In celebration of 100 years of dedication to education Oxford University Press Southern Africa (OUPSA) has launched their centenary campaign entitled: “Every child deserves a dictionary.”
The initiative aims to supply 20 000 dictionaries to schools across South Africa that cannot afford them and at the same time to create awareness around education and language.
Marian Griffin Kloot, Higher Education and Trade Director for Oxford University Press SA, spoke to Pippa Hudson about the campaign. “We want to donate a total of 20 000 dictionaries to 200 schools across all nine provinces. We’ve already donated 10 000 and we need some help to get the next 10 000 into the hands of learners,” Kloot says.
Listen to the podcast to find out how you can get involved:
How does it work?
During the first stage of the campaign 10 000 dictionaries are being distributed to schools in the Eastern Cape, Mpumalanga, North West, Free State, Gauteng and Western Cape and for the second stage members of the public can pledge their support on the everychild.oxford.co.za website. For each pledge OUPSA will donate one dictionary to a school in need.
“We call on the public to get behind the initiative and to show their support through our ‘Every child deserves a dictionary’ campaign which reminds South Africans of the power of knowledge, the value of education and the importance of giving our learners the chance to fully realise their own potential,” Steve Cilliers, MD of Oxford University Press Southern Africa, says.
Sindiwe Magona, activist, teacher and internationally recognised author of among others The Ugly Duckling and From Robben Island to Bishopscourt, shared her views on why every child deserves a dictionary and explained how words shaped her life.
Watch the video:
OUPSA asked children what they think the word “thesaurus” means. Watch the super cute video:
To pledge a dictionary go to everychild.oxford.co.za. Follow the campaign on social media using the hashtag #EveryChild, on Twitter @OxfordSAHE and @OxfordSASchools and on Facebook: www.facebook.com/OxfordSAHE and www.facebook.com/OxfordSASchools.
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“Every child deserves a dictionary” – raising awareness about the value of education
25 March 2015: In celebrating 100 years of contributing to education in South Africa on 25 March 2015, Oxford University Press Southern Africa (OUPSA) has launched its flagship centenary campaign, “Every child deserves a dictionary”. The campaign will see the educational publisher donating 20 000 dictionaries to schools across South Africa that would otherwise not have the funds to buy such an important and valuable resource.
The “Every child deserves a dictionary” campaign aims to create awareness about the value of education and language. To kick-start OUPSA’s centenary, 10 000 dictionaries are currently being distributed to schools in the Eastern Cape, Mpumalanga, North West, Free State, Gauteng and Western Cape. The donations are facilitated by the Adopt-a-School Foundation which has also helped select schools to receive the dictionaries, in communities where this NGO is active through educational upliftment programmes.
During the second phase of the campaign, members of the public will be encouraged to place a “pledge” – without any cost to themselves – on the everychild.oxford.co.za website. Each “pledge” will result in one dictionary being donated.
In total OUPSA aims to donate 20 000 dictionaries with a value of R2.2 million. Donations to schools in KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo and the Northern Cape take place during the second part of the campaign and additional books will be dispatched to the remaining provinces during the course of the year.
“To celebrate 100 years of making a difference to education in our beautiful country, we aim to donate 20,000 copies of our Oxford South African School Dictionary to learners and schools across the country that do not have the funds available to buy such an important resource,” says Steve Cilliers, MD of Oxford University Press Southern Africa.
“We call on the public to get behind the initiative and to show their support through our ‘Every child deserves a dictionary’ campaign which reminds South Africans of the power of knowledge, the value of education and the importance of giving our learners the chance to fully realise their own potential.”
Established in South Africa in 1915, OUPSA is a leading publisher of educational material for schools and higher education. OUPSA is especially well-known for its trusted dictionaries and excellent literacy material. The Oxford South African School Dictionary was developed in consultation with a range of South African teachers and language experts and addresses many common usage mistakes that South Africans (learners and adults alike) make. The dictionary is aligned to the curriculum and is one of the non-fiction top-sellers in the country.
“We truly believe that every child does deserve a dictionary, arming them with the resources they need to help them with their education, as education is the key to social transformation in South Africa and a way to unlock opportunities for the youth of the country,” adds Cilliers.
“This campaign is not just about giving something back to the learners of South Africa; it is fundamentally about the value of words, literacy and books.”
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Chimurenga has just released the latest edition of their quarterly gazette The Chronic: New Cartographies. The issue concerns itself with devising a “New Cartography for Africa”, as the way that people imagine space and place is so inextricably linked to the history, ideologies, practices and politics that are understood as reality.
Read the introduction:
Since its launch in 2011, every edition of The Chronic has engaged with this question: when will the new emerge – and if it is already here, how do we decipher it? But no edition has addressed this query as centrally as our current project on new cartographies.
