Kimberley, South Africa


The Apter Family

S Apter and Co, General Wholesalers, Southey Street Kimberley 

Contributed by Robin Apter, Australia (October 2019)

In the early 1900’s Solomon (born Zalman) Apter emigrated from Dvinsk in Latvia to Cape Town.  He spent some time in Cape Town and was on his way to Johannesburg when, it was said, through lack of travel documents, he had to stop in Kimberley.

Soon after his arrival, he opened up a corner shop selling general merchandise. This developed over the years of the early 20th century, to become S Apter & Co, what we believe was the first General Wholesaler in Kimberley and the Northern Cape area.

Solomon and his wife, Tetcha whom he married after she had emigrated from Poland to South Africa, had five children in Kimberley – Lionel, Emanuel (Mendel), Nina, Alexander (Alec) and Ethel. All 3 sons joined the armed forces during WW II, Lionel as a Doctor in the Army, Mendel the Navy and Alec the Air Force mainly as a bomber pilot but with a stint on the Spitfires as well.

After the War, Lionel continued his medical practice in Johannesburg. Mendel and Alec joined the family business helping their father until his death in 1955. Solomon had also brought in a landsman Phillip Kaplan to help in the business and was also later joined by his (Solomon’s) nephew, Bert Apter who also played a major part in the running of the business.

Harry Klein, in his formative years, also worked for Solomon Apter for a time until he left to start his own business which would later become another big wholesaler in Kimberley, Klein Brothers.  Mendel, Alec, Bert, and Phillip for a time, continued to run S Apter and Co until 1969 when Alec passed away at the very young age of 45. The business was sold soon thereafter, in 1970, and Mendel left Kimberley to pursue other interests.

S Apter & Co was situated in Southey Street approx. 300 metres from the opening circumference of the Big Hole. During the late 50s early 60s when the building was further expanded to include a larger basement area, the site was closely guarded 24/7 by persons associated with De Beers to ensure that all the excavated groundworks were taken to De Beers processing facilities.

The business was a General Wholesaler in the true sense of the word in that it dealt in a multitude of products (other than perishables). The main divisions were Groceries, Cigarettes and Tobacco, Sweets, Photographic Equipment, Arms and Ammunition, Bicycles, OTC Pharmaceuticals. The extended basements were built to house bags of staple foods.

S Apter & Co serviced the entire Northern Cape with Commercial Travellers calling on customers of every description, town and country shopkeepers, hoteliers and farmers. They did not sell to the public. I do remember being told of the many new arrivals / immigrants being granted extended credit by Solomon to assist in the start-up or expansion of their businesses. This practice was continued by the business after Solomon’s passing. Many great relationships and friendships were established as a result of this and as a child I remember meeting many of these customers when accompanying my father into the country areas to call on and say hello, attending their family occasions and weddings etc. Many Greek and Indian families were particularly welcoming and fun to visit both in Kimberley and the greater part of the Northern Cape.

The building still stands to this day with the everlasting “A” in the brickwork on the front edifice. Next door was Southey Street Motors, the well-known Volkswagen Distributor and service facility. Southey Street Motors was owned then, from memory, by three wholesalers, Apters, Awerbuck Brown, A David and one other individual / entity. It still exists to this day having moved further up the road into new premises having added Audi to its distributorship.

Lois Apter, wife of Dave, sent the picture above of Mendel Apter’s eldest grandchild Tim Apter catching the big A. She says that sadly Tim never got to meet his grandfather Mendel. 

The Apter Family

Solomon’s wife Tetcha passed away at a young age in 1935 and Solomon in 1955. They are buried in Kimberley. All the next generation of siblings have also passed on.

Lionel and Miriam’s children – Alan a Psychiatrist in Israel, Jeffrey a Psychiatrist in USA, Tessa a Clinical Psychologist in Israel

Mendel and Winnie’s children – David a Geologist in South Africa, Steven (deceased) (served in the SA Airforce)

Nina and Hymie’s children – Ivan Tockar (deceased) an SAA Pilot, Trevor Tockar a Barrister in Australia

Alec and Syb’s children – Robin a Chartered Accountant in Australia, Gaby in South Africa, Clifford an Advertising Executive in USA

Ethel and Buddy’s child – Diana (deceased) in Canada

Geraldine Auerbach remembers Nina who was married to Dr Hymie Tockar. She and Trevor Toube, as young teenagers, used to go to Hymie’s house in Memorial Road, every Saturday afternoon to listen to the latest records of classical music with him and Mossie Shapiro. This was their regular Shabbos pastime was a great education for us.  Nina used to bring us tea and delicious home baked cakes. 

Kevin E. Jooste says apparently Karen Muir (famous South Africa Olympic swimming medallist who grew up in Kimberley) learnt to swim in Uncle Mendel and Aunty Winnie's home pool in Memorial Road. And that their uncle Jack also was a very good salesman for the firm.