Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe
On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
JANSEN, Ena. Oxford-upon-Amstel. The Amsterdam chair of South African Literature eighty years old. The early years and relations with the South African Academy for Science and Arts. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2014, vol.54, n.3, pp. 381-382. ISSN 2224-7912.
Eighty years ago the chair of "Zuid-Afrikaanse taal, letterkunde en geschiedenis" (South African Language, Literature and History) in Amsterdam came into existence under the auspices of the "Stichting ter bevordering van de studie van taal, letterkunde, cultuur en geschiedenis van Zuid-Afrika" (The Foundation for the Advancement of the Study of Language, Literature, Culture and History of South Africa). This Foundation was established on the 14th November 1932 in The Hague and has since then been a subsection of the so-called "Suid-Afrikaanse Instituut" (South African Institute), one of the institutions based in the "Zuid-Afrika Huis" (South Africa House) at 141 Keizersgracht in Amsterdam. The chair has since its inception been managed in close cooperation with a supervisory council of the University of Amsterdam. Due to long periods of inactivity only four people have been professors of Afrikaans literature in Amsterdam since the instalment of the chair. On 9th October 1933 dr. Gerrit Besselaar (1874-1947) gave his inaugural lecture as so-called "bijzonder hoogleraar" (professor by special appointment). The Dutchman Besselaar was born in Rotterdam and became a teacher in England before leaving for South Africa in 1903, shortly after the end of the Anglo-Boer War. He soon became an advocate for Afrikaans and was one of the founding members of the "Suid-Afrikaanse Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns" (South African Academy for Science and Arts) in 1909. He was professor in the department "Nieuwe Talen" (Modern Languages) at the Natal University College in Pietermaritzburg before returning to Europe in 1932. After teaching Afrikaans to German missionaries in Berlin he became the first holder of the chair of Afrikaans literature in Amsterdam. Afrikaanse taal- en letterkunde universitair studievak te Amsterdam, the title of Besselaar 's inaugural address, emphasised the status and pedagogical value of the Afrikaans language and literature. The establishment of the chair was an important acknowledgement on the side of the Dutch academy that Afrikaans, besides Dutch and Flemish, was an empowered and independent member of the Germanic group of languages. Following Besselaar 's retirement the chair of South African literature has always been occupied by South Africans. Temporary lecturers such as dr. Elizabeth Conradie (1903-1939) were also always South Africans. During the year when she took over from the ailing Besselaar she was praised not only for her enthusiastic lectures and networking skills but also for laying the foundation for the extensive library of the South Africa House. Because of World War Two and its aftermath the chair was vacant for more than a decade. The famous Afrikaans poet N.P. van Wyk Louw (1906-1970) was professor between 1950 and 1958, during which time many South African literary scholars came to study under his guidance. He wrote his most important literary work whilst living in Amsterdam. After his return to South Africa he was succeeded in 1959 by H. van der Merwe Scholtz (1924-2005) who had just completed his PhD in Amsterdam. After three years he returned to South Africa to take up a teaching post in Pretoria. Louw was a so-called "buitengewoon hoogleraar" (special chair) whilst Scholtz was "gewoon hoogleraar" (regular professor - actually the position with the most clout because of being part of the regular group of faculty professors). Louw's famous inaugural address delivered on 22nd May 1950 carried the title Die digter as intellektueel (The Poet as Intellectual), whilst the title of Scholtz's lecture delivered on 26th October 1959 was In en om die gedig (In and About the Poem). After Scholtz's departure the chair remained vacant for forty years. South African scholars such as Roy H. Pheiffer and Johan Uys, who had been studying in The Netherlands themselves, taught Afrikaans at the University for some years. After them dr. Truida Lijphart-Bezuidenhout held the fort from 1969 until her untimely death in 1987, teaching Afrikaans literature to a handful of students. During the strident years of Dutch opposition to the South African government's racial policy which resulted in an academic boycott of South African scholars and authors, the chair was suspended and only re-installed in 2000. A year later the position was advertised and on 13 September 2001 the "curatorium" (curating body) of the University of Amsterdam proposed dr. Ena Jansen as new "bijzonder hoogleraar". In April 2002 her appointment was finalised and she commenced teaching. Seventyyears after Besselaar, on the 11th April 2003, she gave her inaugural address entitled "Eva, wat sê hulle?" Konstruksies van Krotoa in Suid-Afrikaanse tekste ("Eva, what are they saying?" Constructions of Krotoa in South African texts). In this article the focus is on the founding years of the Amsterdam chair and its ties with the "Suid-Afrikaanse Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns".
Keywords : South African literature; Afrikaans; Afrikaans literature; education and culture; University of Amsterdam; Suid-Afrikaanse Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns; academic boycott; G. Besselaar; N.P. van Wyk Louw; H. van der Merwe Scholtz; Ena Jansen.