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Jan Lievens was a living institution

  • marimac 

By John Ackerman

Jan Lievens 20 February 1958 – 06 February 2023.

Jan Lievens was a living institution. He was a powerhouse of energy, commitment, enthusiasm, had a strong public spirit, readily spoke his mind and was passionate about post-harvest technology.

He spent his childhood in Antwerp, Belgium, where he went to school, college and university. In 1991, he and his wife Christine relocated to South Africa. Jan’s involvement in the South African refrigeration industry started in earnest when he was appointed as marketing manager of Aircontek Industries, an insulated panel manufacturer located in Airport Industria, Cape Town.

Image supplied
Image supplied

Being keen to play a role in his community, Jan later became chairman of the Airport Industria Business Association and in August 1996 joined SARDA as the appointed representative of Aircontek and remained a strong supporter of SARDA throughout his career. He believed in the mission and principles on which SARDA was founded and joined in his personal capacity in September 1997.

Through a mutual associate, Jan met Cees Nijssen of the Netherlands and in July 1998, Cees presented seminars in Cape Town to promote the Nijssen Filacell rapid cooling tunnels and post-harvest technology. Following the positive response by role players in the fruit industry, Nijssen (SA) was founded with Jan as its manager and offices in Welgemoed. The first Filacell tunnel in South Africa was fully imported from the Netherlands and installed in 1999 for Hochland Boerdery in Piketberg. Jan managed the entire project and formed a strong relationship with Hugo Schreiber, owner of Hochland Boerdery.

From those early seminars and more Filacell installations, post-harvest technology became Jan’s passion and his 24/7 focus. It was not just about the cooling concept but also about the packaging and airflow. A new open top carton with added openings for air flow was developed in the Nijssen laboratory in the Netherlands for the second Filacell installation at De Wets Co-Op in Wellington.

Jan had the highest regard for Cees and had regular contact with him long after Nijssen SA had closed and until the unexpected death of Cees in July 2020.

After being on the Cape committee, Jan was elected chairman of the Cape branch of SARDA in March 1999 and held that office until 2001. During this period, the members enjoyed a vigorous programme of interesting technical meetings, golf days, technical visits, a mid-year dance and prize giving in the Italian Club. Jan was the driving force. At the same time, he also played a leading role in the Durbanville Police Forum.

In 2002, Jan and Christine found a baby boy when he was only 8 weeks old. He was named Nicolas and after some lengthy legal challenges, was fully adopted, to form a very close-knit family. While Nicolas was doing his schooling, Jan did not hesitate to coach the Sunningdale under-9 football team. The ongoing joy and spark that Nicolas added to the lives of Jan and Christine, cannot be expressed in words.

With his outgoing personality, Jan excelled in marketing and for at least the last two decades, focused on the broad spectrum of post-harvest technology alongside his consulting services in the same field.

In 2011, Miatech, a worldwide leader in providing innovative, cost-efficient humidification and ethylene removal systems for the post-harvest industry, appointed Umhwebo Trading Enterprise CC (Jan Lievens’ business) to be their dealer in South Africa.

In the same year, Jan provided consulting services to set up a plant in Atlantis to manufacture polystyrene and insulated panels for cold rooms. Jan also undertook the marketing of the finished product and managed the advertising campaign.

Jan engaged regularly with a wide international circle of experts and professionals in post-harvest technology and packaging for the entire spectrum of fruits. Prof Umezuruike Linus Opara, South African chair in Postharvest Technology at Stellenbosch University, is to name but one. Engagement with Jan was always welcomed.

Health issues took its toll on Jan. In 2019, he was diagnosed with cancer, but with his positive outlook and determination, he recovered after successful treatment. Then in June 2022 he had a heart attack and survived, followed by another in November. Sadly, he did not survive the attack again on 6 February 2023.

He was big in stature and left a lasting impression on those with whom he engaged in business, socially and his community. In the words of Nicolas, “When you met Jan, you immediately either liked him or disliked him but he could not be forgotten.”

Our deepest sympathy goes to Christine and Nicolas. May you both find comfort in knowing that many friends, associates and clients share your loss and grieve. Rest in peace Jan, after a very active and full life. You lived a life free of the attitudes and judgements of others but believed in yourself and strived to be an inspiration to your loved ones and those closest to you.

John Ackermann