AMY GOODMAN: Breyten Breytenbach is one of South Africa’s most famous poets. He’s also an award-winning writer and painter, well known as an anti-apartheid activist, outspoken advocate for justice around the world.
The exiled poet was born to an Afrikaner or white South African family in 1939. He moved to Paris in the early ’60s and became deeply involved with the anti-apartheid movement. In 1975, Breyten Breytenbach returned secretly to South Africa under a false passport. He was arrested, charged with terrorism and imprisoned for seven years. One of his most famous books, based on his experience in prison, is called The True Confessions of an Albino Terrorist.
Today, Breyten Breytenbach divides his time between New York University, where he teaches creative writing, and the Goree Institute in Senegal, West Africa.
I talked to Breyten Breytenbach earlier this month in New York and asked him to paint a picture of contemporary South Africa.
BREYTEN BREYTENBACH: Well, I think one needs to preface, whatever one says about South Africa, one tends to forget that enormous advances have been made since early ’90s. You know, to bring down apartheid, the system of discriminatory laws, segregation, it was a huge task. We’ve come a long way since then, but not necessarily heading in the right direction entirely.
The situation at the moment is that we are heading for national elections in very early in the new year. The majority party, which is the ANC, which at the moment has a two-thirds majority, will be appointing a new president. That is the constitution, South African constitution. The president is not elected by popular vote. We’ve just now had a split within the majority party, a breakaway group. They call themselves the Congress of the People. Their very name is being disputed in courts by the African National Congress, who says that Congress of the People is something so associated with the African National Congress party, nobody else should be able to use it. One doesn’t quite know yet whether there’s going to be a significant opposition, because really there is no opposition to the African National Congress.
We had a major meeting, a conference of the ANC last year at Polokwane, at what point—that was when Jacob Zuma was selected as the new president of the ANC, and thereby he will become the new president of South Africa. That’s also when the decisions were made to destitute Thabo Mbeki from power.
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