My Inspiration: Our onnie Johan Stemmet was much more than a TV star – David Melvill

JOHANNESBURG — We have asked the community to kick off the new year by sharing their contributions on people who have inspired them…please email me [email protected] if you’d like to contribute. Below, regular Biznews contributor David Melvill, unearths his Afrikaans teacher as his inspiration. Someone South African music fans know as Johan Stemmet, the host of the evergreen musical game show Noot vir Noot. – Stuart Lowman

By David Melvill*

“Melvill, you and Metelerkamp, will fail Afrikaans unless you get some extra lessons,” are words that still ring in my ear. I was quick to point out to the teacher that there was no spare monies in the family budget for extra lessons. “You can come to my flat once a week for that lesson, and there will be no charge,” he kindly echoed back.

Fond memories conjure up when I think of my schooling days – these were my best days. Team sports and building team spirit were the highlights. Sadly, the academics did not feature – I scraped through most years. One teacher though took an interest in me, and for that I am most grateful.

Extra lessons offered in love reaped a rich harvest

We would arrive at his flat, he greeted us with a tall glass of orange juice and handed us an Afrikaans book and a tape recorder. Each of us was assigned a room and given the instruction: “Read for 20 minutes out loud, then rewind that tape recording, listen to your self and correct your pronunciation as best possible where you erred.”

David Melvill Afrikaans teacherIt was hard going and rather “painful” on the ears initially, almost punishment like. But we practiced speaking Afrikaans, which was the most important thing. A language is not learnt through reading and writing – you must speak it. Subtly, we were learning fast and growing in confidence. Most of all we knew our teacher cared for us. Isn’t it amazing that when you know your teacher is genuinely interested in you, you want to try so much harder in his subject?

Our teacher was a very talented musician and an excellent teacher. We learnt about life and discussed the big issues that really counted that weren’t found in the covers of a textbook. As long as we spoke Afrikaans in the class, we were free to speak freely about any subject of choice. We loved our teacher, no other was open to do likewise.

The gift that opens the door of opportunity

Because he was so skilled musically he played at Devon Valley Hotel in Stellenbosch each Saturday evening, as a one man band. He earned more on those four or five Saturday nights than he did in a whole month’s teacher’s salary. We knew he was destined for greater things, but we were privileged to have him as our teacher from grade 10 to matric.

He taught for five years at Rondebosch Boys and then headed off to the music world where he made his career, first on the talent show of Band Box on TV, and then his own show, as he made a rapid ascent to master mind the longest running TV program on SABC. Yes you’ve guessed it – “Noot vir Noot.” You can only imagine how much fun we had in the class room with Johan Stemmet as our “entertainer” and teacher.

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The classroom’s walls were decorated with pictures of all the famous Afrikaans literature writers. Metelerkamp, (the other student needing extra lessons) loved photography and he had blown these up in his darkroom. Afrikaans came alive and we wanted to do our best for our very kind teacher.

It is thanks to Johan that I was confident enough to attend the Officers’ Course in Oudtshoorn and not give up like so many other English speaking soldiers, who quitted because the Afrikaans was too difficult a hurdle to overcome. It was through his inspiration that I too want to follow in his footsteps and study teaching at the University for Stellenbosch. And most of all, while there, I met a lovely “boerenooitjie” from Montagu that I fell in love with and married her, Elizma Marais.

While studying, I signed up for an extra subject, Afrikaans 1, because I wanted to learn more about the literature. I am so much the richer today because I understand the language and the culture.

Great teachers are great artists

Teachers like Johan are scarce, their contribution is so much more than the call of duty. Consequently, I have a big life time debt of gratitude to him. I wanted to express my thanks, many years later, on our way to visit the Kruger National Park, we stopped at his residence to surprise him with a box of 12 selected red wines.

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I am so proud of his accomplishments and achievements on TV. Yet amazingly, today I can call him “friend.” He still finds time for little me, to chit chat on e-mail and encourage me.

Like John Steinbeck, I concur, “I have come to believe that a great teacher is a great artist and that there are as few as there are any other great artists. It might even be the greatest of the arts since the medium is the human mind and spirit.