Broadly, the project contests the narrowness of the notion of the “failed state” that publications such as Foreign Policy and various think-thanks mainstreamed at the peak of the structural adjustments of the late 1980s to justify Western interventionism in the so-called developing world. And of course, this notion does not exist in isolation, it is inextricably tied to the idea of development and the resulting instrumentalist logic in which our imagination is imprisoned. These are conceptual frameworks that we, Western-educated Africans who came of age during the 90s have absorbed – it is the thinking that shapes, in the main, our thinking on policy and our imagination of “the good life”.
The Chronic editors have shared an excerpt from the issue with Books LIVE: Harry Garuba’s article “And the Books Lived Happily Ever After”.
In the article, Garuba speaks about the importance of Nigerian novelist Amos Tutuola and his effect on African literature. Tutuola’s writing is playful and casts off systems of classification. His works brought Africa to the literary world, and the literary world to Africa.
To borrow a phrase from Ben Okri, Tutuola overcame the “mental tyranny” of the black writer to become great, and allow African writers that followed in his footsteps to do the same.
Read the article:
If Amos Tutuola had not lived, and written stories in English, African literature would probably have had to invent him. So central has he been to the story of the making of modern African literature that it is difficult to imagine what or who else would have occupied the unique space he fills in the plot of this story. Without him, African imaginative writing in English would have been continually vexed by the melancholia of a “missing link”, because it would have had to account only speculatively and in abstract terms for the transition from the oral tale to the written text and from the indigenous languages of Africa to writing in the languages of European colonialism. Tutuola saves us all that ache and nostalgia, keeping at peaceful rest our conventional narratives of modern African and postcolonial literature and its transitions from one phase to the other.
The recent re-issue of Tutuola’s novels by Faber and Faber shows the continuing appeal of the works of this Nigerian novelist, whose first book, The Palm-Wine Drinkard, was published to international acclaim in 1952. That the 2014 edition carries an introduction by Wole Soyinka, the Nobel Prize-winning author, is significant because Tutuola’s countrymen scoffed at the accolades this novel received from reviewers in Europe and the USA when it was first published. By getting Soyinka to write this introduction, the publishers are, as it were, providing the final seal of authority that binds the initial international recognition to the belated embrace of the writer by his local constituency.
In a symbolic but very real sense, the Soyinka introduction signifies the coming together of local and global forms of cultural capital in a unified, consolidated endorsement of the Tutuola phenomenon. Just think T.S. Eliot, Dylan Thomas, and then bring in Soyinka, and the picture is complete. I will risk the prediction that the Thomas extract, which has made it into every blurb of the many editions of the book since publication, will in later editions be supplemented with a Soyinka quotation. Shouldn’t we have one from Tutuola’s compatriot? Remember: we already have a Chinua Achebe quote on the blurb of this edition.
The Tutuola story is told again and again, yet it always bears further retelling. In a sense, it reads like an episode taken from one of his marvellous tales. A young man in one of the “bush” outposts of empire, with barely six years of formal schooling and a stuttering familiarity with English, decides to write a novel in the imperial language. He writes a tall, episodic tale, creaking at every joint, of an improbable protagonist journeying through worlds known and unknown, the world of the spirits, the gods, the dead and the unborn – all in a prose style that could only have come from the “African bush”. As the fates of Tutuola’s imaginative world would have had it, this handwritten manuscript lands on the desk of a certain T.S. Eliot, publisher at Faber and Faber, one of the high priests of literary modernism and, arguably, one of the most influential cultural arbiters of the 20th century.
Instead of thrashing this quaint object, Mr Eliot responds with curiosity – rather as Pablo Picasso was excited by those incomprehensible masks that had a career-changing effect on him. The question on Eliot’s mind must have been: how would a simple primitive, whose literary sensibility has been recently stirred by a smattering of English and a colonial, English education, write if he were so inclined? Is this the real thing – the first truly untainted “primitive” writing a novel in English? To answer the question, he sends the manuscript for review to none other than Dylan Thomas, the Welsh poet with a similar interest in primitivism. Thomas is equally fascinated and sends in a rave report. The book is published, complete with a facsimile of the author’s original handwritten manuscript, to authenticate his existence as a real person and not a figment of someone’s imagination. The rest, as they say, is history. Yes, perhaps this is a story that should begin with the classic folktale formula: Once upon a time… and end with: and the book lived happily ever after.
Certainly we will live happily ever after with the things that we love about Tutuola’s novels: the oral storytelling voice that suddenly announces its status as print, with the copious capitalisations and the many character names placed in inverted commas as in the graphological oddities in a Lagos signwriter’s workshop; the numerous titles that signal the entrance of a new unusual character or begin a new, bizarre episode; the references to monstrous creatures who trade in British pounds, shillings and pennies, with the little fractions of the currency noted in detail, and so on. Imagine this bit of reverse intertextuality: “Then I told my wife to jump on my back with our loads, at the same time, I commanded my juju which was given to me by ‘the Water Spirit Woman’ in the ‘Bush of Ghosts’ (the full story of the “Spirit Woman” appeared in the story book of the Wild Hunter in the Bush of Ghosts).”
