Find Her Son After Ten Year


   There is a world  wide fraternity of telephone card collectors who pursue their unusual hobby with an all-consuming passion. It was this network who this month re-united a Cape Town woman with her long lost son.
  The man was traced to the West Indies through word of mouth among the extensive world family of phonecard collectors.
  For more than a decade Martha Roberts of Lavender Hill used to go regularly to Cape Town docks to wait for her beloved son Gerald Bergstedt, now 40, to step off a fishing boat and into her loving arms. But she always left disappointed.
Over the years she sought the help of government officials and even went to parliament and approached the media, to no avail.
  Then Gert Eksteen a Plumstead telatelist ? the term for people who collect telephone cards ? got involved and it took only three days to bring Bergstedt home in time for Mothers Day this month.
  “It’s amazing that a piece of plastic could change the destiny of a family,” Eksteen said.
The touching story played out across continents began when Bergstedt left home to work on a Taiwanese fishing trawler in 1989.
  Leaving a snoek as a farewell gift for his impoverished, jobless mother and hugging his adopted daughter, Lilian, he left in a taxi and set sail for the high seas.
But in his haste he forgot his identity document, little realising that this would change the course of his life and literally keep him in exile.
  In September that year, he sent $300 to Lilian, the child of his sister who had been killed in a car accident. That was the last the family heard from him.
Without the support of her son, Roberts fell on hard times and had to move out of her home into a small room at the back of a house in Lavender Hill. Bergstedt’s letters to the old address went unanswered.
  In 1994, Roberts began actively looking for her son and called shipping agents but they could not trace him. His disappearance was reported to the police and his picture was splashed on television and in the newspapers but there was no trace of him.
  Home affairs presumed he was dead and closed his files, Roberts said.
  “People told me I was crazy to believe he was still alive but little hints and clues kept me going.”
  A few weeks ago Roberts could bear it no longer and burst into tears when the last fisherman to disembark from a Taiwanese boat was not her son.
  Her sobbing was heard by a couple whom offered to help and put her in touch with Cape Town attorney Rina Pienaar.
  Enter Eksteen, the telatelist who boasts the largest South African collection of cards, from 280 countries.
  In fact, he is known as “The Library” because he has millions of phonecards ? no exaggeration ? and corresponds with 920 collectors worldwide.
  I started collecting cards on New Year’s Day 1998 and wrote letters to postmasters worldwide, one of which was on St Martin’s Island in the Caribbean.
  The St. Martin’s postmaster put him in touch with Bill Rankin, also a keen collector and honourary South African consul on the Island.
  Rankin, who is originally from Port Elizabeth, and Eksteen began swopping cards. Meanwhile Rankin’s wife Marlene had met Bergstedt in the local hospital. He had tuberculosis and the two got talking about South Africa. Rankin asked Eksteen to help find Bergstedts mother in Cape Town, which he did.
  “I got a written message to get hold of Eksteen and believe it or not I used a phonecard to contact him. He told me Gerald was alive and on St. Martin Island,” Roberts told Saturday Argus.
  Photocopies of mother and son’s identity documents were scanned  into a computer and sent to Rankin on St. Martin’s. Within three days Bergstedt was on a plane to South Africa.
  He was given the all clear for his TB but with stricter rules on illegal aliens, immigration officials were not keen to let him into the country even though he is South African.
  Eksteen went to rescue again. “I asked them to just let him through security to see his mother and they would be able to judge whether he was telling the truth about his citizenship.
“When mother and son finally met there was so much emotion that even the officials began to cry,” Eksteen said.
  Bergstedt said he was thrilled to be home but;  “I did not cry. A man must not cry or others will see his weak points. I needed to be strong for her (his mother), to make her heart strong.”
  He said he would stay at home for at least a year, until he was completely recovered and strong enough to go back to sea.

This article and Photo appeared in our national newspapers.
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