Former star athlete Irene van Niekerk's getting her dream wedding – thanks to a few kind souls

By Jaco Hough-Coetzee
16 June 2016

Three years ago, 15-year-old Irene, from a squatter camp in Joburg's West Rand was hailed as the wonder-child of high school athletics. Then she fell pregnant.

The girls’ eyes light up as the wedding planner takes the beautiful evening gowns out of the leather bag.

“Wow, it’s beautiful!” says Ursula Breedt as Natasha hands her scarlet red dress to try on.

“It’s so nice tannie!” calls out a beaming 18-year-old Irene van Niekerk. Ursula is going to be her maid of honour when she marries her childhood sweetheart Iwan Cass in August.

From left is Nicky van Niekerk, Tracy Heys, Veruschka Vorster, Karen Vorster en Ursula Breedt. The bride-to-be, Irene van Niekerk is in the middle wearing a tracksuit. PHOTO: Marin de Kock From left is Nicky van Niekerk, Tracy Heys, Veruschka Vorster, Karen Vorster and Ursula Breedt. The bride-to-be Irene van Niekerk is in the middle wearing a tracksuit. PHOTO: Marin de Kock

Three years ago Irene from Krugersdorp was hailed as the wonder-child of high school athletics. It seemed as though the girl from the squatter camp on the West Rand was going to use her natural talent to get herself and her needy parents out of their circumstances.

Those lightning fast feet were almost amputated when an 18-month-old Irene was badly burnt with boiling water. She nearly lost all her toes in the accident.

Among other achievements she had the crowd at the Ruimsig athletics track in Roodepoort on their feet when she finished the 1 500m race in 4:45 minutes and thereby set a new Gauteng record in her age group in 2013.

Mom Irene (left), helps the girls try on their dresses. PHOTO: Martin de Kock Mom Irene (left), helps the girls try on their dresses. PHOTO: Martin de Kock

But Irene's athletics career came to an end three years ago when she fell pregnant, aged 15.

On top of that, 11 months after she gave birth, the Mogale City municipality moved her and her family, along with roughly 130 other squatters, to the Munsieville Township outside the town -- where they live now.

In March this year YOU's sister magazine Huisgenoot wrote about Irene and Iwan’s impending nuptials.

Then her mother, Irene senior, said that it has to be a beautiful wedding. “Because that is the most beautiful day of a woman’s life. A woman always thinks back to her wedding day. Look, I don’t have thousands to give – but I do want to give something.”

Wanika and Jayden are to be the flower girl and ringbearer. PHOTO: Martin de Kock Wanika and Jayden are to be the flower girl and ringbearer. PHOTO: Martin de Kock

A few kind readers agreed that the day needed to be beautiful and generous people started offering their help.

Charity organisation Moeggesukkel, is going to try and organise a honeymoon for the couple, among other things.

Natasha Le Roux from Centurion has offered her wedding planning services. Today she brought the bridesmaids dresses along for fittings.

It is ice cold here in Munsieville Township. Outside the icy wind whistles around the corner of Irene’s parents’ wood and zinc house. Natasha is helping the five girls try on their dresses. Their naked shoulders are covered in goose bumps and their bodies are shaking, but they are way too excited to even feel the cold.

“It’s so nice”, says Irene. Her and Iwan’s two-year-old son, Jayden, is trying on his white suit. He lifts his thumb for the photographer and says “Shap!”

It’s going to be a fairytale, says Irene senior in between all the fittings. She wants to serve the guests spit-braai and pap and sauce, but she is still saving for it.

“I paid for the hall in Krugersdorp yesterday, it was R1 800.”

Now, if she can only just get a DJ and a few décor items.

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