My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, Tutuola’s second novel, was published in 1952. But in this first novel, the narrator-protagonist is referring to it as an already “appeared” story book. In short, he is referencing a book yet to be published as if it were already in the public domain. Is this a form of oral intertextuality? Is there a realm in which all the stories of the world already exist, simply waiting for the artist to bring each to voice or into print? We are used to the notion of art imitating life; what are we to do with the proposition that art prefigures life? It is this sense of reversibility, this playfulness before postmodernism, this toying with our expectations, troubling our knowledge systems and classificatory grids and upsetting our categories (even our tenses) for grasping the world, which makes Tutuola’s world perennially fascinating. Though The Palm-Wine Drinkard remains his most engaging text, this quality is present in all his works.
As the Tutuola texts begin another phase of life with these 2014 editions, they once again stand at a crucial conjuncture in the institutional organisation of literature and literary studies. Within a decade of the publication of his first novel, African literature took its first tentative steps towards becoming a discipline of study in institutions of higher learning in Africa and elsewhere in the world. As we hurtle down the road towards what is increasingly being touted as World Literature, we need to take Tutuola’s texts with us, because they will help us reflect on and understand the implications of this new form of organisation of literary knowledge.
So much has been said about how Tutuola marks a crucial stage in the evolution of African writing, but one important part of his epochal significance remains unexplored. What the uneven reception history of The Palm-Wine Drinkard marks is that historical moment when a chasm arose between the local/national evaluation of a text and the international value attached to it. While the foreign reviewers thought highly of it, the local commentators were less impressed. In the usual course of literary evaluation, a text is first valued by the local audience in whose language it is written and this valuation usually passes on to the international audience. This often occurs through translations undertaken on the basis of the local construction of literary value, thus creating one extended circuit of value. But with Tutuola two circuits of value emerged and the divergence between the two could not have been wider. Happily, in the course of time, both circuits converged as the local commentators quickly conceded (implicitly) that they had been mistaken in their initial evaluation.
But were they really mistaken? Perhaps – but not entirely. In their assessments they were inserting the text into a local circuit of value, placing it beside works of a similar genre in the local tradition. In their estimation, read within this tradition, Tutuola’s novel falls short when placed beside the towering figure of D.O. Fagunwa, the pioneer of the Yoruba novel. Some went so far as to call Tutuola’s work a poor imitation. But Fagunwa’s works were not written in English, nor were they published in London; they were written in Yoruba, published in Lagos and sold through a local distribution infrastructure. Their publication was not mediated by an Eliot or Thomas or reviewers in The New York Times Book Review, The New Yorker or The Observer, to name a few. In effect, they were largely limited to a local circuit of value. To use Soyinka’s apt phrase, they did not “suffer rediscovery by the external eye”.
What lesson can we take from this Tutuola story as we move into the future, as globalisation engulfs us and World Literature arrives at the doorsteps of academic institutions? The lesson is this: that while writers in local languages and writers of English texts published locally insert their texts into local/localised textual/social formations and these texts participate in local circuits of value, texts written in English and published in the metropolis are inserted into an international/global literary space and acquire value in relation to the value criteria and mechanisms operative within that space. While the former are often engaged in the project of national dialogue and partake in a local field of discourse, the latter enter into the international literary space, often on the basis of their distinct “civilisational” or geopolitical, cultural contribution. This is, of course, a different discursive field, usually with its own set of priorities and value criteria. Here is a Tutuola-esque image to describe this process: And a “MONSTER WITH ONE EYE FACING NORTH AND ONE EYE FACING SOUTH” entered the room.
What better image can there be to welcome the re-issue of Tutuola’s novels and to highlight the many lessons we can draw from them?
This story features in the new edition of Chronic Books, the supplement to the Chronic. Through dispatches, features, interviews and reviews, we explore the reach of public relations and petrodollars.
To purchase in print or as a PDF head to our online shop. Copies coming to your nearest dealer now-now. Access to the whole issue and Chronic online archives is available for $28 for one year or $7 for a month.
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Earlier this week the University of Cape Town, where André Brink was an Emeritus Professor at the time of his death, hosted a public memorial in tribute to his life, at which Breyten Breytenbach delivered a stirring and eloquent address.
Vice-chancellor Max Price, who acted as the master of ceremonies for the event, welcomed the large crowd made up of family, friends, students, dignitaries and academics, and introduced the esteemed speakers who had gathered to pay tribute to the late author.
Brink’s wife, Karina M Szczurek, spoke first, and began by saying that she was not standing at the podium as a writer, critic, or intellectual, but as “a woman who has lost the love of her life”. She shared a moving letter she wrote to Brink years ago, which he had read before she proposed to him. They were married in 2006 and, as Szczurek said in closing her tribute, “our journey continues”.
