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					  Edinburgh International Book Festival                          Cupido grew up on a series of Dutch farms and he
                                                               was formed and shaped by the cosmology and
  André Brink
                                                               mythology of the so-called Hottentots and Bushmen,
  20 August 2005                                               the Khoikhoi-San peoples of southern Africa.
                                                               Eventually, he fell for Christianity. Listening to Dr van
                                                               der Kemp preach was one of the turning points that
   Ramona Koval: Good morning. Welcome to the                  made him decide to become a Christian and, in his
Edinburgh International Book Festival and this                 excess of zeal, outdo all the other missionaries of his
morning’s Herald and Sunday Herald meet the                    time.
author session. I’m Ramona Koval from the                        The extract starts with van der Kemp talking about
Australian Broadcasting Corporation and I’m pleased
                                                               his life in Holland, then he moves into a more
to be introducing and speaking with a great writer
                                                               specific religious diatribe.
from South Africa, André Brink. He has been writing
novels, plays and polemical works and teaching                   André Brink reads an extract from Praying Mantis.
literature for 45 or so years, and he brings with him a
                                                                  That takes us back to his meeting with the woman
wealth of talent, experience and wisdom. His 1973
                                                               who is to become his wife: Anna, the greatest soap-
novel Kennis van die Aand, which means looking
                                                               boiler of the region of the Eastern Cape. Cupido,
into darkness, was the first Afrikaans novel to be
                                                               through his early years, before he became a
banned in South Africa. I think he is here with his
                                                               Christian, was a most remarkable man. He was
seventeenth novel.
                                                               always a person of excesses—as a hunter, as a
  André Brink: Something like that.                            fighter, as a drinker, as a womaniser, you name it.
                                                               When he settles in a new region of the Eastern
  Ramona Koval: It is called Praying Mantis and it
                                                               Cape, word reaches him of a woman, Anna Vigilant
looks at the life of a real historical figure, Cupido
                                                               [check], who has the reputation of being the greatest
Cockroach, who was the first Hottentot or Khoi to be
                                                               fornicator of that particular region. Inevitably the two
a missionary at the Cape of Good Hope. After
                                                               of them have to meet at some stage and it is
attaining this momentous position, he is abandoned             arranged from both sides. They have to decide who
by the Missionary Society. It’s a very heartfelt,              is the better. They arrange to meet on new year’s
moving and extremely brilliant evocation of a time
                                                               night on the top of the hill; it is a time of the year
and a place and a man. We will begin by having the
                                                               when work on the farms is temporarily suspended
great privilege of listening to André Brink reading
                                                               and there is the time and leisure for them to go about
from Praying Mantis. Please welcome him.
                                                               their business.
                                                                 For a long time, Cupido does not want to yield to
  André Brink: I discussed this with Ramona
                                                               the urging of everybody around him to meet this
beforehand and we decided that there would be time
                                                               woman, but finally he decides that the only way in
for me to read two brief excerpts. The first comes
                                                               which his reputation can remain intact is by his
towards the end of the first of the three parts in the
                                                               accepting the challenge. Finally, he sends a
novel, when Cupido is listening to a sermon
                                                               message to the woman. How does he send it? With
preached by the most remarkable of the London                  the wind.
missionaries who came to the Cape at the end of the
eighteenth century.                                             André Brink reads a second extract from Praying
   I won’t dwell too long on Cupido, but he is one of
the most remarkable people who ever set foot in                  [Applause.]
South Africa. He was a very tall man and a man as
                                                                 Ramona Koval: I think that you will make fireflies
learned as his great Dutch forerunner Erasmus. He
                                                               a must-have erotic accoutrement from now on. I’m
could speak eighteen languages fluently, including
                                                               sure that there will be a market for them.
ancient Greek and Latin. After a boating accident in
Holland in which he lost his daughter and his child,             Anybody who listened to that can hear the
he decided to devote the rest of his life to the service       creativity and the extraordinary writing that has gone
of God. What makes it particularly interesting is that,        into your imagining these moments, but what is
if one reads carefully between the lines, one gets the         known about the real Cupido? What is available and
impression that he did not actually believe in God.            what did you begin with?
