89 years young and still going strong

Not every university boasts a 89-year old professor, but the NWU is privileged to have Prof Johannes Lenake as a lecturer who still shares his wealth of knowledge with our students.

At the age of 89, Prof Johannes Lenake is still full of zest for life. Besides lecturing students on the campus in Vanderbiljpark, he is translating beloved Sesotho folktales into English and doing some farming into the bargain.




The Eish!

team sat down

with this

NWU legend

to listen to

his story.

It started on 15 January 1929 on a farm in Frankfort where a mother and father of nine children were making an honest living as farm workers. Did his father ever think that little Johannes would grow into a literary giant in the 90 years that followed?


The farmer who employed Johannes’ father helped him set up a piece of the farm in which he would share in the profit. He also allowed the Lenake siblings to attend school and all nine of them finished their primary schooling. In those days, a learner would complete standard six (Grade 8) and then progress to college for Forms 1, 2 and 3 (which was like completing Grade 10).


Starting out as teacher


Johannes finished Form 3 at Stofberg Gedenkskool and proceeded with two years of teacher training. In 1950 he started teaching at what he calls a “one-man school” in Theunissen, teaching 24 children between Sub A and Standard 4.


He enrolled to finish his matric through Trans Africa Correspondence College. “I thought, now I will study!” By the time 1951 arrived, Johannes Lenake had passed Sesotho A (similar to today’s Home Language), Afrikaans A and English B (like today’s First Additional Language) and boasted a matric qualification with exemption.


He started a new position at another farm school, but moved on within a year and was appointed as an assistant teacher at a township school. Here he worked for six years until he was appointed principal at a Colesberg school. Again, Johannes saw the merit in further studies and enrolled at Unisa for his BA with psychology and Sesotho as major subjects.


Finding a home in higher education


After graduating at the end of 1962, Unisa instantly appointed him as a language assistant and he continued his studies, enrolling for his honours degree.


In the 35 years that followed, he not only obtained that honours degree, but also a master’s and PhD. He worked as a senior lecturer from 1979 and later as an assistant professor. In 1987, he was promoted to full professor. He retired in 1994 but served the university until 1997 on a part-time basis.


After his retirement, he joined the NWU’s campus in Vanderbijlpark, supervising senior students completing their honours, master’s and PhD studies. These days he shares his abundant knowledge with undergraduate students as a lecturer in Sesotho (introduction to Sesotho and language acquisition).


What is next?


Johannes is currently working on a project with author and poet Antjie Krog, a legend in her own right. They are translating Sesotho texts into English. He is very excited about the wealth of literary treasures that will soon be available for all to enjoy: among them is the drama of Senkatana, a giant mythical monster from Basotho folklore.


He also finds time to work on an 8,5-hectare farm that he bought some time ago and started farming with chickens. The chicken farm has evolved into a pig farm which currently houses 32 little pigs.


One thing is sure, at 89 years Prof Johannes Lenake shows no sign of slowing down and his zest for life is evident from the anecdotes he shares with a giggle. His message is one of hard work, passion for your craft and respect for others: truly the mark of a legend.