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The place of the Afrikaans writer before the Sestigers

Afrikaans is a language that had to fight for its survival. The first Great Trek away from the British-controlled Cape Province was precipitated in part by the banning of learning Dutch in school. The South African War was a second fight for the sovereignty of the Afrikaans people – one in which their land was razed to the ground and women and children put in concentration camps. The language, therefore, became wrapped up with nationalism. It was co-opted by the Apartheid state and is still known to many as “the language of the oppressor.” This particular context is very important for understanding the place of the Sestigers and is outlined in the quotations below:

In the early years of the literature Afrikaans society treated its writers as celebrities, almost as heroes. This was particularly in the period from the turn of the century up to 1924, a time when the language was not yet recognised by law and before the first predominantly Afrikaner Nationalist government achieved power. Writers were few and far between, the poets were patriots who recalled an idealised past or kept alive the pride and resentment of a people defeated by war. Writers could be trusted to do their share in the march toward full nationhood. Everything they wrote was grist to the mill.

– Jack Cope, 1982

In this society the Afrikaans writer occupies a strange and important place. It is not yet a century since the First Language Movement began to promote Afrikaans as a language; the first Afrikaans poem of some literary merit was written a mere sixty years ago. In other words, in the minds of probably a majority of Afrikaners, the writer is still supposed to exercise the function he had in a society at the very beginning of its evolution. He is supposed to encourage the solidarity of his people and to promote their group identity.

– André Brink, 1967

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