Personalities of the Past Part 2

F J van der Merwe

Dr F.N. Bonsma served as chairman from 1961 until 1964, to be followed by dr W.A. Verbeek with mr J.A. van der Merwe as vice-chair and prof. D.M. Joubert as secretary. We must remember that in those days and for many years after, we had a chairman and an honorary president, who usually was one of the elder statesmen and kept himself pretty much out of sight until the annual congress when he had to deliver a presidential address.

Verbeek and Joubert were, as stated in the first contribution, two of the three 'fathers' of the society and the journal. J.A. (later dr Koos) van der Merwe, who is introduced at this stage, was no Van der Merwe joke. He could also be termed a pioneer, but of another kind. While Verbeek and Joubert started their careers in the Department of Agriculture and played leading roles in the department and, in the case of Joubert, in the university for most of their working lives, Koos van der Merwe was a pioneer of another kind. After his university training he ventured out into the cold, hard, then much maligned, world of the feed merchant and became instrumental in firstly bringing much needed science into that fledgling industry in the 1940's and 1950's and secondly bringing the industry into the realm of the fledgling SA Society for Animal Production in the 1960's. His was a tremendous contribution until he met an untimely death at the hands of highjackers at a time when this heinous crime was much less common than now.

The conception and birth of the SA Society for Animal Production came about in the following manner:
While Danie Joubert and George Hunter (our embryo transfer pioneer at the University of Natal) were post-graduates at Cambridge University in the 1950's, working under the world famous livestock physiologist Sir John Hammond, Wim Verbeek was on a similar mission in the USA at Cornell University doing post-graduate work in livestock nutrition under J.K. Loosli, whose wonderful textbook, Animal Nutrition, still takes pride of place on my shelf. On his way back to South Africa via London he visited his South African colleagues at Cambridge and there, in a little pub, the three of them conceived the idea of a South African Society for livestock scientists or veetelers as they were more commonly known in those days. The designation veekundige (livestock scientist) was coined in South Africa in 1960 at a symposium in Pretoria. All three young scientists were then members of, respectively, the British Society for Animal Production and the American Society for Animal Science and they were particularly impressed with the roles of these societies and their corresponding scientific journals in the research, teaching and extension fields. Our motto Experiencia docet, which literally means 'we teach from experience' was probably also born out of their convictions in this regard.

In furthering their aims of founding a society and a journal in South Africa the three founders made an extremely important strategic breakthrough when they convinced, against some initial resistance, the influential dr F.N. Bonsma, then Director of Animal Husbandry in the Department of Agriculture, to make himself available as first chairman of the board. In this way the Department, which was the main employer of animal scientists at the time, was enlisted with its resources from the very beginning. For the first years all board meetings were held in the departmental offices in the V-buildings in Beatrix Street in Pretoria. From the start also, departmental employees who became members of the society, were assured of official funding for attending the annual conferences and other meetings.

As a prerequisite for his support, F.N. Bonsma insisted that membership be restricted to those applicants with a minimum 4-year B.Sc.-Agric. with veeteelt (livestock science) as major. This was so stipulated, which led to the exclusion of three 'interested and affected' parties viz veterinarians, technicians and livestock producers without a B.Sc.-Agric. As it is, the leading livestock scientists in those years were acutely aware of and even sensitive to the fact that their veterinary colleagues enjoyed statutory protection and the advantages of a professional society and journal. There was a strong urge amongst livestock scientists to 'catch up' and for that reason the basic four-year degree was strongly emphasised.

The late Danie Joubert's contributions to the founding and further promotion and development of the society and its journal can never be overemphasised. He had the broad vision, the scientific acumen, the single minded determination and the boundless self-sacrificial energy coupled with a wonderful sense of human relations, to lead the project to fruition over a number of years. At the same time his main career objectives were pursued with equal determination and dexterity, bringing with it top senior positions in the Department of Agriculture, the CSIR and the University of Pretoria of which he became vice-chancellor and rector. He not only served his chosen profession in animal science with distinction but also brought many honours to it.

The late Wim Verbeek spent the first part of his career as an animal nutritionist at the Agricultural Research Centre and college in Potchefstroom. From there he was transferred to the departmental headquarters in Pretoria where he distinguished himself as administrator and eventually became Secretary for Agriculture (now called Director-General). At heart he remained a livestock scientist for his entire working life, serving the society directly in various capacities, including chairman in 1964-'65, always furthering, where possible, the promotion of livestock science and the cause of the livestock scientist.