- An update (Servamus: December 2016)
The telephone rings sharply in the charge office of Kliptown Police Station. The sergeant on duty looks up at the old clock hanging above the fireplace. It's half past three in the afternoon on Saturday 30 August 1947. "South African Police Kliptown, good afternoon, how can I help you?"
The policeman receives a report that a group of approximately 200 people have committed a burglary at a store in Moroka, looted the store and thrown the goods into the street, and then marched on towards Jabavu, an adjoining township. D/Const
G J van Tonder and two other constables are immediately dispatched to the scene by motorcycle and are soon afterwards followed by Sgt Thomas and Consts Puren, Ferreira, Meyer, Coetzee, Viktor and Schoeman. Unfortunately, the initial reports received are very vague. Const Van Tonder and his men are confronted by a large intimidating group consisting mainly of women and are forced to flee the scene via a detour back to the police station, being unable to warn the other policemen.
Not being aware of the threat awaiting them, Sgt Thomas and his constables reach the scene of the unrest on foot, where they are confronted by a group of approximately 150 rioters. A stone thrown against the wall of a shop and a war cry by the large number of women spark an attack on the small group of policemen. The next thing they know, stones are being hurled at them and the policemen fire a few shots into the air, thinking that this will scare the group and repel their attack, but their efforts are in vain.
In the chaos that follows, the group of policemen is split into two groups and they decide to make a run for the safety of the nearby municipal police station. Constables Puren, Ferreira and Meyer fail to reach safety and are badly assaulted by the group of rioters. In the chaos, two of the policemen's firearms are stolen and all three are undressed out of their police uniforms. The three badly injured police constables are rushed to the clinic in Orlando but, sadly, Const Ferreira dies before they reach the clinic. Soon after their admission at the general hospital, Consts Puren and Meyer succumb to their injuries.
As it is already dark, the police decide not to react immediately, but rather to wait until first light on the following morning. A group of 750 strong policemen, under the personal command of Col J A Brink, surround the township and a group of 300 policemen, commanded by Capt Kuun, enter the township to find and arrest suspects. Initially a group of 23 is arrested and later on during the day more arrests follow - eventually a group of 11 are charged for murder and ten others for public violence.
Years later, Brig (ret) Hennie Heymans writes in his book entitled "Plakboek: Van kaalvoetseun tot kommissaris" about the life of Gen Mike Geldenhuys. He recalls that as a constable, Mike Geldenhuys had assisted D/Chief Const P J Koekemoer with the investigation into the murder of the three police constables. Sadly, the details on the outcome of the investigation, the trial and the conviction of the accused are unknown to the author. Perhaps one may be allowed to assume that those who have been found guilty of the murder of the three constables would have met their deaths by hanging.
Fast forward almost 70 years later when, early in 2016, I was fortunate enough to purchase a very old policeman's helmet from Flip Nieman, a farmer near Groblersdal in Mpumalanga. Mr Nieman told the sad story about his grandfather, whom he never had the privilege of meeting, and about the gruesome death that met his grandfather, Const David Hermanus Puren and two of his colleagues, Consts Thomas Ignatius Ferreira and Jan Abraham Meyer. It was then when I started a search to find out more about the lives of these three hero constables. Here is what I discovered:
David Hermanus Puren was born on 21 March 1921 in Oudtshoorn, the son of Joseph Murray Puren and Maria Margaretha Puren née Olivier, and he had six siblings. Const Puren fought in WWII in North Africa as part of the Second Battalion Police Brigade and the South African Infantry where he was a member of the Special Services Battalion (SSB). Puren's police service record indicates that he was stationed at Port Alfred, Dordrecht, Mazeppa, Hanover, Kenilworth, Regents Park and lastly at Kliptown. His service record also shows that he had a special services battalion badge tattooed on his left forearm. On 3 March 1945, he married the love of his life, Christina Johanna Jacoba Roets, in Dordrecht and on 20 January 1946, his wife gave birth to a daughter named after her mother, but nicknamed Ina, and who later married Flip Nieman's father. Const Puren was awarded the Africa Star as well as the Africa Service Medal for his service during WWII. Const Puren was buried with full military honours in the police section of the Brixton Cemetery in Johannesburg.
Thomas Ignatius Ferreira was born in Philippolis in the Orange Free State on 3 August 1923, the son of Hester Aletta Sophia Terblanche née Kruger and the stepson of Sgt Terblanche. His service record indicates that he was stationed at Hermanus, Skulpfontein, Hondeklipbaai, Zastron, Vanstadensrus, Bloemfontein and lastly at Kliptown. Const Ferreira was buried with military honours in the cemetery at Bethulie. After being informed about the tragic story of the three murdered constables, Trudie Venter, a historian and long-time resident of Bethulie, visited the Bethulie cemetery to find Const Ferreira's grave. She returned to the grave later together with her gardener to clean the grave and take pictures of it. Trudie Venter has been busy writing a book on the history of Bethulie and has thankfully dedicated a full page in her book to the story of these three constables.
Jan Abraham Meyer was born in Paul Roux in the Orange Free State on 7 January 1927, the son of S A Meyer of Swartfontein Farm at Kaallaagte near Bethlehem in the Free State. His service record indicates that he was stationed at Rustenburg, Swartfontein and Kliptown. Const Meyer was buried with military honours on the farm Swartfontein. Mr Jan van Huyssteen, a resident of the Kaallaagte area, reported that he can remember the story about the funeral of Const Meyer being told and that it was said that the horse that had drawn the cart carrying Meyer's coffin to the burial site had one of its hooves purposefully punctured with a nail so that it would walk crippled, as a sign that the man he was carrying had been killed in battle.
On 10 October 2016, I wrote on the South African War Graves Facebook page: "I have been lucky today. Traced the farm on which the grave site of Jan Abraham Meyer is. The farm is called Swartfontein and is in the Kaallaagte area of Bethlehem. The farm is now owned by a Mrs Maile (Sotho) and the previous owner is a Mr Willie Pretorius. Mr Pretorius reports that there is a Meyer family cemetery on the farm and that (J A) Jan Abram Meyer is also buried there." On that same day I received great news from Danie du Preez, who had seen the post on the South African War Graves Project Group on Facebook, indicating that I had been searching for Meyer's grave and that it was somewhere at Kaallaagte near Bethlehem. Danie reported that he had found the grave and that he had snapped a photo at 18:40 on that same day as proof of his find.
I am now the privileged owner of the police helmet that was once worn by Const David Hermanus Puren.
My thanks to Danie du Preez and other members of the SA War Graves Project page, the South African Police Service Museum in Pretoria, Brig Hennie Heymans, Flip Nieman and Trudie Venter.
The Nongqai SA Police Magazine of July 1949 reported that a memorial plaque in honour of Constables Puren, Ferreira and Meyer was placed at Kliptown Police Station, and that it was unveiled by Col J A Brink and Lt-Col C J Serfontein while the guard of honour's hands rested on their rifles, their heads were bowed and The last post was sounded.
André van Ellinckhuyzen, Vryheid