Andre P Brink did a lot of things in his life. Honoured in so many ways, respected for his work and revered for his phenomenal intellect, the country lost an irreplaceable literary giant in the past few days.
He showed the world that not all Afrikaners dress in khaki, while clutching antiquated Mausers and shouting abuse at those of a darker skin colour. He wrote about inequality in South Africa even before all Americans had the right to vote. His books often reflected his observations at the time of writing, which in the end, says a lot about the evolution of society in Southern Africa.
His early works targeted the conservative approach prevalent in government circles at the time. He despised Apartheid and made his readers take a long, hard look at the current policies of the sixties and seventies. Then came a phase of hope, anticipating a better future and a just society under fair majority rule. And finally, disillusioned by the corruption and crime the old Brink emerged once more as a protester against the new realities of the country. In his autobiography (A Fork in the Road – 2009) he tells the story of a young man who came to realise the injustices in his country – only to view the current state of affairs under majority rule in the same despairing light. The circle of protest was complete. Neither so-called ‘Left’ or ‘Right’, Brink remained the critical observer throughout his life. Much like Archbishop Tutu, he had the courage to be honest, even if it meant treading on unforgiving toes.
Brink used his literary voice with great effect. The numerous accolades showered on him – both locally and internationally – attest to the power of his works.
Will the man in the street hear his voice? Did they, in the seventies when the Nationalists banned his books, understand what he was saying? And do they, now? It’s a shame that he was viewed as an acclaimed academic. This tag caused a distance between his work and those who really, really needed to become involved in his thoughts. His target wasn’t just the Nationalists in 1960 or the ANC after 1994 – it was (and is) the hearts and minds of common citizens. He spoke to ruler and ruled alike in his unapologetic analysis of our diseased society. And, while we know that governments tend to harden their stance in the face of criticism, it is the populace – the voters, you and I – who should be observant enough to take note of what Brink was trying to tell them.
Brink may have passed on, but his voice is still there – loud and clear – pleading for us to open our eyes and to not repeat the mistakes of the past.
As an author, Brink attained a form of immortality. Throughout his life, he had been labelled as a communist, a liberal, a protester and anti-establishment. In reality, he only acted as a mirror – reflecting all too brightly the issues most people chose to ignore. In this, his message is timeless.
Are we be bold enough to listen now? To see, to analyse, to acknowledge? To join his voice in condemning the sad state of affairs we are forced to live with?. To say: Je Suis Andre?
Rest in Peace, Andre Philippus Brink; but may your words continue to challenge us towards a brighter tomorrow.