Nicolaas van Rensburg interpreted from symbolic dreams and visions to make hundreds of “predictions” across a lifetime that began on the Western Transvaal Frontier in 1864 and ended after decades of tumult in 1926.
Believers in the prophesies of the Siener (Seer) — who remain legion today — consider that he predicted the First World War, the rise of Bolshevism, the AIDS pandemic, the rise, fall and rise of the Afrikaner nation amid race war, and, most ominously, apocalyptic world war.
Klasie, as he was called in his youth “was a fragile, timid and intense child,” as South African journalist and essayist Max du Preez describes him.* He carried an air of unfathomable sadness — as one might if burdened by a too much knowledge and insight. His first vision came when he was seven and his father was away from their farm. A neighbor arrived to warn Klasie’s mother Annie that a Koranna (mixed race) bandit gang led by a bad actor called Skeelkoos was poised to raid the farm.
Du Preez describes what happened next:
“She made arrangements to flee, but Klasie told her that God had come to him in a dream and told him that He would protect them, but that they had to stay right there on the farm that night. When Klasie refused to leave, his mother decided to remain there, with her three other children. Klasie stayed awake with her all night. In the first morning light, they saw Skeelkoos and his henchmen near the house, but they never attacked. For no apparent reason, the men suddenly ran away. Nobody knew why Skeelkoos and his gang didn’t attack that night or what scared them off.”
When the Second Anglo-Boer War broke out in 1899, Nicolaas rode out with his brother on commando, under the leadership of Koos de la Rey. He had terrible visions of the British burning out the Boers, which would not come to pass for over a year yet — visions that left him in a distraught state.
He wasn’t the easiest fellow to be around in camp or laager, but his comrades came to value him as he seemed to be able to predict where British troops were or were not — a useful talent in wartime.
Not everybody found him credible. The hard-headed, practical, well-educated Deneys Rietz considered him a charlatan. In his memoir, he recounted what he referred to as a “lucky hit” by the Boer mystic.
“(Van Rensburg was) … a prophet, a strange character, with long flowing beard and wild fanatical eyes, who dreamed dreams and pretended to possess occult powers. I personally witnessed one of the lucky hits while we were congregated around the General’s cart. Van Rensburg was expounding his latest vision to a hushed audience. It ran of a black bull and a red bull fighting, until at length the red bull sank defeated to its knees, referring to the British. Arms outstretched and eyes ablaze, he suddenly called out: See, who comes?; and, looking up, we made out a distant horseman spurring towards us. When he came up, he produced a letter from General Botha, hundreds of miles away.
“General de la Rey opened it and said: “Men, believe me, the proud enemy is humbled”. The letter contained news that the English had proposed a peace conference. “Coming immediately upon the prophecy, it was a dramatic moment and I was impressed, even though I suspected that van Rensburg had stage-managed the scene. Of the general’s sincerity there could be no doubt as he firmly believed in the seer’s predictions.”
Van Rensburg’s visions included the deaths of his own children in a British concentration camp.
Du Preez recounts that:
“Siener once described to a friend the physical experience of a vision. He felt pressure in the back of his head and became dizzy. Then he lay on his back with his eyes closed and his hands behind his head. He sensed a blurriness in front of his closed eyes, which became denser until it felt like storm clouds milling about, and then he started to see things. Everything appeared in the form of symbols, and, uneducated man that he was, these symbols all related to his tiny world: animals, farm implements, scenes from nature. And all in color.”
As with Nostradamus, it is easy to retrospectively attribute accuracy to symbolic visions after an event has occurred: “Of course this meant…” His 1911 image of a vast thunderstorm breaking over Europe and raining blood isn’t mysterious after August 1914.
“Lucky hits” or true “Sight”? One’s own makeup and biases will determine how much credence one lends to prophets and seers. The Siener retains a following to this day, particularly among Afrikaners of conservative and deeply religious bent. He is highly regarded among the Suidlanders, who have created the world’s largest non-state civil defense organization in the world (see suidlanders.org) in anticipation of civil war and white genocide in South Africa — developments van Rensburg is interpreted to have envisioned.
Certainly, recent proposals for land expropriation and the declaration by Julius Malema, leader of the radical SA Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF party) that they are “cutting the throat of whiteness” bode ill for the future of the Siener’s people.
I believe something uncanny was going on with Nicolaas van Rensburg. I have known people who truly seemed to be tapped into some other level of insight or intuition. And I have known people who claim intuitive powers who are entirely full of shit. Van Rensburg was clearly not working a con. His visions did not lead to personal prosperity, and were occasioned by a great deal of pain. What they were, I cannot say. Perhaps as we learn more about the function of the brain and of the nature of consciousness, we will discover insights into the nature of people like the Siener.
* Of Warriors, Lovers and Prophets: Unusual Stories from South Africa’s Past, by Max du Preez.