Based in London; Formerly of New York, Buenos Aires, Fife, and the Western Cape. Saoránach d'Éirinn.

South Africa

A writer, blogger, historian, and web designer born in New York, educated in Argentina, Scotland, and South Africa, and now based in London. read more

Muratie

The Stellenbosch estate of the artist Georg Paul Canitz

We had supper with Mr. Canitz, the painter, one Sunday night, by the light of candles in a fine Dutch candelabra, and drove back to Stellenbosch in moon light which had transformed the countryside into the most entrancing fairyland imaginable.

Great clumps of trees in unexpected places gave an eeriness to the white ribbon of road which stretched across the valley. The soft evening breeze of magic scents lulled us, and we drowsed to the hum of the car bearing us homeward.

That memory is still vivid to me so I shall turn from our Golden Road, and “…muse awhile, entoil’d in woofed phantasies.”

So the architect Rex Martienssen described a visit to Muratie, the home of the artist Georg Paul Canitz, in 1928. Canitz was a Saxon, born in Leipzig, where his parents had hoped he would pursue a military career. Both his zeal and talent as an artist appeared early on, and so he ended up at the Dresden Academy of Fine Arts. After further studies in Italy, Paris, and the Netherlands, a chest ailment drove him to the interior of Südwestafrika in 1907.


“…by the light of candles in a fine Dutch candelabra.” (Photo credit)

Canitz healed quickly in the dry air but could not find a cure for the striking beauty of the new world around him. His wife and children were summoned from Germany, and three years later he moved to Stellenbosch after falling in love with the “City of Oaks”.

Canitz devoted himself to his passions: riding, painting, and teaching (both at his own art school and at the University). Riding to a party at Knorhoek one day he stumbled upon the little house and farm at Muratie and was quickly enamored of the place. It wasn’t long before he had purchased it and moved his family there.


The kitchen at Muratie. (Photo credit)

G P Canitz

At Muratie, the painter developed a further art: that of winemaking. In this he was assisted by the legendary Dr Perold — first chair of viticulture at Stellenbosch. Canitz became a pioneer of the pinot noir grapes which have since become a South African staple. Perhaps even more he developed the skills of a kind and generous host, for which he was well reputed throughout South Africa. He would welcome friends and guests — among them Martienssen and his architectural students as cited above — throughout the year. In warmer months they came for the swimming pool and the breezy stoep, while in winter a fire awaited, or perhaps a few rounds of strong drink in the Kneipzimmer.


The Kneipzimmer (Photo credit)

I like to think this was Canitz’s favourite room at Muratie: bedecked with benches, the light streaming in through a stained-glass windows, and the walls covered in naturalistic painting as well as graffitied signatures and sayings in German, Afrikaans, French, and Greek.

The painter died in 1958, leaving Muratie to his daughter, who in 1987 sold it to members of the Melck family who had owned it from 1763 to 1897. (The house was first built in 1685.) I suspect Canitz would have greatly appreciated his handiwork being passed back to those who had looked after the place for many generations before him. The Melcks, unsurprisingly, have a great reverance for the history of the estate. They even go so far as to leave the cobwebs which have accrued go undisturbed and ask visitors to do likewise.

And, even today, the wine still flows!


A sign in Afrikaans points the way to cellar sales. (Photo credit)
November 16, 2016 10:17 am | Link | 2 Comments »

Arms of the Oudtshoorn Oratory

An explanation of the arms of the Afrikaans-speaking Oratory of St Philip Neri in Oudtshoorn, South Africa (edited from their own information).

