Sarah Goldblatt

December 25, 1889–May 22, 1975

by Veronica Penkin Belling
Last updated

Afrikaans literary advocate Sarah Goldblatt, Oudtshoorn, c. 1913. From a private collection.

In Brief

Despite being a native Yiddish speaker, activist Sarah Goldblatt was one of the most important advocates for the Afrikaans language of South Africa during the twentieth century. Over the course of her life, she worked as a teacher, newspaper editor, and poet. Perhaps inspired by her father’s fierce advocacy for Yiddish, she became deeply involved with the Afrikaans movement after befriending Cornelis Jakobus Langenhoven (1873-1932), who is known as the “Father of Afrikaans literature.” The two had a very close working relationship, which many speculate went beyond a simple professional partnership. After his death she became the executor of his estate as well as the guardian of his public memory.

As literary executrix to Cornelis Jakobus Langenhoven (1873-1932), the “Father of Afrikaans literature” and a Senator in the Union Parliament of South Africa, the name of Sarah Goldblatt is synonymous with the fight for the recognition of the Afrikaans language. She was the first woman to be employed on the editorial board of the Afrikaans daily newspaper Die Burger. Appointed Langenhoven’s literary executrix in his will, she enjoyed sole control of his literary legacy after his wife’s death in 1950. She had his house, Arbeidsgenot, in Oudtshoorn, a small town in the Western Cape, preserved as a national monument. She protected the rights of the family when his poem, Die Stem (The Voice), was adopted as the national anthem of the Union of South Africa in 1957, and she was the inspiration behind the Jubilee celebration of his birth that was held in Oudtshoorn in 1973.

Early Life and Education

Goldblatt was staunchly identified with South Africa and its Afrikaans culture, and it is interesting to speculate which factors in Goldblatt’s background predisposed her to take up cudgels for the Afrikaans language. Sarah was born in London on December 25, 1889, the oldest of four children of David Nathan Goldblatt and Fanny Esther Smith. David Goldblatt was born in Radom in Poland and educated in a yeshiva (rabbinical academy) but also received some secular education in Warsaw and Berlin. At the age of 23 he married Fanny and emigrated to London. He opened a bookshop, on which his wife kept an eye while he studied at the British Museum, where he became acquainted with socialist and anarchist philosophy, very popular at that time.

In 1897 the Goldblatt family emigrated to Cape Town, South Africa. David Goldblatt opened a bookshop in Long Street and also started a small printing works, publishing a series of Yiddish newspapers. Initially unsuccessful, in 1904 he began publishing the weekly Der Idisher Advokat (The Jewish Advocate), which lasted until 1914. David Goldblatt was a staunch Jewish nationalist, a Yiddishist who believed that Jews should unite under the banner of the Yiddish language, much as Langenhoven believed that the Afrikaners should support Afrikaans. He was one of the earliest members of the Cape Jewish Board of Deputies and was associated with the fight for the recognition of Yiddish as a language that would permit Jews to immigrate to South Africa. (According to the Immigration Act of 1902, only those able to write their names in Roman letters were allowed to immigrate to South Africa. The law was primarily designed to stem the immigration of Indians but it affect Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe as well.) In 1915 David Goldblatt abandoned his family and left first for London and then for the United States, where he published the first two volumes of a Yiddish encyclopedia.

As education for girls was not given very high priority at the time, Goldblatt was forced to leave school after Standard Four (corresponding to the sixth grade) to help in her father’s printing shop. However, she continued to study privately, and in 1911 she passed the Zuid-Afrikaanse Taalbond (South African Language Association) examination, attesting to her competence in High Dutch, and completed her teaching certificate at the Teachers’ Training college. Many years later, in 1924, she completed her matric (school leaving certificate) examination. By contrast, her younger brother Israel continued his education to matric and obtained a BA degree at the University of the Cape of Good Hope and an LLB through the University of South Africa.

Growing Affinity for Afrikaans

Unable to find a teaching post in Cape Town, Goldblatt moved in 1912 to Oudtshoorn, a town in the Western Cape with a flourishing Jewish community, where she worked at the Commercial Evening School. In September 1912 she was employed as an assistant at the newspaper, Het Zuid Westen (The South Western), a twice-weekly newspaper, of which Langenhoven had just been appointed editor. Although she knew no Afrikaans at the time, her background in Yiddish, German, and High Dutch allowed her to master the language very quickly, and she soon made the struggle for the Afrikaans language her own. At 23 years old, she developed a very close relationship with Langenhoven, who was sixteen years her senior and married to a woman ten years older than himself with whom he had a daughter. There is much speculation as to the nature of their relationship. Members of both her and Langenhoven’s families assert that their relationship was not purely platonic. They attribute the fact that Goldblatt agreed to remain in the background to the strict rules of social conduct at that time, and to Langenhoven’s determination to gain acceptance for Afrikaans as an official language.

When with the collapse of the ostrich feather industry (the main industry in the Oudtshoorn region) in 1915, the newspaper closed down, and Goldblatt returned to teaching, first at the Commercial Evening School in Oudtshoorn, then at a school in George, where she helped to introduce teaching in the Afrikaans medium. In 1917 she returned to Cape Town, where between 1918 and 1919, she was employed on the editorial board of Die Burger (The Citizen, an Afrikaans newspaper that was originally the mouthpiece of the ruling Nationalist Party), while continuing to act as Langenhoven’s assistant proofreading the manuscripts that he sent her.

