An index to this series appears in the header of the first post.
September 19, 2019
I have mentioned several key pieces of Afrikaner culture, for example the Taal Monument in Paarl, the life of D.F. Malan, or the origins of Stellenbosch University. My visit to the home of C.J. Langenhoven, however, felt much more personal than those others. Langenhoven is sometimes billed as the “father of Afrikaans.” Arbeidsgenot, his steady home from 1903 to his death in 1932, is just a couple blocks from the center of Oudtshoorn. He wrote the words to “Die Stem van Suid-Afrika” in this house. The poem, set to music, became the South African national anthem; part is incorporated in the current anthem, as well. He also helped usher the National Party to prominence from Oudtshoorn. That’s rather a lot of history for one house.
On the other hand, Arbeidsgenot is nothing like the feather palaces that I have described in previous posts. Instead, it is a rather unassuming cottage, with three bedrooms, a small living room, a rather more sizable dining room, a bathroom, and a decent kitchen and pantry. J.C. Kannemeyer explains in “Langenhoven. ‘n Lewe” (“Langenhoven: a Life”) that in 1902 the Langenhoven family’s budget was stretched very tightly, so the Langenhovens sought a property they could buy inexpensively [pp. 201-202]. They opted for a cottage named “Woodbine” on Western Road. (The road was only renamed for Jan van Riebeeck in 1952, twenty years after Langenhoven’s death.) C.J. Langenhoven decided to rename the cottage “Arbeidsgenot” (“The joy of labor”) at a later date, as part of his advocacy for the Afrikaans language. The Langenhovens were setting up their permanent home on a tight budget just as Oudtshoorn was exploding with new wealth and opulent new manor homes. The first Feather Palace, Olivier’s The Towers, was constructed nearby at about the same time the Langenhovens moved to this area. The closest Feather Palace, Pinehurst, was constructed essentially across the street one decade after they moved to the neighborhood.
What was it about this tidy bungalow that made it “just right” for Langenhoven? Keanan, my guide for this visit, gave the first hint: “In die sitkamer ontvang ek my vyande, in die eetkamer my vriende!” (“I meet my friends in the dining room and my enemies in the living room.”) [Kannemeyer p 205] Langenhoven’s own words acknowledge the rather cramped living room offered by his home. Several of the totems remaining in the house also have significant links to his work. One of his most famous characters, named Herrie, was a bull who towed a family around in Herrie op die ou Tremspoor, his 1925 contribution to children’s literature. Several other bulls were gifted to him after its success. Similarly, a stuffed iguana at the house points to Brolloks en Bittergal. I liked the air of whimsy that these inclusions produced.
I realized I have omitted a visit to the Stellenbosch Museum. The armoire in Engela Langenhoven’s room (his daughter) is a reproduction; the original can now be found at Stellenbosch, much closer to home than Oudtshoorn. The bedroom for CJ Langenhoven himself is separate from the bedroom for his wife. He found a bedframe crafted for an Indian princess that had mistakenly been removed from a ship at Mossel Bay and bought it at auction for his wife [Kannemeyer p. 206]. CJ Langenhoven himself slept in a bed with a blanket of skins that had been stitched together. A selection of his walking canes appears beside the bed. Keanan showed me his veranda chair where he was known to enjoy a drink and a smoke. Apparently these habits were not similarly enjoyed by his wife.
A few years back, the graves of CJ Langenhoven (1873-1932) and of his wife Magdalena Hugo (1863-1950) were relocated to the property that he loved so much. There’s another curious inclusion there, too. The ashes of Sarah Goldblatt (1889-1975) have been interred quite near a bust of CJ Langenhoven that overlooks the other two graves. Keanan noted that she and CJ Langenhoven worked together, and he also offered that she was CJ Langenhoven’s lover (Kannemeyer offers much less certainty on this point at pages 371-372). Why, then, was she buried here at his home? In fact, a much larger question asks why CJ Langenhoven named Sarah Goldblatt in his will as the administrator of his literary works! A Master’s thesis by Leonie van Zyl helps to shed light on this subject, outlining Goldblatt’s many contributions to promoting Afrikaans in the 43 years she lived after CJ Langenhoven’s death (including her work promoting Arbeidsgenot as a key piece of the national heritage). It seems unjust to suggest that her only significance to Langenhoven was to be “the other woman.”
In democratic South Africa, one rarely hears any mention of the National Party that is not immediately followed by “Apartheid,” the policy of racial segregation that caused so much anguish and death for so many people. It is worth noting that Langenhoven’s involvement with the party necessarily ended at his death in 1932, and Apartheid policy is often dated to have begun with the National Party’s attainment of a majority in 1948. At the same time, it would be quite undeniable that Langenhoven’s promotion of Afrikaans was a linchpin in the rise of Afrikaner nationalism. I need to read more to discern Langenhoven’s racial attitudes. Visitors to Arbeidsgenot today are most frequently white Afrikaners, not members of the South African Coloured community that frequently learns Afrikaans as a first language.
As an American, my grasp of Afrikaans is essentially nonexistent. I can report that the house has relatively little information presented in English. Most of it appears in little papers affixed to the door frames. If visiting vintage houses is your thing, you will enjoy your visit regardless. If you enjoy strolling in sunlit gardens, Arbeidsgenot is also a winner (I enjoyed listening to bumblebees sampling the tree flowers at the exit). If you want to learn more about the Afrikaans language or read some selections from CJ Langenhoven, you will find little help here. I would really love to see a reading room added to the property, particularly if they can offer some of Langehoven’s most popular writings in translation.