DAY ONE, SATURDAY 15 APRIL 2006

In 2006, for a week André kept a diary for Libération. This is the first entry of the week:

A good way to start my writer’s week: at a height of 11000 metres, flying over Africa. After ten days with my fiancée in Austria, I am returning to Cape Town. After the intense green of a Europe emerging from the snow, there is the familiar patchwork of browns and ochres. Back to roots: my own, and those of humanity. I have never felt a split between Africa and Europe inside me: what for some people is an experience of cultural and moral schizophrenia, has always been for me a source of richness and discovery. Both are part of me, both feed into me, both shape me and define me. If my physical birth is linked to the arid landscape of the Orange Free State, where everything was determined by the sense of space, by the endless distance between here (wherever ‘here’ was) and the horizon, by thorn trees, and fierce sunsets, and the hard omnipresence of stone, by ‘Bushman’ engravings on rocks and the traces of ancient fossils encrusted in hard places, my emotional birth (as I have often testified) happened at the time of the Sharpeville massacre, on a bench in the Luxembourg Garden.

And here Africa is below me again, its contours softened by distance, its suffering made dream-like, its cruelties and deprivations obscured by haze. Which seems like a metaphor for the distance and the haze that all too often, for all too many people, hide or distort the stark facts of the continent from the European gaze. How easy it is to see Africa as a scene of hopeless misery, a history of loss and failure, a disgrace to humanity. And yet this is where we all have our origin. This seemingly barren, useless tract of earth is our common mother; her vastness and relentlessness have nourished us, and taught us to survive. And for those of us who are prepared to remove the blinkers and dark glasses that protect our spoilt eyes, she is, still, a source of generosity and understanding, forgiveness and courage and strength. And, yes, of hope. Because she guards the source of what we have in mind when we speak of ‘humanity’: the wisdom of suffering that has endured through millennia, of humour that can smile at human folly and shortsightedness, of timeless faith in a future as long and as sure as the past. After exploitation and colonisation and oppression and contempt, she is indomitable rather than hard-headed, redeemed by agony rather than immersed in self-pity, prepared to share rather than to cherish herself, not vengeful but forgiving, filled not with despair but with hope, not with passivity but with the passion of faith.

It is home, and I am heading back to it.

– André Brink

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