The art of saam-mekaar-andersmaak: Breyten Breytenbach in response to Lis Lange's letter

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Dear Professor Lange

Thank you for taking up the cudgels for Professor Jansen. (I believe your letter was translated – with a slip or two. For instance, one would “vel ’n oordeel”, not “fel”, even though the verdict may be fierce at times. Would it not be easier if we were to trade the skin of our interaction in English?)

Before touching on the cause of your concern, I would like to query your description of my thinking as “eng” (it must have been something like “narrow-minded” or “restricted” in the original). Bit of a shortcut? I would have thought that, with age, it is clear that I lean over backward – perhaps to make up for the stoop brought about by looking for the way – in an attempt to accommodate the complexity of positions and convictions encountered here. The words that come to mind, I admit, are rather “blustering” and “blathering”, sorry to say. But surely, it is not because we may disagree in our assessments of what we see around us that my thinking has shrunk? Still, who knows? Perhaps the eng road is the obligatory passage to becoming amply Engels?

It may be slightly displeasing to know that my passing reference to Professor Jansen’s book Knowledge in the Blood. Confronting Race and the Apartheid Past was not in any sense the subject or the focus of my submission to the Convocation of Stellenbosch University. The theme I tried to speak to was the nature of the space, ideally one of dialogue, in which conversations about languages at tertiary institutions of education take place.

The passage in question suggested that the regrettable Nazi-like uttering of the vice-chancellor of your university (as inferred in the title of his book) carries the assertion that racism is in the blood of the whitish Afrikaner. I asked, rhetorically, whether this could be the case. For are we then not alluding to an “impure race”? Why not deduce that the cockroaches ought to have yellow stars pinned to their safari jackets to facilitate identification? And I concluded my little aside by saying that to be racist in any form or expression does not mean that one is exercising one’s freedom of speech: racism is not an opinion but a crime.

You’ll agree with me, Ms Lange, that the references resonate with unbearable historical events where segments of mankind driven by mad ideologies always positing the elimination of the Other showed the worst we as a species are capable of. To stigmatise people, to essentialise them as group, is to initiate a perception that would delegitimise their existence. To ascribe to them generalised characteristics and attitudes – even if you wrap your approach in an academic cloak by suggesting that this “troubled knowledge” afflicting white Afrikaner youth, the ostensible subject of the professor’s study, is transmitted through “the family, the church, cultural associations and the peer group” – must, as logical conclusion and inevitable inference, become the populist discourse of exclusion that we risk again in this country. (In Rwanda the Tutsis were called cockroaches by those in power in order to prepare the conditions for an ethnic cleansing. And we should react with indignation to what is being done to the Kurdish people in Turkey and to the Palestinian people occupied in the Bantustans imposed by Israel. Because we know. We’ve been there.)

I am not saying this is what Professor Jansen propounds. But the axiomatic assumption suggested by “knowledge in the blood” (and note that there was no question mark) reeks to me of the implication that there is a category of the “born guilty” that needs to be studied and understood and converted because they carry in the blood, genetically therefore, the taint of racism. It is, of course, the same blood that Professor Jansen and I have coursing in our veins and that we share with mankind – if you’ll allow this whitish pot to call a similarly whitish kettle black …

Given the level of wilful intolerance in this country – now presented as “pragmatism” and “making up for past injustices” – against the backdrop of a cadredom of robbers who have stolen power in the name of a people’s struggle for justice and dignity, and this in an environment where there’s neither political probity nor ethical guidance, I think the title of Professor Jansen’s book, and the discourse of exclusion purveyed by it, is an opportunistic but poisonous brown herring drawn over inflammable ground. It should be reasonable to expect of a person with academic and pedagogical responsibilities and renown not to inflame a situation already fraught with the generalised ressentiment of a generation left in the lurch by rapacious “leaders”.

