ABSA Chain: Kole Omotoso in conversation with Abraham H de Vries

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  1. Why is there no humanist tradition in Afrikaans literature?

    Hierdie vraag bevat feitefoute en geïnsinueerde beskuldigings wat slegs interessant is omdat prof Omotoso dit, om die gesprek aan die gang te kry, kennelik aanhaal uit 'n (redelik herkenbare) "geskiedenis van miskenning", soos Etienne Britz dit noem. So onkundig en beterweterig is hy sekerlik nie. My antwoorde is dus nie aan prof Omotoso as persoon nie, maar aan diegene wat dié menings huldig. Ek verdedig niks. Daar is genoeg werke in Afrikaans wat die "wrede prag en angs" van hierdie land, warts and all, veel effektiewer verbeeld, beoordeel en veroordeel as dié onkunde en my pogings om iets daaraan te probeer regstel.

    Now the answer to the first question: The statement implied in the question is factually wrong. The "humanist tradition" in the Afrikaans short story started, in fact, even before Afrikaans was an official language, in the so-called "Hollandse periode". Let me name a few authors in this tradition and only this genre, the Afrikaans short story, starting with Thomas Francois Burgers (1863) and of necessity leaving out a few: Jacob Lub, PJ Philander, Adam Small, Toon van den Heever, George Weideman, Hennie Aucamp, Ina Rousseau, Ingrid Jonker, Etienne Leroux, Etienne van Heerden, Karel Schoeman, John Miles, André P Brink, Breyten Breytenbach, Elsa Joubert, Riana Scheepers, Emma Huysmans, Rachelle Greeff, Jeanne Goosen, Koos Prinsloo, Corlia Fourie, Rita Gilfillan, Jan Rabie, Izak de Vries. That brings us to the present. The novels of, amongst others, Brink and Joubert, are not yet included in the above, neither is the poetry of Breyten Breytenbach, Wilma Stockenström, Antjie Krog, George Weideman or MM Walters. If under "humanist tradition" something is understood of which the humanities and even dictionaries are unaware, please rephrase the question.


  2. Can you combine the writing of poetry with slave trading?

    In my imagination, yes, o yes, there's no sin on God's earth from which I would exclude poets. Digters is 'n wilde klomp: diewe, hoereerders en moordenaars! I'm telling you, some of them make slave traders and beneficiaries of Apartheid look like respected English gentlemen. (Which of course many of these traders and beneficiaries were.) On whether poetry and slave trading can be or were combined in history, English and American literature could probably provide a more informed answer.


  3. The way white writing envisaged the end of apartheid is different from the way black writing did. Is it impossible for writing to prevent the racist slant of the writer, given that writing has a humanist agenda which the writer might not share?

    The question starts with an interesting statement; could someone down the chain please elaborate on it? It goes without saying that one would expect a humanist agenda, as you call it, to prevent a racist slant in works. Whether in fact it does, requires a far better, a far more penetrating reading of individual works than is possible here. Just to whet your appetite: Why, for instance, does the excellence of composition in Jack Cope's "That tame ox" and in NP van Wyk Louw's Raka not succeed in "dissolving" (or turning around) the clichés used (or "quoted") in these works, whereas the very degrading cliché (of the forever drunken coloured man) in Boerneef's "Teen die helling" is absorbed in the vision of man as a stranger ("sonder 'n woord"- without a word) on an uncomforting earth? Knowledge of the author's sharing or not sharing the humanist agenda does not illuminate this problem. With these and similar problems nothing beats reading the works under discussion.


  4. Why did the humanities not humanise the proponents and managers of apartheid?

    Don't overestimate the zeal of politicians! These proponents and managers of our ancien regime listened to the radio; they read the Afrikaans papers to know what to think and the English papers to know when to sell. But much like some English academics (see, for instance, Prof Christopher Heywood's A History of South African Literature) they didn't read a lot of books.


  5. Why were the aparteid laws expressed in English when Afrikaans came to be seen as the language of apartheid?

    They were not. They were expressed in both Afrikaans and English.


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