The heraldic achievement or the coat of arms of the Congregation of the Oratory of Saint Philip Neri, Oudtshoorn, was officially registered and recognised by the Bureau of Heraldry in the Staatskoerant of 20 August 2004. According to the Heraldry Act of 1962, these arms and motto now enjoy legal protection and the Congregation also has the right to make an official Oratorian flag and to fly it.
Die heraldiese afbeelding oftewel die wapenskild van die Kongregasie van die Oratorium van St. Filip Neri – Oudtshoorn is in die Staatskoerant van 20 Augustus 2004 amptelik deur die Buro vir Heraldiek geregistreer en erken. Ooreenkomstig die Heraldiese-wet van 1962, geniet die wapenskild en die leuse nou regsbeskerming en het die Kongregasie ook nou die reg om ’n amptelike Oratoriaanse vlag te produseer en te laat wapper.
DIE DRIE VOLSTRUISVERE verwys hoofsaaklik na die Bisdom, Distrik en Dorp Oudtshoorn. Hulle het egter ook Bybelse en geestelike betekenis omdat hulle ons aan die feit herinner dat God oor al sy skepsels waak, die diere van die veld, voëls in die lug en visse in die see – nie net die mens nie – en hulle versorg.
THE THREE OSTRICH FEATHERS refer to the Diocese, District, and Town of Oudtshoorn. They also have biblical and spiritual significance because they call to mind that God keeps watch over all his creatures, the beasts of the field, birds of the air and fish in the sea – not just humans – and looks after them.
DIE DRIE AGTPUNTIGE STERRE, simbole van die Oratorium, is in perfekte balans bo en weerskante van die brandende hart geplaas.
THE THREE EIGHT-POINTED STARS, symbols of the Oratory, are placed in perfect balance atop and beside the burning heart.
DIE PROTEAS, nasionale blom van Suid-Afrika, dui op die lewenskrag van hierdie unieke Suid-Afrikaanse gemeenskap en die potensiaal wat tot blom gebring kan word.
THE PROTEAS, national flower of South Africa, stressed the vitality of this unique South African community and the potential that can be brought to bloom.
DIE BRANDENDE HART in die middel van die asuur skild verteenwoordig die bron en oorsprong van die geestelikheid van St. Filip Neri, die apostel van vreugde en naasteliefde, wat as ’n spesiale genadegawe van God onophoudelik die aanwesigheid van die Heilige Gees in sy hart ervaar en beleef het.
THE BURNING HEART in the middle of the azure shield represents the source and origin of the spirituality of St. Philip Neri, the apostle of joy and charity, who as a special gift of God’s grace constantly experienced the presence of the Holy Ghost in his heart.
DIE LEUSE van die Kongregasie van die Oratorium van St. Filip Neri lui “God is ons erns”. Hierdie leuse is doelbewustelik ontleen aan ’n vroeë slagspreuk vir die erkenning van die Afrikaanse Taal. Hierdie selfde taal word nou ingespan om die oudste Christelike tradisie deel te maak van die Afrikaanse leefwêreld.
THE MOTTO of the Oudtshoorn Oratory of St. Philip Neri is “God is Our Earnestness”. This motto is deliberately taken from “This is Our Earnestness”, an early slogan for the recognition of the Afrikaans language. This same language is being used to bring the oldest Christian tradition to the Afrikaans-speaking world.
November 7, 2016 10:31 am | Link | No Comments »

Party in the Overberg

Alongside a bazaar, a braai, and dancing, a speech by Sir De Villiers Graaff is the selling point of this poster advertising a United Party (Verenigde Party) get-together in the beautiful Overberg region of the Cape.

“Sir Div” was the inheritor of one of only twelve South African baronetcies and led his party from 1956 until 1977 when it merged with the Democratic Party of verligte ex-Nationalists to form a new entity.

The broadly centrist party had lost power to the republican Nats (creators of apartheid) in 1948, and suffered splits that led to the creation of the Liberal Party and the United Federal Party in 1953, the National Conservative Party in 1954, and the Progressive Party in 1959.

The party’s emblem was a happy little citrus tree.

October 12, 2016 3:45 pm | Link | 1 Comment »

The Old Cannon Brewery

Robert Gwelo Goodman is one of my favourite South African artists whom you might recall when I introduced you to one of his paintings of the Groote Kerk in Cape Town. It’s not surprising that he lived in a unique dwelling — an old brewery in the verdant Cape Town suburb of Newlands, nestled as it is in the nape of Table Mountain.

