Cultural treasures of the Afrikaans language as documented by JC Kannemeyer

The Helgaard Steyn awards currently on exhibition in the La Motte Museum showcases the winners of these prestigious awards between 1987 and 2013. Rotating between the disciplines of painting, literature, sculpture and composition, one of the award winners on display is Professor Johan Christoffel (JC) Kannemeyer (1939-2011).

Professor Johan Christoffel (JC) Kannemeyer (1939-2011)

JC Kannemeyer’s dedication towards and love for the Afrikaans language are evident through his thorough research and documentation of the history, development and movement of Afrikaans literature. He is also acclaimed for writing award-winning biographies on Afrikaans authors, some of which were his teachers, study leaders and lifelong friends.

The list of fourteen biographies published by Kannemeyer before his death in 2011, includes writings on famous Afrikaans literature and cultural historical figures, such as DJ Opperman, CJ Langenhoven, C. Louis Leipoldt, Uys Krige, Jan Rabie, Hannes van der Merwe, Etienne Leroux and Peter Blum, with the addition of the latest and last biography out of Kannemeyer’s pen, JM Coetzee a life in writing, only published in 2013.

Most of the biographies also clearly focus on the history of literature in the given era of the relevant personality. Kannemeyer’s own life and experience within the literature world of South Africa was described in his book, Die rym neem ook ‘n hele lewe in beslag (1990).

Literature awards for Kannemeyer’s work include the Helgaard Steyn Award, Recht Malan Prize, Old Mutual Prize and Gustav Preller Prize. In recognition of his contribution towards South African literature, he also received the NP van Wyk Louw Medal in 2003 and an honorary doctorate from the University of Stellenbosch in 2009.

Who were the personalities he wrote about?

C. Louis Leipoldt (1880-1947)

Leipoldt is described as South Africa’s most versatile artist – Afrikaans poet, novelist, playwright, author of short stories, children’s books, cookbooks, travelogues and wine connoisseur.

The 1999 publication Leipoldt: ‘n Lewensverhaal by JC Kannemeyer was awarded with the Helgaard Steyn Award for Afrikaans Literature as well as the Recht Malan Prize in 2000.

Kannemeyer’s other publication on Leipoldt is titled: So blomtuin – vol van kleur: Leipoldt oor Clanwilliam (1999)

DJ Opperman (1914-1985)

One of South Africa’s most famous Afrikaans poets and compiler of anthologies.

CJ Langenhoven (1873-1932)

Afrikaans writer and politician. Wrote the poem “Die Stem van Suid-Afrika” in 1918 which was declared South Africa’s national anthem in 1957 and today also makes out part of the national anthem introduced in 1994.

Uys Krige (1910-1987)

South African poet, playwright and author of short stories and travelogues (work produced in Afrikaans and English).

Jan Rabie (1920-2001)

Afrikaans novelist, acclaimed Afrikaans translator of publications, member of the Afrikaans Writers’ Guild and part of the struggle movement against censorship in South Africa.

Hannes van der Merwe (1924-2012)

Famous South African architect and writers’ friend of amongst others, JC Kannemeyer, Boerneef, DJ Opperman, Piet Cillië and Izak de Villiers.

Etienne Leroux (1922-1989)

Afrikaans writer of the avant garde group in the 1960’s – South African Sestigers literary movement.

Peter Blum (1925-1990)

Italian born poet, prolific in South Africa during 1950’s.

JM Coetzee (1940-)

South African novelist, essayist, linguist, translator and 2003 Nobel Prize winner in Literature.


For those interested in more detail on Kannemeyer’s research and his take on the historic background of the Afrikaans Literature, please refer to the below list of publication:

  • Geskiedenis van die Afrikaanse Literatuur I
  • Geskiedenis van die Afrikaanse Literatuur II
  • Die Afrikaanse Literatuur: 1652-1987
  • Die Afrikaanse Literatuur: 1652-2004

For a summary on JC Kannemeyer as well as a full list of his publications and biographies, please refer to the Helgaard Steyn Awards 1987 – 2013 exhibition catalogue (also available in Afrikaans), page 25 and 26.

The Helgaard Steyn award winners can be viewed in the La Motte Museum: Tuesday – Sunday, 09:00 – 17:00

The Helgaard Steyn award winning works of literature (those still in publication), are available to purchase from the La Motte Farm Shop.

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