Brink’s son Gustav, who bears an startling resemblance to his father, read a eulogy that played cleverly with references to his father’s works, and said “you can never condense his life to seven feet”, referring to Brink’s casket. “26 feet, maybe, one for each novel. But even then I think it would be too small,” he added.
Breytenbach, Brink’s long-time friend and fellow word activist, reminded listeners, “André Brink is not dead.” He explained: “He’d been writing for so long and written so much and so knowledgeably on so many themes and situations that I am sure we’ll find a response, if we were to look, to whatever statement we wish to make about him.”
Euzhan Palcy, the French director responsible for the film adaptation of A Dry White Season, flew all the way from Martenique to honour his memory. She told the audience that they (her, Brink and the rest of the living team) had planned a South African premiere of A Dry White Season for this year – which would have been a first, as the film was banned upon its release, in 1989. Palcy vowed to continue with the plan.
Martin Buysse from Université Catholique de Louvain, where Brink received an honorary degree the day before his passing, came all the way from Belgium for this special occasion, and shared some poignant anecdotes from those precious days before Brink’s final flight. “You died above borders, conflicts, and limits,” he said.
Buysse expressed sincere condolences from his institution in Louvain-la-Neuve and stressed that Brink will forever be part of their community.
Ian Glenn spoke on behalf of UCT, remembering Brink as an educator “sans comparison”. In closing, the former head of the English department, to which Brink was so devoted for so long, said: “UCT, and South Africa, will miss André Brink, deeply.”
Between these tributes, Price shared commendations from past and present members of the Department of English to which Brink was connected, including JM Coetzee, Meg Samuelson and Helen Moffett.
Below is Breytenbach’s tribute, which was delivered both in Afrikaans, English and French (transcribed by Books LIVE):
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Karina, Gustav, family members of André Brink, Vice Chancellor Price, ladies and gentlemen, friends and colleagues.
I am honoured by this invitation to participate in a tribute to André Brink as a person and a friend and to his work as critic, author and teacher. Permit me first of all to thank his family and publishers who made this possible.
Et madame l’ambassadeur, ça fait plaisir de voir que vous êtes là. Si je savais d’avance on aurait pu essayer de faire l’effort de parler au moins un peu de Français aussi. On a tous le deux un lien tout à fait particulier avec la France. Soyez le bienvenue.
Ek wil begin deur julle te vertel van ’n droom wat ek onlangs ’n paar nagte gelede gehad het. Ek het gedroom ek is terug in hierdie land om deel te neem aan ’n eerbetoon vir ’n vriend wat heengegaan het. Die ontslape vriend se naam is A, en ons het oor ’n lang tyd kontak met mekaar verloor. Hoe ’n mooi woord is ‘ontslapene’ net nie. Hy of sy wat uit die slaap uit gewek sal word, maar ook die oorledene wat nooit weer sal slaap nie. My onmiddelike familie, vrou en kind, was saam met my en eintlik was ons op vlug van onveiligheid na onveiligheid. ’n Veiligheidspolisieman was op my spoor, knaend seder jare. Ek het hom slegs as skadufiguur geken en gehoor daar word na hom verwys as “die oue”. Sy aftree, het ek verneem, was op hande. Hy het afgeskimmel in die tuig van staatsbeskerming. Trouens, hy het net gewag vir daardie een laaste kans om my in hegtenis te neem en so, sy obsessie te les, voordat hy verdwyn in die voue van die geskiedenis.
Die huldiginseremonie sou oor twee weke plaasvind. Dit was byna asof ek die oue, dis byna asof die oue en ek ’n afspraak gemaak het om daar ons trajekte tot volvoering te bring. Ons word tog nie jonger nie. Die land was bar en arm en verwaarloos en ons het van die een skuilplek na die ander beweeg. Vriende van lank gelede het ons onderdak en brood gegee, maar dit was gou duidelik dat die oue op ons hakke is en een van my gashere het verleë gebieg dat hulle eintlik almal gedwing word om informante vir die veiligheidsdiens te wees. Hulle kon nie anders as om my bewegings te rapporteer nie. Dit was immers die tyd van versoening; hulle het gelate aanvaar dat hulle tot ’n vergelyk moes kom met die nuwe realiteite.
In die twee weke wat ons na die verrigtinge op pad was, was aspekte van A se lewe en oortuigings waarvan ek voorheen nie bewus was nie bietjie vir bietjie aan my openbaar. Ek was nie seker of dit die beskaamde informante was wat my die onthullings of die verfyning van kennis ingefluister het nie. Alhoewel niks wat ek in die twee weke half teen my sin geleer het omtrent A my anders oor hom sou laat voel nie, het ek besef dat dit ’n veel komplekser taak sou wees om na behore hulde aan hom te betoon as waarop ek bedag was.
