As more facts surface regarding the owner of Rietvallei wine farm, Mr. Johnny Burger, who had been driven to suicide by anti-racists and the media, the so-called perpetrator is starting to look more and more like a victim.
In a glowing letter published in the Boland Gazette, a local newspaper in the Cape, a young Coloured woman recounts how the winemaker donated money to further her studies in America. At the time her father was a worker on the farm who was treated with warmth and fairness by the same man accused by Rapport of “beating a young Coloured boy into epilepsy”.
We reproduce the letter here:
The ‘Oom Johnny’ that I knew…
by Meriza Lakey
The first time I met Johnny Burger, or Oom Johnny, as I called him, I was an embarrassed teenage girl. My father, who passed away four years ago, was a builder and worked for Oom Johnny for close to a decade.
After matric, I was determined to travel overseas and made the necessary arrangements to go to America. These plans were a little bit ambitious for a coloured, Afrikaans girl from a small wine community within the Western Cape. One Friday afternoon, my father told me to hop into his old, rickety bakkie and we drove off to Rietvallei to see Johnny Burger.
At the farm, my father introduced me to Oom Johnny and I remember meeting the tallest man I had ever seen in my life. My father was a pretty tall man himself, but Oom Johnny towered over him like a city skyscraper. My father explained to him that this was the daughter who was leaving for New York soon and if he, Oom Johnny, didn’t have a few extra ‘dollars’ to give to me.
As a teenager, this completely caught me off-guard and I thought I could’ve just died. I remember poking my father in the hip and smiling shyly, as to say that we don’t need any ‘hold-outs’. I was a proud teenage girl embarrassed at everything that my father did or say. Oom Johnny just smiled, walked over to his cabinet and drew 200 American dollars out of his drawer. I was shocked at how easily he gave the money, almost like an investment, in me.
My father loved him, that’s why he worked for him for over a decade. He always came home with some story of what “Johnny Burger said” or what “Johnny Burger did”. I smile now at how Oom Johnny was never known as just “Johnny”, his name was always followed by his surname and it’s like I can see my father saying it right now. Oom Johnny was also the first to offer advice when we found out about my father’s cancer.
I remember visiting Rietvallei again after I came back from America. Oom Johnny spoke to me in English and I replied in my ‘newly-acquired’ American accent, much to his and my father’s amusement. I remember him looking at me and I remember seeing the same look in his eyes, as I saw in my own father’s eyes; that of a proud father.
I can only tell you of the Johnny Burger I knew. I wanted to write this tribute to Oom Johnny, as my father would have wanted me to do. I can speak only of what I know and what he did for me and my family. And if that is testament to the kind of man he was, then to me, that was a great man.
– Meriza Lakey (daughter of Tommy Lakey)