C Louis Leipoldt’s orientation

  • 3

There has been speculation over the decades about the sexual orientation of the Afrikaans poet C Louis Leipoldt. As he never had a good relationship with his mother,1 and because he remained unmarried, a perception could have been formed that he was gay or homosexual. Some have suggested he was homoerotic, while others have even gone so far as to suggest paederastic deeds by him. Whatever the case, it will be a difficult thing to pin him down on this, as he was a complex person and difficult to pigeonhole. His mother’s poor health was a reason he gave for not marrying – he was loath to continue the “erflas”.2 His mother was an acute sufferer from bipolar depression,3 a gene she carried from her maternal side, a condition which Leipoldt, as a medical doctor, was aware of, even to the extent that he said it was because of this he never married, as he would carry it over to his progeny.

An article by Sonja Loots titled “Was hy of was hy nie?” appeared in “Perspektief” in Rapport on 28 August 2005, which referred to a series of articles in the South African Medical Journal (SAMJ) on the topic of Leipoldt’s sexual orientation. Of importance in the debate was a letter from Dr Robert M Kaplan, who at the time of writing the letter to the SAMJ was practising as a medical doctor in Wollongong, New South Wales, Australia. Kaplan took JC (Kay) de Villiers4 to task “for not being more outspoken about Leipoldt’s supposed homosexuality”5 in an article that appeared in the SAMJ written by De Villiers. 6

Subsequent to Kaplan’s article, a thorough article appeared in the SAMJ, written by Leipoldt biographer JC Kannemeyer, in which, apart from relating relevant aspects of Leipoldt’s upbringing that may have influenced him, he provided evidence of the testimonies through personal interviews, 7 from a number of young men such as JRL Forsyth, Michael O’Connor and others, who were present in their own homes, at the same time that Leipoldt was boarding in these very homes. The conclusion reached by Kannemeyer was that “allegations of his homosexuality are ‘los praatjies’ ? loose talk”.8

Dr JRL Forsyth, who was a boy at the time Leipoldt was a lodger in the Forsyth home, dismissed speculations about any paedophilia or homosexuality and in this regard said, “I can honestly say that I never can remember any hint of those things in anything Leipoldt did or said.” 9

Michael O’Connor, in whose home Leipoldt was a lodger in the forties, when asked about Leipoldt’s alleged homosexuality, answered:

Regarding myself, of course, I was quite unaware of things like homosexuality, especially in the 1940s, when conservative attitudes prevailed and there was no television to titillate a child’s curiosity. I spent a fair amount of time alone in the doctor’s company and I have no recollection of ever feeling uneasy. In the September holidays he took three of us camping at Rooi Els, one a school pal of mine and the other a boy, Tommy Penfold from another school. I had the impression that he was friendly with Tommy’s family and also that he was kind to them (another impression was that they did not have a lot of money). Both these chaps were relatively shrewd and I think that there would have been some whispers if unusual things had happened. 10

According to Kannemeyer in his article, on the one hand we have these testimonies from persons who knew and lived side by side with Leipoldt who deny any sign of Leipoldt’s being a practising homosexual, and on the other hand we have those who speculate over his sexual orientation, such as Kaplan, but never even knew the man.

In addition to what Kaplan alleges, we also have the speculations from South African poet Stephen Gray, who writes:

Such a non-marrying man … who gleefully took over women’s kitchens, mothered dozens of “pettable bucks” and adored photographing them in their wet bathing-costumes – could not really have been sexually conventional. Leipoldt actually told his adopted son that he was homosexual, as Kannemeyer quotes, yet he still clings to his doubt.11 From such a dysfunctional family (his mother had acquired beri-beri in the East and went screaming mad with it), what else could he be but gay? Since Leipoldt campaigned for candour over such issues, in this day and age Kannemeyer’s denial comes over as somewhat coy.12

Kannemeyer concluded his article by questioning the speculations of those who had never met Leipoldt, such as Kaplan and Gray, as opposed to those who had known him and lived in the same house. One such person, who boarded in Leipoldt’s house for a number of years from 1925, a former medical practitioner in Cape Town, remarked that if Leipoldt was a homosexual, they (the boarders in the household at the time) never saw anything of it. 13

