Letter 5 - History of South Africa

A brief account by Peter Rousseau concerning our two brothers:

Stephanus (Stephen) Koekemoer and Cornelius Appelgryn, who ended their days in Westfort Leper Asylum, near Pretoria, South Africa.

It was in the early 1930s that a brother worker first observed unmistakable signs of the disease in Stephanus. This worker, who had gained considerable knowledge of leprosy during his ministry in the Far East, where the malady is perhaps more prevalent than in other parts of the world, called Fanie (the name which this brother was more commonly known amongst the friends) aside, and suggested that in fairness to the rest of his own family he subjected himself to a medical examination. The result proved positive and Fanie became the first brother to be admitted to the Asylum. Willie Brown and a good many friends paid frequent visits to Westfort and had regular meetings with Fanie. On more than one occasion, Willie remarked, "I went there in an endeavour to encourage our brother, but it was rather he who encouraged me," and that was true indeed. Never once was there one word of complaining.

A whole year went by. One Sunday morning another inmate, Cornelius Appelgryn, on his way back from his church, stopped at the shelter where the few friends were having a meeting with Fanie. This man confessed having more than once taken note of what he saw in Farnie, Willie, and others, and wanted to knew more. The outcome was a brother added and sweet fellowship for Fanie. Almost incredibly, the two of them suffered reproach and untold contempt, for Christ’s sake, at the hands of their fellow-lepers.

During the years that followed, through the faithful example of Fanie and Cornelius, no fewer than seven were added. These all died in the Faith. Meanwhile, the disease had begun to take its toll. First of all, total blindness, then loss of limbs; hands, feet and legs were being eaten away.

It is worth mentioning here that approximately the year 1948 a potent tablet was imported from America which had, in a number of cases, proved effective. The medical authorities were warned that it was a matter of "kill or cure," and it was decided to put it to the test at Westfort.

Cornelius being one of five, chosen for the purpose. The other four died, but it seemed as though our brother was improving. When the prospect of at least a temporary discharge was placed before him, he refused. He said he would rather remain a physical leper, and retain the peace of God in his heart, than risk losing everything.

I should like to mention that letters were regularly exchanged between us, and our brother often used rather strong language for the benefit (as I thought) of the person who did the writing for him. On one memorable occasion, I ventured to suggest, "You certainly rubbed it into your scribe the other day." The answer I got was, "That wasn't intended for him at all - I meant it for you."

On my first visit to Westfort, in January, 1943, Cornelius' parting words were, "Hold fast," and these were the same words he used when I visited for the last time, one Saturday in April 1950. That day he felt his end was near, and I myself realized he couldn’t last much longer. As we were saying, "Good-bye," he added, "We wont be seeing each other again in this life, but if we keep true we will be together on the other side. Hold fast!" He went to his reward early the following Thursday morning.

Cornelius, in giving his testimony, used to tell of the beautiful white horse he rode - "and if I saw a poor man walking on the left hand side of the road, I would turn my head to the right.” Then he would exclaim, "God had to break me down to build me up." One day, when he was riding along a country road, he heard a man singing hymns and when he saw this man, walking behind a pair of oxen holding a plow, he stopped his horse and waited for him and said, "Friend, what makes you so happy when you have to work so hard?" The man told him he had found God's Way on the earth and was walking in it, but he was too proud at that time to show more interest.

The day Fanie was buried, after the service, Pieter and I saw Cornelius separate himself and slowly make his own way back to his room. We followed him. He was sitting alone tears streaming from his blinded eyes, and he said, "The love Fanie and I had for one another was greater than that of a man for a woman." I believe Cornelius' wife, Bettie, often gave out the hymn, "How, strange it seem and wonderous what Thou hast done for me.” And in­deed, it was strange and wonderousl

If anyone reading this account can add to it or make corrections, I should be glad to receive same. One feels this is part of South Africa's heritage and We should tell these things to our children and children's children, to the third and fourth generation.

Mr. and Mrs. Pieter van Vuuren, 360 Highland Road, KENSINGTON, Johannesburg. 2094. Rep. of South Africa. (Both have passed on now.)

*Translated from Afrikaans