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An Open Letter to Mandela, or, Breytenbach is at it Again

Die WindvangerA Veil of FootstepsBreyten Breytenbach In his inimitably biting style, Breyten Breytenbach has written an open letter to Nelson Mandela on SA’s “failed revolution” that appears in the current issue of Harper’s Magazine. The award-winning writer, who is no stranger to provoking the ire of his sometime compatriots, claims that he would advise young South Africans to leave the country, were they to ask for his advice on whether to stay or go. (Breytenbach himself left South Africa in 1960, settling in Paris as a political exile.)

Afrikaans journalist Charles Smith reflects on the castigating, 10-page article – full title: Mandela’s smile: Notes of South Africa’s failed revolution (availabe to Harper’s subscribers only, alas) – and cites the relentless, mindless violence, nepotism and corruption that prevail here as sources both of South Africa’s shame and of Breytenbach’s incendiary call to quit the country.

Don’t miss the vibrant, contentious discussion thread below the article:

Breytenbach wil van Mandela, wat hy soos sy eie pa beskou, weet: “Het u, het ons, ernstig gepoog om ’n demokratiese bestel in Suid-Afrika teweeg te bring met sy wigte en teenwigte en rekenpligtigheid? Of was dit om iemand terug te kry vir die koloniale sondes?

“Hoe lank kan ons voortgaan op die skisofreniese mespunt tussen die diskoers van gelykheid en geregtigheid en die praktyk van plundering en arbitrêre mag? Hoe lank nog kan die dubbelpratery volgehou word vir die volk en vir die buitewêreld? Hoekom het die menselewe geen waarde nie? Is dit tradisioneel?”

Breytenbach vra Mandela of hy weet dat “nasionale bevryding” deur vernedering en misbruik (soos in Algerië, Angola, Guinee-Bissau) die droom verwoes van ’n moderne Afrika wat stam uit die Afrika-wortels en -realiteite.

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Recent comments:

  • Ben - Editor
    Ben - Editor
    December 17th, 2008 @14:44 #
     
  • <a href="http://liesljobson.bookslive.co.za" rel="nofollow">Liesl</a>
    Liesl
    December 17th, 2008 @17:17 #
     
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    Mainstream sleepy heads.

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  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    December 18th, 2008 @09:04 #
     
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    Ok, I can't resist. I know BB is an often prescient Cassandra, but this time he's been at Rustum's ganja. Just where are we all meant to flee to? (Leetle things like work permits, immigrant visas, refugee status etc aren't that easy to come by, esp as fear of crime has been excluded as a reason for seeking refuge by most govts.) Living in exile isn't a walk in the park either -- look what it did to Arthur Nortje, Can Themba, Bessie Head, Bloke Modisane, Todd Matshikize etc etc etc. Better to stick around and be part of the solution.

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  • <a href="http://brentmeersman.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Brent</a>
    Brent
    December 20th, 2008 @07:24 #
     
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    I don't have the patience for it but both RW (abbreviation for Right Wing?) Johnson and boetie Breytenbach need a stick. You guys are too nice.
    Recently I asked a very senior former member of the United Kingdom’s diplomatic corps to South Africa why on earth a periodical that is usually creditable like the LRB continued to use RW Johnson as its sole essayist on South Africa. The reply was (after a hearty chuckle), “Oh God yes, we all know him here, but they just don’t know any better.”

    Go to: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v30/n23/print/mamd01_.html

    You can also find RW Johnson’s retort to it in the letters. I have no doubt that Mamdani in trying to get a balance and show how much more complicated the issue is in Zim has been selective.

    But one despairs when Johnson get’s to writing “Colonial rule was racist and unfair and of course the whites took much of the best land. But in 1901 there were only 712,600 people in the whole country. Much of the land the whites settled was vacant. Under colonial rule, for all its faults, the population multiplied by ten (to 7,477,443 in 1982). . .”

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