The origins of (Dutch) Afrikaans journalism, the period in which it developed, and Abraham Faure as pioneer

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This article investigates the origins of (Dutch) Afrikaans journalism, the period in which it originated, and Abraham Faure (1795–1875), as the first editor of a first Dutch publication at the Cape. As approach, the article uses a chronological media historical narrative to map the course and development of this era in South African media history. A general context of the colonial Cape, from the VOC occupation, is first presented. The British colonial period, in which Dutch was actively displaced by English, is described, as well as the advent of press freedom, which had an unintended consequence, namely that Dutch publications could be published freely for the first time. This is followed by a life sketch of Faure, describing the scope of his work, as well as his stature at the Cape, after which the origin and development of the first Dutch publication, namely Het Nederlandsch Zuid-Afrikaansch Tijdschrift (HNZAT), is described. This part of the article focuses on Faure’s role as pioneer in the origin and development of early (Afrikaans) journalism. Faure was also the founder of the religious magazine De Honigbij, forerunner of D(i)e (Gereformeerde) Kerkbode, also founded by him, the oldest extant publication. The journalistic development that followed HNZAT is also briefly highlighted. Thanks to the versatile Faure, the foundation was laid for what would later become Dutch (Afrikaans) journalism at the Cape.

Faure can be described as pioneer journalist in Dutch (and thus later Afrikaans) journalism at the Cape in the early 19th century as founding editor of HNZAT as well as the two later religious magazines. As an avid writer/publisher of various other printed products, such as tracts and pamphlets, as well as pursuer of many other intellectual activities, including the founding of a comprehensive library, he was later even called the “father of South African literature”, by which Afrikaans literature was probably meant.

A brief discussion of the theoretical approach and methodology for this article is presented within the field of media history, in which the context of the social climate at the Cape up to the early 1800s is discussed. This includes the struggle for press freedom.

Historical studies aim to reproduce the past through a chronology of events. The power of narrative analysis lies in the fact that the researcher helps to rebuild a past thanks to narrative techniques, while at the same time shedding light on the change processes within an organisation, or, in this case, a specific period. In the case of media history, the field is still described as a relatively “recent phenomenon” and an “understudied subdiscipline”. This is also because it does not “have a significant impact on the agenda of conference programmes, academic journal articles, or student curricula”. Since the first independent Dutch publication at the Cape was a “magazine” (although not according to the concept and format as is known today), it is appropriate to refer to the fact that magazine studies is also an understudied subfield in South Africa. Magazines originated in America, a so-called “new world”, due to a shortage of books – hence the word “magazine”, derived from a magazine that stores weapons – although, in this case, information. Regarding this article’s focus, one of Faure’s goals was indeed to provide the Dutch-speaking community with information, as the community was in desperate need of such information because there was no existing literature.

As for the development of publications at the early Cape, there was no press freedom during the VOC occupation from 1652 to 1795, and then again from 1803 to 1806, as there was indeed no press. The VOC feared that freedom of the press could lead to a revolution. In the subsequent first part of the British colonial occupation, until about 1830, there was also no freedom of the press, after which limited press freedom prevailed.

It was during this period that the Dutch Reformed (DR) minister Dr Abraham Faure was the founder of the first Cape Dutch magazine, and thus, indeed, Dutch, later Afrikaans, journalism, when he founded HNZAT in 1824 with Thomas Pringle’s English version. It is regarded as “interesting” that Pringle’s partner in his fight for an independent press was not the press pioneer John Fairbairn, but a Dutch (Afrikaner) minister. The founding of these two magazines, as a seemingly harmless step, would develop into an “acrimonious press battle with overtones of spying, conspiracy and intrigue which rocked the staid Cape society”. Both Pringle and Faure argued that there was “a very strong sentiment” that colonists should have their own publication, even if it was only a literary and religious magazine.

But first back to the events leading up to the events described above. The occupation of the Cape in 1652 by the VOC’s Here XVII was purely for trade reasons, namely to supply their passing fleets with fresh produce. No provision was made for “extra” services, such as providing information to the growing number of Dutch colonists – apart from official information that was copied by hand, and of which the citizens had to take note. During the Dutch occupation of about 150 years, there was no news publication at the Cape. When the first generation was born at the Cape, it inevitably made them “Africans”, with Europe “a distant abstraction”. They soon called themselves an “original nation”, “Africanders” or “Africaners” – a group from Africa, formed by Africa, with blood of Africa. The “independent nature” of this mixed-race group was also clear from early on. Cape burghers had to read newspapers and magazines brought to the Cape by boat.

The individual who can be considered a pioneer fighter for freedom of speech, Adam Tas, pointed out corrupt activities by VOC officials. After being thrown in the “Black Hole”, the underground “prison” in the Castle, he was released in 1707 and the officials were recalled to Amsterdam. More than 50 years after the first Dutch occupation, Tas was thus the first exponent of the concept of freedom of expression in what would later become the geopolitical area of South Africa.

About half a century later, it was clear that freedom of speech could not be suppressed, as seen in Hendrik Cloete’s “Caabsche Nouvelles”, sent to the Netherlands. The movement called the “Kaapssche Patriotte” also tried to secure more rights for the Cape burghers but did not succeed.