He was using God as a sort of safety net: “God, if
                                                                 André Brink: There is actually very little available
there is a God, save my soul, if I have a soul.” It was
                                                               about Cupido. It was exactly 20 years ago when, for
that kind of approach.
                                                               the first time, I found an article in a scholarly
                                                               historical journal by a woman called V C Malherbe.

She is an American who married a South African                starting point. That part of South African history has
and became one of the great researchers into                  always fascinated me, but I had to reread every
eighteenth and early nineteenth century South                 single thing I could find about the early actions of the
African history. The article was entitled “The Life and       missionaries and the early conflicts near the eastern
Times of Kupido Kakkerlak”. His Dutch name was                frontier of the Cape colony between the Dutch
Kakkerlak, which translates into cockroach. It was a          colonists who had settled there and the Kosa people
fascinating article and it recorded practically               invading from the north-east, across the Fish river,
everything that was known about the man, but to               which had been the frontier for quite a long time.
her, as to all other historians, for obvious reasons,         There were those skirmishes and there was the
his life starts at about 45 or 46, when he entered the        British colonial office, whose policy to try to keep the
church. Prior to that, nobody knew about him. He              tribes apart did not have much success. It was a
was simply a Khoi labourer on a farm in the Eastern           time of turbulence and conflict, which sporadically
Cape, originally in that part of the Karoo known as           sent the whole eastern frontier up in flames.
the Koup and afterwards near the eastern frontier.
                                                                 It was a matter of digging more and more deeply
During that time, nobody knew about him. He was
                                                              into that world of conflict and strife and trying to
just a very ordinary, marginalised person.
                                                              imagine how this individual, this person, would have
  When he finally moved into the church and                   lived before he moved into the church. How was the
became the first Hottentot to be ordained as a                particular zeal with which he became a missionary
missionary, that obviously attracted some attention,          fed by other belief systems before that? From some
but the strange thing was—it is perhaps not so                of the things that were written about him by van der
strange after all—that once he was ordained the               Kemp and his sidekick, the young Reverend Read,
London Missionary Society sent him into the deep              we know that he had been a kind of latter day
interior of the country, to the very edge of what is          version of St Augustine, as a great sinner doing
today Botswana, and dumped him there in a place of            everything with total abandon, so he could simply
stones, where he had a congregation of about 800              carry that way of living over into the Christian
people from the Korana tribe. He didn’t know their            domain. It was 20 years of living with the possibilities
language; in their wisdom, the missionaries assumed           of the unknown part of Cupido which finally erupted
that all of the black people of Africa spoke the same         in the writing.
language and could understand each other. There
                                                                Ramona Koval: You started in 1984 and went
he was: they couldn’t understand him and he
                                                              back to it in 1992, then you completed the mission in
couldn’t understand them. It is no wonder that, within                             th
                                                              2004, for your 70 birthday. You wrote all those
the first few years, they started drifting off into the
                                                              other books in the meantime, but this one must have
desert and he was left alone.
                                                              been nagging at you.
  At first he was with his family—his new wife and
                                                                André Brink: It stuck its claws into me and kept
his two children—but then they left him. In the end,
                                                              holding on. I knew that it would never let go of me
there wasn’t a single person he could preach to, at
                                                              until I had written it out of my system, as it were.
which stage he started preaching to the stones, the
thorn trees and the odd passing lizard or tortoise.             Ramona Koval: Did you need to be 70 to find the
   Ramona Koval: Is this in your imagination or was
it in the article?                                              André Brink: In a way, yes. It might have been
                                                              better if I had waited until I was 80. [Laughter.] The
  André Brink: It was all in the article. That is what
                                                              problem was that, when I suddenly realised that 70
fascinated me. The first thing that really captured my
                                                              was looming, I was totally daunted by the idea. The
imagination was the name. A name like Cupido
                                                              only previous time in my life when I had that feeling
Cockroach is not something that one finds every day
                                                              was when I was about to turn 30. I thought that that
and it appealed to me enormously. I wanted to
                                                              was the end of the world. I stayed in bed for three
plunge into the writing immediately, but when I
                                                              days. I just couldn’t face the idea. What could
reached that point—in fact, I did write the first
                                                              happen to one after 30 that was still worth while?