The following are Shields’s words from an interview with Trevor Emslie, co-editor of Leipoldt’s trilogy of fictional novels, The Valley, which was conducted at Shield’s home in Berkamstead in Britain:

Many people seem to think that Doc was, or might have been, homosexual. I must say that I cannot see that it matters; but if he was, we never saw anything of it at all. Not a hint. Of course one didn’t discuss such things in those days, at any rate not in the way people do nowadays, but quite frankly the possibility never crossed our minds, and I am absolutely certain there was nothing like that at all in our household. There is no question of it being otherwise.14

Against the article by Kannemeyer calling for an end to the speculation over Leipoldt’s sexual orientation are the words of a medical doctor, J du T Zaaiman, writing to the Editor of the SAMJ, that might provide us with a better way of trying to understand Leipoldt. 15 He views him as a pioneer in the fields of the biological and spiritual evolution road, and campaigns for a more universal gaze (“sy lewensverhaal globaal beskou”) on Leipoldt’s sexual orientation, rather than be parochial (“gaan vashaak op enkele klein vlooitjies”) about it.16 This could come from different ways, for instance Leipoldt’s own perspective on Eastern philosophy, and more specifically Buddhism. Dr EM Sandler, who edited a selection of Leipoldt’s correspondence with Harry Bolus, his mentor, has said that “it would appear, from all accounts, that he (Leipoldt) had a strong leaning towards Eastern religions and it is said (but unconfirmed) that at registration at Guy’s Medical School (where Leipoldt studied Medicine) he indicated that his religion was Buddhism.”17 Professor MM Walters’s interesting monograph touches on Leipoldt’s alleged Buddhism.18

Leipoldt’s experiences with Buddhism, and the fact that he demonstrated Buddhist tendencies, are important for his trilogy of English novels, The Valley, especially for the last of the three books, The Mask, and may have influenced the depiction of the woman’s forgiving and unconditional love towards her hypocritical husband. The Eastern influence on Leipoldt as far as marriage is concerned is expressed by him addressing his adopted son, Jeff:

Sexual attraction which in adolescence is the mainspring of love, can never itself justify marriage, or that lasting companionship that, even without the formal marriage tie, may satisfy a man and a woman. There must be something more than mere lust, which, after all, anyone with common sense and the precautions that modern conventions demand can occasionally satisfy without binding either party to something that is irrevocably fixed by contractual obligations … Between man and woman, the gratification of sexual lust is of course that implied selfishness which is, equally of course, a perfectly natural result of man’s desire to procreate. But obviously the far higher friendship is the companionship that asks no gratification, the Buddhist’s “love without desire” that should be the ideal.19

The way Leipoldt idealised marriage through Buddhist tendencies elevates his attitude to above anything sexual, as the belief in the power of unconditional and universal love is portrayed in the character of Maria in The Mask. Furthermore, any instance of misogyny is unlikely in Leipoldt, given his close relationship with women friends such as his close lady friend Helen Burton. The union of marriage between persons was viewed by Leipoldt with the utmost respect, and he very much took to heart the words of Dr Barnardo about his upbringing in a somewhat lonely house with an unsympathetic mother: “Your own youth was lonely and dark. Why don’t you help other children to have a happier youth than your own? It will be a compensation for your own loneliness.” 20

It could be these very words of Dr Barnardo’s that were to set Leipoldt on the path of rendering great service as a medical inspector of schools, which Kannemeyer explains as unselfish dedication, linked to the Buddhist idea of love that expects nothing in return.

JC de Villiers quotes a son of another missionary, Dr Andries Blignaut, as suggesting that the poem “Sendelingkinders” provides a clue to understanding the man, the child of a missionary – and any child of a missionary, for that matter.21 Leipoldt himself later produced an English variation on this theme, not a true translation (of the Afrikaans poem “Sendelingkinders”) but in reality a new poem, “The Mission Child”, which ends:

You are the Mission Child; your task is set for you to do.

A simple task, but one that taxes patience, power and pride;

To go your way and grasp your work that all and naught beside

To struggle through to reach the star that lights the long ascent

And learn at last before you die what Ebenezer meant.’

