Breyten Breytenbach (; born 16 September 1939) is a South African writer and painter known for his opposition to apartheid, and consequent imprisonment by the South African government. He is informally considered as the national poet laureate by Afrikaans-speaking South Africans of the region. He also holds French citizenship.


Breyten Breytenbach was born in Bonnievale, approximately 180 km from Cape Town and 100 km from the southernmost tip of Africa at Cape Agulhas. His early education was at Hoërskool Hugenoot and he later studied fine arts at the Michaelis School of Fine Art at the University of Cape Town. He is the brother of Jan Breytenbach, co-founder of the 1st Reconnaissance Commando of the South African Special Forces with whom he holds strongly opposing political views, and Cloete Breytenbach, a widely published war correspondent. He is the father of the French journalist Daphnee Breytenbach. His committed opposition to apartheid policy compelled him to leave South Africa for Paris, France, in the early 1960s, where he married a French woman of Vietnamese ancestry, Yolande, due to which he was not allowed to return: The ''Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act'' of 1949 and ''The Immorality Act'' (1950) made it a criminal offence for a white person to have any sexual relations with a person of a different race.


On an illegal trip to South Africa in 1975 he was arrested and sentenced to nine years' imprisonment for high treason. His work ''The True Confessions of an Albino Terrorist'' describes aspects of his imprisonment. According to André Brink, Breytenbach was retried in June 1977 on new and fanciful charges that among other things, he had planned a submarine attack by the Soviet Navy on the prison at Robben Island through the conspiratorial "Okhela Organisation." In the end, the judge found him guilty only of having smuggled letters and poems out of jail for which he was fined $50. During his imprisonment, Breytenbach wrote the poem, ''Ballade van ontroue bemindes'' ("Ballade of Unfaithful Lovers"). Inspired by François Villon's ''Ballade des Dames du Temps Jadis'', Breytenbach compared Afrikaner dissidents Peter Blum, Ingrid Jonker, and himself to unfaithful lovers, who had betrayed Afrikaans poetry by taking leave of it. Released in 1982 as a result of international protests, he returned to Paris and obtained French citizenship. After free elections toppled the ruling National Party and ended apartheid in 1994, Breytenbach became a visiting professor at the University of Cape Town in the Graduate School of Humanities in January 2000 and is also involved with the Gorée Institute in Dakar (Senegal) and with New York University, where he teaches in the Graduate Creative Writing Program.


Breytenbach's work includes numerous volumes of novels, poetry and essays, many of which are in Afrikaans. Many have been translated from Afrikaans to English, and many were originally published in English. He is also known for his works of pictorial arts. Exhibitions of his paintings and prints have been shown in cities around the world, including Johannesburg, Cape Town, Hong Kong, Amsterdam, Stockholm, Paris, Brussels, Edinburgh and New York City.


