Hendrik Hanekom

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Hendrik Hanekom (1893-1952) was a teacher, town-clerk, pioneering Afrikaans actor, director, playwright and one of the first Afrikaans actor-managers.

His first name was initially initially shortened in various ways on playbills and posters (e.g Hend. A. Hanekom, Hent A. Hanekom, Henta A. Hanekom or Hentie A. Hanekom), but he was later affectionately referred to as Doom Hanekom or simply Doom. (The Afrikaans word "doom" - the "oom" part pronounced like the "orm" in "worm" - is derived from "Dominee", i.e. "church minister", because some of his major roles had been playing a preacher.)


Born Hendrik Andries Hanekom on June 17, 1893 in Beaufort West, the son of Hendrik Hanekom. Schooled in Beaufort West, finishing in 1914.

He became a municipal employee and went on to become a town clerk of the towns Beaufort West, De Aar, and Lydenburg (1919-1925). In Beaufort West he developed an interest in theatre and met Mathilda de Beer, whom he married on 5th August in 1918.

In the early 1930s the Hanekoms settled in Bloemfontein because Mathilde's health had become a concern and their daughter Tilana needed to go to school.

He died January 14, 1952 in the Strand, Cape, South Africa.


Neither Hanekom nor his wife had received theatrical training, but with dedicated study and later guidance of the great Paul de Groot, they developed acting and stage management skills until they became leading personalities in stage.


After directing and appearing in Magrieta Prinsloo (S.P.E. Boshoff's adapted version of S.J. du Toit's drama) with the local amateurs, he and fellow actor, Piet Retief, bought and toured a travelling carnival, but this failed, so he became assistant town clerk of Lydenburg, Transvaal.

Hanekom was first employed as a municipal official in the town of his birth and was later promoted to assistant town clerk. He was also interested in theatre and in 1912 made his debut as an amateur actor in C.J. Langenhoven’s Die Wêreld die Draai with the part of "Meester van Helderbos".

In 1919 he was appointed town clerk of De Aar and in 1922 at Lydenburg.

Inspired by Leonard Rayne, a renowned actor, he resigned his office and he and his wife sold everything to establish a professional theatrical company in Pretoria in October 1925. It was the first entirely Afrikaans company and appropriately called Die Afrikaanse Toneelspelers ("The Afrikaans Players"). The aim was to educate and entertain the "Volk" ("the nation"). The couple specialised in impersonations of national heroes. Their first tour (1925-26) took Hanekom and the company through the Transvaal, the Free State, the Boland and on to Cape Town.

Their daughter Tilana was only three years old when her father abandoned his post as town clerk for the stage.

In June 1926, Hanekom was invited by Paul de Groot to join his theatrical group - the Paul de Groot Toneelgeselskap - as an actor and business manager ("Direkteur"). The partnership went on to lay the foundation upon which many other professional theatrical companies where later built.

Their first presentation for the company was Huis Toe (Suderman’s Hermat) which was followed by three more productions.

In March 1928, Hanekom and de Groot parted company and it was the first time an Afrikaans professional group split. Hanekom continued with his own company, on two occasions in 1931 joining forces with Willem van Zyl, to perform as the Hanekom-Van Zyl-geselskap. He kept it up until 1932 when the depression of the thirties compelled him to close the company.

The Hanekoms next founded a theatre school (Die Vrystaatse Toneelskool = "The Free State Theatre School") in Bloemfontein, which lasted a little more than 3 years and was basically a theatrical society which put on 15 plays between 1934 and 1937, utilizing a number of local amateurs who went on to become important figures in amateur and professional theatre. The first production by the school turned out to be one of the great success stories of the Afrikaans theatre, namely Oom Paul ("Uncle Paul") by D.C. Postma about the life of President Paul Kruger. Another popular production was Hans die Skipper by D.F. Malherbe, which was also taken on a national tour.

His companies appeared under a number of names over the years, including Hendrik Hanekom en Geselskap, Die Hanekoms, Die Hanekoms en Geselskap.

Hanekom and his wife and daughter were also members of some of the early NTO companies.

Contribution to SA theatre, film, media and/or performance

He and his company compiled, translated and wrote many folkish texts for their own use. For example, in 1925 Hanekom hurriedly devised Oom Gawerjal se Dogters en die Stemkoors ("Uncle Gawerjal's Daughters and the Election Fever"), Liefde en Geldsug ("Love and Avarice"), dictating it to Willie Preller, a colleague at the Lydenburg municipality, who then typed them. This was done because C.J. Langenhoven had refused the company the rights to Die Wêreld die Draai ("The World Turns"). Other texts devised by him are Wie is Wie?.

From the end of 1934 to 1936 he went on a countrywide tour, approximately four hundred performances were held and attended by more than a quarter of a million people. At the beginning of 1937 Hanekom’s company joined André Huguenet’s for the production of Hendrik Brand’s Die Skerpioen which was adapted for the radio as Tamboere in die Nag.

"Paul Kruger" was perhaps Hanekom's best remembered role, and in 1936 he went on to tour with a professional company, playing Oom Paul to a wider audience. He was to do this on and off for a number of years (1935-1938, again in 1940). Other productions in this time include Amrach die Tollenaar (D.F. Malherbe) and Hans die Skipper (D.F. Malherbe), the latter also taken on tour. By 1938 he was thus back on the road with his company. ** *

In 1947 he acted in the ground-breaking Afrikaans version of Ibsen's Ghosts (Spoke) at His Majesty's Theatre in Johannesburg, which led to the founding of the National Theatre Organisation (NTO). ** With the founding of NTO, he did a number of plays for them, including Nag het die Wind Gebring (1948/49), Oupa Brompie (1950), Candida (1950), **. The latter was his first English-speaking role.

Hanekom was also involved in many attempts over the years to professionalise theatre in the country. For example in 1936 he was on the first executive of the shortlived Toneelbond founded by the F.A.K. and an advisor to its Toneelburo (1937), a co-signatory of the petition for a "state theatre" in 1942.

Awards, etc

In 1945 he was the first recipient of an award from the Suid-Afrikaanse Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns for his achievements in theatrical art.




South African History Online [1].

Southern African Dictionary of National Biography by Eric Rosenthal. Frederick Warne & Co. Ltd, London, England, 1966.

Anna Minnaar-Vos 1969.

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