Let us be clear – even if expressed in Globish: I abhor apartheid and the evil wreaked by it – the killing, the torture, the mass removal of people, the humiliation and the indignity, but also the relativist morality and the stunted imagination and the racism it engendered. Yes, we are still living with the consequences. But equally fiercely I’ll oppose and fight with all the cultural means at my disposal (including language) this reactionary majoritarianism which is the continuation of the spirit and even the realities of apartheid by other means – this politically correct smarminess that comes with the notion that salvation, nation-building, progress, anti-colonialism, the regaining of agency, progress … are posited on the elimination of the Other. We just cannot deny the hybrid nature of our history and present reality. We will have to practise the complicated and never-ending dialectic between the specificities of diversity and the encompassing values that make a true mending of our wounds possible. We are obliged to bring to life the political, economic, social and cultural art of saam-mekaar-andersmaak.

Of more immediate concern are the decisions apparently about to be made – or already made – about language policy at your university. It would seem that the “extra mile” of diversity and thus allowing students to develop to the fulness of their possibilities is about to be sacrificed as an ersatz solution to much more serious systemic inequality.

This “pea-under-the-cup” situation, I submit in all sincerity, is what the vice-chancellor ought to be applying the broadness of his mind and the amplitude of his proven empathy to. But the dice are rolled, are they not? The good professor, in his essentialist view of “the Afrikaner”, seems to be of the opinion that people who support the retention of Afrikaans as a language of tertiary education will not be motivated by the constitutional principle of language rights but, in reality, by the defence of “race” and “culture”, “racialised claims of supremacy”, “ethnicised claims for protection” and “keeping blacks out of white schools”. Other than being gobsmacked by the derivations of this knowledge in the blood, I’d like to suggest to the professor that this must be a textbook case of serving unadulterated male bovine manure on the platter of political expediency.

Today I heard the news that Algeria – another example of how a “national liberation movement” fired by once noble idealism and a quest for justice attempted to centralise a diverse country by doing away with doubt and opposition and questioning, only to plunge their people into a bloody civil war – has decreed that Berber will henceforth have the same rights and recognition as Arabic. One presumes that this includes the right for Berber to be taught and used as a means of communication, even in the universities!

Now why would South Africa decide to go the opposite, reactionary, outdated, self-negating way of trying to impose the hegemony of the imperial tongue? As if that would somehow hide the real problems that we avoid facing at our peril!


Breyten Breytenbach

US-konvokasie 2016

Die Viserektor van die UV se reaksie op Breytenbach se US Konvokasietoespraak

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"Knowledge in the blood is 'n navorsingsgebaseerde studie om te probeer verstaan waarom 'n geslag van jong wit Suid-Afrikaners wat nog nooit apartheid of die mees traumatiese aspekte van die Afrikanergeskiedenis beleef het nie, so gegrond is in 'n diskoers van identiteit, vrees, wanhoop en bitterheid."

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    Rusty van Druten

    "Other than being gobsmacked by the derivations of this knowledge in the blood, I’d like to suggest to the professor that this must be a textbook case of serving unadulterated male bovine manure on the platter of political expediency". Amen.

  • As ek reg verstaan sê Breytenbach dat Jansen sê dat Afrikanerkinders is patologiese rassiste?: "But the axiomatic assumption suggested by “knowledge in the blood” (and note that there was no question mark) reeks to me of the implication that there is a category of the “born guilty” that needs to be studied and understood and converted because they carry in the blood, genetically therefore, the taint of racism." Dis nou 'n rektor aan 'n universiteit - waar die patologiese rassiste studeer?

  • Ek weet nie wat Prof Jansen of Lange geskryf het nie, maar myns insiens is die probleem met Afrikaans nie dat dit die regering of die Engelse of die anderstaliges is wat van Afrikaans probeer ontslae raak nie.
    Daar is 'n bietjie daarvan, maar dit traak hulle min en in 20 jaar kon min mense die energie opwerk om 'n erns daarvan te maak nie.
    Die werklike probleem is dat die Afrikaners van Afrikaans ontslae wil raak.
    Net soos Xhosa en Zulu ouers hul kinders Engels grootmaak, so wil jong Afrikaners in Engels leer vir die uiteindelike werk in Kanada of Engeland wat hulle voorsien.
    Afrikaanse universiteite lek hulle lippe af vir die George Soros / Bill Gates geleenthede wat hul verbygaan en dink met sterre in hul oë aan hulself as die moontlike "African Harvard" - was dit net nie vir die [email protected]#$% taal wat so pla nie.
    Ons self is die probleem.

