Etienne Mentoor: A generation of UWC loyals retiring
There are senior staff at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) today, and some of them have been part of this institution since its inception in the 1960s.
Back then, UWC was intended as a tertiary institution for coloured people training them to become teachers and preachers to “uplift the coloured community,” a plan that proved to have quite a different outcome today.
This generation of UWC stalwarts is retiring steadily. This year four academics from the Economic and Management Sciences (EMS) faculty who devoted their lives to the institution are retiring, although some will stay on on a part-time basis. They are lecturers Etienne Mentoor, Linda de Vries, Kobus Visser and Eslynn Isaacs. With the exception of Prof Visser, they were students here, returned as lecturers and remained with the University until their retirement this year.
Mr Etienne Mentoor, a senior lecturer at UWC’s School of Business and Finance (SBF) and one of the very first masters students at the University, began his career at UWC as a student 46 years ago.
“When I first came to UWC, there was no Great Hall, no S1, no stadium, no Life Sciences building,” he remembers. “I came here at a time when Prof van der Ross was Vice-Chancellor. Ikey van der Rheede, Jaap Durant, and Jakes Gerwel were still lecturers here at the time. I had great respect for them.”
He was one of the first to start lecturing at UWC’s Department of Business Economics, and the department’s first black lecturer in 1980.
“To me, the Prof Van der Ross era was a special time. He would insist that if you want to lecture here at UWC, you have to wear a tie,” he smiles.
Among the staff and students at SBF, Mentoor is fondly known as that personable and engaging character who always has a light-hearted remark or joke up his sleeve. And on a professional level, he’s the one they’d turn to whenever modern technology lets younger academics down - especially when planning timetables.
“He was never one to just rely on modern spreadsheets to draw up timetables; he would do it manually and with such precision,” says Prof Visser, a longtime colleague. “The one year when it was drawn up on a fancy Excel spread sheet, it still kicked out some errors. We consulted Etienne and he fixed the glitch in no time.”
Learning and Living - From Grabouw to UWC
Mentoor was born in Grabouw in 1953, one of seven children. He spent his primary school years at Kathleen Murray Primary in the same town, continuing his primary school career at the Methodist Primary in Somerset West when the family moved. He then attended Oaklands High and Harold Cressy High, matriculating in 1970.
At only 17 years old, in 1971, Mentoor started his student career at UWC, studying towards his BCom degree and serving on the SRC committee. But 1973 proved to be quite a turning point for him.
“I refused to re-register in July ‘73 because of protests, and left UWC instead,” he explains. “It was a difficult time - the time of Steve Biko and the Black Consciousness Movement. It opened my eyes to a greater political consciousness.”
Frustrated, he left for the private sector to work for an Engineering company as a surveyor until 1977. A serious talk with his dad about finishing his degree convinced him to return to UWC in 1978.
“A year later I completed some law courses and my honors in BCom,” he says.
From there he became a contract lecturer in Accounting based at the Dental Faculty
where he met his wife, Zelda Joorst, then a second-year social work student. A year later, he started lecturing at UWC’s Department of Business Economics - the first black lecturer in the department.
With a stable job, he married Zelda in 1983 and a year later obtained an MCom, making him the first student to obtain a masters in Business Economics at the University.
He has two children. His daughter, Lynne Swarts, is a medical doctor and is now married and furthering her studies in Emergency Medicine at Stellenbosch. She is also mother to Mentoor’s first grandchild, who was born in March of this year. His youngest son, Etienne Junior, works as an attorney.
“I have very few regrets in my lifetime. Maybe the only one is that I never completed my PhD.”
His advice to his fellow academics, students and lecturers alike: “Choose your supervisors wisely when deciding to go this route. And don’t be stupid - buy back-up pension so you don’t have too little money the day you retire.”
At government level he feels the country is wasting a lot of money.
“We need properly-resourced primary schools, and I believe everyone must pay for a university education.”
Reflecting on his stay at UWC, he is proud of his work, and the way the SBF stays dynamic and relevant, with new programmes and ideas.
“My advice to them is to do what they do best and to never stop improving. Do it gradually; do it properly, and keep in mind that some of the team members could be left behind if you move too quickly.”
And the most important part?
“Get your systems in place and pursue perfection. And find your own identity: don’t try to be like the rest of the world.”