In August I was motoring in the Sezela area, the heart of Illovo Sugar country. Thanks to good rains in July the cane there was looking beautiful. Rolling hills of emerald green, evidence on all sides of well-kept roads and fields, men on tractors going purposefully about their tasks, and in the distance the tall chimneys of the sugar mill – caught in one unforgettable frame were all the elements of the massive industry carved out of a wilderness that has underpinned the viability of Natal/KZN for more than a century and a half.
I felt a distinct pang. This was the world I was first drawn into when I joined CG Smith Sugar in January 1977 as assistant editor, then a year later editor, of its new house journal, Smithlink. To it – in the words of its first editor, Paddy Allen - “falls the honour of marking the merger of all the Smith group’s sugar interests into one company – C.G. Smith Sugar Ltd,” incorporating the four mills (Sezela, Umzimkulu, Gledhow and Pongola) and the Durban operations. And he added: “We’ll be building bridges between people, from Pongola in the north to Umzimkulu in the south . . . so that we get to know each other better.”
My CV of - in sequence - secretary, teacher, world traveller and Natal Mercury reporter proved to be a comfortable fit with the demands of the job. For the first 21 years the magazine’s page lay-out, subediting and headlines were the work of my husband, Colin Vineall, a newspaper journalist originally from the UK whose inimitable touch enlivened its pages hugely. Since his death in 1998 I have done the lot myself, ever grateful for what I learnt from watching an expert at work. In the past few years, the design of the front page cover has been the work of our techno-savvy Group Communications manager Chris Fitz-Gerald.
And now it’s time for me to leave. Thirty-nine years, 69 Smithlinks and 59 Illovos (Smithlink’s successor) later, I will lay down my editorial pen and go adventuring. The story of those 39 years of this company’s life in all its aspects – the successes and failures, highs and lows, floods, droughts, sports days, histories, centenaries, new ideas and methods, the move into Africa, the Zambian purchase, the UK connection, bold projects, the mission, the people – all have been faithfully captured in these pages and preserved in bound and indexed volumes in our archives.
It’s a record of which I am extremely proud. I have enjoyed saying: “I had three children and Smithlink ,” (Smithlink and Illovo having to me always been synonymous). To have been part of it has been a privilege and a pleasure. I am grateful for the insight I have been given into the background, the history, and the life of this great company and industry and the people who made and continue to make it all happen. My admiration for them knows no bounds, whether they work in the fields, the factories, the workshops, the laboratories, the clinics, the offices or the boardrooms.
Illovo Sugar has by a kind of osmosis over the years become part of my DNA, though I only discovered when I joined the company in 1977 that the bursary and scholarship for my degrees at Natal University in the 1950s were courtesy of the fund established by its founder, Sir Charles G Smith, in memory of his mother. I hope I have repaid that debt in some measure.
The future of the house journal Illovo is currently under review. This age of social media, email and various other ways of instant communication, “sound bites” and shrinking attention spans calls for different ways of spreading information. Except as an occasional consultant, I’ll be exiting the action in March 2016. I do so with a genuine “Thank you” for all that the company and its people have contributed to my life and with good wishes for your future happiness and success.
- Wendy Vineall