'Mick Jagger of UWC' gets his Master's at 71

2016-07-23 09:11
Anthony de la Harpe receives his Master's. (Johan Samuels)

Anthony de la Harpe receives his Master's. (Johan Samuels)

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Cape Town - After receiving his Master’s degree in history at the age of 71 this week, Anthony de la Harpe is ready to tackle his PhD.

"Just call me the Mick Jagger of UWC," the graduate from Belhar in Cape Town joked on Friday.

The former teacher and member of the first Land Claims Commission proved it’s never too late to finish what you started when he attended his graduation ceremony on Thursday, more than 30 years after discontinuing his first attempt at his Master’s in 1982.

De la Harpe, who grew up in the Port Nolloth region in Namaqualand, matriculated in 1962 and was accepted to study in Lesotho’s Roma University, but opted to complete his Lower Secondary Teachers Diploma at the University of the Western Cape, then referred to as Bush College.

In 1968, he passed three first-year courses for a B.Admin from Unisa. In 1975 he completed a BA degree in history at UWC, followed by his honours in 1977.

During his first attempt at his Master’s in 1982, his supervising professor suggested a topic about "race relations on the Northern Cape frontier" in 1750.

De la Harpe, who worked as a teacher during apartheid until 1989, said he struggled to work up any sort of enthusiasm for the topic - "given the situation at the time".

"Sometime after that, I read by chance A history of copper mining in Namaqualand by John M Smalberger. I stood transfixed at reading about the history of my own community and region, and from there the path was true and straight about what I had to do.

"Since then, I have drawn up a bibliography of Namaqualand of 220-odd typed pages (and growing), which remains a source of utter amazement. Like everybody else, I could however not find the time and motivation to start, finding myself caught up in the intermittent upheavals at high school between 1972 and 1989."

'Horrendous incidents'

After resigning from Modderdam High in Bonteheuwel in 1989, another short stint in teaching followed, as well as six months as a furniture salesman.

In the early 1990s he joined the Surplus People’s Project in Athlone, a public interest research organisation specialising in housing and land-related issues.  

In 1995 he was part of the first team of the Regional Land Claims Commission, where he met thousands of claimants and listened to their tragic stories of dispossession under the Group Areas Acts.

He still recalls many of the heart-breaking stories he heard in the 13 years he worked for the commission.

"In one instance, a woman was laying on her death bed when the bulldozers came to their house in Goodwood and started breaking down the front of her home. About a week later, her coffin was carried through the hole the government had made. How do you deal with such horrendous incidents?"
When his contract expired in 2008, De Le Harpe joined a mining development company in the Northern Cape, where he worked as director until 2012.

He registered at UWC in 2013, with the same student number he received when he first enrolled in 1963.

His thesis was on farm sales and the establishment of copper mining in the Namaqualand, and also focused on a land claim involving the Cloete family who lost the farm they had owned since 1850 to English miners.

'Obligation to tell their story'

De La Harpe said researching his topic wasn’t very difficult.

"It’s something I had informally started with while working at the Land Claims Commission," he explained.

"Doing my thesis on this was just a natural progression. I had an obligation to tell their story."

De la Harpe said he felt "rather silly" on Thursday, being the oldest graduate among the young students.

"When I went to get my gown for the ceremony, the assistant called me professor. She wouldn’t believe me when I said I was a student," he laughed.

"And I remember when I went to have my thesis bound; I gave the assistant my student number which starts with my registration year, '63'. The man pointed out that I started studying even before he was born!"

The father of three, who in his spare time still helps land claimants with reports for their applications, said he is writing up a proposal and if he can scrape the funds together would do a PhD entitled "The discovery of the diamond fields of Namaqualand 1925-1950".

Read more on:    uwc  |  cape town  |  education

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