    • Inderdaad is ons self die probleem wat darem een ligpuntjie tot gevolg het: As Afrikaans verdwyn (soos grootliks alreeds in die Kaap aan die gang is), is dit ons verdiende loon.
      Ironies, daar waar die taalmonument staan, daar kwyn Afrikaans.

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    Dr B du Plessis

    Ek is ’n wetenskaplike en was nog nooit goed met woorde nie, maar sjoe, Mnr Breytenbach, ek haal my hoed af vir jou. Jy kan woorde hetsy in Afrikaans of Engels ongelooflik gebruik en bemeester. Ek was te jonk om te verstaan, toe ek op laerskool was en my neef moes sin maak uit jou bundel " Die ysterkoei moet sweet" toe hy op Universiteit was. 'Dit gesê moet ek ’n meester met woorde ag.

  • Education, education, education of high quality - also for those responsible for educating the young still seems like a beacon of hope.

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    Dr. Johannes van der Merwe (teoloog)

    Die vraag is nie of iemand oor taal en kultuur uitgesluit kan of moet word nie, maar of ons dan nie die beste opleiding vir mekaar in belang van die land en mens-ontwikkeling gun nie. Joseph Stiglitz se THE GREAT DIVIDE is gerig teen toestande in die VSA. Maar hier in SA is ons ewe moeg vir taal-oorloë afgedwing op minderhede, maar wat kan jy verwag as staatsgeld gelaai word met 20 teen 2 universiteite, wat ook onder druk verkeer. In 'n wêreld, wat uitmunt in sosiale media- en wetenskaplike ontwikkeling, kan tog seker beplan word dat elke indiwidu in eie taal bedien word. Mits natuurlik bronne, lees fondse, reg bestuur word. Breyten en Joseph skiet in die kol. Hulle kon nog net die geestelike aspek geopper het waaraan die wêreld so mank gaan. Sagaria (Bybel) toon aan dat hierdie probleem so oud is as die berge; 10:6, wat meld dat 'die land uitmekaar geslaan word' en 10:8b 'en laat die wat oorbly mekaar opvreet'.

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    francois verster

    Ons nasionale dialoog handel oor groepe se kultuur-opvattings (perspektiewe, waardes, ens) bowenal, en dan tree veralgemenings gedurig in - omdat ons mekaar steeds swak ken: ons probeer mekaar verstaan deur nogmaals deur ons eie kultuurbrille te kyk, en ons dink ander dink soos ons en dit werk steeds nie. Een ding moet elk tog opper: ons gee voor almal is mos dieselfde, so hoekom sal almal nie rassiste wees as almal dan dieselfde is nie? Of is die een groep bloot bose karikature en die ander nie? Daar is nie 'n one size fits all nie, ons moet ruimte maak vir verskille en mekaar sodoende respekteer.

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    Rentia Landman

    Dankie Breyten dat jy jou uitmuntende gebruik van woorde aanwend om ons ander se mondstuk te wees as 'n skildvel teen die aanslag op ons taal en Afrikanersiel.

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    Etienne Viviers

    How unfortunate that Breyten Breytenbach would make such an unfair axiomatic assumption about Jansen's book. Then again, one could make an equally unfair axiomatic assumption when reading the following famous quotation of Breytenbach's:
    "We are a bastard people with a bastard language. Our nature is bastardy. It is good and beautiful thus. We should be compost, decomposing to be able to combine again in other forms. Only, we have walked into the trap of the bastard who has acquired power. In that part of our blood which comes from Europe was the curse of superiority. We wanted to justify our power. And to do that we had to consolidate our supposed tribal identity. We had to fence off, defend, offend. We had to entrench our otherness while retaining at the same time what we had won. We made our otherness the norm, the standard – and the ideal. And because our otherness is maintained at the expense of our fellow South Africans – and our South Africanhood – we felt threatened. We built walls. Not cities, but city walls. And like bastards – uncertain of their identity – we began to adhere to the concept of purity. That is apartheid. Apartheid is the law of the bastard."
    Breyten Breytenbach, A Season In Paradise, p 156

    • Nav hierdie skrywes oor "bastards", verwys ek na dieselfde onderwerp in 'n breer konteks by die webadres:
      Laasgenoemde webskakel verskaf vars perspektiewe as volg (opgesom in engels):
      Sloterdijk covers in short order the subjects: Avoidable WW1, genealogy, bastards, the conservative 21st century, European rogue nations, rage, virtue, cultural subversions invading law making, destabilization as a state of stability, etc.

