Herman Charles Bosman was a South African author, born 5 February 1905, died 14 October 1951. He became one of South Africa’s greatest authors capturing the essence of the backvelder or rural Boer. At 9 years of age he was too young to participate in the First World War but being in Johannesburg would no doubt have been caught up in the tensions prevailing with the January 1914 strike and the October 1914 rebellion. He attended Jeppe High School, which has military links through the Scottish/Irish band. During this time he most likely witnessed the 1922 miner strike which affected the East Rand and Johannesburg.
He studied English at Wits University before going to Groot Marico where he was a teacher. In 1926, on holiday, aged 21, he accidentally shot his step-brother and was sentenced to 10 years hard labour having been reprieved of the death sentence. In 1930 he was released on parole. In prison he started writing his ‘Oom Schalk Lourens’ short stories. Roy Campbell, SA poet, considered ‘Mafeking Road’, broadcast on BBC in 1942, to be some of the best stories to come out of South Africa.
By all accounts he was an outspoken journalist and was often in trouble for his outspoken comments. He is one of my favourite authors capturing a section of South African culture as no one else, of a time which coincides with my history research. He’s been one of those characters I’ve wanted to find out more about and as two articles recently come to light, it seemed appropriate to share. Reading these articles has also shown how accounts [includes archive catalogue] of the past become inflated – I’d always understood Bosman spent time in Groot Marico as part of his punishment and that it was there he shot his brother.
I have no idea how non-South Africans would see his work and no doubt today much of his writing would be seen as politically incorrect, but as Johnny Masilela is quoted as saying ‘it will be a great tragedy for the creative process if […] we deny our children the opportunity to read Bosman with his very wry sense of humour’ and I would add insight to a culture now long gone. And in case you thought this quote was a one-off, this is rather illuminating.
His equivalent today would be David Kramer who has captured a cross section of voices and lifestyles from the Cape and old Transvaal.