chapter at that stage, in the early 1980s—I suddenly
realised that nothing was known about the real
person, a person who must have grown up within the              I managed to survive that and I knew, perhaps as
belief system of the Hottentot people and also the            a result, that 70 might also be survivable, but I had
Bushmen people, because his wife was a San.                   my doubts about that. I thought that the only way in
                                                              which I could console or comfort myself and make it
  I had to start researching and enquiring and
                                                              somewhat more bearable would be to write myself a
reading everything I could lay my hands on about the
                                                              book for that birthday. I worked through the notes I
cosmology and mythology. Even that was only a

had accumulated over many years for several                    for him; he can see this person who is always there
possible books, then Cupido sort of winked and said,           for him whenever he looks at it. There is also a
“Don’t you think it’s time we met up again?” That’s            description of his response when he understands the
where it started.                                              function of a letter. This thing without a mouth can
                                                               tell on you; it has writing on it, but he doesn’t
  Ramona Koval: The last time we spoke was on a
                                                               understand about writing. It is something that can
satellite link between South Africa and Australia and
                                                               speak without a mouth. You imagined his coming out
we talked about your novel Devil’s Valley, which was
                                                               of his world of God, magic, devils and spirits and his
your imagination of the life of a community set deep
                                                               interpretation of what he is presented with. How did
in the Swartberg range of the Cape province, which
                                                               you think yourself into that mentality?
was opened up to the world in the 1960s. I thought
that it was a kind of metaphor for the mental, spiritual         André Brink: To a large extent, that was made
and political isolation of the Afrikaners in South             much easier and more accessible by growing up in
Africa. Praying Mantis imagines a different journey            South Africa. I still find that as, in the first place, an
which is based on the historical characters that we            Afrikaans writer there are two huge traditions of
have just spoken about. I wonder whether you see               storytelling that I can draw on all the time. On the
your role as telling your countrymen and the world             one hand, there is the ancient African oral tradition of
the stories of how things became as they are in the            narrative, which presented to the world a kind of
place you come from.                                           magic realism, for want of a better term, which has
                                                               become almost exclusively associated with Marquez,
  André Brink: I think that to a large extent that is
                                                               Rosa and Allende—the people from Latin America.
what happens. I would be a bit reluctant to say that I
                                                               But, in fact, Africa had its versions of magic realism
see that as my role, because it is always dangerous
                                                               centuries earlier.
when a writer starts conceiving of her or his life as
comprising a role—a prophetic mission or whatever.               I can still remember not the details of the stories
That can lead to the most dangerous kind of writing            told to me by my old black nanny when I was very
and the most indigestible forms of writing.                    small but the cadences of her storytelling and her
                                                               story singing. She was a Sutu and she told me
  Since the political changeover in the country
                                                               stories from the ancient African narrative tradition. I
started just over 10 years ago, the urgency of writing
                                                               think that they were simply assimilated in my
about the socio-political scene—about apartheid—
                                                               bloodstream and gradually, more and more, I find
has receded to a certain extent, even though one
                                                               that I return to those memories, stimulated,
has to recognise that a changeover is never
                                                               obviously, and expanded by the reading that I can
complete. We are still carrying with us so much of
                                                               now do into these traditions. Fortunately, so much of
the burden of the past that a lot remains to be
                                                               the old oral stuff has been written down since then.
resolved, including through writing. But there was a
new sense of inner freedom, of being able simply to               On the other hand, there have been traditions
sit down and indulge, perhaps, by writing whatever             among older generations of Afrikaners. Most of
one felt like writing at a given moment without feeling        those storytellers were men, but there were some
obliged to oneself or to anyone outside to write about         fascinating women storytellers among them as well.
