Nelson Mandela brought the poetry of Ingrid Jonker to the attention of South Africa and the wider world when he read her poem “Die kind” (The Child) at the opening of South Africa’s first democratic parliament on May 24, 1994. Though Jonker was already a significant figure in South African literary circles, Mandela’s reference contributed to a revival of interest in Jonker and her work that continues to this day.
Viljoen’s biography illuminates the brief and dramatic life of Jonker, who created a literary oeuvre—as searing in its intensity as it is brief—before taking her own life at the age of thirty-one. Jonker wrote against a background of escalating apartheid laws, violent repression of black political activists, and the banning of the African National Congress and the Pan Africanist Congress. Viljoen tells the story of Ingrid Jonker in the political and cultural context of her time, provides sensitive insights into her poetry, and considers the reasons for the enduring fascination with her life and death.
Her writings, her association with bohemian literary circles, and her identification with the oppressed brought her into conflict with her father, a politician in the white ruling party, and with other authority figures from her Afrikaner background. Her life and work demonstrate the difficulty and importance of artistic endeavor in a place of terrible conflict.
Louise Viljoen teaches in the Department of Afrikaans and Dutch at Stellenbosch University in South Africa. She is well known as a literary critic and book reviewer, and has recently published a study of Antjie Krog, a prominent contemporary South African poet, writer, and academic, best known for her book, Country of My Skull. More info →
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Every city has an unspoken side. Cape Town, between the picture postcard mountain and sea, has its own shadow: a place of dislocation and uncertainty, dependence and desperation, destruction and survival, gangsters, pimps, pedophiles, hunger, hope, and moments of happiness.
The human rights movement in South Africa’s transition to a postapartheid democracy has been widely celebrated as a triumph for global human rights. It was a key aspect of the political transition, often referred to as a miracle, which brought majority rule and democracy to South Africa. The country’s new constitution, its Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and the moral authority of Nelson Mandela stand as exemplary proof of this achievement.
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