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André Brink (1935 - 2015)

The Order of Ikhamanga in

André Brink (1935 - 2015) Awarded for:
Excellent contribution to literature and fighting for a just and democratic society.

Profile of André Brink

André Brink was born in 1935 in Vrede, in the then Orange Free State, into a community imbued with the ideology of apartheid. His mother was a schoolteacher and his father a magistrate, from whom he imbibed a sense of justice. He attended high school in Lydenburg.

His interest in writing came from his parents' appreciation for Shakespeare and Dickens and he was driven to write when he discovered 'the musicality and cadence' of Afrikaans. He published his first poem in a children's magazine at the age of nine. When he was 12 years old, his father typed out his first 300-page manuscript of a novel.

Brink paid his way through university by selling short stories and poems. He graduated from Potchefstroom University in 1959 with MA degrees in both English and Afrikaans and went on to do postgraduate research at the Sorbonne in Paris, France.

Writer Albert Camus and the ideas he encountered in Paris influenced him and he spurned the traditional Afrikaans narrative of conservative nationalism. In Paris, Brink met black people on equal terms for the first time. He was shocked to read about the massacre in Sharpeville in 1960. These experiences were to influence Brink acutely.

On his return to South Africa in 1961, he taught at Rhodes University in Grahamstown and endeavoured to expose himself to the condition of black South Africans under aparthied.Together with other Afrikaner writers, like Breyten Breytenbach, Brink established the Sestigers ('sixty-ers') - a literary movement that questioned the established doctrine of apartheid. Members of the group found their writing condemned by the Church in South Africa and had their books publicly burned.

In 1967, Brink returned to Paris with the intention of staying for good. However, the radical Paris uprisings of May 1968 made him question his own conscience and responsibility as a writer. He returned to his home country committed to the antiapartheid struggle. His first novel after his return, Looking on Darkness (1974), boldly criticised apartheid laws and became the first novel in Afrikaans to be banned.

Despite harassment by the security police who would among other things, confiscate his typewriters, Brink continued to articulate the experience of apartheid. Through vilification by the Afrikaans establishment, Brink lost his main reading audience. Ironically, as a consequence his banned book was translated into English and published internationally.

After that, Brink continued to write his novels in his beloved Afrikaans but would do an English translation thereof. Later he graduated to writing in both languages so that two original books were freshly created.

In addition to 17 novels, his work includes plays, short stories, essays and Afrikaans translations of literary works. His novels have been translated into 26 languages and he has twice been shortlisted for the Booker Prize. One of his novels, A Dry White Season, was made into a film starring Marlon Brando.

Among his many prizes are the Martin Luther King Memorial Prize, the Prix Médicis Étranger for the best translated literature and the South African CNA Award (three times).

Brink has also been made a Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters by the French Government and been awarded its Legion of Honour. In 1992, he was awarded a Human Rights Award by the University of Uppsala for his contribution to making known the injustice of apartheid to the wider world.

André Brink, a major South African writer whose work has shaken conscience and culture in Afrikanerdom, contributed significantly to the cause against apartheid. With democracy, he now sees no further need to be overtly political in his writing and feels a new freedom to write whatever he feels like.

At 71, he continues to write and is Professor Emeritus of English at the University of Cape Town.