C.J. Langenhoven

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Cornelis Jacobus Langenhoven (1873-1932) [1], affectionately known as "Sagmoedige Neelsie" (i.e. "Gentle Neelsie") or "Kerneels". Attorney, politician, journalist, poet, novelist, playwright, essayist, comic writer, hugely popular public speaker and cultural activist, whose wit and breath of interest made him a legendary figure in South Africa.

His birth, training and family life

Born at Hoeko, near Ladismith, Cape Colony, where he was raised by an aunt and an uncle. Initially educated by governesses, he attended schools in Ladismith and Riversdale. Studied at the Victoria College in Stellenbosch (BA 1895), then became apprenticed to a solicitor in Ladismith, while studying privately, and teaching. In 1899 he completed a LL.B. at the University of Good Hope in Cape Town.

In 1897 he was married to Magdalena Maria (Vroutjie) Hugo, a widow with three children. Their only daughter, Engela was born in 1901.


A leader in the struggle for the recognition of Afrikaans from 1910 onwards, he used his legal knowledge, his role as journalist and editor, his fictional and non-fictional writings and political office to promote the role of the language in South Africa.

Teacher, lawyer, journalist and cultural activist

During and after his legal studies, he taught for a while, and worked as an attorney in Cape Town and in Oudtshoorn.

In 1912 he became the Editor of the Oudtshoorn newspaper Het Zuid-Westen, and with the founding of Die Burger on 26 July 1915, he began publishing his famous and popular weekly column called Aan Stille Waters ("By Quiet Waters") under the pseudonym Sagmoedige Neelsie, in which he would address every conceivable issue in society. This continued till his death in 1932 - and on that day Die Burger carried a blank page to mourn the loss of one of the most popular South African characters.

In 1914 he became Member of Oudtshoorn's Provincial Board of Directors and later Senator of the Cape. In 1925 utilized his position as parliamentarian to draft and submitted the law which first recognized Afrikaans as an official language in the place of Dutch.


Though baptised Cornelis Jacobus Langenhoven, he published most of his work under the name C.J. Langenhoven, though more familiarly known as "Sagmoedige Neelsie" (Soft-hearted Neelsie) or simply "Kerneels". Also wrote under a variety of other temporary pseudonyms, including "Halley", "Credo Exacto", etc.

Like so many of his contemporaries, he wrote every conceivable literary form, in order to establish Afrikaans as a literary and cultural language. Beyond any doubt he was the most popular writer of his generation, and he was mourned nationally when he died in 1932.

His autobiography: U dienswillige dienaar, was published in 1932. A collection of his essays that appeared in Die Burger was published posthumously in 1941 under the title of his column: Aan stille waters. C.J. Langenhoven: Versamelde Werke, his collected works, were originally published in 14 volumes (Cape Town, 1933 -1937) and later later expanded to 16 volumes (published from 1949onwards). Langenhoven: 'n lewe, a definitive biography by J.C. Kannemeyer appeared in 1995.

Prose and poetry

His best known works today are perhaps the words of Die Stem van Suid-Afrika ("The Voice of South Africa" - the national anthem of the Union and the Republic till 1994, and still part of the new South African anthem), his comic novels - notably Sonde met die Bure ("Trouble with the Neighbours"), Herrie op die ou Tremspoor ("Herrie on the old Tram Track") and a children's stories, Brolloks en Bittergal and Loeloeraai. Many of his works, especially the latter two were often performed as plays.

Plays and theatre

Technically one of the more proficient of his generation as a playwright, his works were extremely popular and frequently republished. In view of Langenhoven's perception of his own role in the cultural development of the Afrikaner and the often moralizing tone of the plays themselves, Ludwig Binge (1969) refers to his work as "educational theatre".

He started his playwriting career with two short pieces called De Waterzaak ("The case about the water rights" -1906/7) and Die Trouwbelofte ("The wedding vow" - 1906/7), then wrote and published a series of brief but classic dialogues in Het Zuid-Westen during 1911 (specifically written for the gratis use by amateurs and schools, not professionals) - including Die Tweetalige Vonnis ("The bilingual sentencing"), Die Kijs abaut die Forro ("The case about the furrow"), Die Beproewings van 'n Prokureur ("The trials/torments of a lawyer"), Modelletjie van 'n Debat ("Little model of a debate"), Die Omslagtige Tant Lenie ("The Circumloquatious Aunt Lenie"), Piet Neulpotjie ("Piet Complainer") and Onvoorbereide Toesprake ("Unprepared Speeches", which he called a "burlesque"). His important fuller-length plays followed and are Die Familie Zaak ("The case about the family" -1911), Die Wêreld die Draai ("The World Turns", A reworking of De Waterzaak - 1912), Die Hoop van Suid-Afrika ("The Hope of South Africa" - 1913), Die Vrouw van Suid-Afrika ("The Woman of South Africa" - 1918), Die Onmoontlike Tweeling ("The Impossible Twins" - 19*), Petronella (19*) Die Laaste van die Takhare ('The last of the backvelders", a final reworking of De Waterzaak as a full-length work - 1926) , ***, ***.

He also acted in some of the plays, notably portraying "Piet Retief" in the first production of Die Hoop van Suid-Afrika in 1913.

Also famous for his idiosyncratic refusal to have his plays performed by professional companies, since he saw the works as a contribution to Afrikaans culture, not as commodities to be sold. He did however allow amateur companies to perform his works for free of charge, thus making them a major staple of their various repertoires.

Two popular dramatizations from his works have also appeared under the title Sagmoedige Neelsie. a stage play in 1973 and a TV series in 1984. (See Sagmoedige Neelsie).

[TH, JH]


Binge, 1969

Du Toit, 1988




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