BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe – At 69, retired clothing magnate Eric Rensburg, seems to have escaped many of the ravages that nature usually inflicts upon people of his age. He sports a full-head of hair (albeit white), is a father of 5, and has a razor sharp mind which would be the envy of men or women 40 years his junior. But it is not his well preserved youthfulness that is most impressive in this remarkable man. Rather, it is his exemplary track record in the realm of charitable work.
Above: Eric Rensburg with some of the Home's residents
Born in the City of Bulawayo, Eric first went to Mackeurten Primary School situated on the boundary of the Central Business District and the City’s oldest and poorest township, named Makokoba, in Ward 1. Hailing himself from a very poor family background, the young boy was no stranger to conditions of extreme deprivation. Mr. Rensburg professes that it is this factor, during those very early days, which instilled in him the empathy he still harbours for deprived people. It was at Founders High School, in the middle income suburb of Barham Green, which abuts the Belmont industrial sites along the Plumtree Road, 6 kilometres south of the City Centre, that he completed his secondary education.
On leaving school in 1969, Eric went into the Army where he did national service. In 1970, he found his first job, at Sossy’s Motors, in the coal mining town of Hwange, between the magnificent Victoria Falls in the North and the industrial hub of Bulawayo to the South. From then on, he worked at several firms in the motor industry, mainly in Zimbabwe’s second largest City, eventually graduating to maintenance of heavy earth moving and agricultural equipment at a company called Barlows.
Newly married, at this time, to the lovely Benita Smith, he joined The United Clothing Company, in Belmont, where he worked as a sewing machine technician. He later became factory manager at the renowned fashion house of Sting Clothing in the same industrial district. Then in 1984, Eric made the break from being an employee to becoming an employer, when he started his own business which he named Label Clothing. Over subsequent years he grew his company, which had by then become a major exporter of quality garments, to a point where it employed 1500 workers. This trend continued for the next 17 years until the burgeoning national economic crunch forced cutbacks in production which in turn ended in the inevitable downsizing of staff levels and finally the shutting down of his business.
It was however, during the early years of his married life, that Mr. Rensburg became seriously involved with charitable work. He had by 1988 joined the Bulawayo Rotary Club and went on to become its President from 1994 to 1995. Not one to rest on his laurels, he experienced his most productive years in voluntary charitable work while a Rotary member, particularly when he was elected to the Club’s highest office. At that time Eric, utilising his own resources and with assistance from well-wishers, oversaw a project at Dete, near Hwange, where local villagers built a dam to provide water for themselves and their livestock. It was then too, that he organised the importation of containers from the United States of America, bearing food for victims of the devastating Cyclone Eline which had displaced thousands of people in the south of Zimbabwe. Mr. Rensburg was also instrumental, during the 1990’s, for the shipment of a donation from Rotary Clubs abroad, consisting of essential medicines for local disadvantaged people.
The year 2004, saw him presiding over the importing of a consignment comprising 280 wheel-chairs for the disabled throughout Matabeleland. Eric became somewhat damp eyed as he related the touching experience he went through as he and others watched disabled people being brought on wheel barrows and the backs of others, while some crawled on all fours, in order to collect their wheel chairs. The chairs were presented to them, at the City Hall, by Bulawayo’s Mayor.
In more recent times, the former Rotary President played the role as a key facilitator in ZDDT’s Tape Aids Programme for the visually impaired. This Initiative entailed customs clearance of audio tapes meant for learning and entertainment purposes for disadvantaged blind people in Bulawayo. Through Eric’s facilitation, the tapes were cleared at Beitbridge Border Post, by utilisation of a duty free certificate, courtesy of The Bulawayo Rotary Club. Incidentally, Eric is a close friend of ZDDT.
Mr. Rensburg is a Trustee at the Rhodes Jubilee Cottages Trust, an old age home, situated in Barham Green. His wife chairs this Trust. 13 Years ago, when this philanthropic couple first took over, the Home was in a badly run-down state. Over time, they have made many repairs to the place, upgrading it to the impressive state in which it is found today. In addition to this, 2 boreholes, rich with fresh water, have been drilled for the benefit the Institution’s residents. The Rensburgs, by using their own resources, often meet the Homes extra expenses, an example being the recent settling of a USD $5000.00 electricity bill. Eric has on several occasions personally carried out maintenance work at the Home.
But Eric’s charitable interventions do not end there. One feat of note that may be attributed to this good-hearted man is an arrangement he made with a local baking firm, to supply 1000 loaves of bread weekly to be shared among a number of local institutions which care for the disabled and chronically disadvantaged.
Finally, when asked what the driving force was that steered him into charity work in the first place and the reason why he continues unrelentingly, Eric’s simple response was; “There is hardly a greater feeling than knowing that one has brought joy into the life of a person less fortunate than one’s self.”