Yesterday Fredo wrote a story for the international fresh produce trade about the passing of a truly great fruit industry man. Louis Kriel, at the age of 78, has finally left us and the space which he occupied for decades in our lives is suddenly extremely empty.
Fredo has worked with and known Louis Kriel for the best part of four decades. Such an imposing character – a more than life-size person who always filled the space he moved in.
[divider]Fredo, in announcing his death, referred to Louis as a legendary South African fruit industry leader. Personally, the journey we travelled together was full of hard work, but also full of enjoyment and fun. Fredo met him for the first time in the home of another legend, the late Alex van Niekerk, who actually appointed Louis to the position of Chief Executive of the Deciduous Fruit Board.
Some six months later Louis convinced Fredo, at that stage a radio journalist and radio programme maker, to join him to established a communications section at the old DFB. Well, when Louis retired, Fredo was still in the fruit sector. Even after Fredo also left the old fruit company to set up his own business, the two of us regularly met for lunch and talked things over.
Fredo indeed knew Louis Kriel very well
Despite this, Fredo, and no-one else, can perhaps say that they ‘knew’ Louis Kriel. There was just too much of him to ever know the total sum of it all. So, when one talk about him you should rather celebrate what has been such a colourful life by a real special person. Whether he was working in fruit, or whether he was setting up the partnership to export wine as a joint venture between fruit and wine growers, or was walking the fruit markets and corridors of power here and internationally, he had this remarkable stamina and a spirit that would never be defeated.
He knew his wine and his food and when we received overseas customers at our offices, or at Fleurbaix near Stellenbosch, he would be personally involved with the menu to ensure that those visitors would never forget that day. He would relentlessly work with the industry teams to ensure that they take care of the needs of growers, and in Europe and elsewhere he would be received by the Chairmen and Chief Executives of the leading super markets or trade offices in the various countries. During the sanction years, he would personally speak to such people as Jessie Jackson in America and Margaret Thatcher in London. Later he would personally honour the steadfastness of Margaret Thatcher by receiving her at Fleurbaix and naming a nectarine, Margaret’s Pride, after her. Then it was my job to see that she got her special cartons of Margaret’s Pride every year.
[divider]When he lived in London and the Springboks were playing in the 1995 world cup final, Louis wanted crayfish tails – everything had to be truly South African – to entertain his super market guests at his home. I had to speak to Dr Piet Neethling of Suiderland and the tails arrived in time. “If Louis wants crayfish tails, then we better make sure he gets them,” Dr Piet said.
When he got ready to leave for London to participate in discussions along with other business leaders with the ANC, I would always knew where he was going. He would ask me to pack two six bottle boxes of Oak Village Sauvignon Blanc and Vintage Reserve for the trip. “These guys,” he would say, “have been outside South Africa for so long that they probably never taste a good South African wine. And besides that, you never get to know someone if you do not share a glass of wine with him and we cannot talk all day. We need to relax too!”
Louis took on PW Botha
He was not scared to stand up to politicians. PW Botha, in 1988, got very annoyed when Louis told him at a media conference in London it was time to release Nelson Mandela. When he got back here the next day, he was called out of a board meeting by an irritated PW! “Mr Kriel”, said the Groot Krokkedil, “thank you for the great work you are doing in marketing the country’s fruit, just a pity about your stupid interview.” Louis stuck to his guns and an even more irritated Krokkedil said: “Mr Kriel, you sell your fruit and I will run the country!” Then he hung up.
Louis’ staff always admired him and he always found time to talk to them and relax with them at the end of the day.
It is true to says that when Louis was at the helm of the fruit sector, he was well ahead of his time. There were people who resented his strength of character and his ability to get the work done. They perhaps somehow missed out on meeting and understanding this great man.
He will leave a massive hole in our lives. Go well Louis! The fruit industry and your beloved Stellenbosch will miss you.