The Plant Conservation Unit Mourns the Passing of Sophia (Vytjie) Klaase

23 Mar 2017 - 10:15

Sophia Klaase passed away on the 9th March 2017 in an Upington hospital at the age of 35. Sophia (or Vytjie as she was more widely known) comes from the Namaqualand village of Paulshoek in the Leliefontein communal area and was well known to the Plant Conservation Unit (PCU). She had collaborated with researchers, students and colleagues from the PCU since the mid-1990s when the Director, Timm Hoffman, first started working in the village. Her main contribution, however, lay primarily in her photographic contributions which documented village life over nearly two decades. 

Vytjie had a rare talent for photography which was identified through a project run by Rick Rohde, an anthropologist and Honorary Research Associate of the PCU. In the late 1990s Rick organised for cameras to be distributed amongst different groups of people in Paulshoek to document everyday events or interesting aspects of daily life in the village. Vytjie’s work stood out from the rest and over the next 20 years she contributed over a 1,000 photographs and created a body of work which documents everyday life in Namaqualand that is unparalleled. Her eye for a good photograph was superb. As Rick said in his eulogy to Vytjie, “[She] had a rare gift [and] was able to see and engage the world through the lens of a camera in ways that would make many professional photographers envious.”

Through Rick’s ongoing interest in her work and with the help of Siona O’Connell (ex-UCT academic) Vytjie’s work has been exhibited at the University of Cape Town and the District Six Museum ( Academics have discussed her images in papers and a selection of her photographs has been published in a book called, ‘Hanging on a Wire: Photographs by Sophia Klaase', which celebrates her talent (; Rick put it appropriately when he suggested that, “Her visual record of the village of Paulshoek over so many years is a truly wonderful achievement and stands as a unique inheritance that will be treasured by present and future generations of South Africans".

Our condolences go to Vytjie’s mom, Johanna Gouws, her step-father, Hans Gouws, her sister, Janine Gouws, and all her friends who knew and loved her. We feel privileged to have known Sophia and to have been a part of her life which ended too soon. May she rest in peace.

Sophia Klaase

Hanging on a Wire: Photographs by Sophia Klaase