The heroes that walk among us.

Posted: May 4, 2009 in Investigative articles

 First published in The Sunday Independent, Sunday 3 May ’09

Andre Laubscher and his extended family

Andre Laubscher and his extended family

Volunteering in South Africa is so pervasive that it may be observed daily in almost every aspect of life – from plucking victims out of our turbulent seas and fighting mountain fires, to raising a litter of abandoned pups.   

Canada and parts of the United States celebrated National Volunteer Week from 19 – 25 April, and this week in South Africa, we look at few some of our local heroes whose significant work often go unnoticed.

National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) volunteer, Ian Klopper, has a deep tan, bone crunching handshake, and a quick smile.  The ocean is in his blood; his grandfather was a Dutch Whaler, “In the days when it was still cool”, he grins a little uneasily.  Ian grew up in Camps Bay and joined the NSRI when he was 16.  He rapidly worked his way up the ladder and today his qualifications include; advanced life support paramedic, flight medical assistant, class 1 rescue vessel coxswain and experienced in pyrotechnics.

Ian recalls a stormy night 7 years ago, having dinner with his wife and their friends, “We had a fire going, it was real cosy inside,” he says.  “The emergency call came in. A yacht was in serious trouble coming around from Simonstown to Hout Bay.”  Ian’s team immediately responded. “By the time we reached the crew they were all incapacitated by fatigue and seasickness. As we connected our towlines, we were hit by the massive storm and waves.  Visibility was almost zero,” he remembers.  Seventeen hours later Ian and his team had the vessel and all its crew to safety. “It was extremely cold,” Ian smiles, “and a lot of fun.”

“It is endurance and stamina that really counts when you have to work for a sustained period of time, under extreme conditions,” he adds. “Mentally you need to be able to remain calm under pressure and make the correct decisions – instantly.  You must be able to call upon your training at any time and apply it without question.” 

“My wife has asked me to balance my work and family life, so I am scaling down a bit.  I am being more selective about what I take on,” he says, “…but it’s hard to stop jumping out of helicopters. It’s an addiction; habitual.”   “I am getting older, my experience is changing my perspective,” he reflects for a moment, “a body mangled by a train will always be awful.  Awful for me changed when I had kids,” he says.  Ian explains how difficult it is for him to walk into a shack where the parents are passed out on the floor and children are wandering around barefoot. “My kids are in bed by seven!” 

He recalls a horrific moment when he came across a baby in the gutters of Westlake. “The baby’s umbilical cord was still attached and there was a plastic packet wrapped around its head.  Dogs were chewing on its limbs. People just stood around and looked,” Ian shakes his head in disbelief.  The tragic St James massacre in Kenilworth in 1993 is another traumatic event that Ian recalls.  The slaughter of 11 innocent churchgoers must be difficult to comprehend.

For Ian there is little time to get morose.  When he’s not dangling from ropes rescuing people, he runs his medical training company. EMT, which offers a range of registered medical courses. “Our motto here is – we practice what we teach.” He grins.   When he is not fishing with little Adam, he likes to watch great white sharks breach in False Bay, or squeeze in a round of golf.

Heroes can be found right under your nose; if you pay close enough attention.  When driving through Tamboerskloof in Cape Town, you may just come across a potbellied pig wandering through the posh neighbourhood.  This pig belongs to Andre Laubscher who lives on a farm on the slopes of Signal Hill.   Andre is a performance artist, a consummate painter, and a reluctant hero.   

Even though most of the children in his permanent care have been abandoned, or have lost their parents, Andre is quick to clarify that the farm is not an orphanage.  “An orphanage is a colonial, patriarchal institution, a concentration of unhappiness, he says.  “In an orphanage the child is in a sense excluded from the community.”

Thimna was brought to the farm in 2007.  She was a shy child that could barely speak English.  Today she is enrolled at Tamboerskloof Primary and she is a bubbly and confident girl that loves to show off her linguistic skills. 

“This will relieve elder abuse, especially in the townships,” says Andre, “and the loneliness of the forgotten ones sitting in old-age homes, stinking of pee and waiting to be carried out feet first.” 

Foster Farm is concept is a holistic approach which incorporates recycling “Cape Town generates around 600 tons of rubbish a day,” says Andre, “The farms can be become recycling centres.  Organic waste becomes compost which is returned to the community.”  Although self-sustainable, the Foster Farm will not exist as an independent commune, but rather as a part of the society around it. This can be done by getting the community involved by volunteering their time and skills.  

However time is running out for the happy community on Andre’s farm.  Situated in the heart of the city centre and with sweeping views of Table Mountain, “It is prime property,” says Andre.  “There’s serious talk around the farm being taken back by the public works department.  “I really hope that we can work together on a solution.” 

     Another hero that easily slips underneath the radar is Nicholas Mlungisi Ndzube, who works with TEARS, an animal rescue organisation established1999 in Fish Hoek.  Nicholas started studying Marketing Management at Cape College and worked part time at TEARS. However soon the animals crept into his heart and by the time he finished his 3 year studies, he knew where his loyalty lay. “I wanted to work with the animals, full time,” says Nicholas.  “Who else will care for them?”

We go to the schools and start them of young, so that they know how to treat animals once they’re adults.”   Inside the mobile clinic there is a poster named, Happy Dog; Sad dog, which explains that a happy dog always has fresh water, food and shelter.

“We have a lot of animals involved in dogfighting,” Nicholas shakes his head sadly; “They use Maltese Poodles to train the Pit-bull and Staffies.  We get lots of dogs with stab wounds, dogs that have been hit by golf clubs or stones.”

Because TEARS is a pro-life agency, some animals have been there for many years.  There’s nearly a dozen retired house dogs roaming around the property. The dogs’ cages are spacious, most with a bit of sand or grass, and all with shelter, baskets and blankets. There is even a “Golden Oldies Old Age Village” for geriatric dogs.  The cattery looks like a fancy Bed and Breakfast; wendy houses have been transformed into cosy homes complete with snug carpets, dangling toys, scratch poles and scatter cushions. 

On an average day TEARS care for 170 dogs and puppies and 130 cats and kittens; providing them with food, shelter, veterinary care, exercise, and positive interaction with people.

And just maybe become a vet one day.”    TEARS has secured funding for their new property at Wenga Farm, and its business side has been restructured to take it to the next level.

Astrid Stark


Become a volunteer with the National Sea Rescue Institute:  National Head Office: 021 434 4011 (Please note this is not the emergency response number.)

Visit Andre’s website,, or call him on 078 518 4765, if you want to visit the farm, spend time with the children and animals or, as Andre puts it, “just fall out of a tree”. 

If you want to adopt a pet, walk a puppy, or find out more about TEARS, you can visit them at, or call 021 785 4482 

For more information of worthy organisations in need of your volunteer skills; buy Tracey Young’s comprehensive guide:  How 2 help, a guide to worthy causes (Johannesburg, Cape Town or Durban) and visit her site for details.

  1. Teliwe says:

    awesome article. an honour to have met andre. pics on their way!


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