Namibia's own Stevie Wonder

A blind musician dreams of becoming a broadcaster.

25 August 2019 | People

Tanja Bause

“My biggest dream in life is to be a radio presenter. I want to tell people stories and entertain them,” says Harry Rheeder (33).

Rheeder was born in Usakos, one of six children. He was born with retinitis pigmentosa, a rare genetic disorder that involves the breakdown and loss of cells in the retina, causing blindness.

“Most people with this illness only go blind in their early twenties. The doctors claimed that I was not born blind but turned blind, but I cannot remember ever being able to see,” Rheeder said.

When he was about nine months old, his mother Hannah, noticed there was something wrong with his eyes. He was taken to doctors and it was then discovered that he was completely blind.

“There was only one school for the blind in the North and one in South Africa. But both were too far away from Usakos and my parents did not have the money to send me, so I did not attend school until I was nine years old.”

The School for the Visually Impaired opened in Windhoek and Rheeder was one of the first students to enrol.

“My mother, who is my absolute rock in life, was a cleaner at the school in Usakos. On weekends when we were allowed to go home, she would climb onto a train on Thursday and be at the school on Friday to fetch me. We would then get on the train and go home. On Sunday she would bring me back to the hostel where after she would get back on the train to Usakos. We did not have a lot of money and she had to do a lot of saving to be able to fetch me,” Rheeder said.

“Every year my mother would also come to Windhoek to see me perform in the annual Christmas play at the school. She is my biggest supporter.”

Young love

According to Rheeder he always had a love for music. During once holiday he toyed with a small keyboard. When he returned to school, he told a teacher he wanted to learn how the play it.

The following year Raymond Platt, a teacher, taught Rheeder the basics of playing the piano. At that time he was ten years old.

Rheeder never learned to read music. “I listen to the songs and then I play them. I practise until they sound like the one I heard on the radio.”

He finished his matric at Windhoek Technical High School (HTS). “I am the only one in my family that has a matric certificate. None of my siblings finished high school. I am also the only one that went to study further.”

After school he worked as a braille proof-reader for the service centrum for the visually impaired. “It was a two-year contract and after it expired I was jobless. It is extremely difficult for people with disabilities to get work in Namibia. So I started to play the piano at the church every Sunday and in return they would pay my rent.”

In 2015 Rheeder and another man started to play the grand piano in the foyer of the Hilton Hotel in Windhoek three times a week. “This was the first time I got paid to play music.”

At the end of that same year he got the opportunity to study broadcasting in Botswana.

“Since radio and being on radio always was my real passion, I grabbed the opportunity with both hands and studied for three years. Thinking that with the diploma I could find a job at a radio or TV station but, once again, getting work as a disabled person proves to be very demanding and challenging. Thus I had to revert to playing music.”

He plays the piano at the Hilton on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 17:00 until 19:00.

“I play music that people can relate to. Music they hear on the radio and that they want to sing to. I want to entertain people and I want them to have a good time. I play old-school like Lionel Richie or new music from One Direction,” he said.

People who want to hire Rheeder for private or corporate events, can contact him on 081 689 5881.

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