(1 Samuel 7.12: Ebenezer, saying “Hitherto has the Lord assisted us.”)22

Different views of Leipoldt’s attitude to sexuality and marriage and relationships can open up the debate about his sexual orientation and can provide further appreciation for the person as more than merely a psychic homosexual orientation in him, 23 or as South African poet Stephen Gray suggested, that he committed paederastic deeds with the boys in his care.24 It was the Afrikaans poet DJ Opperman who suggested that anyone wishing to express him-/herself on the topic of possible sexual orientation in Leipoldt would need to proceed with caution, as the love life of a person (and one should be able to add, especially of someone as complex as Leipoldt) is a complicated matter. 25

One could look further into the topic, for instance at Leipoldt’s fiction, as in Gallows Gecko, the first in the trilogy of fictional novels in The Valley, where there is reference to a scene where the eccentric character Tins produced a nude drawing of Matie Kromhout, a young boy, naked, while at the bathing place which the character Uncle Dorrie surprisingly remarks about to Everard Nolte: “He has drawn the youngster standing on a rock. Naked, Nephew Ev’rard, naked, just like your bare finger. Poodle-naked, so that you can see the lad’s posteriors. It is wholly indecent, Nephew Ev’rard, and the people have spoken to me about it.”26

In his book Die Reisiger27 Afrikaans novelist Karel Schoeman uses Leipoldt’s presence aboard Pulitzer’s yacht Liberty to give an interpretation of Leipoldt as a young man, without providing any biographical details – thus purely a fictional-psychological account.28 Afrikaans author Hennie Aucamp has written a commentary on Schoeman’s book titled “C Louis Leipoldt, ’n Fiktiewe Portret”. 29 Aucamp’s comment that “[d]ie belangrikste faset van Die Reisiger is dat dit ’n psigologiese portret van C Louis Leipoldt bied – ’n portret wat nie wegskram van Leipoldt se vermeende homofiele verlangens nie”30 links to the topic of Leipoldt’s sexual orientation. According to JC Kannemeyer, Die Reisiger, even though a fictitious account, is nevertheless a sensitive rendering of the image of the young Leipoldt, with the effective backshadowing (“terugspeel”) on experiences from his youth in Clanwilliam.31

South African journalist Markus Viljoen explains an incident involving Leipoldt’s approach to a “mooi seun” which ties in with the remark by Viljoen to Burgers that Leipoldt did not hide his infatuation with young men.32 It is likely Viljoen made the assumption based on a specific incident which took place one morning when Viljoen and Leipoldt were having coffee together at the Koffiehuis in the city centre of Cape Town. According to Viljoen, Leipoldt’s eyes scanned the room to look at some of the strapping young men seated at the tables. As it happened, one of them got up to leave the restaurant, and as he was leaving he was noticed by Leipoldt, who stared at him, and then remarked, “Is dit nie ’n mooi seun nie! Kyk die mooi profiel! Wie is die seun?”33 When Viljoen replied that he did not know who the boy was, Leipoldt interjected with the words, “Jy ken ook niemand nie. Wie ken jy nou eintlik?”, which, according to Viljoen, was Leipoldt’s way of expressing his indignation at the way people judged homosexuals. 34 Leipoldt then proceeded to ask a question that has bearing on sexual orientation, to the effect of what it has to do with others if a person is slightly different. 35

In “My Jubileumjaar” Leipoldt wrote about a romantic relationship with someone with the initials FWB. 36 The reference is to a person he’d met in the years between 1890 and 1894 in Cape Town by the name of Frank William Baxter. Leipoldt recalls the incident in a letter from himself to MPO Burgers dated 5 December 1938. 37 He recounts to Burgers that he was a young boy, swept up by an adolescent appreciation for brave deeds performed by daredevils. At the time, Baxter was a young constable in the Rhodesian constabulary, but died in the Wilson Voortrekker affair.38 The incident left a profound impression on Leipoldt’s mind, so much so that he decided to use Baxter’s initials, FWB, as a nom de guerre 39 – such was the infatuation Leipoldt had for the young Baxter. There are archival traces of Baxter fighting in the Matabele uprising of 1896 in Rhodesia and attempting to save a friend, giving his life in the process.

