“In die bus afgeluister”: The Intellectual in the City


  • Mark Sanders University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa




Intellectuals (role of), Afrikaner-intellectual, Afrikaner-volk (people)


Many of N.P. van Wyk Louw’s essays address the role of the intellectual. In the 1930s, Louw struggled to define a place for the intellectual in relation to the Afrikaner volk and its cultural movements and political parties. At the end of “Kultuurleiers sonder kultuur” (Cultural Leaders without Culture) (1939), Louw turns to the simile of the cave from book seven of Plato’s Republic. There the cave represents the city and its people, who are trapped in illusion. Plato’s “philosopher” escapes the dark chamber where the prisoners observe only shadows, gains enlightenment, and returns to open the eyes of his fellow inhabitants. Returning is the duty of the philosopher. How did N.P. van Wyk Louw imagine descending back into the “cave,” into the midst of the city, to be among the people of his country? One answer lies in a pair of unpublished fragments dating from the 1940s entitled “In die bus afgeluister” (Overheard on the Bus). In these fragments, Louw eavesdrops, as he takes the bus to and from work, on the conversations of people of Cape Town of various races. We get a slice of city life, and a sense of how Louw tried to embrace that life rather than isolate himself from it. These two urban sketches nevertheless show that the task of enlightening one’s fellow citizens proves more complicated than Louw expects because the intellectual is more deeply implicated in the illusory play of shadows than he imagines.


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How to Cite

Sanders, M. (2006). “In die bus afgeluister”: The Intellectual in the City. Tydskrif Vir Letterkunde, 43(1), 5–21. https://doi.org/10.4314/tvl.v43i1.29715



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