Still raring to go

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Melkbosstrand, West Coast
Japie Cloete, the longest-living Melkbosstrand resident, is full of vim and vigour.

Having spent 80 of his 83 years in Melkbosstrand, Japie Cloete bore witness to this rustic, sleepy village of 100 souls transforming step by step over the years into the vibrant suburb it is today.

With many tales of ‘the good old days’ up his sleeve, he tells of drawing water with pumps, pit toilets and spending nights studying with lamps and candles. The lack of indoor plumbing aside, Melkbos residents had a right royal time catching crayfish by hand at low tide and taking as many abalone as needed for the pot.

To this day, the house at 14 Mostert Street where Japie was born still stands. “In 1910, the house used to be a general dealer and the first Melkbosstrand coffeehouse-cum-filling station – with only one petrol pump,” he said.

The eldest of three children, he attended the little Melkbos primary school in Commaille Road, before going on to high school in Durbanville. “And every third weekend, I’d ride back home on my brand-new Raleigh bicycle.”

After matric Japie joined the police force. As a result, the only time he was away from his beloved home town was during the three years spent at police college in Pretoria. When he finally returned, there was no question as to where he would settle.

“Stationed first in Woodstock and then in Milnerton for 25 years as warrant officer, a heart bypass in 1983 put paid to my career in the police force,” he explained. “However, this didn’t stop me from pursuing other avenues to supplement my pension. As a commercial fisherman I had boatloads of fun cast-net fishing for harders and kabeljou. And to give back, I fed 30 disadvantaged families every single day. But sadly, in 1994 my permit wasn’t renewed, so it all came to a rather abrupt end.”

After inheriting the house at 14 Mostert Street, this is where he lived for many years before renting it out. Japie then settled in Visvanger Avenue where he lives to this day. But he’s also quite the real estate mogul: with properties in both Yzerfontein and St Helena Bay.

His stepdaughter, Patricia Lerm, said, “It’s a joy to see my stepdad arriving several times a month with guavas, prickly pears and lemons from his own garden.”

Sprightly and showing no sign of having lost his edge, age is just a number to Japie, because “life’s too short to stop having fun”. He still drives his own cars – one being a bright red Porsche – and is a keen gardener. Proof that living to a ripe old age is all about connecting with what one loves.

Married to his fourth wife (“Which I hope will be the last!”) for the last 12 years, he has three children, seven grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. He and wife Elsabé grab life by the horns, having travelled overseas extensively and regularly road-tripping around South Africa.

FAST FACTS

My sport is gardening
Favourite armchair sport is rugby
For relaxation, I read a book or newspaper
My pet place on the West Coast is Yzerfontein
Best restaurant is Silver Spur in Melkbosstrand
I love eating fish
My signature drink is a good red wine
On TV, I enjoy Suidooster