A small group of seasoned members of the Harlequins Club in Pretoria were recently privileged to be part of a very special ceremony with which the club once again confirmed its outstanding history.
Only a selected group of guests were present at this function to pay tribute to past presidents of the club who not only contributed significantly to the traditions, ethos and character of Harlequins, but which also played a decisive role in the history of Pretoria and even South Africa.
According to official records the club was founded in 1902 as The Civil Servants Club. As the name indicates, the original club welcomed only members of the public sector. Later it was decided to expand the club’s membership and to welcome non-state officials as members. On this occasion in 1903, the name of the club was also changed to The Harlequin Rugby Club, after special permission was obtained from the original Harlequin Club in London to use the name.
Later the club’s activities were also expanded to include sports such as cricket, hockey, squash, bowls and road running.
The recent function, however, did not aim to commemorate the club’s history as such, but rather the club’s leaders for the past 114 years during which it became one of the most respected sports clubs in South Africa. The event got a special status due to the fact that descendants of two of the old presidents were present at the function. Phillip Weyers (grandson of general JC Smuts) and Peter Bam (son of former Harlequins president Sidney Bam) have received a framed photograph of their grandfather and father respectively to commemorate the occasion.
Brian Forsyth, Harlequins honorary life member and historian, gave a short lecture in which he explained the history of the club’s presidents. During this talk, the guests were informed in which remarkable way the history of Pretoria and South Africa had intertwined with that of Harlequins.
By naming only the names of the presidents, any lover of history’s curiosity will be stimulated to want to know more about the way these men were involved in the club.
There were Sir Richard Solomon, head of the Civil Service in Pretoria in 1902; Sir Percy Fitzpatrick, the well-known writer (author of the classic Jock of the Bushveld), politician and businessman; General Jan Smuts who served two terms as president of the club, just as he did as prime minister of the Union of South Africa; General Barry Hertzog, also a former prime minister of the Union of South Africa; Justice Vivian “Boet” Neser, a Supreme Court Judge, avid rugby and cricket player and later also a international rugby referee; Gerald Savage, leading lawyer and rugby administrator; Douglas Cullinan, son of the founder of the Premier Diamond Mine and businessman in his own right; Sidney Bam, another lawyer and businessman and later senior partner of the well-known firm, Rooth and Wessels; and dr. Rueben Rutowitz, a prominent Pretoria businessman and City Councillor. The latter was the club’s president until his death in 2013.
The tenth and current president of Harlequins, Eduardo Jacot-Guillarmod, was one of the guests at the function. He had the honour of unveiling a special gallery, featuring framed pictures of all previous presidents, in a ceremonial way.
It is common knowledge that many sports clubs are struggling to survive these days. Harlequins’ history, however, suggests that this club will be one of the social beacons in Pretoria for a long time to come. As long as the leadership of the club builds on the work and the example of their outstanding leaders of the past, Harlequins will still be a popular home for sportsmen in Pretoria for a long time.
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