Dante Malan has dedicated the winter years of his life to serving his two passions: repairing broken instruments and caring for his ailing wife.
He sits in a quiet nook of his living room at Ou Skip resort in Melkbosstrand, bent over an antique accordion that he inspects patiently.
It’s almost 200 years old he says of the withered instrument.
Time has turned the white keys brown.
Nearby is another accordion close to 100 years old.
He picks up the weighty relic with ease, an impressive move for an 89-year-old. He also still drives his car and rides an electric bike when running errands.
“The kids didn’t want me to drive my motorbike anymore,” he says.
Dante enjoys fixing instruments far more than playing them.
“I can’t tell you how much pleasure I get out of it. To take an old wreck and put in notes and fix it to play perfectly, it gives me great pleasure.”
Originally from Parow, Dante worked as a civil engineer before retiring and moving to Melkbosstrand with his wife, Wilhelmina.
As a child, he took up violin lessons, his father’s idea he says. But a year later, he refused to continue and changed to the accordion.
“My ear told me I was playing false. My ears are very sensitive to pitch.”
His father bought him a broken accordion and he was tasked with fixing it.
He’s been fixing accordions ever since.
He can also fix violins, guitars, saxophones and more. In his early 20s, he started a band called Dan Malan se Dans Orkes.
Dante enjoys the work of Afrikaans composers like Nico Carstens and Anton de Waal. In 2001, he received an award from the Afrikaans Language and Culture Association, ATKV, for 50 years of dedication to boeremusiek.
His five-man band stopped playing a few years ago, and three of them have died. The bass player, Louis Kruger, from Brooklyn, is still alive though.
After retiring, Dante travelled the world visiting factories that make accordions. His stops included Beijing, London, Frankfurt and Italy. One of the highlights was a trip to the Italian town of Castelfidardo.
Known as the international capital of accordion makers, the town’s economy is largely based on making the instruments.
“Everybody in the town makes a part of the accordion. Very fascinating,” says Dante.
His walls tell the story of a life fully lived. Photos of his travels, family and band adorn them.
Sitting on a couch close by is Wilhelmina.
The couple have been married for more than 60 years.
She developed Alzheimer’s eight years ago and is now completely blind and deaf says, Dante.
Asked for the secret to their long marriage, Dante gets up to fetch an old black-and-white photograph of a young Wilhelmina flashing a beautiful smile.
“If you met a girl like that, wouldn’t you go crazy?”
He remembers the yellow dress she wore the day they met in Voortrekker Road.
Too intimidated to ask her what her name was, he left not knowing if he’d ever see her again.
Two months later while playing at a gig, he spotted Wilhelmina on the dance floor, and it was not long before they were married.
The couple have six children. Now in their twilight years, it is only the two of them once more.
The children suggested Wilhelmina move to a nursing home where Dante could visit her, but he refused to be separated.
Now every day, he clothes, feeds and washes her.
“I miss my wife 24/7. I can’t talk to her,” he says. To fill his time, Dante wants to fix broken instruments used by schools free of charge. He will only ask for money for whatever parts are needed, he says.
If you would like more information about Dante’s service, call 021 553 5181.