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Local Jan Smith is a lighthouse fundi

Locals have so many stories to share, ones that are interesting, entertaining and, in the case of Jan Smith and his 48 model South African lighthouses, also educational.

Smith’s interest in lighthouses was sparked when he was given an instruction by his daughter, Elizma, to put together a practical activity for Voortrekker campers at Betty’s Bay. The only guidance was that it had to reflect the maritime theme of their camping environment. Initially, he guided the children to produce their own lighthouse, and later he developed a DIY kit to make the exercise easier. Helping with this activity fitted comfortably within Jan’s profession as a teacher at Durbanville High School in Cape Town.

Today, Smith lives with his wife in Onrus, and many stories about South Africa’s lighthouses and the people associated with them just pour out whenever prompted.

He is quick to explain that not all South Africa’s 48 lighthouses are operational, but these traffic lights of the sea were all built close to shipwrecks for the obvious reason of warning passing vessels of a treacherous shore. Outside Gansbaai, Danger Point Lighthouse was commissioned in 1895 in response to the sinking of the HMS Birkenhead on 26 February 1852. This is an event that is commemorated every year by Gansbaai Tourism and the community.

Thanks to modern technology, ships are not as dependent on lighthouses any longer. However, these beacons remain a back-up to complement the navigation provided by electronic equipment.

Lighthouse tourism is also an innovative way of promoting a destination. It brings additional interest and visitors to the benefit of the economy of coastal towns that have lighthouses.

Smith’s exhibition at the Hermanus Library showcased South Africa’s lighthouses in all their interesting detail, in terms of colour, style and height. Some of this information was also captured in a book Oubaas en sy Vuurtornings, published by Smith’s other daughter, Danette. Many are grateful to this great storyteller for his willingness to share his passion.The exhibition will be on until Friday 8 March, and a cup of tea and some cake can be ordered from Bhuki Hoekie.

– Frieda Lloyd

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