Now Gwelo’s old brewery is up for grabs. (more…)

June 9, 2016 8:55 am | Link | 3 Comments »

Die Ou Swaai Pomp

The old water pump at the corner of Prince Street and Sir George Grey Street in the Cape Town neighbourhood of Oranjezicht was part of the system created by the Swede Jan Frederik Hurling in the 1790s for his farm, Zorgfliet. This particular structure was erected at the pump site in 1812 to a design by Louis Michel Thibault, embellished with a water-sprite gargoyle attributed (inevitably) to Anton Anreith.

It was operated by swinging the wooden handle on the side to and fro, hence why it is known as a swaai, or “swinging”, pump.

The photo above is the work of the Cape photographer Arthur Elliott whose work not only documents the early architecture of the Cape but more often than not manages to do so in an artistic and evocative manner.

Elliott is especially valuable considering how many of these structures faced the wrecking ball in the intervening century since he took his photographs, though — as you can see from a Google StreetView capture below — the Old Swaai Pump is still in its place today and is a monument protected by national and provincial law.

June 9, 2016 8:54 am | Link | No Comments »

Suid-Afrika

Suid-Afrika — ’n kleine bietjie van Hemel.

February 24, 2016 10:15 am | Link | 3 Comments »

Smuts at Leiden

For quite some time, Leuven — in what is currently known as Belgium — was the only university in the Netherlands. It is still (barely, some argue) a Catholic university, and after the Protestant revolt sealed its rule over the northern part of the Dutch realms, William the Silent founded a university at Leiden as a Calvinist academy in 1575.

Leiden University has had strong links with South Africa from the earliest days. Ds. Johannes de Vooght — in the 1660s, the second leraar of Cape Town’s Dutch Reformed congregation — studied here, as did numerous predikante of that period and onwards, including Ds. Petrus van der Spuy, the first NGK minister to be born in South Africa.

South African politicians studied here aplenty: Sir Christoffel Brand (first Speaker of the Cape Parliament); Jan Brand (fourth president of the Orange Free State); Marthinus Steyn (sixth and final president of the O.F.S.); and Nicolaas Diederichs (third staatspresident of the Republic of South Africa).

Probably the first South African to be granted an honorary degree by Leiden (c. 1830) was Antoine Changuion, the founder of the Dutch language movement which advocated preserving Dutch as the cultural language of the Afrikaners against the emerging Afrikaans.

It was in 1948 that Leiden granted the greatest Afrikaner — Field Marshal Smuts — a Doctorate of Law honoris causa. Smuts was on his way back from Cambridge where he had been granted the honour of being installed as Chancellor of the University. Even Die Burger, a Nationalist paper opposed to his Verenigde party, found the event worthy of a caustic near-compliment:

“We may differ from him on many issues, but the honour which he has won for the Afrikaner does not leave us untouched.”

February 5, 2016 9:25 am | Link | 5 Comments »

Keeromstraat 14

Keeromstraat 14, Kaapstad

This Cape Town house was built in 1751 for Hermanus Smuts who sold it on to Johan Jacobus Graaff, the woodworker who collaborated with South Africa’s greatest architectural duo, the sculptor Anton Anreith and the architect Louis Michel Thibault.

Thibault is believed to be responsible for the addition of the upper story and the current façade, seen above through an archway of the High Court.

The building next door was designed by the pioneering Afrikaner architect Wynand Hendrik Louw (1883-1967) for De Nederlandsche Club te Kaapstad, the city’s club for Dutch businessmen and expatriates. Louw was also the architect of the Dutch Reformed Church at Napier in the beautiful Overberg.

February 2, 2016 8:45 am | Link | 3 Comments »

Alles Sal Reg Kom

Helmut Starcke, Alles Sal Reg Kom
1961; Acrylic on board, 34.8 in. x 24.8 in.

A man festively attired in a Tweede Nuwejaar outfit in patriotic colours (orange, white, and blue) stands in front of a side wall in Cape Town bearing monarchist posters urging voters to vote ‘No’ in the 1960 republic referendum.

The painting’s title – Alles Sal Reg Kom – means “everything will be alright”.

