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Rest In Peace, Pa: UWC Remembers Peter Neethling

Author: Nicklaus Kruger

A wacky sense of humour, a sincere helpfulness and a warm heart: these are just some of the qualities that Peter Neethling - known to generations of students as “Pa” - brought to the University of the Western Cape hostels in the ‘70s and ‘80s.

(Published - 27 November 2018)

When the University of the Western Cape (UWC) opened its doors to hostel students from all over the country in the 1970s and 1980s, Freda and Peter Neethling - affectionately known as Ma and Pa - were there to make them feel at home during turbulent times. The University is truly saddened by Pa’s passing on the morning of 25 November 2018.

“Peter was the perfect embodiment of the ‘Koshuis Pa’,” says Prof Tyrone Pretorius, UWC’s Rector and Vice-Chancellor. “We call them Residence Coordinators these days, but that doesn’t get across quite how important he was to us.”

He struck a perfect balance between his role as the disciplinarian at the hostel and his role as a surrogate father figure; keeping boisterous students in line, but also helping hundreds of students who had to find a new home at UWC.

“He was a person with a fantastic sense of humour, a warm heart, and a passion for communicating with and guiding young people. And that’s why people called him - and continue to call him - Pa Neethling.”

Tributes have poured in from the many students whose lives he enriched, many of whom have gone on to make a difference in a variety of professions, all over the world.

“Peter Neethling was a good, decent man and we remember him well,” says Prof Hein Willemse, UWC alum, former Res student and editor of Hostel: Autobiographical Narratives of the 1975-1980 University of the Western Cape Student Generation.

“For many of us, living in residence was a new experience - and some of us were first-time University students, far away from home. Peter and his wife, Freda, were part of a generation of residence stewards who eased us into this new and exciting world that would change our lives forever.”

And for all of us, in the often difficult, uneasy times of student activism and academic disruption, he became "Pa Neethling".

The Neethlings oversaw the running of the UWC Women's Residence, and Pa cared well for all his many "daughters”. In times of need, he was a reassuring presence, and he had quite a reputation around keeping the ladies safe.

Despite that, he was an easy-going, approachable man who offered comfort and a ready joke when appropriate. And he had other talents.

Clement Kloppers, one of the hostelites who attended a recent Reunion, remembers that Pa Neethling could sing beautifully. "I remember vividly his voice when we were praising and worshipping. He could change from alto, third voice to bass -- just beautiful!"

A Legacy Worth Living

Pa Neethling saw generations of students growing up and going on to make a difference in the world, and witnessed the University transform itself into a bastion of academic freedom, and ultimately into one of the top research institutions on the African continent.

He would have been proud to see how so many of his young charges turned out - and in fact he did, proudly attending both the UWC 80s Alumni Reunion, and the Hostelites Homecoming Reunion earlier this year.

“We didn’t forget to pray for the students, and to pray together,” he said on that occasion. “That was our first priority. And when we look back we are very proud of them.”

Little did we know that the Hostelite Reunion of September 2018 would be Pa Neethling's last public appearance.

UWC extends its sincere condolences to the Neethling family - his children, his grandchildren and their extended family, and especially to his wife, Freda, who is in ill health.

“We are grateful for the role Pa Neethling played in the lives of so many students, and the role he continued to play as they took their place in the world outside UWC,” Prof Pretorius says. “And to all those who knew Pa, and were touched by his life - remember what he taught you.”

The details of the Memorial & Funeral Service of the late Peter Neethling are as follows:

Memorial Service:  Thursday, 29 November 2018
Time: 7pm
Where: United Reformed Church, Goeie Hoop Street, Bellville South
   
Funeral Service:   Saturday, 01 December 2018
Time: 9:30am
Where: United Reformed Church, Goeie Hoop Street, Bellville South
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