Category Archives: Excerpt

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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27 April 1994: Two Decades Later

27 April 1994SA 27 APRIL 1994: AN AUTHORS’ DIARY * ‘N SKRYWERSDAGBOEK (Queillerie, 1994)
Edited by André Brink

“…here was an opportunity for writers to test their word against, arguably, the most remarkable moment in their history.” André Brink in “To the Reader”, p. 8.

“Later, sun low, tide running out in me, I bus into the township shack of my dear love, my need of her never so strong.
[…]
She reads me, smiles, her eyes soft in the room’s dusk, her hands beckoning me to come.
‘It’s done,’ she whispers, ‘we have walked the last mile!’
Later still, I help her to the bed. We are careful with each other as though we hold a fine glass, and my heart sings.
Yes, against all odds, my heart sings.” Tatamkulu Afrika in “Against All Odds, My Heart Sings”, p. 13.

“Mens se hart is bly: niemand gaan hierdie stukkies toekoms wat die mense vashou weer kan wegneem nie. Byna wil ek sê: hierdie land se politici verdien wragtig nie so ‘n wonderlike bevolking nie.” Breyten Breytenbach in “Joernaal van ‘n wending”, p. 25.

“The day has been captured for me by the men and women who couldn’t read or write, but underwrote it, at last, with their kind of signature. May it be the seal on the end of illiteracy, of the pain of imposed ignorance, of the deprivation of the fullness of life.” Nadine Gordimer in “April 27: The First Time”, p. 52.

“We all know that it won’t be a smooth road ahead.” Jenny Hobbs in “The Day We Minded Our Peace in Queues”, p. 60.

“An Organisation must be disciplined, purposeful, and idealistic in a good sense. It must also be diverse, in that it must encompass others, beyond its own affiliates. It must be committed and dedicated to one goal and one goal only: to change the miserable conditions of people to enable them to live full and rich lives; it must inspire them to realise their full intellectual potential.” Mazisi Kunene, p. 73.

“My greatest victory and achievement as an individual is to know that my children and grandchildren and their age groups in my community move with grace and dignity as full-fledged citizens of South Africa, and with full rights to determine the future of our country.” Ellen Kuzwayo in “The First Democratic Elections in South Africa”, p. 80.

“Peace is like an undying light / Shining and glowing from within / Within each one of us” Gcina Mhlophe in “Peace Is Within”, p. 85.

“Perhaps it [Table Mountain] was reaffirming its old lesson on faith: on election day. That the future is there for us: we need to have faith in it, and in ourselves. And so I ended my day unemotionally, but deeply affirmed.” Njabulo S Ndebele in “Elections, Mountains, and One Voter”, p. 95.

“I picked up the pencil that was well chewed and attached to the makeshift desk by a length of string and put my cross, quickly, trying not to agonise about it yet again.” Mike Nicol in “Voting at the Camel Rock Café”, p. 98.

“Wanner iemand my vra wat dink ek van ons toekoms, dan antwoord ek ons mag die toekoms nie ken nie: so bly elke dag ‘n avontuur.” Jan Rabie, p. 108.

“So, Mammie en Derri, cheers! Ek leef – kyk, ek leef – in ‘n nuwe Suid-Afrika!” Adam Small in “Feniks: ‘n brief, kamma, aan my ouers (wat al dood is)”, p. 123.

“It was after three hours walking, at 7 am, that I cast my two votes at the Dwarsrivier polling station. It was quite clear that I was the very first person to vote there. No doubt the IEC staff manning the station had been expecting something extraordinary all along, but not for the first voter suddenly to appear, as I had done, out of the mountains behind the school-hall that served as the polling station.” Stephen Watson in “Voting With My Feet”, p. 162.

“Want vir die heel eerste keer in my lewe was ek ‘n vry Suid-Afrikaan.” Melvin Whitebooi in “Au revoir”, p. 171.

