Early Life

Wilfred Southey Ramke-Meyer later known as Brownie, was born on the farm Leeukop 1898 at the Junction of the Crocodile River (source of the Limpopo River) and the Jukskei River. His father was a German immigrant and his mother was born in the Cape Colony a direct descendant from 1820 Settler parents. During the Anglo Boer war it got too dangerous to remain on Leeukop so they moved closer to Johannesburg and settled on a farm in what is today the suburb of Orchards / Orange Grove.

From the Minute Brownie could crawl then walk he headed for the , open veld and bush whenever he got the chance, and as he grew, so did his fascination for the outdoors. At every opportunity he got, he would be off camping , tramping or cycling in the bush . During the Great War his father was incarcerated as a POW still being a German national. Brownie as oldest son then took over the running and management of the dairy farm while still attending King Edward School. This was a great time of struggle to survive for the whole family who without his help would undoubtedly have had to face possible disaster.

After matriculating in 1916 he went to the then Messina Copper Mines or M.T.D. to do an apprenticeship as Fitter and Turner. While doing this he qualified and graduated, by correspondence and received degrees as both a Mechanical and an electrical Engineer . During this time he spent every free hour he could in the bush hunting and exploring. Being close to the Limpopo River, he spent much of his time in the area of the River watching the dramatic rises during floods and falls during the dry times. The fluctuations fascinated him, and he gradually developed a hankering to see if he could construct a boat which could take him to the sea, even though he had ,had very little experience with any type of amphibious craft.

In the early 1920’s he persuaded some mates to help him build a punt like craft in the mine workshops. While this was being constructed he asked around about conditions he could expect. The local tribesmen were not boat people as the waters down to Pafuri were too rough and unreliable, unlike the coastal inhabitants who enjoyed quieter waters and relied on their simply built craft or in some cases more sophisticated dugouts to use for transport or fishing in deeper waters. To their knowledge none of their ancestors in that area had been boat or water people either. – In any case it was easier to walk down beside the river where they could kill game and obtain food more easily–The opinion of all of those asked was that going down on the river was madness and only white people would be silly enough to try.

He also obtained the opinion of an old hunter who knew the area well. His opinion was that, to attempt the journey was basically asking for an untimely death, particularly when going through the sheer cliffs at Mahokwe and Qui Qui Qui. As far as he was concerned nobody would be crazy enough to even think they could get through and live.

Undeterred they completed the craft and 4 of them finally set off, farewelled by many well wishers and doom sayers. It was however soon evident that the punt was too heavy and cumbersome, and with no keel or adequate method of propulsion their dreams of just floating down the River were soon shattered. Undeterred, they spent 12 days pushing and pulling before they reached Malala which was a bare 15 miles away, before they finally admitted that the craft was totally unsuitable . They reluctantly gave up and donated the punt to the local people to use as a ferry to cross the river in flood times and returned crestfallen to the mine.

Tedder and Kleynhans with the punt, nearing Malala where they gave up

Tedder and Kleynhans with the punt, nearing Malala where they gave up

This website is an abbreviation of Brownie’s soon to be published biography written by his son Peter (Pep) Ramke (aka Peter Ramka).
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