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Breyten Breytenbach

Breytenbach at the 2009 Brooklyn Book Festival.
Bonnievale, Western Cape
Occupation Writer, Painter
Nationality South African and French
Apartheid in South Africa
Events and Projects

Sharpeville Massacre
Soweto uprising · Treason Trial
Rivonia Trial · Church Street bombing
CODESA · St James Church massacre
Cape Town peace march
Purple Rain


ANC · IFP · AWB · Black Sash · CCB
Conservative Party · ECC · PP · RP
Broederbond · National Party


P. W. Botha · Oupa Gqozo · D. F. Malan
Nelson Mandela · Desmond Tutu
F. W. de Klerk · Walter Sisulu
Helen Suzman · Harry Schwarz
Andries Treurnicht · H. F. Verwoerd
Oliver Tambo · B. J. Vorster
Kaiser Matanzima · Jimmy Kruger
Steve Biko · Mahatma Gandhi
Joe Slovo · Trevor Huddleston


Bantustan · District Six · Robben Island
Sophiatown · South-West Africa
Soweto · Sun City · Vlakplaas

Other aspects

Afrikaner nationalism
Apartheid laws · Freedom Charter
Sullivan Principles · Kairos Document
Disinvestment campaign
South African Police

Breyten Breytenbach (born September 16, 1939) is a South African writer and painter with French citizenship.



Breyten Breytenbach was born in Bonnievale, Western Cape, approximately 180 km from Cape Town and 100 km from the southernmost tip of Africa at Cape Agulhas. He studied fine arts at the University of Cape Town and became a committed opponent of the policy of apartheid. He left South Africa for Paris in the early 1960s. When he married a French woman of Vietnamese ancestry, he was not allowed to return: The Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act (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.

In France he was a founder member of Okhela, a resistance group fighting apartheid in exile. On an illegal trip to South Africa in 1975 he was betrayed (by the ANC who mistrusted him), arrested and sentenced to seven years of imprisonment for high treason: his work The True Confessions of an Albino Terrorist describes aspects of his imprisonment. Released in 1982 as a result of massive international intervention he returned to Paris and obtained French citizenship.

He currently divides his time between Europe, Africa, and the United States. He joined the University of Cape Town as a visiting professor in the Graduate School of Humanities (from 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.

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

Breytenbach was described as the only example of a "nice South African" in the song I've Never Met A Nice South African. The song was written by John Lloyd for the satirical British TV series, Spitting Image.

He is the brother of Jan Breytenbach, founder of the South African Special Forces, and Cloete Breytenbach, a widely published war correspondent.



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
  • Foot Writing (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 ('YK'), Emmarentia, 1983
  • Buffalo Bill, Emmarentia, 1984
  • Living Death (Lewendood), Emmarentia, 1985
  • Judas Eye, London - New York, 1989
  • 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

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


  • Breytenbach, Breyten (December 2008). "Mandela's Smile: Notes on South Africa's Failed Revolution". Harper's Magazine 317 (1903): 39–48.  


See also

External links


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