The origins of Horizon House go hand in hand with the story of the enterprising Bekker couple whose concerns about the future of their intellectually disabled child led to real action. The child could not work in the open labour market and there did not appear to be a solution. The then head of Paul Roos Primary School, Mr Sam de Kock, and two staff members of the special-needs class, Mr W de Villiers and Miss Mimmie "Sterretjie" Verster, showed great understanding of the Bekker family’s problem and started to make a plan.
Based on the nature of her work, Miss Mimmie "Sterretjie" Verster realised the need for a residential work centre for those in special-needs classes. So, in 1957, she helped to establish an association that would ultimately lead to the establishment of Horizon House in 1974.
To turn the association into a reality, they also called on Mr Mauritz de Kock, co-founder of Santa, and Miss Rykie van Reenen of the newspaper Die Burger. Their first duties included discussing the foundation of the association, identifying a name for it, formulating its goals and drawing up a draft constitution. Mrs Cinnie de Kock and Dr Bethel Muller gladly assisted them.
Eight members formed the management committee and they were supported by representatives from the English, Afrikaans and Jewish service associations. Mrs Bernice du Plessis was appointed as patroness of the association.
The association was registered as a welfare organisation. However, it was difficult to obtain financial support from government institutions such as Mental Health and Public Health. It soon became clear that they themselves would have to find a place to put up the work and services centre. Fortunately, Stellenbosch Municipality was prepared to assist them. Here, Mrs Eksteen, Manie Strydom and W Lubbe made significant contributions. Land in the Voëltjiesdorp area (called Onder-Papegaaiberg today) was bought at a nominal amount from the municipality.
One day, two members of the association’s management committee took their goals to the Department of Public Welfare to obtain authorisation to continue with this project. However, at that stage, the government had no category for projects of this nature. At that critical moment, Miss Ansie Gronum joined in the debate and surprised everyone with her enterprising spirit – this was the moment that Horizon House came into being.
They started to work in all earnest. Architect George Osler was approached to design a work centre and various fundraising events were initiated. At that stage, Mrs T Perel of the Jewish Women’s Association also made a huge contribution. Mrs Mimmie Verster, Mr De Villiers, Mrs Eksteen, Dr Bethel Muller and Dr R Smit put in a significant amount of work to publish the first brochure on the project. The language editing was done by Mrs
JC de Wet and Dr Pat McMagh. Pro Eclesia Printers printed the brochure and the Rembrandt Group sponsored it. Miss M van Heerden and Mrs Rev Human provided much-needed secretarial work during this busy time.
During this stage, the residents of Voëltjiesdorp arranged a huge protest meeting in the city hall to raise their objections against the establishment of the centre. Today, one can only smile when one looks back at these events.
Next, they started with the construction of the building. Community Development carried 80% of the total costs. A mortgage was taken out and they also obtained financial assistance from government later on. From start to finish, much-appreciated assistance was provided by Stellenbosch Municipality. The builder, Mr J le Roux of Franschhoek, and the building committee provided excellent service. The building committee consisted of Mrs Anna Eksteen, Mr Lubbe, Dr Bethel Muller, Mrs Ada Brodie and Miss Mimmie Verster.
A dam was needed to provide irrigation for the agricultural ground and gardens around the work centre. An anonymous benefactor recognised this need and donated the money.
Outsiders wondered where the water for the dam would come from as it was only a short distance from the neighbouring Momberg farm. But they never considered the storm-water of the nearby residential area. The dam was completed with the generous assistance of Mr Martin Hunting, and there has never been a water shortage since.
Next, they bought furniture and made curtains. Mrs Magda van der Merwe, Mrs Wium, Mrs Bestbier and Mrs René Perel played key roles in this regard.
The placement committee was responsible for the administration of the first residents. The Department of Public Welfare required a selection panel. The first selection panel consisted of Prof T Roux and Prof AB Van der Merwe. From time to time, they were assisted by Mr Koos Smit and Dr N du Preez.
And so Horizon House opened its doors in 1974 – 17 years after the establishment of the association. Miss Mimmie "Sterretjie" Verster served on the committee of Horizon House until 1984. To her, it was of the utmost importance to carefully assess the interests and abilities of each resident at Horizon House in order to align their training accordingly.
Where does the name come from?
The land set aside for the erection of the work-centre had a stunning view – as it still does today. The farm buildings of the Middelvlei and Momberg farms could be seen to the north, with Voëltjiesdorp spread out to the south. However, all one could see to the east and west was the natural horizon. Miss Mimmie Verster immediately recognised the significance of the location and suggested Horizon House as the name of the work-centre. The management confirmed this. The idea was that the centre should broaden the horizons of the residents as well as others.
The Cape plover in the logo also tells a story. The Bekker family once watched a female Cape plover next to the road that protected and defended her nest in all kinds of clever ways. And so the Cape plover became the symbol of protection for House Horizon. It was also incorporated in the logo. Mr W Malherbe, graphic designer of the Rembrandt Group, designed the first logo. (The Rembrandt Group also donated money for the logo.) Horizon House held a “Cape plover unveiling” instead of a stone-laying ceremony. At the recommendation of Mr Martin Hunting, the words "One of us, for all of us" were engraved on the commemorative plaque. A “lucky draw” was conducted to decide on the “one” who would had the privilege of unveiling the plaque. This honour befell Esther de Jongh, one of Horizon House’s oldest residents at that stage.