Louis Henri Meurant

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Louis Henri Meurant (1812 - 1893) was a journalist, printer, magistrate, parliamentarian, actor, playwright and language activist.

Also known as L.H. Meurant or by his nom de plume of Klaas Waarzegger ("Klaas the soothsayer")

Biography

Born in Cape Town to a Swiss immigrant father, (possibly L. Meurant?), and a British immigrant mother. Miss L.E. Meurant was possibly his sister. Orphaned at 14 he was adopted by M.J. Smit and his family and in 1831 married his eldest stepsister, Charlotte Smit (1809-1888). He started his career in journalism as an apprentice with the South African Commercial Advertiser, and, after his marriage, he moved to Grhamastown, where he founded The Grahamstown Journal. He later also published the Kaapsche Grensblad, the Cradock News en the Cradocksche Nieuwsblad.

Because of his bilingualism, he often served as translator , inter alia between the British and Dutch , e.g. at the Sand River Convention, which led to the founding of the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek (South African Republic) in Transvaal.

From 1853 onwards he was apparently a magistrate of several districts in the Colony, starting at Katrivier, then moving to Cradock, Fort Beaufort, Clanwilliam and from 1874 till his retirement in 1881, at Riversdal.

From 1884 till his death in 1893 he was a member of parliament for the Cape Colony.

He was buried in the Meurant Historical Cemetery, alongside his first wife, Charlotte Meurant, in 1893.

As performer and playwright

In 1825, as a child of about 13, he was apparently a member of C.E. Boniface's society, Honi Soit qui Mal y Pense (listed as H. Meurant by F.C.L. Bosman, 1928). In that year he appeared for them in Moliére's De Burger Edelman (as "Kaatje" and as a member of the corps de ballet); Boniface's Limaçon de Dichter , De Pixérécourt's De Vrouw met Twee Mannen (as "Julius" and dancer), Foote's The Liar (as "Kitty" and a dancer).

He had a number of theatre people among his friends, including the playwrights J. Suasso de Lima and C.E. Boniface, and he apparently published some of their first attempts at writing in Afrikaans.

Along with another friend, Frederick Rex (the son of George Rex), he was possibly a co-author (with Rex and Andrew Geddes Bain) of the satirical piece Kaatjie Kekkelbek during his sojourn in Grahamstown. The work is usually considered to be the first example of written Afrikaans certainly one of the earliest in dramatic form.

As part of his journalistic and political activities, Meurant also wrote and published some well-known and influential "Zamenspraake" (dialogues) in The Cradock News in 1860, under the pseudonym Klaas Waarzegger ("Klaas Soothsayer"). Focussed on the split between the Eastern and Western provinces, they were entitled Zamenspraak tusschen Klaas Waarzegger en Jan Twyfelaar over het onderwerp van afscheiding tusschen de Oostelyke en Westelyjke Provincie. Collected in book form and first published in 1861, they were considered to be the first published book in Afrikaans. According to Ludwig Binge (1969) his literary persona, the the crusty Calvinist "Klaas Waarzegger", also became an influential model for later writers and playwrights such as Melt Brink, C.J. Langenhoven, D.C. Postma and the "coloured" characters used by of later writers. ("Jan Twyfelaar" means "Jan the Doubter").

As cultural activist and historian

A strong advocate for the recognition of written Afrikaans, he regularly wrote contributions for his newspapers in Afrikaans .

Also an activist for freedom of the press, he was the author of the treatise Sixty years ago, or, Reminiscences of the struggle for the freedom of the press in South Africa and the establishment of the first newspaper in the Eastern Province (Cape Town, 1885), which is in addition a most valuable source on 19th century theatre and other cultural matters.

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Sources

Binge, 1969

Bosman, 1928:pp. 182, 261-268, 282-282, 295-297, 372, 547.

http://www.eggsa.org/library/main.php?g2_itemId=525518

http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Klaas_Waarzegger

http://www.esaach.org.za/index.php?title=Meurant,_Louis_Henri

Ana Deumert 2004. Language Standardization and Language Change: The dynamics of Cape Dutch John Benjamins Publishing.[1]

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