Renowned South African novelist and academic, André Phillipus Brink, recently died on a flight from Amsterdam to South Africa. He was on his way home from Belgium, where he had received an honorary doctorate from the Belgian Francophone Université Catholique de Louvain. The University of Pretoria subsequently held a tribute to remember Brink’s life and work.
The tribute, ‘On the contrary’, derived its title from a similarly titled book by Brink. Various academics from the departments of Afrikaans and English contributed and reminisced about the impact André P Brink’s work had had on their lives.
The Head of the Department of Afrikaans, Prof Willie Burger, highlighted the renewal Brink’s work brought to the Afrikaans literature of the 1960s. He described Brink’s method of writing as that of storytelling, which in itself became an important theme in his novels. Brink wrote his books in both Afrikaans and English and became one of the most prolific South African writers. One of his most well-known books, Kennis van die aand, became the first Afrikaans novel to be banned in this country. The apartheid government banned it in 1973 because of its stance against the system of apartheid.
In the 1960s, Brink and other prominent Afrikaans writers such as Breyten Breytenbach were part of an Afrikaans literary movement known as the ‘Sestigers’ (writers of the sixties). They sought to use Afrikaans as a language to speak out against the apartheid government, and to introduce contemporary English and French literary trends to Afrikaans.
The Head of the Department of English, Prof Molly Brown, said she had not only read Brink’s books, but had also been influenced by his work as one of his students. Brink was professor of Dutch and Afrikaans literature at the University of Grahamstown before his appointment as professor of English at the University of Cape Town.
Prof Brown described Brink as a brilliant teacher who had the ability to both speak and listen. ‘André Brink had the ability to focus on the person he was with; to listen and to imaginatively respond to the person. And that, I think, was of enormous value,’ she said.
Prof Henning Pieterse, Head of the Unit for Creative Writing and Prof Andries Visagie, a professor in Afrikaans and Dutch literature from the Department of Afrikaans, also saluted Brink’s contributions to South African literature during the proceedings.
Prof Cheryl de la Rey, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of Pretoria, also counts among the thousands of people influenced by André Brink’s work.
In an interview after the event she said that she had started reading Brink’s work as an undergraduate student and that black South Africans of that era found the presence of an Afrikaans intellectual and writer who took a stance and wrote against the apartheid system immensely valuable. She said that this sent out a strong message that one could not judge the individuals in a group on the basis of the group’s actions. ‘It demonstrated that within the Afrikaans community there were a range of voices that were very critical of the government of the day.’
Prof de la Rey believes that it was appropriate for the University of Pretoria to have held a tribute to André P Brink since he was the recipient of an honorary doctorate from UP.