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Epic walk to help fight cancer

The walk started at the Bloemfontein with the men covering more than 35km a day

A police helicopter hovers overhead as K9 unit members and other well-wishers wait to welcome the walkers into Port Elizabeth after they were on the road for 17 days.
A police helicopter hovers overhead as K9 unit members and other well-wishers wait to welcome the walkers into Port Elizabeth after they were on the road for 17 days.
Image: Fredlin Adriaan

Two retired police officers and a warrant officer walked 600km from Bloemfontein to Port Elizabeth in an initiative to raise funds for the fight against cancer.

The three arrived in Port Elizabeth yesterday on the last leg of their campaign, which saw them spend 17 days on the road.

Retired lieutenant-colonels Deon van der Merwe, from Bloemfontein, and Anton Crafford, from Bethulie in the Free State, both 60, and Warrant Officer Swannie Swanepoel, 50, from the Search and Rescue K9 Unit in Bloemfontein, arrived at the South End Fire Station at 9.30am.

The team was then escorted by police cars and officers, some with their dogs and others on horseback, for the last 3km of the walk, which ended at the Port Elizabeth K9 Unit.

A police helicopter hovered overhead as the group approached the unit’s Forest Hill premises, with curious onlookers hooting and waving.

As Van der Merwe – the former head of the Free State K9 and Mounted Unit – walked through the gates, he shed a tear while hugging unit commander Lieutenant-Colonel Chris Marais. “We made it,” he said simply.

The walk started at the Bloemfontein K9 unit on May 7 with the men covering more than 35km a day.

The initiative was to raise funds for the Cancer Association of South Africa (Cansa) following the death of Van der Merwe’s wife, Johlene, in 2015, after a 21-year battle with the disease.

Two retired police officers and a warrant officer walked 600km from Bloemfontein to Port Elizabeth in an initiative to raise funds for the fight against cancer.

Van der Merwe said he had been overwhelmed by the support and friendly waves from people in the Eastern Cape.

“It was a long walk, with some days hot, cold or windy, but we did it,” he said.

“What really amazed me was the reception from my fellow police when we walked in the Bay.

“People were driving past us smiling and waving while the police convoy came to give us an escort.”

Asked why they chose to walk to Port Elizabeth, he said it had been a choice between the city and Upington.

“Well, the decision was rather easy when you have to choose between those two places,” he joked.

This was the second fundraising “Walk for Johlene”, after the team covered 1 000km from Bloemfontein to Cape Town in 2016.

Van der Merwe said the campaign was also a way to pay tribute to caregivers who lived with cancer patients and to encourage police members living with cancer.

Asked about challenges along the way, he said he had had to stop walking for a while near the Eastern Cape town of Hofmeyr after getting blisters on his feet.

“I have a knee problem but luckily that did not act up. It was a great walk and I am so thankful for everyone who treated us so well,” he said.

Cluster commander MajorGeneral Thembisile Patekile joined the last leg of the walk and called on people across the country to support such drives.

“We support such great initiatives,” he said.

“In the police we have some of our own members battling with cancer.

“Communities are suffering from this dreaded disease and it is up to us to understand what they are going through.”

He said the team was a great example to others.

Deputy provincial commissioner Major-General Tembeka Dyantyi said: “[Cancer] can have a devastating effect on entire families. It does not know status, race or age and we need to fight it.

“This campaign is a prime example of how we as the police can warn others and get avoid them to do regular checkups to

being caught off guard.” To date, the team have raised about R11 000 but have further commitments from other sponsors on condition they finished the walk.

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