Pretorius, Durham's second overseas professional who made his Test
debut against Australia this year, tells Peter Roebuck about how
he survived a horrific childhood.
is the story of a young man named Dewald, a battered white child
who went on to open the bowling for South Africa. Dewald Pretorius'
troubles began before he was born because his father had a child
by another woman and ran off with her. Even now Dewald only knows
scraps about his father. His mother remarried and the stepfather
was a brute who belted his stepsons every night, grabbing them and
thumping them with a plank.
lived in fear,' Dewald recalls. 'We hated it when 5pm came because
he was on his way home.' They could not bring any friends back,
and no one visited. 'We tried to run away but they always brought
us back,' he says.
The boys ran wild and were hungry, bruised and in rags. For 10 years
this wretchedness continued, the mother cowering, the boys angry
and despairing. And then the stepfather did not come home one night.
Dewald and his brother, three years older, waited with trepidation
and then relief as they went to bed unpunished. Next morning he
still was not back so they went to school.
two or three lessons the headmaster called us in and told us that
our stepfather had been murdered,' Pretorius remembers. 'It was
hard not to be happy.' He pauses and adds, almost reluctantly: 'We
hated him. There is no other word.'
became an issue and counsellors appeared. Fearing separation from
their mother, the boys refused to see the doctors so the police
were called and they were taken away, passing their mother and screaming
as she slumped on the pavement. The boys were taken to a 'place
of safety' where they stayed for seven months until the case was
was a violent place. Every Sunday the lads were made to fight till
one bled and then the victor fought till he bled and so on, the
seniors urging them on, supervisors turning a blind eye and no complaints
allowed, for they brought retribution.
the Afrikaner youngsters were put in a hostel in Kroonstad, their
home town in the Free State, and Dewald stayed till he was 13. Officials
decided they could not live with their mother because they 'looked
hungry', though Dewald says this was the hostel's fault. Their mother
decided her boys would be happier at an orphanage in Bloemfontein.
had known no warmth, nor had he met anyone who believed in him.
But at the orphanage and at Dr Viljoen's School he found concerned
adults who provided love and encouragement. They told Dewald: 'You
can make something of your life', and he committed himself to passing
his exams and leaving the orphanage as its outstanding product.
He achieved both.
brother was not so lucky. He was sent to a reformatory, came back
'worse' and nowadays tramps the country in rags. Dewald found him
a job but it did not last. 'You can only help those who help themselves,'
13, Dewald discovered cricket and, he says, 'my whole life started
then'. Friends were playing and he joined in, not wanting to return
early to the orphanage. He found he could bowl faster than anyone
else and was immediately put in a team, an enormous boost to his
is a small town and word spread about his pace and enthusiasm. Corrie
van Zyl, then the provincial coach, took an interest, as did Hansie
Cronje and Allan Donald, who provided guidance and help, saying:
'You just keep going.' Pretorius regards Cronje as the best man
he has met.
took a job at Free State's ground and practised every night, determined
to play for his country. At Cape Town, against the best side in
the world, he had made it. Things did not go so well on his debut,
but he says: 'I promise you I'll be back.' Afterwards, he saw his
girlfriend and then visited the orphans.
has come a long way. He worked for three years as a hostel father
at the orphanage. He tells the children: 'You just keep going. You
can make something of your life.' And then goes to the nets, utterly
determined to fight his way back into the Test team.
published in the Cricketer Magazine 2002.