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Elisabeth Françoise Eybers Eybers (1915 - )

The Order of Ikhamanga in

Elisabeth Françoise Eybers Eybers (1915 - ) Awarded for:
Breaking through the gender barriers and exceptionally contributing to the literature genre of poetry, especially reflecting on gender issues, and raising awareness about the evils of the apartheid system.

Profile of Elisabeth Françoise Eybers Eybers

Elisabeth Françoise Eybers was born on 16 February 1915 in the small town of Klerksdorp, in the then Western Transvaal. Her father was a minister with the Dutch Reformed Church and, because of his vocation; she grew up in Schweizer-Reneke.

After completing her high school at the age of 16 years, Eybers enrolled at the University of the Witwatersrand in the Bachelor of Arts programme. She completed the degree cum laude and took up a career as a journalist.

Eybers’ prolific writing has earned her a special place among those who have made a notable contribution to the enrichment of poetry. Her career in this field spans 70 years. During this time, she has produced 21 volumes of work and has been the recipient of several prestigious awards, both in South Africa and in the Netherlands.

Eybers enjoys the unique position of being generally regarded as the first Afrikaans female poet. She is thus acclaimed for giving a voice to women in the traditionally male-dominated Afrikaans writing culture. With the exception of a few bilingual volumes, she consistently wrote in her mother tongue, Afrikaans – an important demonstration of her unflinching commitment to the development of the language.

Her poetry provides a mirror image of various stages in a woman’s life – beginning with the first awareness of femininity in Belydenis in die Skemering, published in 1936. The experiences of a blossoming young woman and mother are aptly captured and portrayed in Die Stil Avontuur, published in 1939. Die Vrou en Ander Verse (1945) tells a moving story of a woman as the protector and bearer of life, and her animosity towards death, the destroyer.

Eybers has not avoided sensitive political questions. In the 1980s, when international condemnation against apartheid was on the increase, she openly criticised the Dutch government for being prejudicial and hypocritical in its stance towards South Africa.

Eybers made history when she became the first woman to win the Hertzog Prize in 1943. She won this prize again in 1971. The Hertzog Prize is regarded as one of the highest honours that can be bestowed on an Afrikaans author, and for an author to win it twice, is an exceptional accomplishment.

Despite continuing to write in Afrikaans after she relocated to the Netherlands, she is also lauded and recognised as a poet of high standing in that country. In 1974, Eybers was awarded the Herman Gorter Award and she received the Constantijn Huygens Award in 1978. In 1991, Eybers was awarded the most prestigious Dutch literary award, the PC Hooft Prize, in recognition of her lifetime achievements.

Elisabeth Françoise Eybers has made a titanic contribution to South African literature in her 70-year long writing career. She has succeeded in promoting and inspiring respect for one of South Africa’s indigenous languages, Afrikaans. She is a trailblazer of her generation, being the first and one of the most prolific Afrikaans female poets who, for the first time, found a representative voice that emanated from the very core of her heart.

In 1937, Eybers married a businessman, Albert Wessels, and the two were blessed with four children. The couple divorced in 1961, after which Eybers relocated to the Netherlands where she continues to live.

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