Jan François Elias Celliers

Jan FE Celliers Park, or Proteapark

The Celliers family, with much-loved dog Prinsie, in their garden circa 1916

I can't pretend a prior interest in Jan FE Celliers. Reading of his adventure of June to August 1900 considerably quickened my interest.

He was about 25 when the Anglo-Boer, or 2nd South African War broke out, and already married (to a former governess at Pretoria's only, and extant, castle, Erasmuskasteel). In early June 1900 he was accompanying British POWs to Pretoria when the city was annexed by the British, and he found himself right in the middle of an enemy camp. Luckily, it was his home too, so he stayed at home, under the floor planks of a voorkamer (room looking out upon the street) until the end of August.

Of his troglodyte's existence for 3 months, he later recounted how he'd creep out to his garden (to the ‘‘beskermende sipresse”, ‘protective cypresses’) at night for physical exercises and weight-lifting. When the house, rundown, was demolished in 1971, a floorplank was found under which he'd inscribed his name and ‘‘Hier het ek weggekruip” (‘here I hid’). At the end of August he was smuggled out by the kappiekommando (the womens' corps of the Boer Republics) dressed up as a woman sitting on an open buggy who was, he wrote, appreciatively surveyed by the many soldiers milling about. I can't help imagining how the women bugged him to return to his military duty out in the veld...

The war ended in 1902. Thereafter some Boer generals, like my forebear Genl Louis Botha, decided to be pragmatic for the sake of the country, while others nursed their wounds for years until it erupted in pro-German, anti-British Empire military resistance during the two World Wars.

It seems Celliers was not of the former persuasion. Eighteen years after the war, and six years after the 1914 Rebellion he publishes a book of verse called Jopie Fourie en ander nuwe gedigte (Jopie Fourie and other new poems). ‘‘Listen, friend and enemy and renegade! It's a man speaking - Jopie Fourie” opens the first poem, commemorating Fourie who was summarily executed by firing squad for taking part in the Rebellion when the idea was that Boer soldiers would join German troops in then-German West Africa (Namibia). The poem is followed by a very name-dropping hagiography of hardline Boer leaders and the mother-collective of the nation (‘Wanneer 'n Moeder ween’, When a Mother cries; ‘Afskeid van 'n Moeder’, Farewell of a Mother; ‘Moederliefde’, Motherly love, etc).

Jan FE Celliers and, say, Marcus Garvey: >>