On the Shoulders of Giants: Greeting Oom Jan

30 August 2023

All 4 photos of JW Kok. Kommandant Kok is top right, Oom Jan is right bottom. Left top is the jong JW Kok, son of Kommandant Kok and grandfather of Oom Jan before the Anglo-Boer War and left, bottom was taken before his POW hun in Ceylon.

This weekend we said goodbye to our beloved Oom Jan Kok. Oom Jan’s life was celebrated as father, husband, grandfather, friend and pastor. He is now part of history, and the impact of his life is such that the total effect will only become evident over time. For starters, he is possibly the last JW Kok. It remains for successive generations to decide if this will be the case. 🙂

This weekend, in spirit, were present Oom Jan’s great-grandfather, JW Kok. In his diary, translated into Afrikaans by Oom Jan, he writes about how he lived through the plague as a child in the Cape Colony. He tells the story of how he lay awake in his bed crying because his mom just passed away and because of fear as he was sick himself and did not know if he would survive. He recovered and joined the treks to the interior and settled in the Southern Free State with his dad and family. He named his son also JW Kok.

Both father and son fought in the Anglo-Boer War. He was a commander, and his son was a soldier who would end up guarding the CO of the Free State Forces and fighting running battles until General Van Schalkwyk surrendered when it was either surrender or face destruction by the enemy. His son JW Kok would be sent to Shri Lanka as POW while his dad languished in a POW camp in the Cape.

The enemy destroyed their home on the farmhouse on Kranskop in Windburg district, and his wife and mom of the second JW Kok were sent to a concentration camp where at least one of their young children died. Despite this, the family never became radicalised against the British. Deeply religious, they would embrace reconciliation, and instead of hatred, they embarked on soul-searching and looked for their own mistakes that resulted in the devastation of our land. The young JW Kok became a missionary devoting the rest of his life to the development of the black community and the Windburg community at large.

Oom Jan translated their diaries into Afrikaans.

He also translated Kommandant Kok’s short autobiography and recollections from the Basotho Wars.

Through his work, he made them part of our lives and that of generations to come! Oom Jan Kok stood in this tradition as a leader and a man who put the needs of others before his own.

His dad, Eben Kok, named him Johannes Willem Kok. What did Oom Jan teach us that he got from Oupa Eben, his grandfather and great-grandfather?

– Adventure and Courage. I think it is the same thing that manifests as either adventure or courage. Suria and Henry live this par excellence. Joretha and Stephen conquered England. Marius and Surina took adventure and courage to another level. He worked in Iraq in security, as a businessman in SA, Zambia and now in South Sudan. I work in Nigeria, and Oom Jan asked me often if he could visit me and Marius in Africa.

– Love for Writing. Joretha is an excellent writer. Oom Jan read my stories and offered suggestions since I was 5.

– Love of Nature. When the Kok family served at the battle of Ladysmith, they took a plant indigenous to the area in an empty coffee tin and planted it on the farm of Oom Jan’s great-great-great grandfather, who moved to the southern Free State with his son, JW Kok. The plants are on that farm to this day. Oom Jan’s love for flowers is legendary, and many mentions were made of it at his funeral. All the kids inherited this love to some degree.

– Love of People. Not only did all his daughters inherit his deep humanity, but the wives and husbands of every one of the cousins have the same. But not just a deep humanity but also a love of nature and adventure. The partners we chose are precisely the same!

– Deep Spirituality. I use this term because I write this. 🙂 Oom Jan’s faith, like that of his preceding forefathers, was in Jesus Christ. Mostly, every single cousin and grandchild shares this with him. It may be his most significant legacy. I refer to it as “spirituality” because I prefer it, but I have deep respect and appreciation for my Christian tradition.

– A love of rugby. Oom Jan was a Cheetas (Free State) supporter all his life. We will watch the Springboks-Argentina match together tonight.- a focus on what matters. This may be a bit of a controversial statement, but Oom Jan never concerned himself about things he did not have control over.

– Family – I write this as we leave Leeupoort. We greeted each other. I had deep and impactful discussions with Stephen, Jannie, and my cousins. Andre left each of us a beautiful personal voice note. Elmar and Juanita were legends. It was fantastic to have Minette there. Wow! The love of my life! I should not mention names. Seeing Stefan. The kids! Joretha, Suria, Daleen. Suria and Henry opened their house and hearts to us, as they have done many times. Two legends! We had a fantastic, amazing, unforgettable weekend celebrating his life by doing what he loved—being together as a family, celebrating life, honouring our creator, and enjoying nature! Celebrating hope! And the stories of adventure!!

Oom Jan, we love you and thank you for your life and legacy! May we do you proud!

The photo is of Oom Jan, JW Kok, his great grandfather, as an older man and two pictures of JW Kok, Oom Jan’s grandfather, as a boy before the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer War and one taken at the POW camp in Shri Lanka.

Thank you to Hantie, who sent me two of the photos. The fact that she made contact with us brings balance to the story of the first JW Kok as she emphasises his wife’s side of the family.

Thank you, Hantie!


Hantie writes in reply to this post on FB:

“Ek is dankbaar vir die aandeel wat hy ook in my soeke na die verlede gehad het! Ek voel ‘n sterk band met my Kok voorsate. My doopname is Jacoba Johanna, soos my Ouma en soos haar Ouma (Jacoba Johanna Elizabeth), Komm JW Kok se vrou.

Die Kompleet Werke van JW Kok (Oom Jan/ Kokkie)

The Collective Works of JW Kok (Oom Jan/ Kokkie)