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Farewell celebration for Dean Buitendag
27 February 2018

On 20 February 2018, the members of the Faculty of Theology and Religion at the University of Pretoria gathered to celebrate the end of Prof Johan Buitendag’s two tenures as their dean.  Prof Jerry Pillay, his successor, served as the programme director, and other distinguished guests offered not only words of gratitude, but prayers of support as their leader begins his preparations for his Sabbatical and retirement the end of the year.

Hosted in Old Club Hall on the Hatfield Campus, the event included a superb meal provided by Pure Café, and ample time for the guests to enjoy the spirit of unity and progress, which Prof Buitendag has fostered among them for the past eight years.

Here below is an excerpt from the speech Prof Buitendag gave during this happy occasion:From within this supportive environment of mutual encouragement, the academic staff of the faculty has built up a sterling, global reputation through their research, their publications, as well as the quality of scholars they are producing by way of the teaching, learning and mentoring process.

“This is not a speech I deliver very comfortably. Not that I am not grateful for the opportunity, but because I am rather existentially involved and emotionally touched. For the past 8 years, my life was my deanship and my deanship was my life.

There is a sort of ambiguity in this event. I have completed two terms as dean, yet I am not retiring; I have reached the summit of my professional career, yet there are exciting challenges ahead; I am done with managerial responsibilities, yet uninterrupted devotion to academy is appealing.

For me it is therefore a time of ‘betwixt and between’, or to phrase it more academically, a state of liminality. I can look back at a blessed – though challenging and even contested – career, both in the church and the university, and now I have the challenge to fine-tune my place in, and contribution to, life.”

Less of a farewell and more of a reflection, these words reflect the standards Prof Buitendag set for the Faculty members while at the helm of the ship, not to mention the type of leadership example he provided for all those serving the same theological mission and vision. 


Despite many personal challenges and a busy travel schedule, he was always fully engaged with his management responsibilities, keeping a finger on the pulse of his academic team and helping it take on a character of inclusivity, consistently nudging it forward so that each member could achieve his or her potential.  For this reason, the Faculty earned its highest ever ranking among schools of Theology, Religion and Divinity around the world in 2017.

During that same year, Prof Buitendag marshalled his skillset as a methodical strategist, one he honed while earning an MBA qualification, and led the Faculty through its transition from the first one-hundred years of service to the academy, the church and society to the next one-hundred years by staging a series of Centenary Celebrations which were enjoyed by all and sundry.  In so doing, he reminded the many guests at their various gatherings how much his gracious nature and intellectual acumen will be missed.

Prof Buitendag concluded his remarks on this special day with the following message:

“A new Dean has been designated. I am excited about the new horizons Prof Jerry Pillay will be opening for the Faculty. With his demeanour, ecumenical stature and international networks, he will be able to effectively address the Faculty’s current and future challenges.

Jerry, I wish you all the best for this office and believe that you have the ability to take the Faculty to the next level.

Colleagues, thank you! Surely certain things might have been done differently, but we were carried through by the fact that we all pursued the same star. Please accept my sincere appreciation and gratitude.

I wish you all a successful and fulfilling future! May the Faculty go from strength to strength!”

- Author Dana Mahan
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Last edited by Judith FourieEdit