Tribute to Dr Jaap Steenkamp

By Fanie Viljoen – CEO, Novelquip Forestry

The South African forestry industry has lost a stalwart in Dr Jacob Cornelus Steenkamp, better known as ‘Jaap’, who passed away in his hometown of George on 22 July 2021 after a two year battle with an interstitial lung disease.

Jaap was born in 1958 in Theunissen and attended Brandfort High School whereafter he enrolled for a B.Sc Forestry at the University of Stellenbosch. Jaap would later graduate with a Doctorate in Business Administration from the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU), and an MBA from Stellenbosch University Business School. He also acquired a diploma in Road Transport Management from the RAU and an Environmental Economics certificate of competence from Rhodes University.

As a student Jaap attended the Bonnievale high school matric dance as a blind date for Ms. Careen van der Westhuizen. Little did Jaap know that this dance would endure for the next 39 years. Jaap and Careen, or Fiena as Jaap affectionately called her, married in 1983 in Bonnievale. Their son Helgaard was born in 1987 and their daughter Joan in 1989.

After completing his military service Jaap’s career in forestry started with the Dept. of Environmental Affairs as a Junior Forester in 1981 in the Knysna area. By 1989 he had started his own contracting concern servicing SAFCOL in the Nelshoogte area.

In the same year Jaap co-founded the South African Forestry Contractors Association as an organization to represent and assist forestry contractors and forward their interests in the commercial forestry sector. Jaap was intimately involved in the leadership of SAFCA for nearly 32 years until his passing and he played an immense role in developing SAFCA from its humble beginnings with just nine founding contractors to an organisation with some 300 members, who represent around 90% of all forestry contractors currently active in South Africa and employing up to 30, 000 people. Jaap helped SAFCA live up to its vision of being an apolitical, non-racial, non-profit association established to serve and uplift forestry contractors on a fair and equal basis.

Jaap relocated to George to commence an academic career at the NMU Saasveld campus in 2003 where he would become a senior lecturer in the Forestry Programme. It is here that Jaap played an instrumental role in shaping many future foresters. He authored or co-authored a number of scientific papers and supervised or co-supervised many post-graduate students.

Dr Muedanyi Ramantswana, a friend, colleague and former student of Jaap notes that ‘Oom Jaap’ was a wealth of knowledge. “He had a passion for sharing valuable information and skills with his students, through his intriguing lectures and one on one conversations. He supervised many postgraduate students and made a lasting impact on many graduates, especially in the specialised field of Business Management. Dr Steenkamp had a vision to see the forestry industry become better, through equipping people with knowledge and creating technology. He always had the best interests of the forestry industry in his heart, and we will always remember him as a caring friend, a great lecturer, a visionary and successful entrepreneur. He had many sayings, one of his favourites was ‘the cutting edge is also the bleeding edge’ – we pay tribute to a pioneer who lived his life on the cutting edge of life. A great tree has fallen, may his legacy live on in the forestry industry,” commented Muedanyi.

Jaap was as an incredibly innovative and visionary man. During his PhD studies which researched the impact of HIV Aids on the local forestry industry, Jaap realized that in time foresters would come under increasing pressure to mechanize silviculture operations to create decent jobs and increase competitiveness. For Jaap, every problem had a solution and he would lie awake at night drawing hand sketches of potential solutions to mechanization challenges, many of which were far ahead of their time. Several national and international patents are attributed to him.

In 2007 he ventured into entrepreneurship by starting Novelquip Forestry (Pty) Ltd, formerly known as Multipit, as a vehicle to bring his silviculture mechanization ideas to life. In 2009 Jaap’s son Helgaard joined the business and together they introduced various ground-breaking innovations, including the ubiquitous Multipit MPAT pitting machine, of which more than 40 units have been implemented in the local industry. Jaap would later branch his business interests out to include Silvimech, a silviculture contractor, and Forestry and Allied Manufacturing, a manufacturing concern specializing in forestry engineering solutions. Jaap’s dream was to introduce a fully mechanized planter to the market and much of his energy and time over the past decade was dedicated to the realization of this dream. Excellent progress has been made and Helgaard and the Novelquip team will continue to work tirelessly to achieve this dream in honour of Jaap.

