FEEL GOOD | 'It was tough!' 61-year-old's journey from drugs to teaching diploma, and the cyclists who got him over the first hill

2020-01-20 12:37
Abduragiem De Klerk graduated with a teacher's diploma at the age of 61. (Sageda De Klerk)

Abduragiem De Klerk graduated with a teacher's diploma at the age of 61. (Sageda De Klerk)

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Abduragiem de Klerk thought he was going to die as he pedalled up a hill in his first cycle race on a bicycle he chose to buy one day instead of drugs to continue his habit.

"My system was toxic. There were a few times I cried," said the 61-year-old school foreman and caretaker from Cape Town's Ocean View.

Known to close friends as "Boeta Giem", De Klerk has just graduated with a diploma in teaching - an achievement which seemed completely impossible when he was still battling addiction.

READ | Murder, gangsterism and tragedy: Meet the matriculants who just kept going

His wife Sageda told News24 they went through a very tough time during those days.

She proudly shared his achievement with the #I'mStaying movement on Facebook.

"This is my hubby. At 61 he has just graduated. He is a qualified educator now... although he is working as a caretaker at a local school. He has formed his own cycling club in Ocean View... his club has 28 school-going children... hats off for setting an example to these kids and the community that the sky is the limit... he has overcome drugs... he is clean for 16 years now... I believe that this is a story worth telling."

Sad memories

He was also featured on journalist Lester Kiewit's show on Cape Talk.

Sageda told News24 with people talking about his achievement, some of the sad memories came back too, like him losing his business and almost their house.

"People asked me: 'Why didn't you give up on him?' But my words are that I always believed in him."

He calls his wife of the past 39 years "my jewel".

"I don't think I could have made it without her." 

He told News24 that he was well-rounded skill-wise after a stint in the navy, work as a security guard and his knack for bricklaying.

But he thinks his family's forced removal and that of other people classified "coloured" from pretty Simon's Town during apartheid, to Ocean View, may have contributed to his drug use.

"There was nothing to do. People didn't know each other," he explained. 

One day he was on his way to his dealer with a substantial amount of money in his pocket to buy drugs.

"My wife's brother-in-law - Godly sent - spotted me and said: 'Where are you off to?'"

Crying

He replied and his wife's brother-in-law suggested he spend the money on a bicycle instead to get healthy.

"I told him: 'Okay, you take me to go and buy a bicycle.' Today I'm so glad I took that step to get into the car."

He bought the bicycle and when he tried his first race, he almost gave up, struggling and crying.

But he noticed that people cycling past would slow down to hold him gently on the shoulder and tell him to keep going.

"I would just feel a hand on my back. Complete strangers were helping me." 

But he just couldn't go any further, and started pushing his bicycle up the hill, defeated.

Then an "old crinkled man" cycled up to him and said: "Son, you're going to get to the top quicker if you get on to your bicycle."

He got back on his bike and went up slowly, "1mm at a time". When he finally finished, he fell on to the ground. He noticed that people were laughing at him - but in a good way.

"I thought this is the type of people I want to be amongst, not drug addicts."

It took a few tries and relapses to get off the drugs, but he is clean now.

Teaching

In 2013, at the age of 56, he decided to get his matric, and succeeded.

In 2016, he ploughed through mounds of paperwork to do his trade test through the Technical and Vocational Training Recognition of Prior Learning programme, and got his Red Seal artisan qualification as a bricklayer.

But he did not stop there.

The principal of the school he currently works at as a general foreman pulled him aside one day.

"She said to me: 'Boeta Giem, why don't you try teaching?'"

She noticed that he had a particular way of helping children at the school understand concepts.

"I used to help the children understand fractions by cutting up apples and explaining it in a way that they could see what it was. People battle with fractions and they get lost after that. They need to see what it looks like in real life."

He enrolled for a teacher's diploma at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology in Mowbray, and graduated in December 2019.

"It was tough. It was very tough," he says.

Besides keeping the school in good shape, he had to learn how to do research, how to type assignments, how to use Word and Excel and PowerPoint.

"It was hectic. But by the grace of God, last year I graduated. I was capped."

'Model student'

CPUT said De Klerk passed a few of his subjects with distinction, "and by all accounts was a model student".

"We wish Mr De Klerk well with his future ambitions and hope his story and determination to study will inspire others to do the same."

He is currently considering applying for a position as a primary school Maths teacher.

But he has not forgotten about how difficult it is for lost youth who have dropped out, with little to do during the day.

He already has the Ocean View Fresh Start Cycling Club, which is raising funds to send a team to Netherlands, and plans to teach bricklaying in his spare time.

"People are under the impression that you earn good money if you wear a collar and a tie. I know painters and bricklayers who drive good cars - not a fancy sports car - but a nice 2018 Polo.

"There are two voices in you: The one will always try to lead you astray, and the one will keep you on the right path," said Boeta Giem as he says goodbye to carry on looking at the specs for that teaching post.

Read more on:    cape town  |  good news
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