a specific thing.                                              In those stories, ancestors in the form of ghosts and
                                                               spirits are kept alive and the movement between the
   That is also one reason why Cupido could come
                                                               natural and the supernatural, between the past and
back to me and why I could recognise in him the
                                                               the present, is fluid and easy and always wonderfully
possibility of exploring the world today—and South
                                                               illuminated. They are also informed by a sense of
Africa today—against the much larger historical
                                                               joy, fun and exuberance. That feeds into the present
background. As you suggest, that is something that
                                                               spirit of the country and the present situation in
continues to fascinate me. Where do things come
                                                               which, as a writer, I find myself in South Africa right
from? Where does today’s world have its origins and
                                                               now; there is a sense of excitement, adventure and
its roots? Obviously, there is never a clear,
                                                               rediscovery of the huge tracts of our past which have
immediate, one-to-one cause and effect relationship
                                                               never been written down.
there, but in order to understand our world a little bit
better and more completely I always find it                      For so long, there used to be one officially
enormously useful—and simply much more fun—to                  sanctioned version of South African history, which
delve into the stories of the past, to look at possible        was devised by white men—both of those terms are
beginnings and to see how far one can move back                important. It was very much a chauvinistic and
into them.                                                     patriarchal white Western version of the past. In the
                                                               writing of so many younger writers—black writers,
 Ramona Koval: In the book, you mention the
                                                               coloured writers, white writers, men, women—one is
mirror that Cupido uses. It is an extraordinary thing

now discovering their particular versions of our past.        letters that he wrote to the missionary authorities are
We have innumerable histories and the richness of             still there, but they have all been translated from the
that discovery or rediscovery is such that it is a pure       Dutch in which he wrote them into a more or less
joy to be alive here and now, which is why, having            acceptable standardised English of the late 18
passed that once-terrifying milestone, I feel that I          century by some very vigilant scribes. In the process,
have enough for at least another 70 years.                    everything is really—in the terms of that marvellous
[Laughter.]                                                   recent film—lost in translation.
  Ramona Koval: One of the questions that is                    But, again, there is always a positive side to a
asked in the book is: what should a man, or                   negative like that. There was the sadness of not
anybody, believe about the Gods and the world?                being able to find a letter that was actually written by
Who or what should you put your store in? There is a          him so that we could look at his handwriting and
lot of practical spirituality about Cupido and his            touch the paper, but on the other hand it left me free
family. Their Gods have been perfectly fine up to             to imagine what letters he might have written and
now but there’s this other God and it is with these           what language he could have used. To me it seemed
very powerful people so it must be a pretty powerful          pretty obvious, given the way in which the spiritual
presence. There is a weighing up of which Gods you            and the physical constantly merged into one other in
might use in which situations.                                his way of thinking, that writing to God would be an
                                                              almost inevitable recourse.
  André Brink: He had the luxury—and also the
sometimes terrifying experience—of encountering                  Ramona Koval: That phrase about the spiritual
several different possible religious interpretations of       and the physical reminds me of the other thing that
the world and being able to choose. Initially—                you’ve done so well. You look out on a landscape
inevitably, I suppose—he moves like a pendulum                that to some eyes, maybe to white eyes, looks like a
from one to the other, every time with a sense of             whole lot of rocks, sand and straggly trees, but to the
exclusivity about the one that he is living in at that        eyes of the Africans there’s a whole pantheon of
particular moment. Gradually, as he grows older and           Gods, stories, songs and histories in it. It is
he is stripped of everything that used to be his and          extraordinary how some landscapes can come alive
everything that he used to identify himself with and          if you know what to look for.
through, there is a growing understanding and
                                                                André Brink: Very often, the poorer and more
intimation that somewhere all of these are linked.
                                                              drought-stricken and ravaged the landscape looks to
Each becomes indispensable to the other.
                                                              the eye the richer its possibilities seem to become.
