Growing up in Hanover Park, Pastor Ivan Koopman knows what it’s like for boys to resist the pressure of joining a gang, and he hopes to give them the guidance he says he wishes he’d had during his youth.
Pastor Koopman grew up in one of the most gang-infested areas on the Cape Flats and at 15, he left Crystal High School in Standard 6 (now Grade 8) to work as a tea boy, earning R11 a month, to support his four siblings.
He calls his teenage years the “depressed years” of his life. He witnessed people being killed, young boys being stabbed, and people’s hopes and dreams being shattered when they moved from farms to the city only to discover that Cape Town’s bright lights hid many a dark truth.
At 24, his family moved to Mitchell’s Plain and he applied to do night classes Crystal High School. At the same time, he was completing a paramedic course while working at the emergency services and he became a qualified paramedic at the age of 25.
“It was difficult getting in because I hadn’t even attained my Grade 8 certificate when I left school. Being a young man, I had to fight the pressure of joining a life of crime, and I used my faith, my mom and siblings, who I knew needed me, to push me in the right direction. It was difficult being an adult at that young age.”
At the age of 28, he got married and had a child. In 1987, he became a pastor. Being a pastor meant that he could work in his community, which was something he always aspired to do, he says.
Finally, at the age of 40, Pastor Koopman matriculated. Soon thereafter, he moved to Dubai and worked as a medical manager. At the age of 60, he moved back to South Africa and started writing books.
He published his first book, Many Miles: A life story, telling of his difficult childhood, at the age of 61. Van Waaifontein, a 90-page book of Afrikaans poetry, followed. At 65, he wrote his first work of fiction, Serina: Moeder, Roos van my Hart, about people seeking work in Cape Town but finding only the death of their dreams. Other works include Seun na die Storm; Sleetels, the Afrikaans version of Many Miles; and Sfere van Stere, which is about an 8-year-old girl who is raped and later in life confronts her rapist.
“It was important to write about it so that other victims know that they can come forward and are not alone. They must also know that they should report the crime and never be afraid to tell the truth. Back then, many victims told their families of their assaults but they did not believe them,” he says.
Pastor Koopman has since published Serina Omnibus, a compilation of four of his books, which was launched at the Hanover Park library in 2019.
In July Pastor Koopman will be travelling to Dubai to graduate with his Bachelor’s degree in theology.
“This is really one of my greatest milestones,” he says. “I hope to help youth moving forward as I am in a better position to do so now. I want to empower them by giving them the right tools to guide them, especially the young boys from Hanover Park.”