The courage of the Wessels family

Moravian Hill, District Six, 20 November 2018

When I came up the hill and heard the music coming from the church, I was so thrilled because it was in essence so much Chris Wessels.

Nabs, Christopher, Uta, Esther and Thandi and all your partners and children, I am sure it has been a very difficult time for all of you, not just this week but also the weeks before this. Your mom has been ill so long and then to all our surprise, Chris took ill so quickly and passed so quickly.

The procession making its way from the Wessels home with family members and friends carrying the coffin.

I must say that it was the most amazing sight for me to visit your home the night before he left us and to see Nabs next to Chris in bed together. You Nabs were prepared to be so courageous to hold his hand during that time. To hold his hand and take him through the final steps of his journey.To me, it has been the most courageous thing to watch you take yourself and your family through this difficult road.

I said to the children that I wanted to read 69 Days again which tells Chris’s story and I forgot I actually had a copy but I got three more copies from them. And you know Nabs, just to read through it, I can see you have been more than a partner, you have been at his side because on every second page he mentions you, ‘my wife, my beautiful wife’ – he was so concerned about you.

I feel that you are very fortunate that Chris has penned this story because so often today we complain bitterly about the difficulties we face, the challenges, the  disappointments, and the misbehaviour of some of our leaders. But then we tend to overlook and forget what so many endured for so long to get us to this point and we forget that we must make the effort to deal with the difficult problems and try our best to isolate those who are determined to be greedy and don’t want to realise that more than half of our country’s population continue to be hungry.

I believe it is 12 million of our people who go to bed hungry at night.There were times when Chris and I spoke about what was happening including the challenges of the youth. I have thought very hard and long but I do want to mention something that he says in the 69 Days.

I would like to warn you that what he says is hard, but I feel I have to bring it to our consciousness again – what he and many others went through. He says on page 46: “Now my memory goes back to that day when Snyman and an officer arrived at my cell. They took me to the exercise area and started hitting me around. When they could get nothing out of me, they thrust burning cigarettes up my nostrils knowing that I was allergic to smoke. I was naked when they did that. But it was difficult to hold a blanket around you during the interrogation. In the end, they took the hand broom with which I swept the floor, put it in the toilet bucket and smeared me with my own excretement.”

I am not going to carry on with this, but this is where we come from and this is what Chris took us through. This has been a very difficult time for all of us as it has brought back all the memories, the cruelty and the difficulties. Nabs, I want to say to you that you have been with us every step of the way. I would like to say that you have been heroic in all these difficult times. All those moments that come flooding back to me.

Nabs Wessels who is wheelchair-bound, joins the procession behind her husband’s coffin.

I think of Chris and I prefer to remember rather his baritone voice, always so ready to start a song and sing out loud. This whole week when I was sad and was thinking specially of Nabs and her loss,  I kept on remembering this hymn. You may sing it if you want to sing along because it reminded me of the Wessels family, all of you have been so gracious.

O Lord, my God,

When I in awesome wonder

Consider all the worlds

They Hands have made

I see the stars,

I hear the rolling thunder

Thy power throughout the universe displayed

Then sings my soul,

My saviour God to thee

How Great thou Art

How Great thou Art

I think this whole week my visitor, Oliver from Tanzania  was taken aback because every time I would start singing : Then Sings my soul… (the congregation joins in)

The children and grandchildren are pall bearers as the coffin leaves the church.                               Photographs by Zubeida Jaffer

Lastly, I asked the children what their father’s favourite hymn was and somehow it all connected for me.  His favourite hymn was hymn 371. I won’t say the whole thing but here goes: (congregation joins in)

“Ster in donker nagte, Rots Onwankelbaar, Troos vir al

My klagte, Toevlug in gevaar, Brood waarvan ek

Lewe, Balsem as ek ly, Doelwit van my strewe: Alles is

U my…”

Nabs, the family and the children, I think the last sentence gives us the answer. It tells us what we have to remember during this difficult time. Chris has been reminding us of this: “Alles is U my.”

Thank you.

Here follows the audio of the service. This tribute above starts at 42:30 and ends at 52:15.

I further publish extracts from 69 Days.


“Strip! No, everything. Your socks also. Yes, you may keep your underpants on.”

They leave. The clanging of the keys in the first set of doors, and then in the second … Footsteps die away, and an unearthly silence descends on the place. Read more…



On Key

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