   In the course of the book, he writes a series of           That is something that I found in the couple of visits
letters to God. Whenever he finds himself in a                that I’ve paid to Australia and one certainly finds it all
particular predicament that the missionaries can’t            over Africa. I’ve even come across that in Iceland,
solve, he writes a letter to God. In the last of those,       where the landscape can be very barren and
when he is down to his last scrap of paper, among             formidable. In those regions, I have also found
other things he asks God to transmit some                     common denominators between the mythologies of
messages to his Gods because he sees them as                  the people.
living more or less happily together up there
                                                                For instance, there is an almost general
                                                              acceptance that there are certain special spots in the
  Ramona Koval: Where did the idea of the letters             geography of the countryside. If you know the right
to God come from?                                             spots—or if you don’t know the spot, you could enter
                                                              into a certain state of mind which makes it possible
  André Brink: It was really from the eagerness with
                                                              to make the transition—you can move from the
which he started writing, which is reported in that
                                                              ordinary, everyday world either through a fissure in a
early article on Cupido. He became an avid writer of
                                                              rock or through a cave or, as I said, you can go into
letters to the missionaries, even to the authorities in
                                                              a trance and experience a mental change. You move
London, certainly to the authorities in Cape Town
                                                              into another world where there are other meanings
and to a number of his fellow Khoi people. He knew
                                                              attached to everything that you see. Every stone
that the latter couldn’t read but the writing was more
                                                              becomes a live creature and you are surrounded by
compulsive than the real circumstances and the real
                                                              the innumerable dead of that particular countryside.
questions of whether the receivers would be able to
                                                              Everybody who has ever lived and died there
                                                              becomes visible. There is a constant intercourse with
  One of the saddest things about the process of              them and a constant chorus of voices speaking to
research in the archives in Cape Town is that almost          you. It is a matter of tuning your ear in to these
nothing of this has been preserved. Some of the

wonderful alternative existences to discover the true            He was a very unfortunate person. If one reads his
miracles of a given drought-stricken landscape.                autobiography and his journals, it seems remarkable
                                                               that he was aware of much of that but that he always
  Ramona Koval: It seems remarkable that they
                                                               put it in the best possible light. He was responsible
would have given all that up for a rather austere
                                                               for the fact that, when Cupido was based at the
Christianity, but of course it was helped with food
                                                               desolate little mission station in the deep interior,
and water—
                                                               they conveniently forgot all about him. He was
   André Brink: And tobacco and alcohol. I’m afraid            promised two helpers to assist him to start with and
that the missionaries knew exactly how to go about             regular supplies of meat, flour and even tobacco, but
it. [Laughter.]                                                none of that ever materialised. In the eight years he
                                                               spent there before he moved off into Africa and
   I’m not by nature a missionary-basher. That has
                                                               nobody ever heard of him again, he wasn’t given
become a common pursuit among many people who
                                                               anything. Right at the beginning, they gave him a
look at the effect of missionaries among older
                                                               single sheep, and that was that. He got not an ounce
cultures in the world, but in doing the research for           of flour after that. He simply had to make do. These
the book I encountered a few quite remarkable                  were the people of God, who brought the word and
persons. One that I have a particular soft spot for is
                                                               the gospel but couldn’t care less about seeing to the
James Read. Much younger than van der Kemp, he
                                                               material needs of a person like Cupido and his flock.
was forced to live in the shadow of a really illustrious
person. He was not as well endowed mentally and                  I really do not have a very high regard for the
spiritually as van der Kemp was. In one respect he             Reverend Moffat, but he is representative of a
resembled van der Kemp, because he was not just a              certain mentality that so many of the missionaries
man of the spirit. He was very much a man of the               had—although, thank heavens, not all of them.
flesh. He married, as van der Kemp did, a young                There are wonderful exceptions.
