South Africa's literary and artistic community celebrates Andre Brink

Image used courtesy: Victor Dlamini

South Africa's artistic community has come out to reflect on one of our fallen literary giants - bi-lingual author Andre Brink.

Brink - who died at the age of 79 years - had been in poor health and died whilst on a KLM flight from Amsterdam back to South Africa on Friday evening. He had been returning from Belgium where he had been awarded an honorary doctorate there. His book _Kennis van die Aand _was the first Afrikaans book to be banned by the South African apartheid regime. One of Brink's editors, Ettienne Bloemhof of NB Publishers speaks highly of Brink's contributions to protest against the apartheid system:

It's a huge loss, not only to Afrikaans literature, but to South Africa as a whole. He's a person who had courage in his convictions and was very political. His 1973 book Kennis van die aand was the first Afrikaans book to be banned. He and his peers used Afrikaans as a language to fight apartheid and his work advanced Afrikaans to the level of being an international fighting language, more than it had ever been

Vice-Chancellor of the University of the Free State Professor Jonathan Jansen speaks of Brink's 'cool factor' during his formative years:

I've never met him except through his books because as a teenager in high school, it was the cool thing to do to read or become familiar with his books. Very few young people today know that he was amongst the first people in Afrikaans literature to actually have his books banned by the government. We sort of liked the anti-establishment figure that he presented at the time. I think his novels are very powerful in so far as they challenge things like 'is it an acceptable relationship, what are the boundaries for human interaction?' I've always found a politicality in his work - a sort of challenge - and a sense of hope of something that lies beyond what we can see in our immediate lives. I think his work is timeless and that government Departments of Education should consider prescribing his books, particularly in the year of his death.

Meanwhile, Redi Tlhabi - who had spent time with Brink at the Franschhoek Literary Festival in May last year - reflects on his social significance:

I think that what defines the soul of the nation is the art that that nation produces, the artists - be they writers, painters or singers - they tell you about a nation's journey, they tell you about a nation's upheaval, turmoil and triumph. Artists take risks throughout the years and many artists cannot separate the personal from the political and I think that Andre Brink is one of those.

Speaking on the Redi Tlhabi Show, veteran photographer Victor Dlamini noted his taste for covering taboo subjects. Dlamini and Brink also had a close friendship:

I think for me, what's significant is the extent to which he inserted into literary conversation those subjects that were deeply taboo. You talk for example about looking on darkness - here is the story of a black actor, who is going to be executed for the murder of his white lover. This is a subject about which South Africans were deeply uncomfortable. Sex across the colour line has always been deeply problematic amongst South Africans, but particularly so at the height of apartheid. One of the things that I love about Andre is how he wrote so patiently about it: the sex was raw and real and I think that going to Paris liberated his own sense of what could be put on the page.


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