Although Leipoldt’s relationship with the young army officer is what could be termed a schwärmerische relationship and quite natural for a young boy of that age to have had, Burgers nevertheless identifies the matter as being one of more than normal emotional intensity. 40 He posits that the Baxter incident in Leipoldt’s life could easily have strengthened, and indeed even fixed, his attachment to the male as the object of interest and idealisation. 41

While this is a viewpoint requiring further explanation, the incidents described in the above paragraphs do show a sign of Leipoldt’s infatuation with young men. In the case of the Meintjies incident it was mischievous of Leipoldt to act in the way he did; maybe there was this close feeling towards an attractive young man that set off Leipoldt’s chemistry, just as a young person might reach for another drink; and in the Baxter incident it seems there is an element of hero worship, such as a younger person can have for one slightly older.

Leipoldt’s own attitude towards homosexuality as expressed in his scientific work in the chapter “Sex and Sentiment” in Bushveld Doctor should be noted in this debate, where he remarks:

It is lamentable that homosexuality is still regarded, even by some medical men, as sex perversion, and that its discussion has been overloaded by the jargon of pseudo-scientific inanities. There would be less difficulty in understanding it, and dealing with its manifestations sanely, if we were to rid ourselves of the traditional concept, enshrined in the law of practically all Protestant countries, that it is an anti-social abnormality. … The law against homosexuality, applicable only to males, is a remnant of Canon law, which again is a relic of Mosaic law, grounded, as Westermarck has shown, not on utilitarian considerations, as modern exponents of Roman law allege, but on a purely religious basis. … The statistics of homosexuality, as recorded in the convictions by courts of law, are no evidence of its incidence; they are merely a faint index of anti-social acts committed by persons who may or may not be homosexual, just as the statistics for rape and assaults upon women are an index of similarly anti-social acts by persons who may or may not be heterosexual. From the point of view of the teacher and the school doctor, homosexuality is of no greater importance or significance than heterosexuality. Both may give rise to difficulties and problems that should be dealt with by a study of the personality of the child, with a view to teaching him to learn what every citizen should know, how to control himself.42

Ultimately, there is no conclusive evidence available that Leipoldt was a practicing homosexual or that he had any such relationships with men. Leipoldt nevertheless exhorts especially young people, to take a strong moral stance on the matter of sexuality, and that is to control oneself – and this one can take to mean all citizens should control themselves. And then there is the thought that the question of Leipoldt’s sexual orientation goes beyond what any speculation might reveal, as it is universalized in his fictional writings.

The matter can never be left there.


Paul Murray obtained his D Phil Degree from the University of Pretoria entitled “C Louis Leipoldt’s The Valley, Constructing an Alternative Past”. He teaches History at Diocesan College. He co-edited (with Trevor Emslie), The Valley and Leipoldt’s Food and Wine.



1 For a discussion of his relationship with his mother, see MPO Burgers, CL Leipoldt, ‘n Studie in Stof-keuse, -verwerking en -ontwikkeling, Nasionale Boekhandel Bpk, Cape Town, Bloemfontein, Johannesburg, 1960, pp 225 et seq.

2 UCT Archives and Manuscripts, BC 94 E2.3.

3 MPO Burgers, CL Leipoldt, ‘n Studie in Stof-keuse, -verwerking en -ontwikkeling, Nasionale Boekhandel Bpk, Cape Town, Bloemfontein, Johannesburg, 1960, p 226. The various illnesses Leipoldt’s mother suffered from are discussed by Burgers on this page.

4 Emeritus Professor at the University of Cape Town (Neurosurgery).

5 “Editor’s Choice”, August 2005, Vol 95, No 8, SAMJ, p 537.

6 JC de Villiers, CL Leipoldt (1880–1947) – journalist doctor, SAMJ, July 2004, Vol 94, No 7, pp 552–6.

7 “Editor’s Choice”, August 2005, Vol 95, No 8, SAMJ, p 537.

8 “Editor’s Choice”, August 2005, Vol 95, No 8, SAMJ, p 537.

9 JRL Forsyth in JC Kannemeyer, C Louis Leipoldt en sy seksuele oriëntasie, August 2005, Vol 95, No 8, SAMJ, p 580.

10 Michael O’Connor in JC Kannemeyer, C Louis Leipoldt en sy seksuele oriëntasie, August 2005, Vol 95, No 8, SAMJ, p 581.