Hottentot girl who was in her early teens. That was
                                                                 Ramona Koval: The fulfilled a function between
seen as acceptable to a certain extent because it
                                                               the violence of the colonists and the response of the
was seen as an attempt to identify himself
                                                               Africans. They steadied things a bit, didn’t they?
completely with the people among whom he was
working. But then he started a relationship with the             André Brink: That was a remarkable contribution,
just-about-nubile daughter of his chief elder, which           especially in those far away regions of the Eastern
was frowned on so sternly that he was kicked out of            Cape, far from the authority of the Cape, where the
the church.                                                    colonists had moved beyond the scope and reach of
                                                               the law. They were a law unto themselves. They
  It is something that I may pursue later in another
                                                               were an absolutely horrendous bunch, although
book, because the older Read became a fascinating
                                                               there too there were some remarkable individuals.
person. He became the instigator of perhaps the
                                                               The missionaries moved in, established the mission
most important rebellion against the Cape authorities
           th                                                  station and started gathering the dispossessed Khoi
in the 19 century among the Hottentots. I find
                                                               people around them. They were simply trying to
something pathetic but also sympathetic in Read.
                                                               keep them alive and give them something to
  Then there is my favourite hate-figure, who is               alleviate the terrible life of oppression and cruelty
Robert Moffat. Today, he is still regarded as one of           that they had to endure among the colonists. There,
the greatest of the missionaries. Father-in-law of             certainly, they did an enormous amount in terms of
David Livingstone, who married Moffat’s daughter               rudimentary education. They tried to make people
Mary, he seemed to me to epitomise the best and                aware of what, as human beings, they had a right to
worst of the notion of Liberal, which has a particular         expect in and from the world. They made a
set of connotations in South Africa. He came from              tremendous contribution, but unfortunately the pros
Britain believing that he was a man of God, that he            and cons were pretty evenly matched.
had access to the only true gospel, and that he was
                                                                 Ramona Koval: Your interest is global, isn’t it? It
going to uplift the poor heathen. He didn’t care a
                                                               covers all the different elements of all the different
damn about their sets of beliefs—the things that had
                                                               players. You have sympathy with all of these people
shaped them into what they were. He knew that he
                                                               and you can put yourself in all their positions.
had the answers and he was bloody well going to
impose those answers on them and rid them of the                 André Brink: I think that that is one of the basic
superstitions, evils and unfortunate excesses which            starting points of writing. You must be able to identify
burdened their lives. He was going to do that simply           yourself with the best and the worst. Very often, the
by imposing the burden of his very austere, stark              worst can be more fascinating than anything else. In
religion on them.                                              order to write about Moffat, even though I detest him
                                                               as a monster, I had to try to understand why he did

the things he did. What drove him to act in the              origins and development of the Afrikaans language
particular way he did? It is not enough to say that he       had a lot to do with the previously deprived and
was a bad man. He wasn’t a bad man. One has to               oppressed people in the Cape colony and
understand his deeper motives and the way in which           elsewhere. This patois, this kind of Creolised
the person, and the personality of the person,               language was formed in the mouths of slaves and
interacts with the surrounding world—the physical,           indigenous Khoisan people who could not speak
geographical, topographical world. One has to                Dutch properly. Those people were always regarded
understand how Christianity becomes changed and              as inferior to the officials who came especially from
adapted as it moves from one region to another. All          Holland but also from Germany and later from
of that is fascinating and it demands that jump into         Britain. For centuries, it remained a badge worn by
the mind and the mindset of the other.                       the deprived and oppressed people of the country.
  Ramona Koval: You’ve got some lovely lists in the            It was fortunate and unfortunate that, at the end of
book, including lists of African and Afrikaaner place        the 19 century, a group of white men consciously
names. Will you tell us a little about the poetry of         turned the language into their vehicle of expression
those names, such as the list on page 56?                    in order to use it as a political instrument against the
                                                             Dutch and English authorities at the Cape. They
   André Brink: This is a particular technique, which
                                                             succeeded so well that, unfortunately, success
I first encountered in Rabelais when he starts getting
                                                             overran them. They took over the position of political
carried away simply by adjectives. He goes on for
                                                             power in South Africa and made Afrikaans into the
pages and pages and becomes so enthralled that, in
                                                             language of oppression—the language of apartheid.