The first printing press in operation in the Cape came into existence when in 1793 the Political Council decided on a “Government press” with the German Johann Christian Ritter (1755–1810) as first printer. He could only print brochures, advertisements and almanacs for the years 1795, 1796 and 1797. Ritter is also regarded as the father of printing in the whole of the Southern Hemisphere. The title page of the almanac of 1796 is the oldest example of printing in South Africa. In 1800, after the first British annexation, the first “newspaper”, as a government publication, was founded by two of the then governor’s friends.

After the second British occupation in 1806 the paper continued as The Cape of Good Hope Government Gazette. In 1822 the then governor Lord Charles Somerset issued a proclamation prohibiting freedom of speech. He also declared English the only official language. About a year later, in February 1823, Pringle and Faure submitted a prospectus for a monthly magazine to Somerset, while in July the same year, George Greig applied to publish a newspaper – both not welcomed by Somerset.

With regard to the magazine, permission to publish was eventually granted. The first English version was published in March 1824, with the Dutch version that April. Somerset interfered in the publishing of the English version, leading to its stoppage, although the Dutch version could carry on publishing. This was the first official battle between a publication and a South African government. It would continue for the next five years. The victory for freedom of the press would only be officially declared on 30 April 1829, in the so-called “Magna Carta for Freedom of the Press”, Ordinance 60 of the Cape of Good Hope.

Although Faure did not take an active part in the press struggle, it was probably influenced by the “whirlwind presence and fierce enthusiasm” of the “stubby”, dynamic Faure, also described as “bustling”.

Faure was apparently the right person at the right time in the right place. Several sources described him as a Renaissance man who, although small in stature, was a larger-than-life figure. He decided at age 16 to enter the ministry. Faure studied in England and the Netherlands and came back with the inspiration of also using the printed word to communicate with his flock. After being appointed as pastor of the Groote Kerk in 1822 he soon became one of the leading intellectual figures at the Cape. He possessed an “almost impressive dignity” and was “tirelessly instrumental” in all his activities, from founding the first full-fledged school for young men at the Cape, which later became the South African College School (SACS) and the University of Cape Town, to founding a theological college in Stellenbosch, as well as a library of note. Despite being sickly for long periods, sometimes up to four months, he was maniacally active in between, from founding the Synod, to founding Sunday Schools – and three magazines.

As ecclesiastical and educational leader, he was in the right position to become editor of HNZAT, the latter as exponent of Dutch culture at the Cape. It is not surprising that a versatile man like Faure was also the founder of the Dutch press. He proved early in his career that he was also highly gifted in journalism. As editor of the three magazines he founded, Faure was active for 45 years, from 1824 to 1869, with an influence that was without question of great significance. He was even called the “father of South African literature” because he made the first organised effort to promote literature in the country. His writing was mainly religious-ethical and historical, showcasing why he was regarded as a leader in the Church’s struggle for the preservation of the culture of the Dutch-speaking colonists.

While he had a dream from early on of a church printing press, he was far ahead of his contemporaries with this “beautiful vision”, as there was no literary magazine in the colony yet. He “immediately found an enthusiastic partner” in Pringle, then Cape Town’s assistant librarian. For Faure, the focus was also to support “literature and science”. Besides religious content, the magazine had cultural-historical focuses, especially in the light of the anglicisation of the Dutch-speaking colonists. He invited “poems and articles” from readers, to encourage and support original work. A regular column was “Zuid-Afrikaanssche Kronijk” with general news from the Colony, and later also news of the Great Trek. In general, the magazine carried articles on the history of the Dutch colonists, being the first to focus on the Cape’s political, religious, artistic and social life.

Apart from his editorial duties, he was also the most important contributor to the publication’s content, which meant that HNZAT is “the greatest literary legacy we have of him”, giving him the honorary title he received in later years, namely “father of South African literature” – “worthy in all respects”, as his work was the “first successful push for the practice of literature in South Africa”.

Faure also received “a large number of requests” to publish a church magazine. In 1838 he founded De Honigbij as religious publication, the forerunner of De Gereformeerde Kerkbode, later De Kerkbode (today only Kerkbode) first published in 1849. These activities required all of Faure’s attention, and HNZAT was edited by Dr. A.N.E. Changuion. It existed until 1843, after which it was revived in 1877, at the beginning of the First Afrikaans Language Movement, under the editorship of J.H. Hofmeyr.

HNZAT laid the foundation for many other Dutch (later early Afrikaans) publications, such as De Verzamelaar in 1826 and De Zuid-Afrikaan in 1830, and also gave opportunities for a variety of journalists. These consisted of the “medley” of nationalities which found themselves at the Cape, such as Josephus Suasso de Lima, a Dutch-Portuguese Jew with a physical defect called kyphosis (hunchback), and Charles Etienne Boniface, a “quarrelsome” Paris-born Frenchman, also a musicologist and playwright. Although De Lima and Boniface initially collaborated, an antagonism “erupted” between them that “entertained the Cape for a long time”.

This article’s aim was to shed light on the origins of the Dutch (Afrikaans) press at the Cape, the struggle for freedom of speech, and specifically the role of Abraham Faure. As a central figure, and despite his illness that left him sometimes incapacitated for months, he was an astonishingly versatile and productive human being. Although he was instrumental in establishing the structure of the early DR Church, including his gigantic educational and literary-cultural role, it is his legacy as founding editor of HNZAT that was the focus of this article. While building a chronological media historical narrative, this article described Faure and his pioneering work that laid the foundation for the development of the Dutch (Afrikaans) journalism.

Keywords: colonial Cape; Abraham Faure; freedom of the press; journalism; literature; magazine studies; media history


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