Arnolda van Geuns with her twin granddaughters Saskia and Ella. Picture: Supplied
Arnolda van Geuns with her twin granddaughters Saskia and Ella. Picture: Supplied

Capetonian reflects on her life over 100 years

By Chelsea Geach Time of article published Aug 5, 2020

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Not many people can say they survived a world war but Arnolda van Geuns did.

She celebrates her 100th birthday separated from her friends and family amid the global coronavirus pandemic.

On Saturday Van Geuns will be celebrating her milestone by standing at the gate of her old-age home in Sea Point, with her children and friends safely on the other side of the fence.

“I never thought it would happen that if I’m 100, I must live like this,” she said. “I can’t go out; I am not allowed to go out the gate. I am not allowed to go visit my son, and he can’t come inside.”

Van Geuns’ son and loved ones will be throwing her a pavement party outside the gate, so they can celebrate while keeping their physical distance to protect her and the other elderly residents from the risk of contracting Covid-19.

“With my birthday I want to give a big party, but we can’t because the people I invited are frightened to meet each other,” Van Geuns said.

Van Geuns at her old-age home. Picture: Supplied.

Van Geuns was born in the Netherlands, and lived not far from Anne Frank in Amsterdam during World War II. She doesn’t like to speak about the war. “I was there. If I talk about it, then it comes back. It was a very bad time.”

But she says the coronavirus pandemic might be even worse. “During the war, that happened because of people. Now it is nature that is doing it, and we can do nothing about it.”

In 1948, Van Geuns and her first husband left war-torn Europe to start a new life in South Africa. She cried as she left her whole family, including four brothers and three sisters, standing on the dock in Rotterdam while she set sail for Cape Town in a converted warship, The Indrapoera.

“At the end of the war we made a plan to come to South Africa. We were 600 people on the boat, all immigrants from Germany, France and Holland.”

She has lived in the Cape for 72 years. She remarried and raised a family in Mouille Point and Sea Point, working from home as a designer and seamstress.

“I’m really happy here, it’s a very good home,” she said. “When I go on holiday to Holland, I never feel that I want to stay. I want to live here.”

Van Geuns and her family witnessed the wreck of the SS South African Seafarer when it ran aground at Green Point Lighthouse in a storm 54 years ago. Her husband was playing cards with friends in their home when they heard the ship’s distress call.

“We went outside at 11pm and the boat was there on the rocks. We stayed there the whole night, we saw it breaking up twice. We saw them taking people out of the boat by helicopter.”

Van Geuns said she wasn’t surprised she made it to the grand old age of 100, as her sisters also lived for a long time. She attributes her good health and mobility to walking.

But being locked up for safety during the pandemic has restricted her daily exercise.

Van Geuns says she is not afraid of catching Covid-19, and likened it to the fortitude of surviving a war. “If it happens, then it happens.”

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