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Wednesday, April 11, 2018 - 16:24

Celebrating Bosman is one of those perennial favourites. Published in 2004, it is still in print and available at Wits Press. Patrick Mynhardt who brought the Bosman character, Oom Schalk Lourens, to life in his one man show that became a South African institution, selected and introduced his favourite Bosman stories in this easy to handle single volume. Mynhardt passed away some ten years ago but he has not been forgotten. He was one of South Africa’s celebrated film and theatre actors and this neat selection of over 30 Bosman stories remains as a tribute to both Bosman and Mynhardt.   

 

A vintage vinyl 

 

This book was a centenary volume appearing in 2005 (Bosman was born in 1905 at Kuilsrivier). It makes an ideal present to give to an overseas friend to introduce the delights of Bosman’s Groot Marico. Here is the story of Mynhardt discovering Bosman and turning his stories into a memorable theatre experience. There is a brief biographical sketch of Bosman and then its straight into Bosman’s Cold Stone Jug and life as a condemned death sentence prisoner (following the murder of his step-brother) and his lucky reprieve and release. Johannesburg has a Bosman blue plaque on the back wall of the Isipingo Street house where the tragedy happened.

 

Book Cover

 

Bosman House (The Heritage Portal)

 

Bosman Site Blue Plaque (The Heritage Portal)

 

Mynhardt has included in his selection a few favourite Johannesburg essays from A Cask of Jerepigo. Bosman was an enduring Johannesburg writer. His description of the Old Magistrate’s Court has now become a heritage resource and his tongue in cheek essay to Johannesburg as a cultural centre is marvellous. Bosman’s Johannesburg encompassed the streets he walked, the magistrates court where he worked as a court reporter, the bars, the hotels and of course the Johannesburg Public Library.

 

Old photo of the Johannesburg Public Library

 

Stephen Gray captured many of Bosman’s city writings in his book, Bosman’s Johannesburg, which has now become a collector’s item, published in 1986 by Human and Rousseau (it occasionally turns up on internet sales sites). So to obtain an anthology of Bosman, the Wits Press book is an excellent choice.

 

Cover of Bosman's Johannesburg

 

One of my favourite Bosman quotes, which Bruce Murray includes to good effect in his book Wits the Early Years, was Bosman giving his views on the new Wits of the 1920s: “I was a student at the Witwatersrand University in the early days, when there was still the smell of wet paint and drying concrete about the buildings at Milner Park, and there was something in my eighteen year old soul that revolted at this newness.”  To him a university must have tall old trees through whose branches the sunshine falls dappled on the walls. Bosman continues, “There must be winding lanes and unexpected vistas and sequestered nooks. There must be mildew and ruin and dilapidated facades. There must be aged and crooked corridors and aged and crocked professors. All these advantages - or disadvantages - will no doubt accrue to the Witwatersrand University in time.”   

Has Wits reached that decreed look of venerable age and ivy?

Bosman built his writing career on his six months spent in the Marico bushveld district as a teacher when he met and then captured in his stories the veterans of the Boer War and their rural lifestyle that we now attach to our image of the essence of the old South Africa. His stories had a timelessness and a humanity and always a bitter-sweet sting in the ending. Mynhardt chose well in his selection from Tales of the Boer War and Unto Dust, when Bosman shares the tale of Floris Van Barnevelt in his voorkamer. And who will not love Willem Prinsloo’s peach brandy from Mafeking Road. Like a fine liquor it’s to be savoured again and again. Then the best story of all is left to last - A Bekkersdal Marathon.

The odd thing about Bosman’s writing is that he wrote about an Afrikaans culture that was passing but all his stories were written in English. The second aspect to the Bosman story is that his papers ended up being purchased by an American professor and now the Bosman Archive sits at the University of Texas. Every Bosman student has to find a scholarship to make a pilgrimage to gain full access to the material. What a loss for Wits University and South Africa.

If you have never savoured the Bosman stories this anthology is a good place to start; I guarantee you will soon wish to acquire the Collected works of Bosman.

Kathy Munro is an Honorary Associate Professor in the School of Architecture and Planning at the University of the Witwatersrand. She enjoyed a long career as an academic and in management at Wits University. She trained as an economic historian. She is an enthusiastic book person and has built her own somewhat eclectic book collection over 40 years. Her interests cover Africana, Johannesburg history, history, art history, travel, business and banking histories. She researches and writes on historical architecture and heritage matters. She is a member of the Board of the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation and is a docent at the Wits Arts Museum. She is currently working on a couple of projects on Johannesburg architects and is researching South African architects, war cemeteries and memorials. Kathy is a member of the online book community the Library thing and recommends this cataloging website and worldwide network as a book lover's haven.

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