Contirbutors: Tatamkulu Afrika, Hennie Aucamp, Chris Barnard, Breyten Breytenbach, Kerneels Breytenbach, André Brink, Achmat Dangor, Abraham H de Vries, Arthur Goldstuck, Jeanne Goosen, Nadine Gordimer, Rachelle Greeff, Jenny Hobbs, Peter Horn, Daniel Hugo, Elsa Joubert, Antjie Krog, Mazisi Kunene, Ellen Kuzwayo, Dalene Matthee, Mzwakhe Mbuli, Gcina Mhlophe, Petra Müller, Njabulo S Ndebele, Mike Nicol, Welma Odendaal, Abraham Phillips, Marguerite Poland, Jan Rabie, Albie Sachs, Riana Scheepers, Gus Silber, Adam Small, Berta Smit, Peter Snyders, Klaas Steytler, Alexander Strachan, Pieter Dirk-Uys, Madeleine van Biljon, Marita van der Vyver, Marlene van Niekerk, Lettie Viljoen (Ingrid Winterbach), Stephen Watson, George Weideman, Melvin Whitebooi

The image with which Invisible Others began

Carolina by Marcello Tomassi

Carolina by Marcello Tomassi

He repeats the endearment and she seems to relax. “I like the Italian translation of my name better,” she tells him and agrees to meet him for lunch.

Konrad arrives a few minutes later with a basket full of goodies. He is wearing a simply cut blue linen shirt which makes his eyes shine. “I want you to meet someone today, someone very special,” he tells Cara.

“I’m not sure I am up to company.”

She is on the verge of changing her mind about going when Konrad reassures her, “I promise you’ll like her, a lot. Please don’t spoil the surprise,” he begs. She follows him reluctantly.

He takes her to a nearby city garden, the size of small backyard. They enter through a low iron gate. A clochard is sleeping on one of the few stone benches, the sun on his back. Some of the benches are formed in the shape of open books, Cara notices, and suddenly remembers that she’s stopped here once before on one of her walks when the granite books were covered with cushions of snow.

“I know this place. It was even charming in winter, but now it is …” She throws her hands up into the air and swirls around her own axis a few times. She is wearing a long flowery dress that hugs her hips and a dark grey cardigan which suddenly reminds Konrad of his mother. “All the pink blossoms,” she says and motions with her arms as if to embrace the trees. “Spring is definitely my favourite time of the year.”

“I thought you would like it here. Come,” he puts their basket on the nearest bench, but before Cara can sit down, he leads her away to a corner of the park.

“Cara – Carusia,” he corrects himself and lets go of her elbow, “this is Carolina.”

Cara finds herself facing a black statue of a young girl, with a firm look in her stone eyes and a certain defiance in her posture. The weight of her body rests on one leg; both her hands are carelessly placed on the curves of her small but already rounded hips, the left hand clasping one hip, the right leaning against the other with the back of her palm. With her shoulders pulled back, the young girl exposes her budding breasts without any trace of shyness or shame.

“Sculpted by Marcello Tomassi in 1968,” Cara reads the inscription and walks around the statue, touching the fingers of the hand turned away from the body, palm up. “I haven’t noticed her before,” she says, and continues after a brief silence. “While Paris was on the barricades, Signor Tomassi was living out his sexual fantasies.” She lets go of the girl’s hand. “I’ve got an idea.” She moves away to search for something in the basket, finds a red apple, and places it in the girl’s open palm; the colour of the fruit in stark contrast with the black body of the statue. “Now, we can call her Eve,” Cara proclaims and returns to their bench to unpack the rest of the picnic.

Konrad picks some magnolia petals off the ground, holds them in his fist, looking at Cara, busying herself with the food he’d prepared.

“A wonderful treat,” she says and motions for him to come over, biting into one of the other apples.

Konrad releases the petals from his hand, and watches the crushed flowers slowly fall through his fingers before he retrieves the apple from Carolina and joins Cara on the bench.

So many things left unsaid. Konrad feels the weight beginning to crush him while Cara continues preparing their meal. Weeks have gone by without him being able to ask anything that he truly wanted to know and not daring to talk about his own past. My train keeps on somehow departing without me, Konrad thinks. But every time he wants to bring things to a head, Cara either vanishes without explanation, or she is there, with all her abandon and joy – like now, chatting away about the flowers she has planted in the pots outside her window and about the latest word count of her novel – and it does not make sense to disrupt the moment. Sharing these simplest things with her makes all his anxieties dissipate. He is scared to push her away, of losing what they have, even though he cannot define what it is. He only knows that it is not enough, and the desire for more is gradually becoming impossible to bear.