11 To Jeff Leipoldt, Leipoldt’s legally adopted son, he was a homosexual, but Jeff understood he meant he was never a practising homosexual. This information is taken from Jeff Leipoldt, in conversation with MPO Burgers, 14 April 1952, cited in JC Kannemeyer, Leipoldt, ’n Lewensverhaal, p 617 – the reference is on page 719, footnote 44.

12 Stephen Gray quoted in JC Kannemeyer’s article, C Louis Leipoldt en sy seksuele oriëntasie, August 2005, Vol 95, No 8, SAMJ, p 578.

13 C Louis Leipoldt, Leipoldt’s Food and Wine (eds TS Emslie and PL Murray), Stonewall Books, St James, Cape Town, 2003, p xv.

14 In the foreword by Dr Peter Shields in C Louis Leipoldt’s Leipoldt’s Food and Wine, (eds TS Emslie and PL Murray), Stonewall Books, St James, Cape Town, 2003, p xv.

15 J du T Zaaiman, C Louis Leipoldt en sy seksuele oriëntasie, South African Medical Journal, 95(10), October 2005, pp 713–4.

16 Ibid .

17 EM Sandler, C Louis Leipoldt – Medical Student Extraordinary. Address at AJ Orenstein Memorial Lecture, The Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of the Witwatersrand, 8 October 1980 (abridged), p 14.

18 MM Walters, C Louis Leipoldt 1880–1947 – Pamphlet published by the Foundation for Research and Development: Man and His Environment, undated, p 15.

19 UCT Archives and Manuscripts, BC94 B4.1–B4.207.

20 Dr Barnardo to Leipoldt, quoted in the South African Medical Journal, 95(8), August 2005, pp 713–4.

21 JC de Villiers, CFJ Leipoldt (1880–1947) – Journalist Doctor, South African Medical Journal, 94(7), July 2004, p 556. Leipoldt was from a missionary family.

22 These are the last lines from the poem by C Louis Leipoldt titled “The Mission Child” quoted by JC de Villiers in his article “CFJ Leipoldt (1880–1947) – Journalist Doctor”, South African Medical Journal, 94(7), July 2004, p 556.

23 MPO Burgers, CL Leipoldt, ’n Studie in Stof-keuse, -verwerking en -ontwikkeling, Nasionale Boekhandel, Cape Town, Bloemfontein, Johannesburg, 1960, p 302.

24 In JC Kannemeyer, “C Louis Leipoldt en sy seksuele oriëntasie”, South African Medical Journal, 95(8), August, 2005, p 576.

25 DJ Opperman in Slampamperman, a video made by Katinka Heyns, with the text written by Chris Barnard, Sonneblom-films, 1980, cited in JC Kannemeyer, Leipoldt, ’n Lewensverhaal, footnote 57, p 708.

26 C Louis Leipoldt, The Valley, pp 114–5.

27 Karel Schoeman, Die Reisiger, Human & Rousseau, Cape Town, 1980.

28 JC Kannemeyer, in footnote 83 of chapter VII of Leipoldt, ’n Lewensverhaal, Tafelberg, Cape Town, 1980, p 694, commenting on Karel Schoeman’s Die Reisiger.

29 Hennie Aucamp, C Louis Leipoldt, “’n Fiktiewe Portret”, http://www.oulitnet.co.za/gay/aucamp08.asp.

30 Hennie Aucamp, http://www.oulitnet.co.za/gay/aucamp08.asp. (Translation: “The most important aspect of Die Reisiger is that a psychological picture is presented of C Louis Leipoldt, a picture that does not shy away from Leipoldt’s alleged homophile tendencies.”)

31 JC Kannemeyer, in footnote 83 of chapter VII of Leipoldt, ’n Lewensverhaal, Tafelberg, Cape Town, 1980, p 694, commenting on Karel Schoeman’s Die Reisiger.

32 Cited in JC Kannemeyer, Leipoldt, ’n Lewensverhaal, pp 616–7. (Translated as “a beautiful boy” or, to use a different term, “a pretty boy”.)

