Matie Voices

Jacobus van der Riet

Alumnus of the Faculties of Arts and Social Sciences and Theology


“I do the caricatures not to show people as absurd but to show them appreciation; it requires empathy to try and put yourself in the other person’s shoes for a while.”

For Jacobus van der Riet, studying at Stellenbosch University (SU) went without saying. His mother worked at the University library and he could therefore study for free. The transition from school to university was also quite natural for him, since he grew up in Stellenbosch and knew the town.

Jacobus studied the BA Licentiate course with Honours in Greek from 1978 to 1981 and, after a two-year break from his studies to go and work for the Dutch Reformed Mission in Zimbabwe, he continued his studies at the Faculty of Theology from 1984 to 1987.

“It was striking how shrewd students were back then in the late 1970s and 1980s. In my class groups, there were always quite a few jokers who could express themselves well and make everyone laugh, both spontaneously in the class situation and on paper. I remember Prof Frans Smuts’s classes very well and how he, on his own, could act out an entire Latin comedy in class, complete with appearances and disappearances and all kinds of gestures and expressions.”

After university, Jacobus did alternative national service as lay preacher at the Groote Schuur Hospital, following in the footsteps of his original Van der Riet forebear. When the national service period was reduced from six to three years, Jacobus moved to Pretoria to lecture in Latin at Unisa and then to the USA to follow a theology course for the position of priest in the Orthodox Church at a Russian-orientated seminary, where he was inaugurated as priest in 2002.  He returned to South Africa to work in the Johannesburg city library while also serving as a priest in Brakpan, Eldorado Park, Springs and Rustenburg. “The first big lesson I learnt was not to feel sorry for myself when things got difficult.”

Jacobus feels that current and former lecturers throughout the country can make course material available for Afrikaans-speaking students on campus in both written and video form so that the Afrikaans academic language tradition is not lost. He devotes most of his free time to the translation of Orthodox liturgical texts from Greek into Afrikaans. He has also written a series of poems published by Protea in the volume “Die Onsienlike Son” (The unseeable sun) in 2012; a second volume is currently in the editing phase.

These days Jacobus keeps himself busy doing caricature drawings of well-known political and sports figures and refreshing old drawings of teachers and lecturers. “I do the caricatures not to show people as absurd but to show them appreciation; it requires empathy to try and put yourself in the other person’s shoes for a while.”

- By Elbie Els -