Prominent poet denounces crime in SA

A well-known émigré South African writer has unleashed his pen against crime and corruption in his homeland in a United States magazine, prompting a rebuke from Nelson Mandela’s office.

In an open letter to Mandela in the December issue of Harper’s magazine, Breyten Breytenbach described horrific attacks on relatives and others in South Africa, saying they are evidence of “a society in profound disarray”.

And the poet, memoirist and one-time anti-apartheid activist charges that Mandela is doing little more than raising funds for his charities from celebrities “who treat you like some exotic teddy bear to slobber over”.

In a statement on Wednesday, the Nelson Mandela Foundation’s CEO said he shared Breytenbach’s “sense of horror at the brutality of the crimes he describes, though not necessarily the overall implication that our situation is irredeemable”.

Achmat Dangor took particular issue with Breytenbach’s depiction of Mandela, who is 90 years old, retired and increasingly reluctant to take a public role. Mandela has left it to his foundation to continue his development and aid work — and to fend off those who would exploit his name and reputation.

Dangor said Breytenbach depicted Mandela “as descending into frivolity while the country burns. In fact the opposite is true.”

Dangor said Mandela “has used that world stage, yes, often in glamorous surroundings and in the presence of celebrities to make some profound calls upon his fellow country people — and the world — to act, against Aids, against poverty and inequality, to resist oppression and injustice. And most importantly, for others to take responsibility, to show leadership and to be courageous in that leadership.”

Dangor called on Breytenbach to return to South Africa and help build the country.

Mandela “did not choose to be an icon”, Dangor said. “We South Africans turned him into one, perhaps so that we can absolve ourselves from taking responsibility for our own destiny.”

Breytenbach had been an outspoken critic of apartheid who served seven years in prison for treason, convicted in 1975 for assisting Mandela’s then-outlawed African National Congress in its sabotage campaign against the apartheid government.

Breytenbach left South Africa for Paris after his release from prison in 1982. He remained active in the anti-apartheid cause in exile, but has made his life abroad.

Breytenbach is perhaps best known for his account of his imprisonment and the events leading to it — Confessions of an Albino Terrorist. — Sapa-AP

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories


Subscribers only

Covid-overflow hospital in ruins as SIU investigates

A high-level probe has begun into hundreds of millions of rand spent by the Gauteng health department to refurbish a hospital that is now seven months behind schedule – and lying empty

Q&A Sessions: ‘I should have fought harder for SA vaccine’...

Professor Salim Abdool Karim talks to Nicolene de Wee about his responsibility as head of the ministerial advisory committee tasked with guiding the government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

More top stories

Children may benefit when parents share their digital gaming...

Digital games can provide forums for diverse groups of people to come together, which is especially important while our physical activities are restricted

‘No one took us seriously’: Black cops warned about racist...

Allegations of racism against the Capitol Police are nothing new: Over 250 Black cops have sued the department since 2001. Some of those former officers now say it’s no surprise white nationalists were able to storm the building

Pay-TV inquiry probes the Multichoice monopoly

Africa’s largest subscription television operator says it is under threat amid the emerging popularity of global platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime

​No apology or comfort as another Marikana mother dies without...

Nomawethu Ma’Bhengu Sompeta, whose funeral will be held this weekend, was unequivocal in calling out the government for its response to the Marikana massacre

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…