The African National Congress and the Democratic Alliance continued their traditional squabbling on Friday — turning their attention this time to South Africa’s latest Nobel Prize-winner, author JM Coetzee.
In a media statement released on Friday, a day after Coetzee won the prestigious literature accolade, the opposition DA insisted the ruling party owed the celebrated author an apology for its April 2000 attack on his Booker Prize-winning novel Disgrace.
In turn the ANC said it stood by its criticism of the book, but that Coetzee still deserved congratulations, and praise.
The DA said the ANC had declared, at the Human Rights Commission’s 2000 hearings on racism in the media, that Disgrace — Coetzee’s novel first to be set explicitly in post-apartheid South Africa — had suggested white South Africans should emigrate.
“In the novel … it is suggested that our white compatriots should emigrate because to be in post-apartheid South Africa is to be in ‘their territory’, as a consequence of which the whites will lose … their dignity,” the ANC reportedly said to the commission.
It was because of statements such as these, the DA insisted, that the ANC’s sudden enthusiasm for Coetzee rang hollow.
“Before offering JM Coetzee the congratulations which he is certainly due, the ANC and President Thabo Mbeki first owe him an apology,” the DA’s human rights spokesperson, Dene Smuts, said.
The ANC, however, insisted there would be no apology issued and none was due.
“We still stand by what we said but we highly appreciate his achievement as well,” said ANC spokesperson Smuts Ngonyama.
Ngonyama explained that just as the ruling party recognised former president FW de Klerk’s Nobel Peace Prize, without recognising or condoning his racist government, it recognised and appreciated Coetzee’s work without condoning Disgrace.
“We highly appreciate his [Coetzee’s] work as a son of this soil and believe that all of us must congratulate him [but] we stand by what we said and there will be no apology.
“In fact, who has actually apologised for all the killings of the apartheid regime, who has explicitly apologised for that?” Ngonyama asked.
He also accused the DA of cowardice, saying if they had a problem with the ANC’s critique, they should have taken issue with the party at the time instead of making opportunistic, retrospective statements at a time when the party was congratulating the author in earnest.
Meanwhile, the South African Communist Party added its voice on Friday to the chorus of congratulations being issued to the revered author, saying they saluted Coetzee for his consistent and penetrating analysis and critique of social injustice.
“He joins the likes of Chief Albert Luthuli, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela and others who are a special group of South Africans who have been recognised internationally for their role in the complex social drama unfolding in our country, continent and world,” said SACP spokesperson Mazibuko Jara. — Sapa