Antonnette Botha, blind from birth, studied for a teaching diploma in music at Stellenbosch University (SU) from 1954 to 1956. “I did music at the Conservatory, although that wasn’t my first choice. I’d always wanted to teach – that was my great goal in life – but I didn’t know where I’d find work as a blind person. Careers for blind people were few and far between in those days,” she recalls.
After matric, Antonnette did a two-year course in braille shorthand with commercial subjects at the School for the Blind (today the Pioneer School) in Worcester. At the beginning of her second year into the course, the school principal offered her the music teaching post at the school with the understanding that she would first qualify as a teacher. He thought she would simply study for a teaching licentiate through the post. “Then I thought no, I want more than just a licentiate, I want to get a proper teaching qualification.”
She says that her shorthand course proved to be of great worth to her at university in taking notes during lectures, since that was still before the days of sound recording. Her braille typewriter also came in handy and she relied on volunteers to read coursework so that she could make notes for herself.
After her studies, Antonnette returned to the School for the Blind where she taught music and shorthand. Victor Vaughan, who drew up a braille shorthand for Afrikaans and who happened to be vice-principal of the school, later asked her to consolidate the Afrikaans braille shorthand system with the expanded English shorthand. “That was my first major work in braille. I didn’t know then that it would chart the course of the rest of my life.” Later, a need also arose internationally to renew the entire English braille system and Antonnette did a lot of work on this in the last years of her career.
From 1996, Antonnette was chairperson of various braille committees. This led to her travelling widely between 1997 and 2010 to attend braille meetings. The Code Maintenance Committee was established after 2004 and Antonnette remained a member of this committee until 2013. She has since returned to her childhood hometown of Rawsonville. The ATKV holiday resort there, the Goudini Spa, was her grandfather’s farm, where she grew up.
Antonnette is now working to finish a book started by Connie Aucamp, the first blind student to study at SU physically, from 1949 to 1950. The plan is to finish the book before Connie’s 91st birthday in May this year. “Today, at the age of 84, I’m still working myself to a standstill because I promised her I’d make sure her book would be finished if she could no longer finish it herself.” The book is for people who can already read ordinary writing but who now have to learn to read braille. The name of the book is Ses Punte, which is appropriate, since the entire braille system is based on six points.
Antonnette believes that universities continue to play an important role in training and, she says, “of course I want Afrikaans to remain strong”. She concludes: “I get my inspiration in life from Above. I’m a bit of a perfectionist in my work and I want things to be right.”
- By Elbie Els -