Back in the early 1960s, Sylvia van der Westhuizen’s husband built a hardware store on the side of a dirt road in what was still a very rural Table View, where cows roamed in residents’ gardens.
You can still find the store today at Boy de Goede Circle. Along with the rest of Table View, it’s changed a lot since Earnest van der Westhuizen built it. He died six years ago, but Sylvia, or “Mrs Van” as she is called by customers, is still there in her free time helping her son, Michael, who worked as an engineer at Safmarine and learnt the hardware trade from his dad.
“Now the hardware is Mike’s baby. I’m very proud of him,” says Mrs Van.
At 93, Mrs Van still hasn’t lost her magic touch with the customers, dispensing a charming “Hi, can I help you?” to all the store’s visitors. But apart from helping her son sell hardware supplies, Mrs Van is also a treasure trove of information about Table View’s early days when it was still mostly farmland.
But her story, or rather the South African leg of it, doesn’t start in Table View.
It starts on a beach in Egypt at the end of the Second World War, in 1945, when she met Earnest for the first time.
“I was in the British army and he was in the South African army. We knew one another for two months and got married in Alexandria in Egypt. We honeymooned in Cairo.”
Soon afterwards, Earnest brought his young bride back with him to South Africa.
“When we came down to SA, we landed in Durban, and we came down by train to Cape Town. I always remember how he told me about the beautiful green South Africa, but the following morning, we were on the train and I woke up, I looked out the window and saw crude, miles and miles of crude.
“I thought to myself, “Oh no… I think I want to go home.” My husband just laughed. I have never forgotten that,” says Mrs Van with a smile, her hands folded in her lap.
The couple stayed in Mowbray for a while before Earnest decided to build his wife a house out in Table View.
They settled there sometime in the 1950s.
“He built me a lovely double-storey house, because I lived in a double-storey house in England, so he built me one here in Arum Road. He was working in town in a hardware store and then he decided that Table View needed a hardware.”
Table View was a very different place then compared to bustling mini-city it is today.
“Table View was interesting back then, it’s entirely different now. There was only one road between the trees. Then the firm that owned Table View had gone bankrupt and my husband was one of the people who helped to sell plots in Table View.”
As testament to just how rural things were, Mrs Van shows Tabletalk a faded black-and-white photograph of cows roaming her garden.
“Back then where the river is (at the end of Blaauwberg Road), that is where Farmer Gie was, and I bought all my milk from him. I still have pictures of the cows on my front lawn.”
Mrs Van turns 94 in August and says her life in South Africa has been wonderful.
“I met some fabulous people. Life has changed completely since 1945.”