Old Joe

13 November 2015 by Katy Johnson

If you ask any Nelspruiter to list three iconic symbols of Nelspruit, Old Joe would feature on almost everyone’s list. 

A guardian of the town since 1927, Old Joe has worn many different hats and has been painted many colours, but independent of whether he is decked out in Springbok green and gold, dressed as a Galito’s chicken, or with a rhino’s horn attached, he is and always will be Old Joe.

If you aren’t from Nelspruit, you might wonder “Who is Old Joe?”. Well he isn’t a him, he is a rock! Erected by the road crew building the Schoemanskloof road in honour of their foreman Johannes (Joe) Barbas, it has become a landmark on the road in and out of Nelspruit.

Almost from the moment it was first erected people have been painting Old Joe. Historical pictures show simple designs and some more intricate efforts, but it has only been since local artist Wouter de Witt aka ‘Ghost’ took charge that Old Joe has really gained celebratory status.

Ten years ago Wouter passed Old Joe, who at that point was poorly painted as a rugby player, and thought, ‘I see it differently’. Up until then Old Joe’s shape had lead most painters to transform him into some version of a rather ample man standing upright. As the rocks protrusion made the perfect South African ‘boep’! Wouter saw the bulbous lump not as a stomach but more like a nose and with this in mind he got drawing. His first Old Joe came to life in 2005 and took a day to paint. The response was fantastic and ever since for the past 10 years Wouter has been Old Joe.

Along with TRAC, Wouter has become Old Joe’s guardian, giving him a fresh lick of paint and an updated look every few months. Under Wouter’s skilful eye Joe has been transformed into cricket players, the virgin mother and child, a cat, countless TRAC mascots, the Webb Elis Cup and Wouter’s favourite the Pumas mascot.

Each takes about a litre of Plascon Polvin paint to complete and takes around 6 hours. With Wouter giving the whole rock a base paint colour before completing the detail. While he works people often stop and join him for a while, but his greatest admirers are his children Ethan and Nadia who often help their dad. 

On the odd occasion Wouter’s masterpieces do get vandalised, but as long as it isn’t done maliciously Wouter sees it as people adding their own mark. When asked if he will ever stop the answer is, “he’ll carry on until he can’t do it any longer or someone takes his place”.

As a result of Old Joe Wouter is often asked to paint other rocks. His answer however is always “No!”. He will only paint previously painted rocks as he doesn’t believe in vandalising nature. When it comes to previously painted rocks, none is more so than Old Joe. With over 5mms of paint laid down in wafer thin layers so far, it is safe to say Old Joe gains a bit more stature as well as bit more fame with every new coat.

Follow the coordinates: S 25° 23.096'   E 30° 32.395'  to find Old Joe.

Or contact Wouter to find out more or enquire after his painting skills:

ghost@telkomsa.net | +27 (0)82 428 7895.