January 28, 2016 10:20 am | Link | 2 Comments »

Die Staatsrede

Staatspresident Jacobus Johannes Fouché giving the staatsrede from the throne of the Senate within the Houses of Parliament in Cape Town.

What is now the State of the Nation Address has its origins in the speech from the throne (in Afrikaans staatsrede meaning “state reasoning/rationale”) setting out the Government’s legislative programme for the year. The high point of the State Opening of Parliament, it was originally given by the Governor-General (or, in 1947, by the King of South Africa himself) but with the abolition of the monarchy in 1961 the sovereign’s vice-regal representative was abolished and replaced by the Staatspresident as chief officer of the South African state.

Giving a speech from an actual throne was considered too monarchic for a republican polity, so – like in the Boer republics of old – presidents gave their staatsredes standing. Here, State-President Fouché is flanked by the chiefs of the defence staff and police, the Serjeant-at-Arms with the mace, and the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod.

Of course, much of this was abolished in the 1980s with the constitutional innovations as a last-ditch attempt to entrench apartheid. South Africa is now on its third constitution since the above photo was taken.

It reminds me of how in Ireland almost all the traditions of the Viceroy (viz. the Viceregal Guard of Battleaxes, etc.) were abolished not by the Saorstát or Éire but by the British themselves – in their case by penny-pinching Victorians who found Dublin an easy target for cost-cutting.

January 21, 2016 12:00 pm | Link | 6 Comments »

Open-minded Stellenbosch

Paul Moorcraft is a Cardiff-born journalist and academic who spent many years in southern Africa, lecturing, researching, and working. I stumbled across this passage about Stellenbosch from his 2011 book Inside the Danger Zones: Travels to Arresting Places and found it interesting (though not surprising):

I found many of my all-white students at the University of Cape Town tediously dogmatic in their supposed progressiveness. I also lectured at the Afrikaans-language university of ‘Maties’ at Stellenbosch, established in 1918 [sic, f. 1866; accorded university status in 1918] as the Afrikaner Oxbridge, where I found the students much more open-minded. Simon van der Stel, a stiff Dutch bureaucrat, founded a frontier town on the banks of the Eerste River in 1679. Van der Stel loved oaks, and the graceful boulevards he planted still adorned picturesque Stellenbosch. I spent as much time as possible in the area because of the architecture. The Cape Dutch style contains elements from Dutch architecture but is also influenced by colonial Indonesian traditions and the local environment. The most characteristic feature is the graceful gabled section built around the front door, which is flanked by symmetrical wings, thatched and whitewashed, extending on either side.

I was supposed to be using my visiting lectureship to finish my doctoral research, so I became friendly with Retha, a librarian at Maties. She was a fund of knowledge on Afrikaner culture and offered herself as an intellectual guide. My scholarly investigations soon degenerated into a three-month tour of the local wine farms, for which I am eternally grateful. We drove through the old, beautiful vineyards of the valleys around Paarl, Franschoek, and Tulbagh; then returned to eat in splendid eighteenth-century farmhouses converted to hotels.

October 14, 2015 11:03 am | Link | 2 Comments »

Kerkplein, Pretoria

Gauteng, the province which forms the highly urbanised heart of the old Transvaal, is not my area of specialty in South Africa, enamoured as I am of the Western Cape. Johannesburg, for all its financial prowess, is one of those towns that went from a collection of tents to a major city almost overnight with the Witwatersrand gold boom.

Pretoria, on the other hand — Pretoria Philadelphia to give its original name — exudes a more detached respectability perhaps enlivened by the ceremony of its century-long status as the executive capital of a unified South Africa. And sitting at the heart of the city of jacarandas is Kerkplein — Church Square.

(more…)

January 19, 2015 10:58 pm | Link | 3 Comments »

Shedding light on the Cape Baroque

Nuwe lig op die Kaapse barok deur Dr Hans Fransen

A NEW BOOK BY Dr Hans Fransen, the leading authority on Cape Dutch architecture, intends to shed new light on the Cape Baroque style through an examination of the work of the sculptor Anton Anreith. Cape Baroque and the contribution of Anton Anreith offers us the hefty subtitle of ‘A stylistic survey of architectural decoration and the applied arts at the Cape of Good Hope 1652-1800’, covering the period of the Dutch East India Company’s rule at the Cape.

