Charles and Dorothy Johnman were remarkable figures in the cultural history of Stellenbosch.
Charles lectured at the university, had a passion for music, literature, film and drama. He assisted in founding the Little Libertas Theatre, produced plays and imported visiting artists to put on shows there.
He had come from Britain to the Cape as a young man to teach the classics, starting in Cape Town and later moving to Paul Roos Gymnasium before he was appointed as the head of the English Special section of the English Department at the university.
He proved himself to be a brilliant teacher who was able to arouse an interest in the language even in the most reluctant student. He was also a compassionate man who served the community by weekly taking a load of books from the Public Library which to the homes for the elderly. Charles also ran a film society and gave talks on literature to cultural groups.
The Johnmans’ life-long interest in the arts was further mirrored in the founding of the Stellenbosch Music Society; the symphony concerts and chamber music recitals they organised in the Old Conserve.
Dorothy came from the Rhenish missionary stock that has left such a lasting impression on the town and the area, and was a lifelong resident of Stellenbosch. She was a cellist who had trained under the legendary Hans Endler and at the Royal School of Music in London.
A fine musician herself, she taught music and eurhythmics at several Stellenbosch schools. For close on eighty years she provided and arranged the flowers for the stage at concerts in the Conserve.
She inherited a number of houses in Herte Street which are historical monuments, and, with the Erskines of Ida’s Valley and Prof. Frans Smuts, bought up and restored others in the street which were falling into ruin. The preservation of this part of the historical core of the town is a legacy which to this day, draws tourists much needed in the town’s economy.
On Dorothy Johnman’s death in 1995, her will established a trust which is responsible not only for setting up and running the Johnman Music Centre, but also for maintaining other houses in Herte Street. Her gift thus preserves an important architectural part of our heritage, but equally important, it gives a glimpse of the setting of those buildings, inevitably lost in the encroachments of development.
The old Victorian house provides the ideal place and atmosphere for the pursuit of music education.