Mitchell’s Plain Fishing veteran dies

Mitchell’s Plain fishing veteran Harry Robert Jacob Mentor, from Westridge, chairman of ANC fishing desk, founder and owner of Cape Fish Processors, has died of Covid-19.

Westridge resident Harry Robert Jacob Mentor, 77, who is the chairman of the ANC fishing desk, and founder and owner of Cape Fish Processors, was honoured at virtual and drive-by memorial services days after he died at Mitchell’s Plain District Hospital on Sunday December 27.

Mr Mentor in recent months had increased his staff complement to help breadwinners put food on the table.

His company operates three quotas for sardines, hake and abalone – jointly worth an estimated R2 million a year.

Mr Mentor was committed to employing staff from Mitchell’s Plain and the Cape Flats, to help develop local communities through fishing, processing, packaging and product marketing.

Mr Mentor spoke out against big fishing companies monopolising resources and quotas and in recent media reports he vowed to provide fish at an affordable price.

Mr Mentor, the youngest of three children, was born into the seafaring household of Harry and Sarah Mentor on October 17 1943.

His grandparents, from Java, lived and raised their children in Simon’s Town, which was known as “Bedaar” – a small fishing village.

Under the Apartheid era Group Areas Act, the family was forced to move from Simon’s Town to Steenberg.

His daughter Beryl Saaiman, from Westgate, said he began his school career at the Moravian Church School in Steenberg. He was among the first pupils to attend Steenberg Primary School and finished school at what was then Standard 5 (now Grade 7).

“He loved to catch fish with his uncles and brothers in Glencairn and Kalk Bay. He started fishing at age five with his dad and followed in his footsteps to now owning a company.

“He enjoyed singing in his school’s choir and was praised with many awards for his singing ability,” she said.

Mr Mentor was also a very good cook and as a child was always in his parents’ kitchen making food.

He joined the navy in 1960 – when the “white” seamen wore white uniforms and the “coloured” seamen wore bottle green uniforms, and were called “lemoen sakkies”. He served for about seven years.

Mr Mentor worked for Irvin & Johnson (I&J) as a chef on the trawlers; on the submarines; worked at Bertie’s Landing Restaurant and the Blue Restaurant, both in Camps Bay, before starting a fishing business from his Westridge home in the 1980s.

He was one of the first tenants of the Mitchell’s Plain Industrial Hive and in later years came to own four units.

Mr Mentor married Jacqueline in court on February 6 1962 and went to sea on the same day.

They lived on a private property in Steenberg until they moved into their Westridge home in 1977. They had seven children, one of whom – their son Neil – died in December 2019.

Mr Mentor is survived by his wife, their six remaining children, 16 grandchildren, 15 great-grandchildren and a great-great-granddaughter.

Four of his children will continue to run the business.

Mr Mentor, other ANC comrades and cadres had in 1993 decided to start the fishing desk in the hope of transforming the industry and making it work for fisherfolk living on the coastline.

ANC member Sammy Brett said he missed the veteran who would call the president and plead the case of fisherfolk.

He said Mr Mentor would be remembered for, among others, taking matters of concern directly to the president, minister of agriculture, forestry, and fisheries and other government officials and “not to crawl before people”.

Mr Mentor’s attitude, he said, was to: “Go in. Ask what you need, leave their office and work towards it.”

Mr Brett was introduced to Mr Mentor by founder of the United Democratic Front (UDF) and a member of Umkhonto weSizwe Military Veterans Associations (MKMVA) the late Johnny Issel – months before the country’s first democratic elections in 1994.

“Uncle Harry saw that many people got long-term fishing rights in the prosperous sectors, including hake and lobsters,” he said.

He said Mr Mentor ensured that the fishing industry would be transformed throughout the country – for the poorest of the poor.

“Uncle Harry would say, ‘give them the fishing rights’. Let them fish the species on their doorstep,” he said.

Also an important part of Mr Mentor’s life, was the church and he became a lay minister in the 1980s at Christ The Redeemer Anglican church in Westridge. He served there until he died.

His personal assistant as lay minister, Vera Scheepers, said Mr Mentor always gave generously.

“He loved being a lay minister for it was about being there for the people.

“As we walk home from church on a Sunday he will bless all of the less fortunates on our way.

“When Brother Harry was licensed as a lay minister we asked where did Father Nolly get this old man from but believe me, he fitted in so perfectly.

“The quiet leadership emerged when we had functions. Brother Harry was on the forefront not only with serving but his giving was selfless,” she said.

She recalled that when he blessed a new boat, at least four priests would be present and treated to lunch at the harbour.

He also delivered some fish monthly to each lay person’s home, as well as those who had retired.

“Uncle Harry was very proud of his company and did not hesitate to sponsor the Cape Fish Processors football and netball Tournament for six years.

He would also ensure that all lay ministers in the Mitchell’s Plain archdeaconry attend their annual spiritual retreat. Irrespective of cash shortages Mr Mentor made a way to get everyone together.

“Everyone must go as long as he can have everyone together as in his words ‘we must be unified’,” she said.

Ms Scheepers said when business was good, whoever was on duty with him would receive a blessing before the church service.

“I will miss the Sunday morning tea after the service.

“My prayer is that as Elijah’s coat had fallen off, so Elisha picked it up (Second Kings 2 verse 13), that one of his children or grandchildren will carry his legacy to the best of their ability,” she said.

His funeral was at the Westridge parish on January 2.