Ek het wakker geword met ’n gevoel van doofheid en van angs. Die oue sou my nie arresteer nie. Die tyd van so voltrekking was verby en die ons was lankal nie meer dieselfde mense as prooi en jagter nie. Hy sou my tien teen een nie eers herken nie. Miskien sou ek ook net die geleentheid bywoon om sy leedwese te betoon en op dié manier ’n hoofstuk klaar te maak. Ek sou egter nie sy hand skud nie. Ek onthou dat ek met die terugkeer in die vroeë negentigs ook nie myself so ver kon kry om as vorige vyande om die nek te val al het die bevrydingsbeweging toé hand om die blaas met hulle gestaan en suip. Die angsgevoel was natuurlik te wyte aan die feit dat ek nie reg kon laat geskied aan A nie.
Now I don’t need to have recourse to Freud’s never-never land of the subconscious that I approach this tribute to Brink with trepidation and a large amount of ignorance. He, Freud, was anyway just a fool writer who thought of himself as a scientist, just like I am now a fool to imagine I can properly and comprehensively talk about André. It should anyway have been an interactive conversation. I am sure there are many people here now in this hall who have far more pertinent and insightful things to remember about the wordmaker. And I may not be telling you what you want to hear. But, as fools, I want to rush in. Let me move in haphazard fashion through some of the terrain we shared and draw a few conclusions that André may well have refuted. Before going there, however, I want to linger a little while on the fact that André is not dead.
We experience by recall. We know by association. We exist by the imagination of others and by the telling of those projections. Rosa Montero in a book called La ridícula idea de no volver a verte – the ridiculous notion that I will not see you again – wrote: “Para vivir, dice la escritora, tenemos que narrarnos.” To live we have to narrate ourselves. Of course, André is not present physically to comment, inflect, calibrate or deny what we collectively and individually imagine and remember of him. Although I am not sure about that. I mean about his ability to participate. He’d been writing for so long and written so much and so knowledgeably on so many themes and situations that I am sure we’ll find a response, if we were to look, to whatever statement we wish to make about him. So no, André Brink is not dead. The narrative may have become more sombre but it is not interrupted. He will continue to take part in a conversation.
The reflections do not take place in a historical void. Environment and circumstances evolve and our interaction with him will evolve as well. Successive generations will select, shape, confirm or discard aspects of what his writing was about. We are cannibals, or survivalists if you wish, so we take what we need and can work with for whatever purpose. Why, we do it even with the living! We pair people down to the manageable simplification of what we consider to be key characteristics exactly as we do with characters in a novel. Perhaps we do this because we fear being dissipated by the ambient chaos if it weren’t for our instinctive filtering of experiences. We continuously fashion our sense of being, we scratch our surface and try to seek patterns. We recount ourselves to ourselves – mostly tragic stories of not being understood, but that’s by the way. We confine in order to focus. We need the tunnel so as to envisage the light at the end of it. When one writes with the passion of André Brink the work will be a thread leading into the heart of being in a labyrinth. So no again, André Brink is not dead.
Let us for a while at least keep alive the richness and diversity and complexity in our reading of him. The wildness. The contradictions. The naivety. The idealism. All the movements of a normal man.
Although he was intensely aware of the image of himself that he projected and often tried to control, for whatever reason, I don’t think he shied away from any of the options or obligations that the writer has at his or her disposal. He was curious, fearless in appropriating whatever was needed for his stories, maybe insatiable in his need for comprehension and above all he had an open mind. Does this sound contradictory? Were these writerly attributes enough to shield him against the cold wind of time?
In a dream, I had an informant host in a temporary refuge ask rhetorically, and I quote: “Did it ever occur to André that he might be wrong about almost everything, and need to rethink it all from first principles?” If by that it is meant that André’s published position was that of a liberal, my informant had a point. Clearly liberalism, or even idealism, had no traction other than being used as leverage to protect the rich. But recognising or not recognising the deadly dead end we are now in does not do away with the need to continue pointing out the injustices of the past.
Dis waar dat ons mekaar oor ’n lang tyd geken het en dat dit veral rondom die middel sestigerjare toe hy by ons tuisgegaan het in Parys ’n seminale tydperk, ’n vormingstyd vir André was soos ook vir my. Ons het die skakeling tussen die tyd waarin ons toé betrokke was teen sensuur, teen die hegemonie van kerk en kultuur en politiek van die Afrikaner establishment, en die groter omvang van die nasionale vryheidstryd begin ervaar. Die nóg groter konteks was die van vryheidsoorloë, gevolg deur onafhanklikheidswording in van die vroeëre Europese kolonies, van werklike internasionale solidariteit en van opstand onder die jeug in groot dele van Europa. Ons het geglo dat ons in die vooraand is en op die voorstoep sit van ’n verskuiwing in internasionale magsverhoudings.
Die wurggreep van imperialisme sou moét verslap die houvas van Stalinistiese kommunisme oor die vakbonde en opstandige studente organisasies oral in die wêreld sou afgeskud word. Agterna gesien is dit duidelik dat ons nie net naïef was nie. Die omswaai in hoe die wêreld funksioneer het toe nié gebeur nie – daarvoor is die mens se drang tot uitbuiting en magswellus miskein te sterk – maar ook a-histories en goedgelowig betreffende die verandering in Suid-Afrika.
