutenant. I stayed at the Office Club in the Wynberg Military Base.

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