I am still undecided as to whether or not to remain angered or saddened by South African writer Andre P Brink’s ‘tribute’ to Ingrid Jonker in a memoir he wrote in his self-reflective A FORK IN THE ROAD.
Last year I wrote a tongue in cheek comparative essay on Brink’s memoirs, comparing it with the masterful autobiographical works of J M Coetzee. Thankfully, this essay was well-received by my professor.
Their works, as ‘white’ South African writers, share deep reflections on the condition of living in apartheid South Africa from 1948 to 1994.
I remarked that Brink spends more time bemoaning the lives of others, including that of Ms Jonker, rather than reflecting on his own life, where the title of his book alludes to taking life-changing decisions. More importantly, Brink does not appear to take any responsibility for the consequences of failed relationships with the women in his life, again, including that of Ms Jonker. Coetzee, on the other hand, fictionalises his failings as a man.
My essay can be found under the column ‘Academic Portfolio’ should you wish to read it.
In the meantime, it is well-known by now that Ms Jonker suffered from a very dark form of depression. At this stage I cannot say whether it was clinical, self-inflicted, or as a result of the tragedies visited upon her during her short life.
I’m inclined to believe that it was the latter. I also immersed myself in the thought of why some love more than others. Love can be tragic, and with it, there appears to be tragic consequences.
Ms Jonker’s most famous poem ‘Die Kind’ (translated into English as ‘The Child’) was a response to the death of a small child, carried on its mother’s back. Reminiscent of the Sharpeville massacre of 1960, this small child was shot in the back by security police in Nyanga on the Cape Flats around the same time of the massacre now commemorated in South Africa as Human Rights Day.
She declared in response to Brink (and others) who questioned her motives for writing the poem, that it was not a political statement. Before writing the poem, Ms Jonker made a conscious decision to see the dead child in the morgue.
This iconic poem was read by President Nelson Rohlihlala Mandela at the opening of South Africa’s first democratic parliament in 1994.
My note here is a tribute to the women and children who still suffer in South Africa.
I repeat it here;
The child who was shot dead by soldiers in Nyanga
The child is not dead
the child raises his fists against his mother
who screams Africa screams the smell
of freedom and heather
in the locations of the heart under siege
The child raises his fists against his father
in the march of the generations
who scream Africa scream the smell
of justice and blood
in the streets of his armed pride
The child is not dead
neither at Langa nor at Nyanga
nor at Orlando nor at Sharpville
nor at the police station in Philippi
where he lies with a bullet in his head
The child is the shadow of the soldiers
on guard with guns saracens and batons
the child is present at all meetings and legislations
the child peeps through the windows of houses and into the
hearts of mothers
the child who just wanted to play in the sun at Nyanga is
the child who became a man treks through all of Africa
the child who became a giant travels through the whole world
Without a pass