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Jan Rabie (1920-2001)

I am an Afrikaner who knows what it is to belong to a small nation which, after an uncertain and truly heroic birth, even in its youth must doubt its own survival. A nation primarily exists by reason of its spiritual vitality and unquestionable will to moral strength rather than by the whip and the sword.

Jan Rabie is known as the father of Die Sestigers. When he published his first book 21 in 1956 he sparked a movement. The first of the group to spend time in Paris, his work was an absolute rejection of the three pillars of Afrikaans literature as identified, seethingly, by the prominent Afrikaans writer, Uys Krige, who preceded Die Sestigers: non-controversial, provincial-pastoral and realistic. Its title was symbolic of the coming-of-age of Afrikaans literature. The 21 prose poems leapt deep into the surreal and had existentialist underpinnings from his time in France.

In his early twenties, Rabie was a loyal member of the Nationalist Party and of the rightwing Afrikaner association the Ossewa Brandwag. He was given a scholarship to complete a doctoral thesis in France and it was here that his completely changed. He was deeply influenced by Sartre and the idea of Littérature engagée and said during this period he was “in no party or group but against l’injustice et le malheur.”

He is arguably most influential in his exploding the old Afrikaans literary modes and laying the groundwork for those who came after him to experiment away. André Brink once said, “Jan opened the windows for a whole younger generation of writers.” His most well-known, politically engaged work is his Bolandia Series. It aimed to offer a fictionalized history of the Afrikaner people – ‘white’ and ‘brown’ from the first contact between Dutch settlers and the khoi-san. It aimed to explore the historical roots of then present-day sociopolitical realities in Apartheid South Africa. By focusing on deeply conflicted characters of mixed ethnic origin, he wanted to break down any ideas about white Afrikaners being a ‘pure’ race and show instead their cultural oneness with the Afrikaans-speaking coloured population.

Every added day of discrimination – of unequal pay for equal work, unequal voice in politics or cultural life, all other legally enforced forms of inequality – is a blasphemy against Christianity. We must own that we endorse this blasphemy through our white nationalism which wages not open warfare but a ‘cold war’ via class distinctions. Class is colour in South Africa and the real face of class domination is Money and Power.

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