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Rally legend Hettema murdered: SA motorsport reacts

2016-06-30 08:36

Ferdi de Vos

TRIBUTE TO A LEGEND David Ledbitter (centre) says: 'I met Jan Hettema in 1974, when I visited the Chev Dealer Team workshops to complete a school project while in Standard 8 (as it used to be called). It was the year motorsport was severely curtailed due to the first global fuel crisis. I still have my Chev Dealer Team scrapbooks (one of which Jan Hettema is holding) with many of Jan's autographs, close at hand. Image provided by David Ledbitter

The South African motorsport fraternity reacted with shock and outrage over the murder of double Springbok and rally legend Jan Hettema earlier on Wednesday, June 29 2016.

Hettema (83), a former South African cycle champion and multiple rally champion was shot dead on his smallholding in Tweedracht near Pretoria when two armed gunmen overpowered his wife, Elsa, a worker and him at their home.

According to the police Hettema was shot dead while his wife was tied up and the worker shoved in a cupboard. Both survived the attack.

'R.I.P my old enemy'

After news of the murder broke, multiple motorsport champion Sarel van der Merwe wrote on his facebook page:

“A sad day for SA motor sport with the shooting of the iconic Jan Hettema this morning. He will be remembered as the as the King of rallying, a tough rival and a role model for sportsmen. R.I.P my old enemy, mentor and friend.”

The heated rivalry and fantastic duel between Hettema and Van der Merwe in South African rallies in the ’seventies is still revered today.

Others in the motorsport fraternity, including the multiple production car and touring car champion Mike Briggs, production and Formula GTi champion Chris Aberdein, and karting and production car champion Claudio Piazza-Musso, also expressed their grief and offered their condolences.

Hettema was born in 1933 in Leeuwarden in The Netherlands but his family repatriated to South Africa literally days before the outbreak of World War II.

Talented cyclist

Here he soon made name as a talented cyclist and in 1955 the young Anne-Jan represented South Africa in cycling events at the World Championships in Rome.

For this he received Springbok colours and was then selected for the SA cycle team which participated in the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne, Australia. They just missed out on the bronze medal, finishing fourth.

In the same year Hettema set a new, unofficial world record time of 1 min. 9 seconds in the 1 000m sprint. While not recognised internationally, it stood as a local record for more than 20 years...

Hettema again represented the country at the 1958 Commonwealth Games in Cardiff, Wales, but while requested to partake in the 1960 Olympic Games he decided to leave the sport, since he would have had to turn professional to participate.

Introduced to the sport by his cycling friends, Jan by this time also found his next passion: Motorsport. 

Illustrious motorsport career

He quickly showed his brilliance behind the wheel of a race car, and in 1961 won his first national rally, the Amatola Rally, in an Alfa-Romeo with Tom Oerder as his navigator.

In 1963 he won the championship with Oerder (and Hennie Steenkamp later in the season) and received Springbok colours for the sport – also in recognition for his participation in the international Monte Carlo Rally.

He would contest the Monte Carlo Rally on another five occassions, and during this time also met Princess Grace from Monaco. 

In the late ’sixties Hettema battled with Ewold von Bergen in terms of rally wins, and in the ’seventies it was with Elbie Odendaal, Lambert Fekken and later Sarel van der Merwe.

A summary of Jan Hettema’s SA rally championship victories:

1963 Jan Hettema/Tom Oerder/Hennie Steenkamp Alfa Romeo 
(Victories in the SAM400, Amatola Rally and International Total Rally)

1967 Jan Hettema/Mike Hooper/ Robbie Broekmeyer Volvo
(victories in the Transvaal Trial, Cape Double 12, Protea Trial, Goldfields 250 and 10th International Total Rally)

1968 Jan Hettema/Raggy Schjolberg Toyota
(Victories in the Moonlight Rally and Tour Natal)

1969 Jan Hettema/Raggy Schjolberg Toyota
(Victories in the Tour Des Fleurs, Moonlight Rally and Tour Natal)

1970 to 1975 
During this time Hettema won six more rallies while driving for Toyota and later Ford, but not the championship.

1976Jan Hettema/Stuart Pegg Ford Escort (Victories in the  Valvoline Rally and Lucas Rally)

1977 to 1978
For these two years Hettema, with Franz Boshoff as navigator and driving for Ford. had an almighty tussle with Van der Merwe, winning three rallies in 1978 and two in 1979. Boshoff later navigated for Van der Merwe.
Total Economy Run

After retiring from top class rallying Hettema became involved with the organisation and running of the annual Total Economy Run (affectionately called “Jan’s road race”). 

This he did for 27 years, in the meantime (around  1997) also starting an egg business on his smallholding and still participating regulary in track events. In 2002 he officially “retired” from motorsport, but not before winning a regional track championship at Zwartkops in his home-built Autokami – making him probably the oldest motorsport champ in South Africa.

In 2003 he was honoured with a Lifetime Achievement award by Motorsport South Africa (MSA) and during his career he won the Victor Ludorum trophy of the Pretoria Motor Club a record fourteen times.

While he was a tough adversary and a very competitive sportsman Hettema also had a softer side – and a great singing voice. Many times one would find him, guitar in hand, at the centre of a motorsport party; entertaining everyone with his music and songs. And that’s how he will be remembered.

SA motorsport fraternity responds:

Read more on:    jan hettema  |  pretoria  |  rally  |  murder  |  motorsport

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