Jannie and memories of Schreiner

Within the Great Karoo She Loved So Much… an oil on canvas by Jannie van Heerden. It measures 40cm x 60cm.

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BY BILLY SUTER

AS A young boy, artist Jannie van Heerden would often join his father to visit the former home of Olive Schreiner, the author of the classic novel, The Story of an African Farm.

Jannie grew up in Cradock in the Eastern Cape, where Schreiner lived as a teenager, alongside her elder brother and sister, and where she later worked as a tutor on the farms Gannahoek and Klein Gannahoek.

In 1921 she was buried on the mountain Buffelskop, just outside Cradock.

Jannie recalls that he often visited the Schreiner House, then derelict, and that he and his dad once ascended Buffelskop to look at Schreiner’s grave.

The legend remained with him and he channelled those memories in 2013 with  an exhibition at Durban’s KZNSA Gallery in Glenwood, which he has now revisited.

In the past few years, Van Heerden admits, he felt he had not done Schreiner justice, so he now presents Olive Schreiner Revisited, a solo exhibition to be seen at the KZNSA Gallery until March 30.

The gallery points out that Olive Schreiner was born at the Wittenberg mission station in 1855. Her first encounter with Cradock was in 1867 when, as a teenager, she lived with her elder brother and sister in Cross Street (now part of the National English Literary Museum).

Jannie van Heerden’s The Re-internment on Buffelskop, an oil on canvas measuring 75cm x 60cm.

She returned later to serve as a tutor on farms in the district,where the landscape and its people left a deep impression upon her, and influenced her famous novel, originally published under the pseudonym Ralph Iron, as women were not allowed to publish at that time.

Her other best-known works are Thoughts On South Africa and Women And Labour, long considered as a bible of the women’s movement.

Schreiner was deeply involved in politics and was a fighter for all the oppressed peoples of South Africa. She was totally opposed to Rhodes and British imperialism.

In 1894, she married Cron, eight years her junior, and they settled on the farm Krantzplaats, in the Cradock district.

She insisted that he took her name and he was known as Cronwright Schreiner. During this time they ascended the mountain Buffelskop, with its breathtaking view across the valley. Olive decided that this was where she wanted to be buried and acquired the plot.

Olive was excessively asthmatic, soon had to leave the damp riverbeds of Krantzplatts and spent a lifetime searching for a suitable climate for her health – first Hanover, then Kimberley, Johannesburg and eventually Matjiesfontein.

Her firstborn child lived for only nine hours and after that she had three miscarriages.

Olive and Cron eventually drifted apart and she left for Europe and England in 1914.  She already knew many influential people there- including Havelock Ellis and Eleanor Marx, both of whom influenced her outlook on life.

Olive returned to Cape Town in 1920. She died in 1921 and was buried in the family crypt. According to her wishes Cron had her body exhumed and buried in 1921 on Buffelskop.

The re-internment on Buffelskop was a very dramatic event. Eight carriers spent two days carrying her coffin, plus those of her dead child and her dog, Nita, up the hill.

The undertaker built a dome-shaped sarcophagus on the pinnacle to take the coffins, and, according to Olive’s wishes, no religious ceremony was allowed.

As Cron finished his eulogy, an eagle soared across the sky, to paraphrase the The Story Of An African Farm: “the dark-plumed bird uttered its deep low cry: Immortality”.


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