When the “Old Boys” heard that Uncle Solly had left the school after 46 years of service with just a small farewell function, a cake and a certificate, they sprang into action to do something special for this remarkable man!
North West, South Africa (09 April 2021) – Uncle Solly may have stoked fires in winter, worked in the kitchen and tended the rugby fields but his job stretched further than that and this remarkable man made a lasting impact on every single student who knew him.
At the tender age of 19, Solly Mokoena (who is fondly known as Uncle Solly) walked through the gates of Potchefstroom High School for Boys, as an employee, for the first time. In 2015, after 46 years of service that went way beyond the ordinary, he walked out of the gates for the last time, with a bank of memories and a paper certificate.
But this was not the end of his story.
Last year, a group of former students from the school decided to publish a collection of interesting stories of their years at ‘College’ – as the school is informally known. On a Facebook thread (Old Mooi Short Stories), someone mentioned Uncle Solly Mokoena – and the tributes began to pour in. Fond stories of how he knew every first team rugby player by name; how his strong fingers could pinch a wrongdoer into submission and how his laughter always echoed down the corridors.
“When we needed food, he was there; when the fields needed tending, he was there; and he always brought laughter,” says Rorisang Matsiela, a former student at the school.
Another student adds, “ I fondly remember Solly. I recall sitting outside the boiler, where Solly used to stoke the fire for our boilers, shedding a tear as I was homesick, and Solly putting his arm around me and telling me it would all be OK. What a Gentleman. That was 1969.”
On hearing years later, that he had been acknowledged when he left the school with just a small farewell function, a cake and a certificate, the Old Boys sprang into action. They contacted his family and found out that he is a subsistence farmer now, on the outskirts of Rustenburg. They started stoking their own fire: a ‘Get Solly a Bakkie by Christmas’ initiative.
Donations large and small flowed in from former students, former educators and others who were associated with the Potchefstroom High School for Boys. Solly’s Christmas came a couple of month’s late. The tangible gratitude perhaps a few years later than it should have. But it came in abundance.
On Saturday, 27 March, Uncle Solly Mokoena and his family met with a small group of former students, and he was handed more than a bakkie: he received a Heavy Load Nissan Cabstar Delivery Vehicle, immaculately refurbished and insured. In total, the former students had, in a remarkably short time, raised a total package in excess of R150 000.
Solly was thanked on behalf of everyone he had served, and his family was acknowledged for their sacrifice of their father’s presence in order that the boys at the school could have Solly at their side.
Uncle Solly laughs when he thinks about his years at Potch Boys High.
“I started off stoking the fires – I worked in the kitchens, the grounds and was a messenger and a driver. Whenever the boys had a sports match, I would take them, and it was really good because thanks to Boys High sport, I got to see the whole of South Africa.”
Did the boys change at all through the decades that he was there?
“The Headmasters changed a lot. Some were really good, like Mr MacFarlane and Mr Ackermann,” he says. “The boys didn’t change. They are exactly the same today as they were then, and I love them all.”
“I now have a second business,’ Uncle Solly says, “in transport!”
Chairman of the Potchefstroom Boys High Old Boys society, Basil Kletz, says, “THIS is the heart of College. It never changes – good people, decade in and decade out. We’re there for each other, always. Uncle Solly is now an official honorary Old Mooi, and we are proud, as always, to have him amongst us.”
“I don’t know how to thank everyone enough,” says Uncle Solly. “Tell everyone I am young again.”