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At 91, inquisitive Conradie has become the oldest man to obtain a doctorate at Unisa

Dr Andries Conradie proves that age is just a number

Don't take everything at face value; you have to question things, said 91-year-old Andries Conradie, who has become the oldest man to obtain his doctorate at Unisa.

Conradie may have stood out between his counterparts on the stage on Friday as he accepted his doctoral degree in literature and philosophy in the College of Human Sciences, but he has two things very few possess - perseverance and the wisdom of Solomon.

He completed his doctoral thesis this year with the title “The Bible as a problematic text - a critical analysis based on controversies in the Dutch Reformed Church:”

A very controversial subject and one for which he may be criticised, the grey-headed great grandfather said. “But I cannot simply believe like a child. I have to question some things.”

Conradie said during his career as a historian and teacher, he had encountered biblical questions, which simply called for answers.

After years of evasive answers from ministers of religion, Conradie decided to study the subject intensively, to analyse it and write his thesis on it.

An academic in the true sense, Conradie matriculated in 1945 at the Lichtenburg High School in the North West. He started his studies at Potchefstroom University in 1948 where he obtained a BA degree in English and history and later obtained his Master's degree in history.

He worked as a teacher over the years and later moved on to become a school principal in the then Transkei.

After his wife died in 2009, Conradie moved in with his only living child, Dr Alet Harmse, who is an academic and worked at Unisa for 30 years.

Harmse said that after her retirement, she mentored many postgraduate students at her home in Wierdapark. Her father, who had always questioned the literal meaning of the words in the Bible, decided to also pursue his academic aspirations.

He enrolled with Unisa six years ago to pursue his theological studies and eventually work towards his thesis.

“My father may be of an advanced age, but he does not stand back for anyone when it comes to the electronic age.”

Harmse said her father wrote his entire script on his own computer. “It all went very well, with very few struggles. The only small obstacle was transport as he no longer drives. But buses and the Gautrain got him where he wanted to be.”

Apart from a slight hearing problem, Conradie is still in excellent health. Yesterday when the Pretoria News spoke to him, he had just returned from his walk to the store to buy newspapers, about 1km away.

“I am proud of what I have achieved. One is never too old to reach your dreams,” he said.

But there is no time to rest; he is now writing his first article for an online publication, emanating from his thesis. “Watch out, there are many to follow,” he promised.

* By Zelda Venter. This article originally appeared in the Pretoria News, and is republished here with the permission of the editor.

Publish date: 2019/10/07