/FEEL GOOD | Second doctorate in 10 years for pensioner

FEEL GOOD | Second doctorate in 10 years for pensioner

While most pensioners are using their retirement to wind down, one man has been using his time to study –  not just for one doctorate – but for two.

Dr John Boje, 83, managed to achieve this feat in a space of just 10 years.  

“I wasted my time at school and in my undergraduate days at university, and have had to compensate for the mediocre results achieved in my youth. 

Boje was among 11 000 graduates at the University of Pretoria (UP) to be awarded his qualification in a virtual graduation ceremony on 6 April. He was awarded his PhD in English, making it his second doctorate under his belt after completing one in History, from the same institution, in 2010. 

“My advice to undergraduates is: Don’t waste your time, and you won’t need to do two doctorates to prove yourself,” Boje said

Boje, is a former teacher who taught in England, Swaziland and South Africa. He hails from a family of eight children, from Cape Town. 

Dr John Boje
Dr John Boje obtained two doctorates in a decade. (Supplied, University of Pretoria)


Born translator

His love from English was born out of his Afrikaans-speaking father’s struggle to find work due to his limited command of English. 

“As a result, he was determined that I would be brought up as an English-speaker, and amazingly he and my mother stuck to this resolve despite their own limitations and the Afrikaner-nationalist censure they had to endure,” Boje said.

As an English-speaker in an Afrikaans-speaking family, he said he was a translator from birth. 

He translated texts from English to Afrikaans and from Afrikaans to English throughout his childhood. 

“I did it for the pleasure I derived from the challenge – the (im)possibility of saying something in one language successfully in another language” he said.

While completing matric at Wynberg Boys’ High School in 1953 he encountered an extract from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in his prescribed poetry anthology. 

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“When I set about translating a few lines of the poem into Afrikaans, I little dreamt that this would become a lifelong hobby that would fill my leisure hours for the next 60 years. After I had translated the entire work, professor Molly Brown, Head of UP’s Department of English, suggested I consider a thesis reflecting on the project,” said Boje.

This then evolved into his theme for his PhD: “Save oure tonges difference: Reflections on translating Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales into Afrikaans”

The thesis argues that translation is not between languages, but between cultures, and therefore between ideologies. 

“This has vast implications when one translates from a medieval, Catholic, European milieu into a modern, predominantly Calvinist, nationalist thought world in painful transition to a more liberal one,” he explains.

Dr Idette Noomé, Senior Lecturer in the Department of English, said: “Boje has an astounding breadth and depth of insight into the medieval world and South African current affairs. He completed this PhD in a mere 20 months.

“I think his sense of humour and passionate engagement with what he writes about connects him to Chaucer, enabling him to translate with such linguistic creativity, wit and empathy.”

Decade ago

Ten years ago, Boje’s first PhD in History focused on the impact of the Anglo-Boer War on the people of the Winburg district in the Free State. 

Boje advised postgraduate students to choose a research topic that compelled and if possible, held personal significance to them.

“The first one was more challenging academically, because I knew nothing about Winburg and very little about the war. The second was easier from the point of view that, apart from the theoretical background of which my knowledge was more limited, it was about my own life, insights, knowledge and experience. The downside was that I was 10 years older and beginning to feel it,” Boje said.

“I think it’s terribly sad when people reach the end of their working careers and gloomily face years of intellectual emptiness. I am fortunate that I easily become interested in new ventures, and lifelong learning has saved me from that terrible fate.”

Boje displays his characteristic good humour when asked what’s next on his to-do list. 

“Actually, I’m having fun translating ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat’ into Afrikaans,” he said.

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