Ahistories, omdat ons ons blind gestaar het teen reaksies wat ons aksies teen die apartheidstaat uitgelok het, en maar min aandag gegee het aan die feit byvoorbeeld dat ons swart medeskrywers se werke al lankal verbied was en dat ons swart en bruin landgenote veel swaarder gekry het onder die juk van onderdrukking as wat ooit die geval vir ons sou wees. Goedgelowig, omdat ons nie kon insien dat die bevrydingsbeweging waaraan ons ons steun toegesê het maar net nóg ’n magmasjien sou wees nie. Met die voortekens toé al het die organisasie kernvrottes sonder omvattende visie van die werklike probleme vorentoe en die wonderlike moontlikhede en uitdagings wat bevryding sou kon bied as bevestiging van oorkoepelende waardes en bekragtinge van ons veelvolkere spesifisiteit. En sonder ’n etos. Revolusionêr of andersins, ten spyte daarvan dat die stryd histories legitiem was, en deur byna die ganse wêreld as sodanig gesien is en daarom hoop laat opvlam het elders. Ons het gedog, hier kom ’n ding! En kon nie insien dat ons op sy beste slegs bruikbare hanskakies sou wees in ’n groter stryd om mag en voorregte en byvoordele nie.
Ons paaie, André s’n en myne, het geskei. Hy is terug Suid-Afrika toe en uiteindelik het dit geblyk dat hy veel meer sou vermag, veel meer mense tot ander insigte sou laat kom, veel nader sou beweeg aan die prosesse van versinning wat toé nog nie voltooi was nie en nou nog nie voltooi is nie as wat iemand soos ek ooit sou kon doen.
He was always a single minded writer. Did he accept that his influence as writer, with all the doubts and cussedness coming with the calling, would be more far-reaching and far more enduring than the activism or moral probity ascribed to him by an unenlightened and voracious foreign readership? Ah, we were seduced so easily into thinking of ourselves as victims as well, if not actually as heroes.
The best thing that ever happened to André, perhaps inadvertently, was to not become mixed up in politics. In so saying I am not denigrating the political reach of his positions, or his civic role and influence as angry citizen. Indeed, the values imbued in his work are of existential worth, ultimately far more relevant than those incarnated by a rubber political cast or by the blunted tongues of the ex-believers among us. Particularly we, the expedient whites who sucked the bitter brass of bitter corruptness.
His was a peculiar empathy of the writer. Gutting history for the purposes of a good story, stealing people’s intimate emotions if necessary, and yet, literature survives even with greater truth as history perishes. We will remember and read Victor Hugo long after we have forgotten Napoleon Bonaparte, we turn to Tolstoy if we want to understand what happened in Russia and not to the history of the Tsars and the generals. There is an odd ambivalence here, reality only exists and remains with us to the extent that it is imagined. One could say transformed, and maybe even invented.
Die vryheid en die krag van André was dié van ’n skrywer. Dis waarby ek wil stilstaan. Hy was ’n passeur. Na binnetoe, iemand wat ons bewus gemaak het van wat in ander lande en tradisies gebeur van die groter waardes en implikasies waarbinne die skrywer beweeg. Na buite, dat ons nie almal só is nie. Dat die plaaslike realiteite dalk meer genuanseerd is as wat die buitewêreld gerieflikheidshalwe wil dink. Mens kan selfs sê dat hy paradoksaal die eer van die Afrikaners help red het en daarom, dié van Afrikaans. Hy het die heersende idee van eenselwigheid onder die ortodoksie aan bewind aan die kaak gestel en gewys, in sy stellingnames en skrywer as romansier en essayis en resensent en leermeester, op die anderselwigheid wat daar ook in die land was. Hierin het hy groot voorlopers en baanbrekers gehad aan wie hy ook erkenning gegee het. Van Wyk Louw, Uys Krige, Rob Antonisen, Jan Rabie, iemand soos Peter Blum as skerp digter, Piet Philander en SW Pietersen en Adam Small en Ingrid Jonker, wat vir ons die volheid van die gebroke se bestaan kon verwoord. En ook in Engels. Ek dink aan Alan Paton, maar eweneens aan die Drumgeneration: Es’kia Mphahlele, Lewis Nkosi, Can Themba en andere – al het André eers later van hulle kennis geneem. As volksvreemde kon hy sy denke voed en dit vir ons aangee met die groot voorbeelde uit ander taalgebiede, soos Albert Camus in Frans. Voor hom en die voorlopers wat ek nou hier genoem het was ons dalk minder bewus van die universaliteit van skrywe en die skrywer se rol. Dat die groot taak van skrywers in die geskiedenis nog altyd dieselfde was. Om van hondedrolle van die alledaagse sterre te maak, wat ’n bietjie lig kan werp op die pad wat ons almal bewandel duisternis toe. Maar ook om uit te wys hoe gereeld die sterre dan die hondedrolle is waarin ons trap op daardie sterreweg. Ek dink aan Dostoyevsky, Dickens, Cervantes, Balzac, en die groot Latyns-Amerikaanse voorbeelde.
