Anyone who knows the name “Morkel” in South Africa associates it with either rugby or furniture, but for now we’ll confine ourselves to the rugby pitch. There’ve been fifteen rugby Springboks with that surname, one for every position on the field, more numerous than any other in the annals of South African rugby football. While it’s a bit of a long shot, because she married into the family, the name Heather Rosemary Morkel, is of the “household” variety at Summerhill. Former PA in my office; former CEO of the first South African Equine Trade Council (which was born at the Summerhill boardroom table with the help of ministers in government, Peter Miller and Alec Irwin;) former CEO of in-house horse feeds business, Vuma, and former Group Business Manager at Summerhill, she is the head of our School Of Equine Management Excellence. If you didn’t know her before, now you know Heather Morkel.
This story is not about her though, and she’d be embarrassed that we’d started with this introduction, but the reality is that when on Friday, John Motaung became the second student in the three years since we launched our School Of Management Excellence to graduate as the top practical student at the English National Stud, there had to be a common thread. Indeed, there are a number of common threads, but the first is Heather. She has been the directress, the teacher, the mother-confessor, the organiser, the fundraiser, and the inspiration.
The second common thread was the brainchild of an overtly kind man, whose family fortune was forged in the diamond fields of Kimberley. Just a few generations ago, Jim Joel’s ancestors were battling street kids in London’s East End, driven by an “Oliver Twist” desperation with their lot to seek a better life beyond the shores of England. Jim Joel’s father, Jack Barnato Joel, was a nephew of Barney Barnato, co-founder with Cecil John Rhodes of what was to become the world’s greatest diamond mining empire, De Beers. As an aside, but since it’s topical, his uncle Solly Joel owned the 1921 hero of the Durban July, Longstop, who took the laurels as a former one-time winning English import. We are distracted. While Jim Joel directed his wealth to many good causes, he believed he owed much to South Africa, hence the foundation of the Childwick Trust, the purpose of which is aimed at improving the lives of disadvantaged children under the age of five in this country. The trust’s custodians are Anthony Cane, Chairman of Epsom racecourse, home of the Investec Derby, and John Wood, whose annual pilgrimage to South Africa led them fortuitously to Hartford House. We owe it to the foresight of these two gentlemen, who having seen the work being undertaken at the School of Management Excellence, made the one exception that led to this day: the award of an annual scholarship to the English National Stud for our top student of the year.
I’m sure my regular rant that South Africa is home to some of the planet’s most gifted stockmen has been greeted in some quarters with extravagant scepticism; racing has taken me to all the world’s leading thoroughbred-producing countries, and though I have had the honour to meet some exceptional horsemen, I’ve yet to encounter any place with as deep a reservoir of skills as we have here. This is especially so in a world in which it’s no longer that “cool” to be a groom, whereas at Summerhill, our riders believe they’re “chopper” pilots!
Finally, the other common factor which Thabani Nzimande, our first top student at the English National Stud, shares with the man who stood on the podium on Friday, John Motaung, is that they’re both Summerhill lads, who’ve demonstrated to the world that our School of Management Excellence is not a bad place to start out if you have any aspirations of being a “top dog” in this competitive game. While Thabani is a Zulu who worked as a paramedic in his “first” life in the Mooi River precinct, John is a consummate rider of Basotho extract, a comforting thought for His Majesty Letsie III of Lesotho, I’m sure.
John learned his trade at Summerhill after joining up as a groom, where he quickly graduated to the top of the pile. Stylish and balanced with hands of “silk”, he’s induced the best on the tracks from the likes of Igugu, No Worries, Ice Axe, Fanyana, Fisaniand Art Of War, and while most horsemen might’ve settled for that on their obituaries, John had other ideas. So here he is, among the “top practical students” in the world, effectively.
One of the principal benefactors of our School is the CATHSSETA, a government-funded entity whose purpose is the fostering of the arts, crafts and sport, and their support of our endeavours has come about through the stated intent of the current Minister for Higher Education, Dr Blade Nzimande, of encouraging the creation of meaningful jobs in rural areas. No institution is better placed to achieve this more than this school, best illustrated by the events of this week. However, and this is a statement for anyone out there who will listen, the racing and breeding of racehorses is, pound-for-pound, an activity of the highest job-creating capacity, higher than industry, higher than hospitality, higher than any other endeavour on this continent.
We are however at a distinct disadvantage, from a taxation perspective, to the other sectors of the gambling industry, and all we pray for is a dispensation that the playing fields be levelled. Give us that and let us apply the accruing largesse to ignite opportunities for the naturally skilled people of this country, black, white, pink or blue. See this from the perspective of another institution whose work is appreciated by the CATHSSETA, the South African Jockey Academy, which has given Hong Kong twenty-two of its twenty-three most recent champion jockeys; and it bears remembering that the champion jockey-elect of South Africa this year is a young Zulu, S’manga Khumalo, who guided Heavy Metal to Vodacom Durban July glory this weekend last year.
Linda Norval 27 (0) 33 263 1081
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