Stories and Traveltips

ID #5154

Roland Marais, Entrepreneur Extraordinaire, Randpark Ridge, Randburg, Gauteng, South Africa.

I owned a plot (smallholding) in John Vorster Road, Randpark Ridge during the 80’s and early 90’s. During this period I met and became friends with Roland, his wife Toy and their four children, who owned an adjoining property.

Lively and with an impish sense of humour, Roland was never short of new or outrageous ideas. After leaving school he studied law at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits). However, he was from a humble background and was forced, for financial reasons, to leave after completing the first two years of the course. Yet he retained his interest in and a love for the subject. One of his specialities was to take on the rich and powerful in court. However, he never hired lawyers – that would have been too expensive and not much fun. Instead, he always represented himself in such matters.

Self-employed, he lived by his wits. Thus, for example, he kept a herd of 40 jersey cows on his plot, which lay within the boundaries of Randburg Municipality. Each day a herdsman would lead his herd out of his front gate and through the suburbs, eating grass, flowers, herbaceous borders, etc on the sidewalks on their way to suitable grazing. In the evenings the process was reversed, with the herdsmen leading the herd back home.

Municipal officials took a dim view of such activities, which were clearly illegal in terms of their municipal by-laws. However, whenever they protested he hauled out his title deeds, pointing out that they permitted him to keep sheep, pigs and cattle on his “farm”. When they protested that his activities were illegal in terms of the by-laws, he reminded them that:

(a)    In South Africa, title deeds are rights conferred upon the holder by Parliament,
(b)    Parliament is (or was at the time) the supreme body in South African law , and
(c)    No body subordinate to parliament may pass laws which infringe on rights conferred by parliament.

And so, without the authority to act against him, they were stumped as to how to respond. Unsurprisingly, they did nothing. Not one to miss such a golden opportunity, Roland then bought some pigs – huge monsters that weighed several hundred kilograms apiece which scared the wits out of my small children.

Now pigs are particularly smart. They watched the passing parade patiently – out as regular as clockwork in the morning and back in the early evening. One morning the pigs decided to follow the herd out, returning with them in the evening. Having figured out what was involved, the pigs then proceeded to lead the herd, making the herdsman redundant.   From then on, when driving through the suburbs of Randburg, I regularly encountered Roland’s pigs plodding slowly along followed by his huge jersey herd, consuming anything edible in their path. And without any supervision whatsoever.

Naturally the neighbours also took a dim view of the fact that their herbaceous borders were consumed as soon as they were planted and protested bitterly, all to no avail. However, a while later matters came to a head. A small church had been built nearby. The minister paid Roland a visit, protesting bitterly. Apparently Roland’s pigs had somehow gained access to the Garden of Remembrance, where the minister found them quietly munching the lush green grass. What particularly incensed him however was that this had taken place on a Monday, two days after a ceremony had been held at the church. The deceased’s ashes had been scattered precisely where he found the pigs grazing. Roland soon realized the error of his ways – he felt confident of taking on the law, government, parliament, etc but decided against taking on the most powerful of all. Discretion is, after all, the better part of valour. So he offered to repair the fence and gave the minister one of his piglets. Somewhat mollified, the minister abandoned his hostilities, retreated and no more was heard from him.

Roland also kept 27000 chickens on his farm, much to the chagrin of the Egg Board, an organization set up by the government to represent the interests of egg producers throughout the country. They were entitled to a levy on every egg sold in South Africa. Naturally Roland never paid them a cent. This so infuriated them that they took him to court. As usual Roland represented himself and won with his keen knowledge of South African law. This so impressed their representatives that they approached him and shook his hand, congratulating him for his victory. Apparently he was the first person in South Africa to have challenged the Egg Board in court and won.

On another occasion Roland secured a contract from Randburg Municipality to produce concrete manhole covers for stormwater drains. He went to considerable expense to produce them, even inventing a machine to do so. Having perfected the process, he spent several years producing thousands manhole covers, all of which were sold to the municipality.

His contract for the supply of manhole covers had to be renewed annually. One year, during contract negotiations, it became apparent that the municipal employee with whom he was negotiating wanted a kick-back. However he was not satisfied with the usual bottle of whiskey – he wanted more. Never one to refuse an opportunity for mischief, Roland immediately drafted an affidavit in which he outlined what had taken place and had it witnessed by a notary public. Then he drafted a letter to the Town Clerk in which he outlined his objections, to which he attached the affidavit.

Apparently South African law demands that the Town Clerk submit all such objections for consideration at scheduled meetings of the municipality. Roland was fully aware that he was thus not able to bury his objection in paperwork. Perhaps more importantly, South African anti-corruption legislation had been stiffened and the charges Roland had made had serious legal implications. Then, having hatched his plot, he sat back and waited to see what happened.

For a while nothing happened – complete silence. Then he was approached by lawyers representing the municipality trying to get them off the hook. However he stuck to his guns. In the end he won, the contract was renewed and life proceeded as usual. However he had by now so infuriated the powers that be that he was labelled a troublemaker and from then on his business with the municipality floundered. Being righteous is wise and occasionally lots of fun but not necessarily profitable.

Alan McIver

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Last update: 2014-05-14 14:12
Author: Alan McIver
Revision: 1.6

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