  • Ettienne, would you please enlighten us without making sweeping statements and without relying on any assumptions (axiomatic or not), but merely by providing arguments and examples why Breyten made "an unfair axiomatic assumption about Jansen's book", so that we can all obviously see what message prof Jansen obviously meant to convey with his book AND the title thereof?(Without the question mark of course.)
    As an afterthought, you are also welcome to give us "an unfair axiomatic assumption " of Breyten's famous quotation, which obviously refers to Apartheid and a time long gone, when as he says, bastard of European origin had the political power, so that we can compare it with Breyten's alleged injustice towards prof Jansen's book, which obviously also refers to the same bastards of European origin, only in the current state of affairs. We may all learn from you regarding this obviously confusing state of unfairness.

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    Johannes Comestor

    Enigeen wat met 'n mate van rasionele ewewig Jonathan Jansen se boek, Knowledge in the blood, lees, sal myns insiens nie vir Breyten Breytenbach van 'n "unfair axiomatic assumption" beskuldig nie. As iemand nie die boek kan of wil lees nie, lees dan ten minste die aanhalings in my skrywe, "Jansenistiese bloedkennis", LitNet 28.10.2009.

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    Etienne Viviers

    My vorige kommentaar was geredigeer deur die persoon wat hierdie webwerf se reaksies moet goedkeur vir publikasie. Dis te verstane dat sulke redigering dikwels nodig is, maar in hierdie geval het dit ongelukkig 'n bydrae gemaak tot die indruk van 'n sweeping statement.
    Breytenbach het self na axiomatic assumptions verwys; watookal dit veronderstel is om te beteken. My punt was dat dit onregverdig is om 'n axiomatic assumption te maak dat Jansen met sy titel beskuldigend na 'n outomatiese rassisme in die Afrikaner se bloed verwys, net soos wat dit onregverdig sou wees om 'n axiomatic assumption te maak dat Breytenbach met sy aanhaling beskuldigend na 'n outomatiese rassisme in die Afrikaner se bloed verwys.
    My vorige gepubliseerde kommentaar het geen verwysing gemaak na een of ander idee dat Breytenbach se injustice teenoor Jansen se boek te doen het met bastards in die current state of affairs nie. Daar is niks wat Marius by my kan leer oor so 'n confusing state of unfairness nie, omdat ek nie daardie spesifieke gevolgtrekking maak nie.

    • Luister swaer, gaan soek daardie onnie op wat vir jou die vak Afrikaans gegee het en bliksem hom; hy't nie sy werk gedoen nie.

  • Etienne, sê asseblief kortliks vir ons wat prof Jansen se bevinding oor Afrikaners was na sy deeglike navorsing en hoekom het sy boek se titel nie 'n vraagteken as hy nie bedoel presies wat dit sonder 'n vraagteken sê nie?
    Breyten en prof Jansen praat wat my betref, oor dieselfde baster Afrikaners(soos Breyten hulle noem) - wie anders Etienne? Breyten het net sy mening in 1980 op die hoogtepunt van Apartheid uitgespreek en Jansen syne in 2012 - meer as 40 jaar later en lank na 1994. Het niks dan intussen verander nadat die Afrikaner sy politieke mag verloor het nie Ettiene? Niemand kan vir my sê wat prof Jansen se bevinding tov die Afrikaner was nie en daarom aanvaar ek voorlopig Breyten en Johannes Comestor se gevolgtrekking totdat die teendeel bewys word.
    Etienne , ongelukkig het jy self op 3 Maart "daardie spesifieke gevolgtrekking" oor Breyten se "unfair axiomatic assumption about Jansen's book" gemaak en daarom het ek vir jou besonderhede gevra oor hierdie beweerde "state of unfairness" wat ek dit by wyse van woordspeling genoem het.

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