MyBroadband readers know Jannie van Zyl as one of the pioneers behind Vodacom’s 3G launch in 2005, the former iBurst CEO, and the current head of innovation at Vodacom.
What many people do not know is that he has one of the largest private computer restoration operations in South Africa.
Van Zyl’s love for PCs started in 1978 when he received his first computer – a Compukit UK-101 with a 1MHz 6502 CPU, 4KB of RAM and 1KB of display memory – when he was 14.
He later upgraded to a DAI 8080 system with advanced graphics and sound in 1980, which lasted him until IBM PCs became dominant.
His first IBM PC was a Taiwanese Takeaway system with an 8088 CPU running at 8MHz, 640KB of RAM, and 2 x 360KB floppy drives.
While he was growing up, he also enjoyed reading about many great computers in magazines, but could not afford them.
Found my home
Fast forward four decades, and van Zyl decided to make his childhood dreams come true by restoring the computers which he always wanted to own.
He discovered a large group of people on the Internet who collected and restored old computers. “I found my spiritual home,” said van Zyl.
Instead of buying restored computers at a premium on sites like eBay, van Zyl joined an active local vintage computing community in South Africa where members help each other to get machines.
There are also active vintage computing threads on the MyBroadband forum, where van Zyl picked up machines from forum members.
“One person – Peter Job – absolutely stands out. Peter has been collecting for many years and has forgotten things about vintage computers mere mortals still need to learn,” he said.
“I met him on MyBroadband about two years ago and he donated his full collection to me. A kid in a candy shop does not come close to what I found when I first visited him.”
Van Zyl’s initial plan to get two models of each of the computers he always wanted flew out of the window, and a 5-to-10 system restoration project turned into 150 computers and counting.
Van Zyl said he does not have favourites when it comes to computer restoration. “Any computer which fully works after being restored is great,” he said.
“My passion is still component-level electronics, so it’s a real high to debug and repair these old systems down to component level.”
A behind-the-scenes look at van Zyl’s computer restoration operation, in his workspace at his home in Plattekloof in Cape Town, is below.