Obituary: Businessman, farmer, MP and Sakabula founder Gerrie de Jong

2013-09-11 00:00

BUSINESSMAN Gerard (Gerrie) de Jong, the owner of Falcon Equipment and the founder member of the Sakabula Estate, has died.

Born in Pretoria in 1929, the son of a civil servant, De Jong attended the University of Pretoria before winning a scholarship that took him to Ohio State University and then to the University of Oklahoma, where he finished his studies.

Coupling academic and sporting prowess, Gerrie captained the University of Pretoria swimming team and made the “All American” collegiate swimming squad in 1954. He obtained a degree in business administration and bachelor and masters degrees in geology.

Gerrie and Barbara, his American wife, returned to Pretoria in 1959 and began building and selling houses in that city. Within nine years, De Jong, who started as bricklayer, carpenter and plasterer, was chairperson and managing director of Gerrie de Jong Holdings, a company employing more than 1 000 people and one that played a major role in property development and town planning in the Pretoria area in the 1960s, eventually listing on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange.

The contract for the building of the Pretoria State Theatre was the culmination of his days in the building industry in the city of his birth.

In an effort to spend more time with their six children, Gerrie and Barbara sold their shares, and in 1972 moved to a farm they bought just outside Howick in the Natal Midlands. The drive and enthusiasm with which he built their construction and property empire was soon channeled into agriculture and the “De Jong Ranch”.

Just four years later their farm was a show place, and they owned 400 head of Santa Gertrudis beef cattle, the largest such herd in South Africa. Gerrie became president of the Santa Gertrudis Cattle Breeders Society in South Africa.

In 1977, De Jong was elected to Parliament for the New Republic Party, standing down, by now an independent, in 1981.

In l980, De Jong added a dairy herd to his ranch, which he sold in l985 to the Hans Merensky Trust.

He was actively involved in organised agriculture with the local Fresh Milk Producers committee and the Lions River Division Agriculture Society.

He played the leading role in organising the very successful Tractor Parade that ran through Pietermaritzburg in 1984, which focused attention on the plight of the farmer in South Africa.

He then purchased a small, bankrupt engineering works called Falcon Engineering and transformed it into a rapidly expanding manufacturing firm, concentrating on agricultural machinery and specialising in grass-cutting and haymaking equipment, known as Falcon Equipment.

In 1995, De Jong retired as managing director of Falcon Equipment, and sought a new outlet.

He approached his 11 farming neighbours just outside Howick and suggested that they pool their land in exchange for shares in a company, Sakabula Estates (Pty) Ltd, which was to develop and build an 18-hole golf course with a residential estate surrounding it. The successful Sakabula Golf Course opened in 1997 and in less than six years, boasted the 10th largest golf club membership, out of the, then, 80 clubs in KwaZulu-Natal.

De Jong died at Amber Valley retirement village on September 4, after suffering for many years with Alzheimer’s disease. He is survived by his wife and five of their six children.

• The family will hold a “celebration of life” at the Sakabula Golf clubhouse on Friday, September 13 from noon to 3 pm.

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