In 1919, after leaving Die Burger, Goldblatt taught Afrikaans at the Tokai Public School, the Cape Town Teachers’ Training College, and the Central Girls’ School under Roza Van Gelderen. When the latter school organized evening classes to teach English to their pupils’ eastern European immigrant parents, Goldblatt assisted in designing the syllabus. Hilda Purwitsky and Roza Van Gelderen based the character of “Tante Saartjie” in their regular column in the Cape Times on her, describing her as “one of those women who pride themselves on being plain and outspoken. She invariably asserted that she would say what she had to say, even if the King stood in front of her” (Rozilda, 1925).

During this period, Goldblatt obtained a Higher Primary Teaching Diploma and passed the Hoer Taalbond (higher level of the South African Language Association) examination. She also studied further in Dutch and German and took courses in Psychology. After her retirement in 1944, she was connected as a teacher to the Brooklyn Primary School and taught at Herschel Girls’ School, Christian Brothers’ College in Sea Point as well as at the Kindergarten Teachers’ Training College in Claremont. She also gave private lessons at her home to students and members of the public. Between 1961 and 1962 she gave highly rated lessons on a radio Afrikaans Programme. She also published two collections of Afrikaans poetry. 

Identity

Given her father’s socialist views it is unlikely that Goldblatt ever held very strong Jewish religious convictions. In her will she requested to be cremated, forbidden by Judaism, and her ashes to be spread on Langenhoven’s grave. Nonetheless, although her closest friends were Afrikaners, Goldblatt still identified with the Jewish community that never failed to celebrate her achievements. On her arrival in Oudtshoorn she gave a lecture to the Bnoth Zion, the women’s Zionist association, and as of June 15, 1914, she was serving as Honorary Secretary of the Oudtshoorn Zionist society. On more than one occasion she contributed articles to Jewish newspapers, such as The Zionist Record and Hashalom. She also drew up a curriculum on Afrikaans language and literature for the Zionist Youth Movement Habonim.

As part of the Afrikaner group, however, Goldblatt also identified with Langenhoven’s staunch Afrikaner Nationalist views and was highly critical of the Jewish community for acculturating exclusively to the English-speaking group and for regarding the Afrikaners as inferior. She felt that Jewish exclusivity had contributed to the resentments Afrikaners expressed towards the Jews, particularly in the 1930s and 1940s. She was torn between the demands of her dual identities, Jewish and Afrikaner. In a letter, she writes, “I am a Jewess born and know all there is to be known of Jewish attitudes and at the same time I am Afrikaans in every fibre of my body, and I have felt the pain and anger of the contempt of superiority” (cited in Van Zyl).

Awards and Recognition

In 1964, the Cape Centenary Foundation granted Goldblatt an award for her work on behalf of the Afrikaans language that included the sum of R500, which she used to have a bust of Langenhoven made for Parliament. Her organization of the celebration of the Langenhoven centenary in 1973 indicated the very high esteem in which she was held by the most prominent leaders in the world of Afrikaans culture.

When Goldblatt passed away on May 22, 1975, the lead article in the May 23 issue of Die Burger was devoted to her. It described her connection to Langenhoven as having grown “into a lifelong connection with a new language and a new people.” Her memorial service at the Maitland Crematorium was attended by Senator Johan van der Spuy, Minister of National Education. She was described as “a gift to South Africa at a time when such people were needed” (Kannemeyer). The Secretary of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, Issie Pinshaw, spoke movingly in Afrikaans about “the unfathomability of the adventures of the East European Jews who emigrated to South Africa and as Boerejode identified with the striving of the Afrikaans people.” Goldblatt’s ashes were buried in the garden of Arbeidsgenot in front of the bust of Langenhoven that herself had donated.

Books by Sarah Goldblatt

Liefde’s Kransie (Love’s Garland). Pretoria; Amsterdam: H. J. de Bussy, 1920. 

Wolf en Jakhals versies.(Wolf and Jackal verses) Kaapstad: Nasionale Pers, 1920-1921. 2 vol.

Bibliography

Aschman, George. "Langenhoven centenary this year: South Africa's debt to Sarah Goldblatt." Jewish Affairs, 28(1), 1973: 11-14.

Belling, Veronica. ““A Boerejood on steroids”: Dominique Malherbe’s Searching for Sarah: a review essay.” South African Jewish Board of Deputies, June 9, 2021 https://www.sajbd.org/media/book-review

Kannemeyer, J. C. Langenhoven:’n Lewe, Kaapstad: Tafelberg, 1995.

Malherbe, Dominique. Searching for Sarah: the Women Who Loved Langenhoven. Cape Town: Tafelberg, 2021.

Rozilda. “After the Examinations.” Cape Times, March 7, 1925. From Newspaper articles, Hilda Purwitsky and Roza Van Gelderen papers, BC 1271.

Van Zyl, Leonie. “Sarah Goldblatt: Letterkundige Administrasie van C. J. Langenhoven” (Sarah Goldblatt: Literary Administration of C.J. Langenhoven). MA thesis,  University of Stellenbosch, 2003.

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How to cite this page

Belling, Veronica. "Sarah Goldblatt." Shalvi/Hyman Encyclopedia of Jewish Women. 24 October 2023. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on April 24, 2024) <http://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/sarah-goldblatt>.