Andre Brink

February 3, 1995

Six leading writers will speak on the subject of the Dissident Word in the fourth series of Amnesty Lectures which starts next week at the Sheldonian Theatre at Oxford. Although most of what I have written in my life has been informed by apart-heid, I do not need, and have never needed, apartheid in order to be a writer," Andre Brink, South African novelist and academic, wrote after Nelson Mandela had been freed and the superstructure of racial segregation had collapsed.

He was among the first to realise that he, like other writers, would have to rethink his approach to literature now that "the enemy" had been beaten.

For more than 40 years, it had been "very comforting to know your enemy very well". Brink had battled against the social backwardness of black and white separation, exposing its evils and becoming the first Afrikaner to have his work banned.

Brink was born in 1935. Home was the hot and dry provincial platteland where his father, a magistrate, was a member of the clandestine and highly exclusive Afrikaner Broederbond that acted as the war council of the entire nationalist movement. In the 1950s, he studied at the Afrikaans-speaking Potchefstroom University for Christian Higher Education, a deeply conservative establishment in the Transvaal. There, he befriended F. W. de Klerk, and with the future president, he joined Ruiterwag, the junior Broederbond.

But by the early 1960s Brink had renounced his narrow nationalist conservatism. As a lecturer at Rhodes University, he raged against traditional blinkered Afrikanerdom and forged links with the African National Congress. His conversion took place in Paris, which in 1959 was consumed by the events of the Algerian war of independence. It was while studying at the Sorbonne that he reflected on apartheid - the wickedness of the regime driven home by the Sharpeville massacre.

Brink began putting pen to paper. In 1974, Looking On Darkness, his novel about a black actor who trains in England and wins fame at the Royal Shakespeare Company before returning to South Africa and apartheid was banned. Then his appointment to a professorship at Stellenbosch University was terminated.

Today, he is professor of English at the University of Cape Town. His lecture, "Writer as Witch", will seek to lift "the widespread gloom that is settling over many central European, South African and South American writers, in the curious conviction that 'there is nothing to write about anymore' ".

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