The author investigates (says the publisher’s note) whether, and to what extent, the surprisingly rich body of Cape material culture can be seen as part and parcel of the international Baroque: that ebullient style of painting, architecture, and design that swept across Europe and some of its spheres of influence. After a highly interesting account of the origins of the Baroque in Italy and of its development in other parts of the world, the author concludes that ‘Cape Baroque’ does indeed form part of this. But he also points out that it has a very distinctive character of its own.

The book of 180 pages contains over 200 illustrations, mostly from the author himself, whose other works include The Old Towns and Villages of the Cape, The Old Buildings of the Cape, Drie Eeue Kuns in Suid-Afrika, and the introduction to A Cape Camera, the book illustrating the photography of early Cape photographer Arthur Elliott.

The sculptor Anreith, born in Germany at Riegel between the Rhine and the foothills of the Black Forest, was the finest and most florid artist of the Baroque in the Cape of Good Hope. His exceptional work on the pulpit of the Lutheran Church in Cape Town provoked the envy of the more prominent Dutch Reformed congregation, who quickly commissioned Anreith to carve an even more ornate pulpit for the Groote Kerk.

Cape Baroque and the contribution of Anton Anreith: a stylistic survey of architectural decoration and the applied arts at the Cape of Good Hope 1652-1800
by Dr Hans Fransen, 160 pages, R250
Kaapse barok en die bydrae van Anton Anreith: ’n stilistiese oorsig van argitektoniese versiering en toegepaste kuns op die Kaap die Goeie Hoop 1652-1800
deur Dr Hans Fransen, 160 bladsye, R250
January 19, 2015 10:56 pm | Link | No Comments »

Kolmanskop

Ghost town of the Namib

NAMIBIA IS A LAND that fascinates me, which is perhaps surprising. This arid land is sparsely populated — just 6.6 people per square mile — but its deserts are believed to be the oldest in the world. Those who haven’t experienced its harsh beauty may wonder why this land has attracted its odd and varied collection of peoples, but here the Ovambo, the Kavango, the Herero, the Afrikaner, the German, and the Bushman all call home.

I have already written somewhat about Lüderitz and beyond it the Diaz Point. As you speed down the B4 from Keetmanshoop to Lüderitz — a four-hour drive passing through just the one small village of Aus — you can turn off just before you reach the coastal town and pay a visit to the eerily ghost town of Kolmanskop: Kolmannskuppe in the original German. (more…)

December 13, 2013 3:15 pm | Link | 1 Comment »

A Lecture by Andrew Cusack

The
College of Arms Foundation
and the
Committee on Heraldry
of the New York Genealogical & Biographical Society

cordially invite you to a talk by

ANDREW CUSACK
on

‘THREE ANNULETS OR’
THE VAN RIEBEECK ARMS
& THEIR SOUTH AFRICAN LEGACY

Tuesday 17 September 2013
at
6:00 PM

Reception to follow

New York Genealogical & Biographical Society
36 West 44th Street, 7th Floor
New York, NY 10036

Open to the public. No charge.
Please rsvp to rsvp@coaf.us to reserve a place.

This lecture will provide an overview on the history and evolution of South African heraldry by explaining the significance of the coat of arms of Jan van Riebeeck (1619-1677). Van Riebeeck was the founder of Cape Town and the first governor of the Dutch colony at the Cape.

As the founder of the oldest European settlement in southern Africa, he came to be seen as the father of South Africa after the country was unified in 1910. The central elements of his arms — three annulets or — obtained local, regional, and finally national significance, and influenced the design of a wide variety of South African coats of arms, many of which will be examined in this lecture.

September 11, 2013 11:00 pm | Link | 2 Comments »

University Nicknames in South Africa

In the course of reading any South African newspaper article about universities, the unacquainted reader may be confused by some of the terminology involved. “Maties Slaughter Ikeys” is a common enough headline prototype — given that, I think, the last time the Ikeys (University of Cape Town) beat Maties (Stellenbosch) in rugby, a white man was president.