“Jaap’s legacy will endure in the ongoing commercialisation of his planting inventions via Novelquip and its strategic alliances,” commented Guy Harris, Chairman of Novelquip. “His innovation and determination will continue via the company he founded.”  

Jaap continued to consult widely in the industry and remained closely involved with the forestry contracting industry. He served a term on the National Forestry Advisory Council, was  a member of the Forestry Charter Council and served on the FIETA Forestry Chamber and Authority for eight years. In 2014 Jaap was recognized by the Southern African Institute of Forestry for his exceptional service to forestry in Southern Africa. Considering all Jaap’s achievements and involvement in numerous projects, it’s hard to believe that one man could have been involved in so much. But he was so passionate about what he did that he never saw it as work and he would never shy away from opportunities to contribute to the forestry cause where he could, even when there was no personal gain.

Tributes received from a number of Jaap’s forestry colleagues on news of his passing provide an indication of how highly he was regarded in the industry:-

Andrew McEwan (CMO):  “Jaap will be remembered as someone who worked tirelessly for the betterment of the South African forestry industry. There are few who have contributed so much and on so many fronts. Jaap was not prepared to accept the status quo and went out of his way to change things for the better, fight for what he believed in and develop people to be more professional. This fed into his multiple roles as teacher, lecturer, researcher, entrepreneur, innovator and leader. He has changed the forestry landscape and for this we are forever indebted.”

Dean de Costa (Senior Silviculture Specialist, Mondi SA): “Jaap was a business colleague and a friend. We knew each other for many years and he always found time in his busy schedule when he came to KZN to pop in for a visit and chat about our forest industry, modernisation developments and more importantly life in general. A lot of people don't realise the contribution that Jaap made to the modernisation of silviculture and the number of operational designs now commonly found throughout are as a direct result of his design and innovation. Jaap was a pool of knowledge and not only was he technically astute but his business savvy was always valuable. He was a man of strong Christian principles and his love for his family was always at the fore in our personal chats. Jaap was immensely proud of their achievements and the close knit bond they enjoyed. I will miss you old friend; your loss to our technological journey and to the forestry fraternity is profound. We will meet again.”  

Michal Brink (CMO): “When thinking of Jaap, I see a larger than life figure – a plus tree that remains in the forest to provide for future generations. One expects the plus tree to be there forever – not expecting it be taken down so suddenly before its time by a pandemic. Jaap, you left us too early and still had so much to contribute through your entrepreneurial spirit and never-give-up attitude. Thank you for what you meant to so many of us – we salute you and may you rest peacefully my dear friend.”

Jaap was a deeply religious man who was unwavering in his faith and his devotion to his heavenly Father. He led his local church congregation with weekly services and touched the lives of his fellow church members in unimaginable ways. He was  spiritual mentor and father figure to many.

Away from the forest and lecture hall, Jaap was a passionate hunter and conservationist who enjoyed spending time in the bush with his family. Jaap’s friends will remember him as a kind and compassionate man who always stood up for what he believed in.  

Dwayne Marx, a close friend and mentee, noted that Jaap was a forest modernization pioneer who touched thousands of lives, and who will always be remembered as a Forestry Legend.

Anyone that knew Jaap would attest to his love of and dedication to his family. Nothing was as important to him than his faith and family. He is survived by his wife Careen, son Helgaard, daughter Joan, daughter-in-law Nadia and three grandchildren.

In his lifetime Jaap’s contribution to forestry and its people was far reaching and his loss will without a doubt be felt by many. But his legacy in the forestry industry will endure to be felt by many more.

A memorial is to be held for Jaap on Friday 30 July at 11:00 will be live streamed and those interested in attending virtually can make contact with Fanie Viljoen by email at