Personalities of the Past Part 3

F J van der Merwe


In this third year of the 21st century, when the centenary of the Rhodes scholarships was illustriously celebrated in Cape Town and at a time when the once brilliant agricultural economy of our neighbouring country is sadly lying in ashes, it seems more than fitting to think of and pay tribute to a bunch of past SASAP personalities whom I would like to identify as "the Rhodesians". If any of them should read this I should very much like to hear from them because I had the highest regard for them and the stirling work they did in the support and promotion of sound livestock agriculture in their part of Africa until about 20 years ago. We can just imagine how they would have been able to boost the ideals of NEPAD in that part of Africa today!

The second President of SASAP was Dr Eric Romyn and in this capacity he attended the second annual conference, in Stellenbosch in 1963. Like most of the " Rhodesians" to whom I am going to refer, Dr Romyn was born in South Africa. He was one of the first students at the Grootfontein College of Agriculture where he distinguished himself as Dux Student in both the junior and senior years in 1912 and 1913. He was then awarded a government bursary for overseas study and went to Ontario Agricultural College at Guelph in Canada where several of the first South African overseas students in agriculture also qualified. After military service in World War I, he returned to North America where he earned M.Sc and Ph.D. degrees at the University of Illinois. After a stint in the Department of Agriculture in South Africa, at Cedara and in the head office in Pretoria, he went to Southern Rhodesia as Senior Animal Husbandry Officer to build up the animal husbandry section. In 1946 dr Romyn was promoted from Chief Animal Husbandry Officer to Secretary for Agriculture and Lands, a post he held until he retired in 1953, just before "Federation".

Dr Romyn prepared the ground and laid the table for the growth and development of a strong contingent of researchers and specialist advisors in Animal Science working at the University of Rhodesia and Nyasaland and the Henderson- and Matopos Research Stations. Led by C A Murray, J C Raath, R C (Dick) Elliot, T H (Tilney) Vorster, J H H (Laurie) Lourens and J D G (Johan) Steenkamp, the Rhodesian animal scientists joined actively into the proceedings of the SASAP as well as in their own Rhodesian Branch of the SASAP. At various times, Dr Vorster, Dr Steenkamp, Dr Elliot and Laurie Lourens served as fully elected members of the SASAP Board and sometimes a special representative of the Rhodesian branch on the Board was designated as such. If I remember correctly, the last Rhodesian Board member was Dick Elliot in 1981 - 1982. However, after many of them returned to South Africa they remained active in SASAP matters. One such name that comes easily to mind is Frans Naude.

Two full annual SASAP congresses were held in Rhodesia i.e. the 5th in 1966 and the 12th in 1973. Both were well attended, by 146 and 195 members respectively. I attended the 1973 congress as vice-chairman of SASAP and had the pleasure of listening to the excellent presidential address delivered by animal scientist and former Rhodesian and Federation Secretary for Agriculture Charles Murray, as well as meeting a number of prominent Rhodesian livestock researchers and extension workers.

The Rhodesian was the first of the SASAP branches to be established as such. They had a large, lively and active membership and took obvious pride in their abilities and the services they were rendering to that country. Distinct features of their branch meetings were the good attendance and the fierce peer reviews of reported work that often ensued. It could be said that the Rhodesian branch served as a model for the provincial branches established in South Africa. It can also be said that the leaders of SASAP in South Africa, with their Rhodesian counterparts, always entertained the vision of a southern African or even sub-Saharan African federation of livestock production societies modelled on the EAAP (European Association for Animal Production). Political realities of the time made this impossible and eventually led to the unfortunate demise of the Rhodesian branch as we came to know it.