* Laureate of the Zbigniew Herbert International Literary Award 2017


Poetry in Afrikaans

* ''The Iron Cow Must Sweat'' (Die ysterkoei moet sweet), Johannesburg, 1964 * ''The House of the Deaf'' (Die huis van die dowe), Cape Town, 1967 * ''Gangrene'' (Kouevuur), Cape Town, 1969 * ''Lotus'', Cape Town, 1970 * ''The Remains'' (Oorblyfsels), Cape Town, 1970 * ''Scrit. Painting Blue a sinking Ship.'' (Skryt. Om 'n sinkende skip blou te verf), Amsterdam, 1972 * ''In Other Words'' (Met ander woorde), Cape Town, 1973 * ''Footnote'' (Voetskrif), Johannesburg, 1976 * ''Sinking Ship Blues'', Toronto 1977 * ''And Death White as Words. An Anthology'', London, 1978 * ''In Africa even the flies are happy'', London, 1978 * ''Flower Writing'' (Blomskryf), Emmarentia, 1979 (Selected poems) * ''Eclipse'' (Eklips), Emmarentia, 1983 * ''YK'', Emmarentia, 1983 * ''Buffalo Bill'', Emmarentia, 1984 * ''Living Death'' (Lewendood), Emmarentia, 1985 * ''Judas Eye'', London – New York, 1988 * ''As Like'' (Soos die so), Emmarentia, 1990 * ''Nine Landscapes of our Times Bequeathed to a Beloved'' (Nege landskappe van ons tye bemaak aan 'n beminde), Groenkloof, 1993 * ''The Handful of Feathers'' (Die hand vol vere), Cape Town, 1995 (Selected poems) * ''The Remains. An Elegy'' (Oorblyfsels. 'n Roudig), Cape Town, 1997 * ''Paper Flower'' (Papierblom), Cape Town, 1998 * ''Lady One'', Cape Town, 2000 (Selected love poems) * ''Iron Cow Blues'' (Ysterkoei-blues), Cape Town, 2001 (Collected poems 1964–1975) * ''Lady One: Of Love and other Poems'', New York, 2002 * ''The undanced dance. Prison poetry 1975 – 1983'' (Die ongedanste dans. Gevangenisgedigte 1975 – 1983), Cape Town, 2005 * ''the windcatcher'' (Die windvanger), Cape Town, 2007 * ''Voice Over: A Nomadic Conversation with Mahmoud Darwish'', Archipelago Books, 2009 * ''Catalects (Artefacts for the slow uses of dying)'' (''Katalekte (artefakte vir die stadige gebruike van doodgaan'')), Cape Town: Human & Rousseau, 2012

Prose in English

* ''Catastrophes'' (Katastrofes), Johannesburg, 1964 (stories) * ''To Fly'' (Om te vlieg), Cape Town, 1971 (novel) * ''The Tree Behind the Moon'' (De boom achter de maan), Amsterdam, 1974 (stories) * ''The Anthill Bloats …'' (Die miernes swell op ...), Emmarentia, 1980 (stories) * ''A Season in Paradise'' (Een seizoen in het paradijs), Amsterdam – New York – London, 1980 (novel, uncensored edition) * ''Mouroir: Mirror Notes of a Novel'', London – New York, 1983 * ''Mirror Death'' (Spiegeldood), Amsterdam, 1984 (stories) * ''End Papers'', London, 1985 (essays) * ''The True Confessions of an Albino Terrorist'', London – New York, 1985 * ''Memory of Snow and of Dust'', London – New York, 1987 (novel) * ''Book. Part One'' (Boek. Deel een), Emmarentia, 1987 (essays) * ''All One Horse. Fiction and Images'', London, 1989 * ''Sweet Heart'' (Hart-Lam), Emmarentia, 1991 (essays) * ''Return to Paradise. An African journal'', London – New York, 1992 (which won the Alan Paton Award) * ''The Memory of Birds in Times of Revolution'', London – New York, 1996 (essays) * ''Dog Heart. A travel memoir'', Cape Town, 1998 * ''Word Work'' (Woordwerk), Cape Town, 1999 * ''A veil of footsteps'', Cape Town, 2008 * ''All One Horse'', Archipelago Books, 2008 * ''Mouroir: Mirror Notes of a Novel'', Archiepalago Books, 2008 * ''Intimate Stranger'', Archipelago Books, 2009 * ''Notes From The Middle World: Essays'', Haymarket Books, 2009



In popular culture

Breytenbach is the only exception mentioned by name in the satirical Apartheid-era ''Spitting Image'' song "I've Never Met a Nice South African".

See also

* Sestigers * Zbigniew Herbert International Literary Award


External links

A Conversation with South African Poet and Anti-Apartheid Activist Breyten Breytenbach on His Own Imprisonment, South Africa’s "Failed Revolution," Nelson Mandela and Barack ObamaAn Hour with the Renowned South African Poet, Writer, Painter and Anti-Apartheid Activist Breyten BreytenbachPodcast Interview with Breytenbach
by André Naffis-Sahely
Review of Voice Over: A Nomadic Conversation with Mahmoud Darwish by André Naffis-Sahely
(by Breyten Breytenbach) *http://www.goreeinstitut.org/
Poetry Podcast at Badilisha Poetry ExchangeCulture.pl interview from May 2017 after winning the Zbigniew Herbert International Literary Award
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