André is a reminder that a writer is a bulwark against forgetting the need to continue our engagement with matters of concern to the community. We know that we have to fight power word by word, that the area of creating perceptions will always be contested between politicians and those who can transcribe the pains and the aspirations of those citizens. Only too often we slide away in our ivory towers and our walls of learning or hide in our Facebooks.
As a writer, André’s sympathy clearly was always to the downdrodden. Those deprived by systems and policies and religions of the full potential of humanity. The self is an appearance in the shape of a story. They veils we use, the cloths and the stances, may be equated with posts of opposition in a style ethical relationship to contents. But at least potentially this dance is about agency, helping to equip and empower the individual citizen or reader to resist the state and by so doing assuming his or her part of responsibility in conceiving of greater awareness, more justice, better care in compassionate societies.
As dit dan so is dat ons Brink se voorbeeld wil eer, waarnatoe dan nou? Of, soos ’n tweede informant in my droom gesêvra het na sy verduideliking dat ons moet aanbeweeg, dat dit gevaarlik sou wees om daar te oornag: Wat word van die skrywer as openbare intellektueel? Watter belangrike rol het Brink gespeel? En is ’n figuur soos Brink nog denkbaar in ons huidige tydsgewrig? Of eggo elke skrywerstem nou bloot in die klankdigte nis van die kleinende paradogiale letterkunde? Watter impak of verskil kan ’n Afrikaanse skrywer nog maak?
Ek sou graag die antwoord wou hê en die basuin wou kon blaas van ‘ons moet’ of ‘julle behoort’ maar helaas, dis lankal nie meer so eenvoudig nie. Die sentrum, die ideaal van die eties gefundeerde nasie waarvan ons geglo het volledig deel te kan wees, en waartoe ons in alle voortvaarendheid gedink het ons ’n bydrae sou kon maak, het lankal buite bereik verskyf en reageer nou na gelang van belange en ’n verwysingsveld wat vir meeste van ons duister is. Die eie sentrum vanwaar ons reaksies kon loods is lankal verwar, ontbind, afgetakel, en op die winde van depolitisering en dikwels ook blindelingse en hedonistiese eiebelang uitgestrooi.
Ek vermoed dis die inpas, dieselfde kontrastering van onmag waarvoor André ook te staan gekom het. Alhoewel, mens wil nie woorde in die ontslapene se mond loop lê nie want hy is nie daar om te kou en uit te spoeg as dit nodig is nie. Die gegewe is inderdaad moeiliker. Iets is verkeerd in hierdie geweldadige en in wese onregverdige republiek. Miskien is dit nie net die middele wat die doel besmet het nie, maar die basis van aannames waarop dit tot stand gekom het. Ons het te doen met ’n politieke bedeling wat nie ’n dêm omgee vir enige politiese bevraagtekening, wat duidelik nooit nadink oor waardes nie, wat skynbaar seker is omtrent hulle identiteit, met wie jy nie eens in gesprek kan tree nie. Jy kan hulle nie tot verantwoordelik roep in die naam van die nuwe nasie nie – daar is nie so iets nie. En, soos by die vorige regime, is die gryses weér al hoe sterker aanwesig in die skrewe en die nate van die staat; met dieselfde funksies, en ongebreidelde mag, die veiligheidsapparaatjies, hulle wat hulle psigopatiese afwykings strafloos uitlewe en vrye teuels kan gee aan hul verminkte selfbeeld. Hulle is van dieselfde rottenes van sluipers en afluisteraars as hulle voorgangers met die kougomharsings en die donkerbrille met as voorbok: die Nasionale Giggelaar. Die verskil met die vorige regime is dat hierdie een nog wettig is in die historiese proses en met meerheid steun. Hoe beveg mens dit? Uit hoofde waarvan? Met watter hoop op inspraak, indien dan nie saampraat nie?
Dis moeilik om enige protesterende stemme te hoor bo die klankverorberende eindloos trillende web waar alles dieselfde is en niks meer saak maak nie. Of bo die selfverkneukeling van die sogenaamde sosiale media. En tog, die behoefte tot bydrae bly bestaan. Die skeppende persoon wat met die materie van sein omgaan en soms die modder, kan nie anders as om krities ingestel te wees nie. Solank daar ’n ondersoekende bewussyn is, solank daar nog helderte is, en dalk selfs ver verby in die donkerte want wie sal weet en wie kan sê. Soos nog altyd in die seisoene van die menslike bestaan is die vraag nou weer hier en die vraag bly opduik: Wat is die sin van ons bestaan? En in die soeke na ’n tydelike antwoord sal ons bly uitreik na die eenvoud van meervuldigheid, na die verantwoordelikheid en troos van medemenslikheid, na die een word met die ander as oplossing.
