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Friday, August 22, 2014

BREAKING. Verna Vels dead at 81; creator of Liewe Heksie, Bennie Boekwurm, SABC's first female programming director dies after cancer struggle.


Verna Vels - creator of the iconic South African television characters Liewe Heksie ("Dear Witchy") and Bennie Boekwurm (Benny Bookworm) who became the SABC's and South African television's first female programming director has died after a battle with cancer. She was 81.

Afrikaans radio station RSG first reported the death of Verna Vels this morning.

Verna Vels died in her sleep last night, whilst battling cancer, diagnosed in December 2013.

Before her death Verna Vels, born Verna Barbara Robertson Vels on 13 June 1933, also worked as a script editor and director at the SABC2 Afrikaans soap 7de Laan, produced by Danie Odendaal Productions and was involved with the soap from its inception.

Verna Vels started working as a radio presenter at the SABC's office in Durban in 1954 and in 1963 she transferred to Auckland Park.

In 1974 as the SABC geared up to launch a TV service and TV1, Verna Vels was appointed to organise the creation of Afrikaans children's TV content at the public broadcaster and under her guidance long running shows like Kraaines, Wielie-Walie and Liewe Heksie were created.

Verna Vels was appointed as the first female programming director of TV1, the then biggest TV channel of the SABC and the highest position a woman held in television broadcasting in South Africa at the time.

She retired from the South African public broadcaster after serving 39 years in 1993.

Verna Vels' most iconic legacy to South African television will however be the creation of the beloved children's show Liewe Heksie - 52 episodes in 1976 - which has seen numerous rebroadcasts over three decades on many TV channels and delighted generation after generation of South African viewers.

Verna Vels also created the character of Bennie Boekwurm on TV1's Wielie-Walie - like Liewe Heksie also actually a radio creation from Siembamba - which she migrated to television.

Verna Vels was the voices of Liewe Heksie, Blommie, Matewis the cat as well as Bennie Boekwurm.

She died in her home in Brixton, Johannesburg after she was diagnosed with cancer in December 2013, and kept visiting the Lonehill set of 7de Laan twice a week as one of the supervising directors, even after starting chemotheraphy. She kept working until May this year.

The SABC paid tribute today to Verna Vels, saying she "played a critical role in the development and execution of programmes at the SABC" and that the SABC "learnt with sadness the passing of Verna Vels who was a respected television and radio personality".

"The SABC board and management on behalf of the corporation send its condolences and prayers to the Vels family during this difficult time".

"Verna's passing is an indescribable loss to us," says Danie Odendaal in a statement. "Her presence, judgement and creative input will be sorely missed", with Daniel Odendaal and Annie Basson calling Verna Vels not "only a much appreciated colleague but also a friend through several decades".

"Her cheerfulness and humour, courage, intelligence and indomitable spirit was a constant source of inspiration for cast and crew, young and old"

"When she was on set all of us had to mind our p's and q's, but there was also heaps of fun and laughter, and lots of strong Douwe Egberts coffee shared".