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Nicolaas Pieter Johannes ("Niklaas" or "Siener") Janse van Rensburg (August 30, 1862 - March 11, 1926) was a Boer from the South African Republic - also known as the Transvaal Republic - and later a citizen of South Africa who was considered by some to be a prophet of the Boere (or Afrikaners). Consequently his nickname became Siener, which is Afrikaans for "seer" or "soothsayer". His seemingly accurate predictions of future events were typically wrapped in a patriotic, religious format. During the Boer War he soon acquired a reputation which made him a trusted companion, if not advisor to General de la Rey and President Steyn. The true extent of his influence with these figures is disputed, though the very religious de la Rey seemed to have considered him a prophet of God.
He was born on the farm Palmietfontein in the Potchefstroom district as son of Willem Jacobus Janse van Rensburg and Anna Catharina Janse van Rensburg. He only received 20 days of formal school training at the Rooipoort farm school, and spent much of his youth as a cattle herder. He could never write, but assisted by his mother learnt to read from the Bible. He never read anything else.
At age 16 he participated in a government expedition against the rebellious tribal leader Mapog. He survived malaria acquired on the expedition and settled near Wolmaranstad in the then western ZAR. He was elected as elder for the Hervormde Kerk at age 21, possibly due to his scriptural knowledge. He married Anna Sophia Kruger in 1884.
Van Rensburg and his brother were commandeered to participate in the second Anglo-Boer War under General du Toit. He was however unarmed and never fired a shot, but delivered a stream of prophesies that continued throughout the war. As the seer would later explain, a nightly visitor would have woken him only a day before the outbreak of war, with a message that his work was dedicated to God.
Forthwith he was beset with a fear that wouldn't dissipate. When his disturbed state continued to their sojourn in Kimberley, his superiors sent him home. Experiencing no relief, he returned to the Siege of Kimberley, where a vision revealed to him the defeat and loss of life that the war would bring about. Shortly afterwards, possibly at Graspan, his disturbed state lifted permanently when a soldier was wounded on his side, as a vision revealed to him some days earlier.
Van Rensburg subsequently travelled with general Piet Cronjé but escaped the encirclement by British forces at Paardeberg. A report of his visions attracted the attention of General de la Rey, who recruited Van Rensburg for his commando. During the later stage of the war, Van Rensburg's wife Anna was interned at the Mafeking concentration camp, where two of their daughters died. Van Rensburg returned to his farm before the end of the war.
When the Union of South Africa came out in support of the Allied Powers in World War I, Van Rensburg allied with the rebels. The rebellion received a fatal blow even before it started, when the influential general Koos de la Rey was accidentally killed on September 15, 1914.
De la Rey, when killed, was en route to General J.G.C. Kemp, who forthwith organised the rebellion in western Transvaal. On November 2, Kemp addressed a public meeting at Vleeskraal, near Schweizer-Reneke, with the locally influential Van Rensburg at his side. Van Rensburg also addressed the assembly, and assured them that his visions indicated they had little to fear. 610 men then joined the rebel cause, and with involuntary conscription eminent, the number of rebel volunteers grew to 1,800.
General Kemp decided on a company of 720 men, mostly farmers, which included Van Rensburg and his son. They departed immediately on a journey to join Manie Maritz in German South-West Africa. After a desert trek and much hardship they linked up with Maritz's company on November 29. Rebels under De Wet and Beyers were rounded up by South African forces in the days that followed.
Returning to South Africa, Maritz and Kemp engaged government forces at Nous, Lutzputs and finally at Upington, on February 3, 1915. Van Rensburg's son was killed in the Upington clash, and the whole rebel force captured, with the exception of Maritz who fled via German South-West Africa, to Angola and Portugal. Van Rensburg, like his comrades, received a prison sentence, which was served in the Old Fort, Johannesburg.
After his release Nicolaas van Rensburg returned to his farm Rietkuil, near Wolmaranstad. Some of his visions were then recorded by reverend Dr. Rossouw. Van Rensburg's daughter Anna Badenhorst also recorded a set of visions up to his death at age 64. The latter set is considered to be difficult to interpret and not very coherent.
With the outbreak of World War II, the collections of visions were considered inflammatory. Distribution was prohibited and some copies seized on orders of prime minister Jan Smuts. Upon Anna's death her hand written documents were transferred to Lichtenburg museum's archives, where they were rediscovered in 1991. The farm and van Rensburg family cemetery are located 11 km from Ottosdal, in the North West Province.
His mother perceived his visions even as a toddler, and noticed that these seemed to disturb him. General Hertzog described him as someone continuously distracted by a maze of imagery and symbolism. In all, some 700 visions have been recorded.
The nature of his visions invariably concerned the welfare of the Boere, the Netherlands and Germany, and were experienced by him as visual imagery to be interpreted afterwards. When the image of the sisal plant occurred in his visions, he for instance interpreted this as a portend of an important meeting, assembly or parliament. He is believed by some to have made many accurate predictions of local events, including foretelling the death of general Koos de la Rey and the political transition of South Africa after his own death. At times his visions also concerned international events, among which the start of World War I and the rise of Communism. He was unable to interpret some of his own visions. These, written down, are still open to interpretation, and believed by some to pertain to future events.
Boer soldier Deneys Reitz's account of the Boer War contains a colourful objective account of one of the seer's predictions (shortened):
... 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, which he interpreted as 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.