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Granddad earns Master’s degree at 71

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A Cape Town grandfather, who has earned his Master’s degree at the age of 71, has now set his sights on starting his PhD studies.

Anthony de la Harpe, from Belhar, started his Master’s studies at 68 and graduated with his MA in history from the University of the Western Cape on Thursday.

His research centred around a land claim involving a family who had been granted a farm in 1850 and claims that the farm was acquired from them by an English mining company by means that were not above board.

De la Harpe said a bad fall on the day he registered for his MA couldn’t stop him in his tracks.

“I fell and my leg broke in three places.”

He was born in Port Nolloth in the Northern Cape and studied teaching at what was then referred to as the University College of the Western Cape in the 1960s.

He worked as a teacher for several years and also completed his BA degree in 1975 and his BA (Hons) in 1977 at UWC.

“My Master’s is something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time. I guess it’s a deferred project.

De la Harpe said he didn’t find studying at his age more difficult than he did completing his other degrees several decades ago.

“It helps that one has more inner peace at this age.”

He started working for the Land Claims Commission in 1995 and it was here that he came into contact with thousands of claimants and their tragic stories of dispossession under The Group Areas Act.

“While working at the land claims commission, certain claimants lodged a claim for restitution of their land and entrusted me with accounts of the background to their land claim and copies of certain documentation.

“Several of my informants with whom I worked very closely, have since passed on, leaving me I guess with an obligation to tell their story.

“Hence the topic of my thesis.”

The father of three, who says he is semi-retired, still assists people with their land claims.

De la Harpe is now writing a proposal for his PhD which, if he can raise enough funding, would focus on the discovery of the diamond fields of Namaqualand.

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