Abrama Ahlers and Erik Vosloo host a show on Radio Pulse 94.7FM in Geelong, Victoria. Abrama recently interviewed Namibian-born Jean du Plessis.
Abrama: Someone once said life is a song, but you have to write your own notes. Now I think Jean du Plessis writes a very good song. Jean, you were born and bred in Khorixas, Namibia.
Jean: Yes, Abrama, my dad was the principal of the Damara school in Khorixas – a school for black people only, which meant that I could not attend school there and had to go elsewhere. There were only about 500 white people living in Khorixas then.
A: The name Khorixas, where does it come from?
J: The little town was first called Welwitschia after the desert plant Welwitschia Mirabilis. This plant survives in the Namibian desert on the morning dew only.
A: So you were born in a very small little town. It must have been marvelous growing up in such a small place with all the veld around you?
J: Yes indeed. We hunted for dassies and shot guinea fowl all day every day. I went to school in Outjo and had to live in the school hostel as it was about 150 km away. Then from standard seven onwards, I went to school in Otjiwarongo. Each time I moved to a bigger town and learned about taking care of myself there.
A: And then your mom moved to Windhoek after your dad passed away?
J: Yes, but I stayed in Otjiwarongo to finish my matric. But Windhoek was another revelation to me; even bigger and better. After school I moved to Bloemfontein and studied for my law degree and finished my LLM degree during the army years.
A: Where did you start work?
J: I worked as a senior lecturer at the University of the Free State until 1991 during which time I also spent 14 months in London for research purposes and received my LLD. After that I was appointed professor at the Rand Afrikaans University. During my time there I spent a year living and working in Germany and also visited Shanghai on three different occasions. Shanghai, I believe, has a population of just over 18 million.
A: Wow! From Khorixas to Shanghai. What a difference. How did you fare with the food? And all those people? Did you feel claustrophobic at times?
J: No, Abrama, it was such a fantastic experience. I just looked at Shanghai in total amazement as we drove into the city from the airport. You think, ‘okay this is the city' when you start to see the first of those high rise buildings, but as you drive on you realise that was just another suburb with tall skyscrapers. And so you drive on past all these huge buildings, one after another after another until eventually you are in the city. It's absolutely unbelievable with so many pedestrians, cars bumper to bumper and thousands of motorbikes and pushbikes and taxis – just a fascinating experience, which I enjoyed tremendously. I have been to New York too, but Shanghai, I think, is much more impressive. Now I have a dream to visit Tokyo too!
A: And today you live happily in Geelong. How did you end up here?
J: In 1998 I was invited to Deakin University as visiting professor and shortly thereafter we moved here to live permanently.
A: So, you liked what you saw on your first visit to Geelong?
J: Yes, we are able to make a good living here, having the time to spend together as a family. You know, in Johannesburg, I used to burn the candle at both ends. Over here, it is easier to earn your daily bread and the circumstances are so much better. You do not have that continuous pressure to achieve more and more. You have more leisure time available, feel much safer and therefore I am a better person. I appreciate the effectiveness and personal safety that comes with living in Australia.
A: You like travelling and must have discovered some great new places here?
J: Oh yes, I love Darwin and Echuca and Uluru. Those are exciting places to discover and explore. I do like the Aussies too. And I find that the kids are so much more relaxed over here and they have excellent opportunities.
A: What would you like to say to newcomers to this country?
J: In a new country nobody owes you anything. You have to go out and make things happen. Look for opportunities to make things easier and happier for you and your family. Continue practising your hobbies. And remember not to compare too much. Each country has its own beauty and advantages. Negative comparisons will only make you unhappy in your present situation.
A: And what about the youngsters?
J: Enjoy and appreciate what you have over here. Understand that here you have many, many opportunities that you would not necessarily find in other countries. Make use of those good chances and enjoy yourselves.
A: Jean, thank you so much for chatting with me and all the advice you hand out so freely from your experiences. You know, Rebecca McEntire said: “To succeed in life, you need three things: a wishbone, a backbone and a funny bone.” Well, I reckon you have all three bones and more! The story of your travels from Khorixas via Shanghai to Geelong is an excellent testimony thereof. We wish you good fortune and peace on your road ahead.
Abrama and Erik's show is broadcast on Radio Pulse 94.7FM every Wednesday at 6pm.