C.J. Langenhoven’s legacy is not without controversy, but he achieved a great deal in his life.
Langenhoven was a prolific author. He left an oeuvre in Afrikaans, English and Dutch and in almost every known genre; he wrote fantastic stories which can still be enjoyed today.
In his younger years Langenhoven made strong arguments that English should be regarded as a South African language – something to which the Dutch press of the time seriously objected. English was unpopular in many circles due to the massive impact the Boer War had had on South Africans.
It could be that the Dutch press’s attitude played a part in Langenhoven’s decision to back Afrikaans, not Dutch, to become the second official language of South Africa after English.
At that time, during an emerging movement of Afrikaner nationalism, Langenhoven’s insistence on Afrikaans found massive support.
He was a fiery speaker and an excellent writer. Langenhoven knew how to talk to ordinary people and how to write in a way that ordinary people could believe in what he had to say.
His strong stance on establishing Afrikaans as an official language, and the fact his hymn “Die Stem” would be adopted as the official National Anthem under the National Party, soon established Langenhoven as an icon of white Afrikaans-speaking nationalists. Later, after his death, his confident and, most likely, lover, Sarah Goldblatt, worked even harder to ensure that Langenhoven’s legacy would not fade. Langenhoven was even called “the father of Afrikaans” at times – a claim that, although coming from a place of endearment, holds no factual historical backing.
Langenhoven did do a great deal for and in Afrikaans, but he was so blinded by the nationalist movement that he could not acknowledge that Afrikaans was a language shared by millions of South Africans that were not white.
This website is concerned with preserving the memory of Langenhoven, who was an author, father, lover, husband, thinker, philosopher and sometimes even a copywriter for the apartheid machine. Neelsie, as many still affectionately refer to him, was a complex, brilliant person and, like all of us, human and therefore fallible.
We believe that his humanity, rather than his idolised status among a small group of South Africans, makes it possible to keep Langenhoven and Afrikaans (which was close to his heart) relevant.
The board of the Langenhoven Commemorative Fund therefore invites debates to address these matters.
During the Klein Karoo National Arts Festival (KKNK) of 2019 Dr Franklin Sonn was invited to share his thoughts. Sonn spoke openly and frankly about things attributed to Langenhoven which had hurt him and millions of “non-white” Afrikaans speaking people.
Jeremy Vearey was invited to speak during the KKNK of 2020, viewing Langenhoven from his cell on Robben Island, where he once served time for his share in the struggle towards liberation. Sadly COVID-19 made this impossible.
By addressing the hurt, not denying it, we believe that we may once again use Afrikaans to help build bridges to the future. And by remembering Langenhoven’s incredible and unique treasure of literature, embracing Neelsie’s humour and his humanness, as well as opening Arbeidsgenot to all who are interested, we at the Langenhoven Commemorative Fund hope to find new ways to incorporate his legacy towards a united South African nation.
Nelson Mandela thought it best to retain part of Langenhoven’s “Die Stem” in democratic South Africa’s national anthem, along with Enoch Sontonga’s hymn “Nkosi sikilel’ iAfrika”.
Such is the power of poetry. Neither Langenhoven nor Sontonga was an immaculate being; but thanks to those extraordinary poets, our democratic South Africa has an anthem to be proud of.
How much more would South Africa benefit were everyone to celebrate their mother tongue by lacing it with creativity , the way Langenhoven and Sontonga did?