At 80 years of age, Antoinette Swart is not yet tired of studying. She is busy with her sixth degree at Stellenbosch University (SU) and hopes to obtain her DPhil in antique studies in 2019. “When I was a little girl of 12, our family holidayed in Stellenbosch and stayed in the old CSV building, now the ABSA bank building. My father, an ex-Matie, told many stories about his student days. My dream of also one day becoming a Matie began during that holiday beneath the oak trees and beside the water furrows along the streets.”
After matriculating from Rustenburg High in North West at the age of 16, Antoinette’s dream of finally becoming a Matie was realised. Over the years, she obtained the following degrees from SU: 1957 – BSc (botany and zoology); 1958 – BSc (honours) cum laude (botany); 1960 – MSc (botany); 2011 – BPhil (Bible Interpretation); and, 2013 – MPhil (Bible interpretation) cum laude, at the age of 75. She loved her student years and the annual song festival and the residence functions were her highlights.
A wide range of interests and a sense of curiosity drove Antoinette to continue studying and, in time, this became a ‘habit’. Her mother called her a ‘professional student’. Three of Antoinette’s grandchildren also studied at SU. Johannes Coetzee, her third grandchild, is currently a third-year student working towards a BSc computer science degree. Her legacy to her children and grandchildren is, “Whatever is worth doing at all, is worth doing well”.
“I’m very positive about South Africa, especially when you look at the attitudes and accepting nature of all citizens at grassroots level in our multicultural society. I feel that good progress is being made in the building of relationships among people. I also get the same feeling on campus – in the JS Gericke Library, the Neelsie or when I sit at a cement table outside the Neelsie drinking coffee and chatting with fellow students.”
As a young graduate, Antoinette first worked as a junior lecturer in botany at SU and then as a technical research officer at the Fruit Research Station in Stellenbosch. While her husband was furthering his studies at the Agricultural Campus of the University of Toronto, Antoinette worked as a research assistant in the Botany Department. Then followed more or less 10 years of staying at home as a mother to give her children her fulltime attention.
Antoinette then started her career in education in earnest and, as a senior biology teacher, could transfer her love for the wonder of creation to children – at Grey College in Bloemfontein and at Afrikaans Girls’ High in Pretoria. She then worked as a senior lecturer in botany at the Pretoria Teachers’ Training College and as acting lecturer in the didactics of biology at Unisa for six months. Her career came to an end with her husband’s retirement, but she remained active as a volunteer at the Two Oceans Aquarium in Cape Town, including presenting part of the training course for volunteers, with marine invertebrates as the specialist subject.
She has learned to seize every day. “Carpe diem. Do it without pause because, when the seconds have passed, they will never return. We should, in all humility, remember every day what Koos du Plessis sings in his Gebed (Prayer): ‘Wat ek is, is net genade. Wat ek het, is net geleen.’ (What I am, is only grace. What I have, is only borrowed.)
- By Elbie Els -