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Ingrid Jonker (1933-1965)

I know there are other things in life apart from love, but one has to have a basis to go out from. Without it, my whole wretched past lifts its dreadful head, and looks at me with that sad and wasted look which paralyses me with terror. 

Ingrid Jonker existed for a brief moment at the very beginning of the Sestiger movement. By 1965 she was gone, her body found drowned in the Atlantic Ocean. Her father was a very conservative and influential member of the National Party, representing the NP as a member of parliament. She worked for and failed to gain his approval until her death by suicide. At her funeral security police carried her casket and the presiding minister had no idea she was a writer. Her friends were forbidden to speak, as it would constitute an illegal gathering under the strict security laws. By 1965, many dissident South African writers were considered communists and therefore enemies of the state.

She had affairs with two prominent South African writers, Jack Cope and André Brink. She dedicated her second collection of poetry, Smoke and Ochre, to both of them. Her first collection Ontvlugting established her as a rising talent in Afrikaans poetry and was well-received by more conservative Afrikaner literary circles. Smoke and Ochre inaugurated her into the Sestigers. Her poem “The child who was shot dead by soldiers in Nyanga” incensed Nationalist party leaders. A special act of parliament allowed cabinet ministers to be directors of publishing companies. Jonker was asked to remove the offending poem if she wished to have her work published.

She refused and eventually the publishing house acceded. However, the title of the poem was changed to simply “The Child” and it was buried in the collection amongst fairy-tale poems she had written for her 5-year-old daughter. During the years of Apartheid her politically engaged work was simply denied. D.J. Opperman, a prominent writer who had mentored Jonker, compiled The Great Anthology of Afrikaans poetry and included only poems from her first, inoffensive volume.

Nelson Mandela read her poem, The Child, at the opening of the first democratic parliament:

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