the process, he enthrals the reader. To me, it seems
to become a kind of incantation in which the realities         There was always a strain of the language that
of the land embodied in names can be                         remained linked to the original roots of the coloured
communicated to the reader to the extent to which            deprived peoples of the country. Even in the midst of
they must originally have been communicated to               the apartheid years, at some centres like the
somebody like Cupido as he moved from one place              University of the Western Cape, there were bunches
to another.                                                  of young people in the student population who said,
                                                             “But Afrikaans is really our language. We want to
 [André Brink reads from page 56 of Praying
                                                             reclaim it and turn it into the language of the people
                                                             again.” That lent a certain impetus to the language,
  Ramona Koval: It’s like a map, isn’t it? You have          which created the possibility for it to continue moving
to remember and chant a map.                                 on.
 André Brink: Yes. It’s a map in music.                         Given the political set-up of the country, the fact
                                                             that more than half of the mother-tongue speakers of
                                                             Afrikaans in the country are not white seems to me
 Questions from the audience.                                to guarantee the possibility of a continuing future for
                                                             it. I have a reasonable amount of optimism about
  In your description of events in Praying Mantis, is        that. I certainly continue to write in Afrikaans
there something totally of your own imagination or           alongside English simply because it is such a joy to
did you find the roots in the mythology that you read        work in a language that was shaped within the
before you wrote the book?                                   realities of the southern part of Africa. It expresses
   André Brink: A lot came out of existing accounts          that with an immediacy, a verve and a colourful
of the myths and legends recounted by the Bushmen            quality that would make it a huge pity if it were
and the Hottentot people, the Khoisan peoples. I             simply to disappear.
tried as much as possible to use actual events,                In Canada, which is where I’m from, the native
moments and imaginings in the old myths as a                 people have made it very clear that they feel that
starting point for taking off and doing a sort of            they themselves should be telling their own stories
musical cadenza, as it were, in the imagination.             about their own past. I wonder whether that is an
  Since the political change in South Africa, the            issue that you have come across in South Africa or
English language appears to have spread quite                more generally.
widely, particularly among Africans. Is there a future         André Brink: Absolutely. I know that in Canada
for Afrikaans and for writing in Afrikaans?                  people are perhaps more acutely conscious of the
  André Brink: I think there is. There is a continuing       issue than they have so far become in South Africa,
debate about that simply because, so unfortunately,          but there are wonderful signs of an increasingly vital
Afrikaans had become the language of apartheid,              urge to get the people of South Africa to tell their
but one should always bear in mind that the real             own stories. The process started becoming public

during the enquiries of the Truth and Reconciliation
Commission. For the first time in the history of the
country, thousands of ordinary people who had
suffered under apartheid were invited to come and
tell their stories. It came as a Vesuvian explosion in
the South African consciousness. Although much of
that early vigour has become dissipated by now, it
continues in a variety of other forms: the urge to find
expression for people themselves. That is a slightly
clumsy term, but I think we know what is meant by it.
   It has already started erupting into storytelling by
black and coloured people—for example, I think of a
remarkable novel like Zoe Wicomb’s David’s Story,
which is about the history of the so-called Griqua
people, a branch of coloured people who developed
more into the interior of the country. It’s a totally new
history that is being recounted there and it sheds a
wholly new light on what had for so long been
regarded as South African history. Among the older
generation and among young student writers, you
find an eagerness to start telling their own stories
and not to allow anybody else to appropriate them.
  Of course, an important part of the whole
endeavour of writing in any given situation is that
one should not necessarily want to see a total
splintering effect. In a country like South Africa, all
the different peoples and the different communities
within them have their stories and histories to tell,
but we are also all South Africans. We have such a
lot in common and an urge to identify with each
other, to show an understanding and a readiness to
make an attempt towards understanding and
solidarity. That opens the way for, let’s say, white
people to tell stories from the black or coloured
community. That is not to take over those voices but
to speak with those voices and show that we are
trying to understand. There is joy and exuberance in
the discovery of the new identity emerging in the
country and all the voices are necessary for that.
  Ramona Koval: We have run out of time. André
Brink will be happy to meet you in the signing tent
and answer any questions that you have for him.
Please thank him for his contribution today.