Jan François Elias Celliers

Looking at his poetry of a century ago, the pious dwepery (obsequious praise and fetishizing) with the mothers of a nation reminds strongly of general African discourse. In 2004 the magazine New African appointed its top 100 Africans - Marcus Garvey triumphantly comes back at n° 5, pipped by Mugabe. (Martin Luther King lags behind at 7, followed by Malcolm X at 9, Muhammed Ali at 11, Bob Marley at 18, Michael Jackson at 41, Hannibal at 65 and Bill Cosby at 66. Even Neville Livingstone, ‘‘the most underrated member of The Wailers” is ranked higher than our Archbishop Tutu, Nobel Peace laureate, who creeps in at second last place, just ahead of Helen Suzman, haha.)

But what is interesting for our argument, are rankings n° 36, ‘The African Woman’, for being the ‘‘cradle of African society” and her resilience, and n° 85, ‘The African Child’, for its resilience too, and being a ‘‘great survivor”. (How's that for self-indictment?) Suffice to note that apartheid and its nation-building project was much closer in feeling to African movements based on ethnic exclusivity than a European colonialist project. (In an Aristophanesque debate, Garvey wouldn't agree, I'm sure, and Celliers would insist on the uniqueness of the Afrikaner project in Africa.)

And why, the patient reader might ask, was the park named after him? He didn't live in that suburb, he wasn't an amateur botanist like C Louis Leipoldt or Eugène Marais (who has a little wild reserve just above the park named after him), his poetry is more concerned with piety than plants.

I don't know. His life seems rather sad. He apparently hated his day job as translator in public service, and became steadily deaf and completely dependent on his wife. After her death he was shattered and isolated. His one son committed suicide, the other became blind. He lived in Cape Town, in a house with a panoramic view over Table Bay, from the late 1920s until his death at age 75 in 1940.