For Vincent resident Joe Japhta, the obsession started with a news article.
“The GO! & Express had written an article about what’s happening at DJ Sobey [Old Age Home]. I happen to have worked for a number of years in the NGO sphere and as a social activist so when I read the story, I said ‘Let me go there and see what services I can offer’,” Japhta said.
Japhta has been assisting the home as a fundraising consultant, but he said he found himself curious about the name ‘DJ Sobey’.
“When I asked staff members, they said Mr Sobey was a member of the Rotary Club in East London and was instrumental in starting up the old age home.
“As a gesture of appreciation, they decided to name the place after him,” he said.
Upon further digging, Japhta found more examples of Sobey’s generosity around the city.
“Just down the road is the St Albans Anglican Church and they have a house in Vincent named ‘Sobey House’.
“I called the church and explained to them that I’m interested in the history of Mr Sobey. They said he was a member of their congregation and he donated the house to the church,” Japhta said.
The 1980’s were still deep in apartheid. But here comes this white gentleman [Sobey] and he comes and involves himself in work in the townships.
This made Japhta even more curious about the man.
“If you know the history of South Africa, the 1980’s were still deep in apartheid. But here comes this white gentleman [Sobey] and he comes and involves himself in work in the townships.
“For me, that’s significant because in those days, you didn’t find many white people venturing into the townships,” he said.
Japhta’s search produced an even more surprising discovery: it would seem the Sobey name has reach far beyond East London.
“I went to Google ‘Sobey’ and guess what, I came across a company of chain stores with over 1,500 shops in Canada which was started by a John William Sobey from England,” said Japhta.
He said he believes John William Sobey and DJ Sobey are related and tried to reach out to the store owners for assistance but had not received a response at the time of writing.
Japhta’s investigations are far from over and he is asking for help from anyone at home or even abroad who may be able to help shed some light on the life of a man who has left a lasting legacy on the city.
He is also looking to get in contact with family of former Frere Hospital staff member Dr Henk Kayser.
If you can assist, please contact Japhta at firstname.lastname@example.org.