Perhaps André would have agreed with me, that the struggle has always been against all forms of hegemony and orthodoxy. In fact, against the very notion of power and repression. That it would be a contest for the unadulterated word, for meaning and accountability, for the right to doubt, for an ethical and creative and transformative imagination, for the fullness of citizenship to be heard away from partisan politics, against the corrupt so-called cadre plundering elite, against snooty multiculturally-correct fundamentalists. For this struggle there will never be a majority, and perhaps not even legitimacy, as usually understood. In a world of monotheist capitalism, that is the consumerist culture, the reification of greed, moral obtuseness, indifference, the stupidity of power – we have to learn again how to be audacious, utopian and daring.
Wat my persoonlik aangaan, en dit is wat ek met André sou wou kon bespreek: In ’n wêreld van doodmaak, van bestaans- en omgewingsvernietiging, waar ons gevier en deel word deur ’n woedende obskurantisme eendersheids en die blinde kapitalisme andersheids wat soos ’n walg al hoe vetter en afstoteliker word, is weerstand dan nie ’n guerilla stryd nie? Ek wil hom belowe dat ek sal bly soek na medepligtiges, hoe verbygaan dinge ook, na makkers met wie ’n mens ten minste nog ’n paar brûe van selfversekerheid kan opblaas, want die senupunte waar mens kan hoop om ontwrigting te kan veroorsaak is nog daar, al is dit moeiliker om by hulle uit te kom.
Intussen sal ons teen die mure moet skryf dat die mens as kermende wese nogsteeds die kardinale verwysing is. Dat niks doodmaak, fisies of die armoede en onkunde kan regverdig nie, en wanneer niemand dit sien nie sal ons klippies gaan pak op die grafte van die engele. Maar ek besef ook dat dit ’n radikale posisie is. En dat ek dalk swig voor die versoeking om kaal soos ’n geplukte kapokhaan sonder kraai of stertvere die wêreld uit te gaan.
I want to conclude with a potpourri of quotes. All those I couldn’t fit into the text. Maybe they will illustrate more clearly than the various facets of my attempted tribute to André Brink. In Vietnam where my wife is from it is customary to put some offering before the altar, often the effigy of the departed one or the ancestor. Cigarettes, whiskey, fresh fruit. What could be more apposite than to leave André with words?
First, Jorge Luis Borges who said somewhere in an interview, and I quote: “Luckily memory is not limited. One may forget in order to create anew, to imagine anew.” And a little further: “Each language is a way of experiencing reality.” And then this: “The gods do something horrible to people so that later generations may have something to sing about.”
André himself, from Devil’s Valley, as Willie Burger reminded us in a recent article in the Sun Independent, and I quote: “Look man, there is nothing you can do about tomorrow, it comes as it must. All you can something about is yesterday. But the problem with yesterday is that it never stays down. You’ve got to keep stamping on it.” And still from the same book: “We fabricate yesterdays for ourselves which we can live with, which make the future possible even if it remains infinitely variable and vulnerable. A whole bloody network of flickerings and intimate lightning to illuminate the darkness inside.” In the paragraph before this the character speaking here Flip Lochner muses, and again I quote: “Who knows, if we understood what was happening to us we might not have needed stories in the first place.”
And finally, I want to read an extract from a piece written by Oliver Sacks and published in the New York Times on February the 19th recently. The piece is called “My Own Life”. I’d like to imagine that this maybe what André would have agreed with, he may even have said it himself. Sacks, whom you may remember as the author of Awakenings and The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat is a neurologist teaching at NYU School of Medicine. He wrote this on learning that he has terminal cancer, terminal metastases in the liver with at best only a few months left to live, and I quote:
“I have been increasingly conscious, for the last 10 years or so, of deaths among my contemporaries. My generation is on the way out, and each death I have felt as an abruption, a tearing away of part of myself. There will be no one like us when we are gone, but then there is no one like anyone else, ever. When people die, they cannot be replaced. They leave holes that cannot be filled, for it is the fate — the genetic and neural fate — of every human being to be a unique individual, to find his own path, to live his own life, to die his own death.
“I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return; I have read and traveled and thought and written. I have had an intercourse with the world, the special intercourse of writers and readers.
“Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.”
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Listen to a podcast of the memorial, recorded and shared by UCT:
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Helené Prinsloo (@helenayp) tweeted live from the event:
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- Rise and Fall of Apartheid: Photography and the Bureaucracy of Everyday Life edited by Okwui Enwezor, Rory Bester
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- Contrary: Critical Responses to the Novels of Andre Brink edited by Karina Magdalena Szczurek, Willie Burger
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Image credits to Victor Dlamini (top), Karina Szczurek (middle), UCT (left)
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