26 March 2012

AN INSPIRING WARRIOR

After conquering the North Pole, a South African-born British soldier who lost an arm in Afghanistan is on his way to his biggest challenge - climbing Mount Everest. Jaco van Gass (25) was born in Middelburg and grew up in Witbank. In 2006 he moved to the UK in 2006 and enlisted in the British Army Parachute Regiment. He served two tours of duty in Afghanistan in 2008 and 2009. Two years ago, with just two weeks to go to the end of his second six-month tour, Jaco, 14 colleagues and 30 Afghan soldiers were caught in a night-time firefight in Helmand province, where he was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade fired by the Taliban, shattering his left arm. He also suffered a collapsed lung, punctured internal organs, muscle and tissue damage to the upper-left thigh, shrapnel wounds and a fractured knee, fibula and tibia. He was flown to Camp Bastion and on to the UK. Soon after coming out of rehab, he applied to join the Walking With The Wounded (WWTW) trip to the North Pole, but was turned down as he wasn't walking well, had a colostomy and was running a temperature. Jaco set to work and got the colostomy reversed, went skiing in Germany and ran a marathon in Kenya and one in Washington with an 18kg backpack. He met some of the WWTH guys in gym again and applied again for North Pole trip and was accepted. Last April the WWTW expedition team became the first group of wounded servicemen to reach the geographic North Pole unsupported. Prince Harry, patron of WWTW, joined them for part of the journey. Two months later, Jaco started training for Mount Everest, chosen as part of the nine-man. Last October they climbed the 8156m Mount Manaslu in the Himalayas. They leave for Nepal tomorrow and hope to summit during a two-week, good-weather window in May. Jaco's parents, Deon and Aloma, and sister Lizanne, live in Pretoria. His girlfriend Sian is very proud of him.

THE COSTLIEST RESIGNATION LETTER

Greg Smith (33) had a common name until his Goldman Sachs 1,283-word resignation letter was published in the New York Times' Opinion Page. He was born in South Africa and grew up in Johannesburg, attending King David's Linksfield. He was one of the top 20 matriculants at Gauteng private schools, achieving eight distinctions. The eldest of three children, his parents divorced a few years ago. His father lives in the USA, his mother still lives in Johannesburg and his brother and sister live overseas. In 1993 he won a bronze medal in table tennis at the Maccabiah Games, having played at the Maccabi Linksfield Table Tennis Club and for the Gauteng under-20 team. He carried on with table tennis in New York, socially. Greg and the 1996 King David College head boy Lex Bayer, a good friend of his, both applied for scholarships at Stanford. Both were accepted. Greg joined the investment firm Goldman Sachs after graduating from Stanford 12 years ago. The New York Times article triggered a financial blow to Goldman Sachs as the company lost $2.15 billion of its market value, making Greg's letter worth $1.675 million per word. Shares dropped 3.4%. Greg described the working environment as "toxic and destructive". Instead of "teamwork, integrity, a spirit of humility, and always doing right by our clients," he wrote that making money has become the driving force of all of the firm's decisions, usually at the expense of the client's best interests. He was a vice-president and head of the firm’s United States equity derivatives business in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

EAST RAND REALITY STARS IN USA

The acapella group Overtone, originally from the East Rand, have been given their own American TV reality series that will be shown internationally. E! Entertainment has bought the first 10 episodes of the series Mrs Eastwood & Company. The group of six were discovered by Dinah Eastwood, wife of Clint Eastwood, three years ago when they performed in Cape Town. The Eastwoods were in South Africa for the filming of the movie Invictus and were so impressed with Overtone that they included them on the soundtrack of Invictus. The group moved to the USA and were taken under the Eastwoods' wing. Mrs Eastwood & Company focuses on Dina Eastwood, her step-daughter Francesca and her and Clint's teenage daughter Morgan. It deals with how Dinah combines managing a music group with her family life. The series is filmed by Bunim/Murray Productions, which also makes the TV series Keeping Up with the Kardashians. Filming takes place in the Eastwoods' homes in Carmel, California, and Los Angeles. E! channel will begin broadcasting the show on May 20 in the USA.

BENONI TO BEIJING

Beijing has a South African restaurant called Pinotage, founded by Amber Deetlefs (23) from Benoni. Amber, together with her Chinese business partner, Cao Dong, is also the biggest importer of South African wines in Asia. They also supply wines to elite customers, including TV channel CCTV and many Chinese actors and musicians. She moved to Beijing at the age of 18 when her father was working there. She started taking Mandarin classes and intended returned to South Africa after a year. Six years later, she's still there and has perfected her Mandarin. Pinotage overlooks a lake and has a spacious outdoor terrace. The inside is decorated with South African artifacts. The small menu includes Bobotie, Bunny Chow, Piri-Piri Prawns, Potje, Surf ‘n Turf, Lamb shanks, Mixed Grill, Pap, Chakalaka, Melktert and Dom Pedro. Pinotage is found at Lai Guang Ying Donglu 9 hao, Lane Bridge Villas, Wanjing, Chaoyang District, Beijing. Tel: +86 016430-7010