33 In JC Kannemeyer, Leipoldt, ’n Lewensverhaal, p 616. (Translation: “Is this not an attractive boy! Look at his beautiful profile. Who is this boy?”)

34 JC Kannemeyer, Leipoldt, ’n Lewensverhaal, p 616. (Translation: “You also know no one. Who do you actually know?”)

35 JC Kannemeyer, Leipoldt, ’n Lewensverhaal, p 616.

36 MPO Burgers, CL Leipoldt, ’n Studie in Stof-keuse, -verwerking en -ontwikkeling, p 231. The article that Leipoldt wrote was titled “My Jubileumjaar”, which appeared in Die Burger of 17 January 1947.

37 MPO Burgers, CL Leipoldt, ’n Studie in Stof-keuse, -verwerking en -ontwikkeling, p 232.

38 To read more about the Baxter incident see WD Gale, One Man’s Vision – the Story of Rhodesia, Hutchinson, London, 1935. (See pp 206–15).

39 Cited in MPO Burgers, CL Leipoldt, ’n Studie in Stof-keuse, -verwerking en –ontwikkeling, Nasionale Boekhandel Bpk, Cape Town, Bloemfontein, Johannesburg, 1960, p 232.

40 MPO Burgers, CL Leipoldt, ’n Studie in Stof-keuse, -verwerking en -ontwikkeling, p 232.

41 Ibid .

42 C Louis Leipoldt, Bushveld Doctor, pp 310–11.


Teken in op LitNet se gratis weeklikse nuusbrief. | Sign up for LitNet’s free weekly newsletter.

  • 3


  • Avatar
    Johannes Comestor

    Wyle Willem Botha was 'n joernalis en later 'n dosent aan die Universiteit Pretoria. Hy was 'n tyd lank 'n loseerder wat by Leipoldt ingewoon het. Hy het my verseker dat daar nooit enige sprake van homoseksualiteit by Leipoldt was nie. Die enigste rede waarom Leipoldt net manlike loseerders gehad het, is omdat vroulike loseerders destyds sosiaal heeltemal onaanvaarbaar sou gewees het. Ek vind dit eienaardig dat sy verhouding met sy moeder as hoofrede vir Leipoldt se oujongkêrelskap aangevoer word. Dit is bekend dat Leipoldt as jong man 'n liefdesteleurstelling met 'n jong vrou gehad het - sy het met iemand anders getrou. Dit is volgens Botha die rede waarom Leipoldt nooit getrou het nie.

    Johannes Comestor 

  • Beste Paul Murray

    "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot"!

    Wat op aarde het Leipoldt se seksuele oriëntasie met enige iemand te doen?
    Leipoldt was 'n besondere bydraer tot Afrikaanse literatuur, en afgesien daarvan ook 'n besonderse mens. Hoekom sal enige persoon bladsye en bladsye wou skryf, insluitende kruisverwysings en "bewyse", oor 'n publieke figuur se seksuele oriëntasie? Is dit nou nodig? Is daar niks anders waaroor geskryf kan word nie?
    Verskeie seksuele oriëntasies was nog altyd daar gewees - van Bybelse tye af tot nou toe - so what?
    Dan ken ek en my vrou verskeie oujongkêrels, en hulle seksuele oriëntasie maak nie vir ons saak nie, want hulle is liewe vriende vir wie ons omgee, en wie ook vir ons omgee. Hoekom moet daar altyd 'n seksuele oriëntasie aan gekoppel word?
    As ek 'n voorstel mag waag: Kom ons fokus ons energie op opbouende onderwerpe wat mense saambind, eerder as onderwerpe wat etikette haak aan mense en hulle in "boksies" plaas.
  • Avatar
    Marie Viljoen

    Ag dankie tog vir sobere denke, mnr. Johannes Comestor.
    Miskien is dit beter as ons almal 'n bietjie wyer lees en dieper dink, soos u gedoen het.
    Aan andere:
    Leipoldt was 'n diep geestelike denker. Waardeer sy werk en gedigte en hou tog maar op om te spekuleer oor iets waarvoor geen bewyse bestaan nie.

  • Reageer

    Jou e-posadres sal nie gepubliseer word nie. Kommentaar is onderhewig aan moderering.