What are these mystical nicknames for South Africa’s universities, clouded in mystery to the outsider? Here is a handy guide. (more…)

April 3, 2013 5:50 pm | Link | 12 Comments »

The Impetuosity of Youth

From the Flickr feed of South Africa’s Etienne du Plessis:

These pictures were taken 2 October 1964: I was the pilot [writes Quentin Mouton]. The pictures are original and not ‘touched up’. The ‘Pongos’ (Army types) were on a route march from Langebaan by the sea to Saldanha. The previous night in the pub one of them had said: “Julle dink julle kan laag vlieg maar julle sal my nooit laat lê nie!” (You think you can fly low, but you will never make me hit the deck). Hullo!!!

I went to look for them on the beach in the morning and was alone for the one picture. I was pulling up to avoid them. In the afternoon I had a formation with me and you can see the other a/c behind me. (piloted by van Zyl, Kempen, and Perold).

A friend by the name of Leon Schnetler (one of the pongos) took the pics. The guy that said “Jy sal my nie laat lê nie!” said afterwards that he was saying to himself as I approached: “Ek sal nie lê nie, ek sal nie lê nie” (I wont go down, I wont go down) and when I had passed he found himself flat on the ground.

Memories from the past.

August 7, 2012 3:08 pm | Link | 2 Comments »

Overwhelming the Farber Building

A bland glass-plated giant will piggy-back onto a sound example of the Modern Movement in Cape Town

The Farber Building, one of the few extant examples of the Modern movement in architecture in Cape Town, is to be overwhelmed by an eighteen-storey plate-glass skyscraper. The developers had sought to have the 1935 building designed by Roberts & Small demolished, but the city fathers wisely refused permission. The price of its salvation, however, is that the boring skyscraper will piggy-back onto this actually rather inoffensive Modern structure. (more…)

June 5, 2012 8:54 pm | Link | 2 Comments »

South Africa Gets Personal with Banknotes

New series will feature face of former president Nelson Mandela

South African President Jacob Zuma recently announced that the country’s central bank would issue a new series of banknotes featuring his world-famous predecessor, Nelson Mandela. As the South African Rand is a widely used currency throughout southern Africa, its banknotes have become well-known throughout the region, and current international standards recommend banknotes change their security features every seven-to-ten years. The changeover will take place as the South African government makes a significant investment in the state-owned South Africa Bank Note Company which also prints banknotes for a number of neighbouring countries. SABN hopes to upgrade its printing facilities to take into account the most recent improvements in banknote security features in order to prevent counterfeiting.

I’ll rather miss the old notes (above), branded into my memory from my time living in South Africa. For some reason (the exchange rate, perhaps?) I have nought but happy memories of the Rand and always enjoyed the beautiful animals in a variety of colours printed on the notes. While Mandela will feature on one side of the new issue of notes, the ‘Big Five’ game animals will continue to grace the reverse. The inoffensive animal theme was introduced to keep the currency relatively apolitical, and despite the widespread admiration for Mandela across South Africa, the introduction of the former president’s visage on bank notes is another symbolic way of imprinting the ANC’s grasp on power into the population’s psyche.

As for myself, being obsessed with everything Cape Dutch and Afrikaans, I rather miss the old image of Jan van Riebeeck which once graced South Africa’s rand notes.

March 4, 2012 7:04 pm | Link | No Comments »

Die nuwe Volksblad

Not to be too Gollumesque about things, but I hates it! I always thought Volskblad (Bloemfontein, daily, Afrikaans, f. 1904, circ. 28,000) had one of the most dignified and handsome banners of all the Afrikaans dailies. The logo of the “People’s Paper” exudes a certain classical dignity and seriousness. Previous banners (see slideshow below) conveyed an individuality. I particularly like the chiseled blackletter typeface used in the second banner displayed below: strength, dignity, tradition, age. (more…)

January 11, 2012 8:32 pm | Link | 2 Comments »
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