White Anti-Apartheid Poet Gets Rich S. African Literary Prize
Breyten Breytenbach, a white anti-apartheid poet who was jailed for seven years on a terrorism conviction, was awarded South Africa’s richest literary prize Saturday for poems he wrote while in prison.
In the prepared text of his acceptance speech, he addressed fellow Afrikaners, saying: “Apartheid separates you from your human dignity and your self-respect.”
“We’ve run out of time because the madness of this state, an anomaly and an anachronism, is deadly dangerous,” he continued. “It spells dislocation to neighboring countries, genocide for the majority, the destruction of those--you--in whose name state terrorism is being committed.”
Breytenbach, 45, has lived in Paris since his release from prison in 1982. He returned to South Africa for the first time since then to accept the first-ever Rapport Prize for Literature.
The prize, worth $7,350, was established this year by the generally pro-government Afrikaans-language Sunday newspaper Rapport. Breytenbach won for a volume of poetry called “yk” that is not overtly political and touches on a wide variety of themes.
“I came because I am irrevocably tied to Africa, because I identify with the liberation struggle of the South Africans,” he said at the award ceremony in the State Theater in Pretoria.
Breytenbach was convicted in 1975 of assisting the outlawed African National Congress in its fight against South Africa’s race segregation policy, under which South Africa’s 5 million whites dominate and deny the vote to the 25 million blacks.
A second book by Breytenbach, “Lewendood,” was among the seven finalists for the Rapport Prize. Both it and “yk” were written in Afrikaans.
Breytenbach also has published a work in English, “Confessions of an Albino Terrorist,” which describes his imprisonment and the events leading to it.