Dr Johann de Jager's students call him 'Oom Jabu'.

Finding friendship
across the divide

Mix one white Afrikaner academic who speaks Potchefstroom English with one black postgraduate student known for his political activism… It sounds like a recipe for disaster, doesn’t it?

Not necessarily – especially not if their names are Dr Johann de Jager and Raymond Hlungwani.


In two inspiring letters recently published on Network24, these two men tell the story of how the persistent goodwill of a culture-sensitive white man turned the heartfelt distrust of a black man into respect and even love.


At first, Johann, alumnus and former lecturer of the Potchefstroom Campus – and more recently Mafikeng Campus lecturer too – was definitely not the study leader that Raymond wanted for his master’s studies in journalism.


A white study leader? Really?


In his letter Raymond says he could not understand why the university assigned a white study leader to him, knowing that he was the most controversial student on campus.


“And then this man came and changed my attitude in so many ways.”


He discovered qualities such as honesty, kindness and genuine concern in Johann, who became much more than a study leader to him.

“My whole life I distrusted white people… I was wrong. Just as there were black people who supported apartheid, there were white people who did not support it.”


This seems very true about Johann. In his letter he writes that his grandfather and a Zulu chief were close friends for many years and that his father lived in a Zulu hut while researching the Zulu culture for his master’s studies in ethnology.


Just like any other guest


“In our home, African people were met at the front door and seated in the fancy sitting room, just like any other guest... The discussions then took place in isiZulu and Sesotho.”


After retiring as a communication expert at Absa, Johann moved to Mahikeng in 2008 to “teach the children” on the NWU’s Mafikeng Campus. There he realised that his Mafikeng students were exactly like his former Potchefstroom students, his own daughters, his son and his grandchildren – they all have the same expectations, ideals and dreams.


A special name


Today, Johann and his wife, Lien, live in Pretoria, but he is still a study leader for several postgraduate students. He says his students call him “Oom Jabu”, which is short for his Zulu name, Jabulané.


The name that Raymond gave him is even more special. At the end of his letter, Raymond writes: “I call him Honourable Jabu, my best study leader ever.”


The story unfolding in these two letters is enough to inspire all South Africans to agree with Raymond’s view: “To overcome South Africa’s challenges in education, health, the economy and the mines, we need a united nation.”


What a certain recipe for success.



The NWU & U


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Raymond Hlungwani says Johann changed his attitude in many ways.

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