Leon Adolf Brits (81) tells YOU how he grew up in boarding school, spending holidays with his “cousins”.
“At one point [in his search] I was scared what I’d discover about my biological family but when I finally met them, they were such lovely people. That made everything worth it,” he tells us on the phone from his home in Piketberg in the Western Cape.
He was 10 years old when he discovered he’d been adopted. “I started searching for my mom 71 years ago and only stopped when I was standing next to her grave in Klerksdorp [North West].”
Leon and his wife, Marietjie, are spending lockdown at home in Piketberg. Mollie is a nurse and hard at work with 37 colleagues to keep the local community healthy.
Leon spent his school years attending boarding school in Bronkhorstspruit, Gauteng. He’d sometimes visit his grandmother in nearby Boksburg. But he mostly spent school holidays with friends from boarding school.
“It was a wonderful time,” he tells us. “I went with friends to their family’s farms. We’d pick peanuts by hand. I’d usually go back to boarding school with a packet of rusks and a few shillings.”
He found out he’d been adopted when his adoptive mom, Mollie Brits, suffered a massive stroke at home in Boksburg during Christmas 1947. Leon and his cousin, Joey Brits, visited Mollie in hospital. During the visit Leon asked Mollie why his cousins always called him an “optelkind” (Afrikaans for “foundling”).
“My mom comforted me by telling me she’d been lucky enough to choose me, while other parents just had to take what they got,” he recalls.
“When we got home [from the hospital], we found everyone in tears and were told that mom Mollie had passed away.”
Leon joined the civil service in December 1955. “I was stationed at the magistrate’s office in Sibasa, Limpopo. My application [for the job] had been approved on condition I supplied my birth certificate.
“I asked everywhere but couldn’t find it, not even at home affairs. According to them, I’d never been born. I asked my dad, who told me my birth had been a late registration,” Leon recalls.
“They made it seem as if dad Dolf and mom Mollie were my biological parents. No one said a word about my adoption, so I decided to let it be.”
In 1960 he was transferred to Pretoria. “It was common for the staff to spend teatime together. On one such occasion I was introduced to someone from the department of welfare.
“We got to talking and he was very interested in my story. I didn’t think anything of it but two weeks later he came to me, smiling from ear to ear, and gave me a document. It was the court report of my adoption,” Leon says.
“For the first time I saw my mother’s name, Sophie van Vuuren (married name Bonthuys).”
Leon eventually moved to East London and later Queenstown in the Eastern Cape.
“While I lived in East London, I spotted a notice in the Daily Dispatch [newspaper] in which someone called Sophie was wishing Jan Bonthuys a happy birthday.”
Using the phone book, Leon found a Buks Bonthuys in Alberton, Gauteng. “He gave me crucial information about my [biological] dad, Jan Bonthuys,” Leon says.
A short while later, Leon took as job as parish clerk at the Dutch Reformed Church in Piketberg.
To find his mom’s Van Vuuren family, he worked his way through the register of the genealogy department in Stellenbosch.
After much searching, he came across an Aletta Sophia who’d lived at Ventersdorp, North West. He followed the trail to their family farm, Klipplaatdrif near Ventersdorp, and was told to contact the Dutch Reformed Church’s old-age home in Klerksdorp.
His mom wasn’t there and the matron referred him to another old-age home in Klerksdorp. There he was met with bad news: his mom, “Auntie Lettie” as she was known, had passed away on 17 July 2000.
Lettie’s daughters had visited their mother often, and that’s how Leon tracked down her eldest daughter, Nita Loock. She agreed to meet him – at the Wimpy outside Klerksdorp.
“When I saw Nita, I knew we were family,” Leon recalls.
“After lunch, we visited the cemetery in town. It was an emotional experience for me because that was the closest I’d ever be to meeting my mom.
“Back home, we called the other two sisters – Peter Meyer in Witpoortjie and Alta Jooste in Langebaan – and told them how things stood.”
Since Leon met Nita, they’ve had DNA tests done and the results proved 99,3-100% that they’re related.
Leon doesn’t know why his mom gave him up for adoption but he says it doesn’t matter. At least he now knows his blood relatives and he wants to share his story. “Before I’m dead too.”