Afrikaans writer loses award over comments on black people

The SA Literary Awards (Sala) has withdrawn its award for Annelie Botes, writer of the highly acclaimed Thula Thula, for saying she did not like black people.

“The South African Literary Awards (Sala) is outraged by the alleged racist remarks that are part of Ms Annelie Botes’ interview with the Rapport newspaper of 20th November 2010,” chairman Zodwa Motsa said in a statement sent to Sapa and distributed on the Internet.

Her remarks were restated in an interview with the Mail & Guardian published on November 26.

In a follow-up interview with the M&G she said she would not “back-pedal” over her comments.

“Sala’s advisory board and its partners are concerned that Ms Botes’ alleged racist remarks may disgrace the awards. It is therefore against this background that Sala hereby distances itself from such alleged racist utterances attributed to her.”

“Sala abhors any form of discrimination, whether based on race, skin colour and gender. On the basis of the above, Sala board therefore withdraws the award which had been conferred upon Ms Botes.”

The initial position of a Sala judge interviewed by the M&G was that the prize was awarded purely on merit. “[The award] has nothing to do with her personal life, it’s about the literary merit of the book,” said the judge, who asked not to be named.

Botes, whose book Thula Thula on incest and child abuse received rave reviews, was recently announced winner of the K Sello Duiker Memorial Award from Sala.

But a letter was sent to her on Tuesday, a day before the awards banquet, to inform her it had now been withdrawn.

She told the Sowetan newspaper she would not comment—“because it’s my privilege not to want to comment”.

The Afrikaans writer landed in the hot water last month after she said in an interview published in Rapport newspaper that she did not like black people.

She was subsequently fired as columnist from the Burger Oos newspaper.

Asked by Rapport newspaper to name the people she doesn’t like, she replied, “black people”.

Rapport conducted an interview with her because of the announcement that she had won the K Sello Duiker award for Thula Thula, which has sold 34 000 copies.

Botes (53) told the paper: “I am now going to be terribly honest. And let it shock this country. I do not like black people. I don’t understand them ... I know they are people like me, I know they have the same rights as me. But I do not understand them. And then ... I don’t like them. I avoid them, because I am afraid of them.

“My neighbour was brutally murdered. Why? If black people are hungry, why don’t they just break in like in the old days, empty out the fridge and then leave?”

In the same interview, Botes told how she played with coloured friends as a child and how she was once fired as church secretary for criticising the church cleaner’s low salary increase.

She criticised both the current government and the apartheid government.

“I suspect black people are no longer furious with white people, but instead they are furious with their own government, and now they are taking it out on white people,” Botes said in the interview.

She confirmed her comments to the Mail & Guardian a few days later.

“I don’t want to back pedal over my comments. It’s the truth,” she said.

“A friend of mine had a saying: sometimes you chop wood and you don’t consider where the splinters will land ... Maybe it was impulsive — and maybe it’s unfair to put all black people under one umbrella. Naturally, there are a lot of black people that I like very much. But I certainly meant what I said.”

The social networking site Twitter was abuzz on Thursday with the news of the withdrawal of the award. Some comments were supportive of her, others said she deserved to lose the award.

On the Daily Maverick website, columnist Xhanti Payi recently published an open letter to Botes.

In the letter, he said her comments had sparked interesting and necessary debate, inviting her to try and get to know black people.

“I read that you were hesitant to express your views and sentiments even though they are genuine. That’s only natural, since you knew it would put you in disfavour. But I remind you, you were brave and patriotic. These will be very difficult times for you, but take heed in the words of Amilcar Cabral, ‘Tell no lies, claim no easy victories’,” wrote Payi.

“All sorts of people will now attack you.

“There will be the ever-arrogant and patronising white people who will publicly rebuke you, insisting that they have changed and no longer see any colour since we are all the same and equal. On the opposite end, will be the insecure black people who get hurt every time a white person speaks their mind.

“Their feelings are not your responsibility. As Dr Phil in America would advise, they must own their feelings. You spoke your truth, they must take responsibility for their feeling. You don’t have to like them. It’s their problem that they want you to like them,” wrote Payi.

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