Breyten Breytenbach

South Africa

Writer, painter

Guest of the DAAD Artists-in-Berlin Programme 1989, Guest of the DAAD Artists-in-Berlin Programme 1994

Breyten Breytenbach DAAD


Breyten Breytenbach is internationally known as one of South Africa's most important lyricists and the holder of several prizes for literature, but also as a painter whose works have been exhibited in Europe, the United States and Hong Kong, as well as in his home country. His active role in the anti-apartheid movement and his decades of commitment against racism and South Africa's Boer government are inextricably bound up with his artistic and, especially, literary work.

Those who ignore the humanness of others deny their own.
Breyten Breytenbach

Breyten Breytenbach was born in 1939 and comes from a well-situated Boer family in Bonnievale. In 1958 he began to study art and literature in Cape Town. One year later he went to Europe, resumed his studies in Paris in 1961 and became a founding member of the anti-apartheid organization Okhela. After marrying a French woman of Vietnamese origin in 1968, he was no longer allowed to enter South Africa. He nevertheless returned to his home country in 1975 with a false passport, was arrested and sentenced to nine years in prison for "terrorist" activities. International protests and negotiations at the highest government level eventually led to his being prematurely released from prison in 1982. And he was able to return to Paris, where he took the French nationality a year later.

Breytenbach initially wrote his novels and collections of poems that were stylistically influenced by French Surrealism in Afrikaans, then in English or French, and later in Afrikaans again – reflecting his life between worlds. His works that have been translated into German include, as testimony to his seven years in prison, the novel The True Confessions of an Albino Terrorist (Wahre Bekenntnisse eines Albino Terroristen) and his autobiography A Season in Paradise (Augenblicke im Paradies). His novel Return to Paradise (1992) was published in German in Frankfurt am Main in 1995 under the title Rückkehr ins Paradies. In this novel, Breytenbach describes and comes to terms with his encounter with the "new" South Africa, now ruled by ANC politicians. His last book to appear in German dates from 1999 and is called Mischlingsherz. Eine Rückkehr nach Afrika, an ambivalent stocktake with quiet tones.

Breytenbach lives in Europe, the United States and Africa. He teaches as a visiting professor at universities in New York and Cape Town and, since 1992, has been contributing to the creation of the Senegalese Gorée Institute, a cultural centre on the island of the same name located offshore from the capital Dakar. He often visits Germany as well, for example the Leipzig Book Fair and the International Literature Festival Berlin.