Have you ever given much thought to poets who are proudly South African? One name that comes to mind is Ingrid Jonker. Ingrid is a poet who, through her words and her ties to SA, reminds one just how important it is to stay true to their roots (or at least value them).
When talking about famous people from South Africa, Ingrid Jonker is a name that consistently comes up, which is astounding when you consider that she was a small-town girl. Born (in the 1930s) and raised in the rural town of Douglas (close to Kimberly) in the Northern Cape, it is heartwarming to hear her compared to the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Virginia Woolf, Anne Sexton, and Sylvia Plath. It is said that Ingrid’s poetry was fueled by her turbulent life. Her parents divorced early on and her mother died of cancer when she was just 11 years old. A year later her beloved grandmother also passed away. When you think of it that way, it’s obvious that Ingrid had a lot of passion, pain, and feeling to pour into her poetry as a result.
Ingrid, who started writing poetry at the age of 6, wrote all of her poems in Afrikaans. They have been translated into a variety of other languages and even distributed internationally. From the moment Ingrid put poetic pen to paper, there was nothing stopping her. Her very first set of published poems can be found in her old high school’s magazines, and at the tender age of 13, she had an entire collection of poems entitled “Na die Somer”.
It came as no surprise that Ingrid was in close contact with the likes of DJ Opperman and having her work published in Die Huisgenoot by just 16. In 1956, it finally happened. At 23 years old, Ingrid had her first big collection of poems, entitled Ontvlugting, published independently, and then went on to publish another collection of poems, Rook en Oker, in 1963. Some loved Ingrid’s work, but there were of course harsh critics. Still, Ingrid persisted and succeeded.
One of Ingrid Jonker’s Poems
One of Ingrid’s most celebrated poems is called Ek Herhaal Jou – read it below.
“Ek herhaal jou
sonder begin of einde
herhaal ek jou liggaam
Die dag het ’n smal skadu
en die nag geel kruise
die landskap is sonder aansien
en die mense ’n ry kerse
terwyl ek jou herhaal
met my borste
wat die holtes van jou hand namaak.”
In English, the title of the poem is “I Repeat You” and translates as follows:
“I repeat you
Without beginning or end,
I repeat your body.
The day has a thin shadow
and the night yellow crosses
the landscape without regard
and the people a row candles
while I repeat you
with my breasts
that reforms the hollows of your hands.”
What Made Ingrid Jonker One of the Most Famous South Africans of Her Time?
Ingrid Jonker was undoubtedly one of the most respected poets of her time. She belonged to a group called the “Sestigers” which was a group of “out there” artists of the 1960s in South Africa. They gathered around one Clifton Beach renowned poet, Uys Krige. It wasn’t long before Ingrid was considered the group’s “shining star”. The group was quite outgoing in that they turned away from what was expected of the Afrikaner generation and instead gleaned a lot of their inspiration from Latin Europe. The group did great things for Afrikaans literature in the way that they wrote, expressed themselves, and put their art first. In short, in a way it was Ingrid’s status as “shining star” that put Afrikaans literature on the map.
Ingrid Jonker’s Poems spur on the Making of the Film Black Butterflies
Not many famous South Africans have films made in their memory, but Ingrid Jonker does. If you are a South African expat looking for a taste of home, you should put some time aside to watch it. The movie, Black Butterflies, was released in 2011 and was made available on DVD in 2012.
The movie got rave reviews for its passionate collision of politics, poetry, madness and desire. The movie, set in the 1960s in Cape Town, features glimpses of the Apartheid era while shining a spotlight on Ingrid’s life. The movie depicts Ingrid, played by Carice van Houten, sailing through a variety of stormy affairs, head-bumping with her dad, and parliamentary censorship – all while spending much of her time scrawling thoughts, ideas, and passions on paper (her poetry). The movie is every bit as turbulent as her life is said to have been and is certainly worth a watch now.
Nelson Mandela Pays Ode to Ingrid Jonker
Ingrid Jonker certainly had a big impact on those around her in her time. Many years after her death (she died in 1965), Nelson Mandela read one of her poems “Die Kind Wat Dood Geskiet Is Deur Soldate by Nyanga”, at the first democratic Parliament opening in 1994. He described Ingrid in his speech, saying “The certainties that come with age tell me that among these we shall find an Afrikaner woman who transcended a particular experience and became a South African, an African and a citizen of the world. Her name is Ingrid Jonker. She was both a poet and a South African. She was both an Afrikaner and an African. She was both an artist and a human being.”
Nelson Mandela read the poem in Afrikaans, which goes like this:
kind is nie dood nie
die kind lig sy vuiste teen sy moeder
wat Afrika skreeu skreeu die geur van vryheid en heide
in die lokasies van die omsingelde hart
Die kind lig sy vuiste teen sy vader
in die optog van die generasies
wat Afrika skreeu skreeu die geur
van geregtigheid en bloed
in die strate van sy gewapende trots
kind is nie dood nie
nòg by Langa nòg by Nyanga
nòg by Orlando nòg by Sharpville
nòg by die polisiestasie in Philippi
waar hy lê met ‘n koeël deur sy kop
kind is die skaduwee van die soldate
op wag met gewere sarasene en knuppels
die kind is teenwoordig by alle vergaderings en wetgewings
die kind loer deur die vensters van huise en in die harte van moeders
die kind wat net wou speel in die son by Nyanga is orals
die kind wat ‘n man geword het trek deur die ganse Afrika
die kind wat ‘n reus geword het reis deur die hele wereld
Sonder ‘n pas”
This poem translates into English as follows:
child is not dead
The child lifts his fists against his mother
Who shouts Afrika! shouts the breath
Of freedom and the veld
In the locations of the cordoned heart
The child lifts his fists against his father
in the march of the generations
who shouts Afrika ! shout the breath
of righteousness and blood
in the streets of his embattled pride
The child is not dead not at Langa nor at Nyanga
not at Orlando nor at Sharpeville
nor at the police station at Philippi
where he lies with a bullet through his brain
The child is the dark shadow of the soldiers
on guard with rifles Saracens and batons
the child is present at all assemblies and law-givings
the child peers through the windows of houses and into the hearts of mothers
this child who just wanted to play in the sun at Nyanga is everywhere
the child grown to a man treks through all Africa
the child grown into a giant journeys through the whole world
Without a pass.”
As a South African expat, it’s normal to look back and reminisce about the good old days. If you’re looking back to your old life, worrying about your financial emigration or tax emigration, you’re wasting precious time you could rather be focusing on good memories.
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