Maybe it’s the serenity. Or the remoteness. Or the stark beauty of the place. Whatever it is, the Karoo inspires writers and artists.
Two Sutherland families, the Von Moltke Louws and the Esterhuyses, produced three of South Africa’s best-known Afrikaans poets, DC Esterhuyse, NP van Wyk Louw and his brother WEG Louw.
Possibly Sutherland’s most recognised literary son is Nicolaas Petrus van Wyk Louw. He was born at Sutherland on 11 June 1906, the second of four boys, of whom the youngest, William Ewart Gladstone Louw, also became a poet.
After what he described as an idyllic childhood in Sutherland, NP later found himself separated from it and was moved to verse, stark with haiku-like words of longing for his beloved Karoo. This excerpt was written in Amsterdam, where he was studying at the time:
Ek staan weer by ’n wit poel
Waar die wintermiddag sneeu
En ek is klein en hoor verskrik
’n jakkals uit die rante skreeu
In 1920, the family moved to Cape Town, where the young NP van Wyk Louw later earned an MA in German at the University of Cape Town before going on become a lecturer there. In 1948 he received an honours degree from Utrecht University for his critiques and creative works. In 1949 he took up a post as professor of Afrikaans at the University of Amsterdam, where he remained until 1958. He returned to South Africa to become Head of Department of Afrikaans-Dutch at the University of the Witwatersrand. Some of his best-known works are Raka, Gestaltes en Diere, and Germanicus. He died a week after his 64th birthday on 18 June 1979.
WEG Louw became a poet and renowned academic. Awarded the Murray’s Gift and Queen Victoria Memorial Scholarship, he studied in Holland and returned to South Africa to be appointed professor of Dutch and Afrikaans at Rhodes University College in 1944. He later became the editor of Die Burger, a large Afrikaans daily newspaper, and was a professor of Dutch literature at Stellenbosch University.
DC Esterhuyse was the oldest of the Sutherland trio and his work is invested with a strong fellow-feeling for Sutherland and its people. Another important literary figure was Pieter Cornelius Johannes Jordaan, who wrote under the pseudonym of Datei. His stories and sketches featured in various Afrikaans magazines and are described as ‘human’ stories that readers could relate to. He also wrote books and examples are on display at the Louw House Museum.