Thapelo Mokoatsi

Joseph Suasso de Lima was many things to many people. Some scholars describe him as one of the Jewish pioneers who settled in the Cape. Others describe him as the father of Dutch journalism in South Africa. He first arrived in Cape Town in 1818. He was a Portuguese Jew who was born in Holland then later moved to the Cape.

In the Cape Almanac of 1819 he was mentioned as a sworn-in translator, a poet, a compiler of directory, a lawyer, editor, a publisher, a bookseller, a teacher and an author of numerous books and pamphlets.

De Lima’s wide range of skills did not make immune to criticism from of his contemporaries.

Mendelssohn references a text in which De Lima’s French rival known as Charles Etienne Boniface writes, “As a matter of fact, de Lima was lame, and was constantly a subject for the satire and caricature of his contemporaries.

Unleashing a creative soul

He was born in Amsterdam in 1791. He was granted a jurisprudence doctorate by the University of Amsterdam and practised there for few years. De Lima held down multiple occupations.

For four years, between 1823 and 1827, de Lima worked as a schoolmaster of the Evangelican Lutheran School in the Cape as he was not earning a lot as a translator. He even wrote First Rudiments of the History of the Cape of Good Hope in 1825, a book that focused on the history of the Cape styled in question and answer format. The same year he founded the children’s theatre group and became involved as a playwright. This action positioned de Lima as a direct competitor to Etienne Boniface, who also had a children’s theatre group that gave rise to children’s ballet. While Boniface enjoyed favourable reviews, de Lima’s did not, instead he had to endure harsh criticism from a Calvinist Nederduitsch South African Magazine, thus bringing to light their competitiveness.

Founding a Dutch literary magazine

In 1825 he founded the Die Verzamelaar (The Collector or The Gleaner) the first magazine that was rather literary instead of political and religious, which was first issued on 7 January 1826. It was a satirical-political paper which was described as a Dutch punch. For pen names he used different humorous pseudonyms such as Jan Hennerpikker ‘John Henpecker’. He published fictitious letters in which he satirically commented on social and political events of local importance. The letters were written in very variable, non-standard form of Dutch.

His writings showed that he was an idealist with a great passion for literature. On 2 July 1828 he wrote:

“And who knows what important, what gold applicator discoveries sooner or later once to fame and glory will come of this reproduction for the day when reading lust and greed for investigation once generally prevailing, cherish propensity of the whole audience, and so Christian will become.”

Due to financial difficulties he sold his paper to the government and started the first Dutch political newspaper in South Africa called The South African. For the last five years of his life, he worked for The Volksblad. He died in Cape Town in 1858.