Friday, 24 February 2017

“Olive Schreiner Revisited” a solo exhibition by Jannie van Heerden 4 - 30 March 2017

Olive Schreiner is best known for her novel: “The Story Of An African Farm”. I grew up in Cradock, Eastern Cape where Olive Schreiner lived as a teenager along with her elder brother and sister and where she worked later as a tutor on the farms: Gannahoek and Klein Gannahoek. In 1921 she was buried on the mountain Buffelskop, just outside Cradock.

As a young boy my father often took me to the Schreiner House, then derelict, where Olive lived with her siblings, and we once ascended Buffelskop to look at her grave. The legend of Olive was always with me and was realised in 2013 with my exhibition at the KZNSA Gallery, Durban: “Olive Schreiner: The Story Of An African Farm”. However in the past few years I felt that I had not done her justice and thus the revisit.

Olive was born on 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). She returned later to serve as a tutor on farms in the district. The landscape and its people left a deep impression upon her, and influenced her famous novel which was 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 the bible of the women’s movement. Olive 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, 8 years her junior and they settled on the farm Krantzplaats, 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 and she 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 9 hours and after that she had 3 miscarriages.

Olive and Cron eventually drifted apart and she left for Europe and England in 1914.  She already knew many influential people there like Havelock Ellis and Eleanor Marx, both who 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 2 days carrying her coffin plus those of her dead child and her dog, Nita, up the hill.

The undertaker schooling built a dome shaped sarcophagus on the pinnacle to take the coffins. 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”

- Jannie van Heerden   

The exhibition closes on Thursday, 30 March at 4p.m.                                 

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