DIE AFRIKAANSE SKRYWERSGILDE A
A writer's business is writing books, to cleanse his soul,
to get at his wife, to change his society; as long as they are
good books. For that he does not have to belong to a writers'
society like the Skrwersgilde. Bad politics and hairsplitting
quarrels are born grom writers' societies, not good books.
Nonetheless, since its birth four years ago, the Afrikaanse
Skrywersgilde has made some contribution towards making South
Africa a more tolerant and harmonious place. Let me tell you
But first I have to stress this the writing and
publishing world is one segment of our society where there never
has been much racial discrimination. In our competitive multi-
lingual EM M country publishers have been but too eager to
draw proselytes from all colour groups. Books mean money;;
above all prescribed books for black, white and brown children.
As a matter of fact, by now there are more brown than white
Afrikaans children at school. Racially insulting books are out.
Principals of coloured schools may even prefer to prescribe
books by coloured authors.
As for the writers: there never has been a law to prevent
colleagues from visiting and liking each other. Writers are
few in number, and we have always searched each other out.
I do think that our tribe of penpushers has, on the whole, been
less prejudiced and more curious about other people.
Well, to come to the SkxwersgMldet
There has always been ome form of literary organisation
around in the Afrikaans cultural field, chiefly of the well-
meaning, organisational, government-controlled kindX. Never a
real writers' society, really independent, respected by writers
as craftsmen and free minds. So writers rarely were members.
Perhaps because e most writers are lone wolves, aware that
writers' societies are good for bad writers.
But in recent years government political pressure has
become much stronger on church, press and literature. Since
Sharpeville a whole generation of black writers writing in
English has been banned out of the country. Recently it
became the turn of the Afrikaans writer as well. The first
censorship law was passed in 1963. Tightening the screws with
ever more laws, the ex-Minister for the Interior, Dr. Connie
Mulder said most categorically in 1975: "Ons sal die wet
wysig en weer wysig tot ons volle beheer het." Full control.
From 9 till 11 July of that same year 37 of the younger
and the best Afrikaans writers converged on a rural hotel at
Broederstroom, Transvaal. Sestigers like Etienne Leroux, Bartho
Smit, Andrd P. Brink, EAsa Joubert, Adam Small, John Miles,
Jan Rabie, Bram de Vries, Chris Barnard, P.G. du Plessis, Welma
Odendaal, Fanie Olivier. Wilma Stockenstrom... Absent were
mainly the entrenched or rightist, older writers.
This conference at Broederstroom and the resulting founding
of the Skry~wersgilde came about as a counter to government
pressure. From then on, for the very first time, the authentic
voice of the writers would be raised in the literary world up
till then paternalistically dominated by government-sponsored
or status quo bodies kike the Skrywerskring.
During the three days of the conference a constition was
hammered out. Its salient features aret
1. The name Afrikaanse Skrywersgilde; but the guild would
be open to any person of any language striving to further the
interests of South African writing; and opposing all forms of
censorship. Because of this openness, ,nd because of the
status of the writers involved, well-known English authors
like Athol Fugard and Richard Rive soon became members as well.
2. Initially we had a clause saying we are nonracial, but we
finally left it out, because being nonracial is so obvious it
would be indecent to mention it.
3. Any person becoming an author with one published book
could be invited by the head committee to became a member.
Membership is by invitation only,otherwise the. guild would be
swamped by hangers-on and pseudo-writers with only some
articles to their name.
4. The head committee: 3 members elected from the Cape, 3 from.
Transvaal, I from Natal, 1 from the Free State.
5. All meetings are open to he press, and members may bring
their marriage partners or friends along.
6. Membership total: just over a 100.
7. Membership fees: R15 per annum.
8. Regional meetings: several times a year.
General meetings once a year.
9. A printed circular letter to members appears at irregular
In the last number of NoV. 1978, matters like prescribed
books, library rights, our next general meeting in June 1979
in Durban, and our negotiations with P.E.N. International are
discussed. Then follows the revealing correspondence between
our present chairman, Andre P. Brink and the new Minister for
the Interior, Mr. Schlebusch, about the so-called improvements
in yet another amended Publications Bill; the Skrywersgilde
does not see these amendments as improvements. Next, also
printed in full, the text of the 2 pages from Brink's novel,
Gerugte van re n, left out by the printer's devil. And lastly,
the official reasons why John Miles' novel Donderda_ of Woensda
was banned a sad communication from the Director of the
Publications Board to jhe writer allowed no appeal to the
A writer, by the way -- and this is by now the attitude of
the majority of self-respecting writers -- who simply fefuses
to beg for redress in a humble way, who thus simply denies a
whole army of unqualified ideological bureaucrats the right
to prescribe the rules and limits of creation, who simply
ignores censorship, has to ignore censorship if he wants to
write well, if he wgnts to serve his language qud his
This, finally, is why the Afrikaanse Skrwersgilde was
founded to take oul language out of the hands of the politicians
and the racists, to affirm that Afrikaans is our most potent
weapon against discrimination against people, the most powerful
bond between all the people speaking it, to affirm that a
language is much, much more than mere skin colour. Because
Afrikaans was created together by peoples of '~1S1EO many races
and languages in the past, MS South Africa's greatest
nonracial achievement up till now, the home language of -ive
million people of all possible shades of colour.
To return to facts: what has the Skrwrsilde attempted
or achieved since its founding in 1975?
In the first place I should mention our opposition to the
government policies regarding all forms of apartheid in our
common cultural heritage. We have sent deputations, made
declarations, corresponded, etc. We have forced the
Akademie to declare itself open to all intellectuals of merit.
We have developed a firm and important voice as representatives
of enlightened Afrikanerdom, and mwe have been recognized as such
by the press. No longer is it possible for the government to
attempt new legislation without second thoughts about us or
about our almost unanimous allies, the academic,, journalist
and artistic world in general. Of course politicians think they
do not have to consider the softies, the intellectuals but
they always do, in their sleep, and in the Iong run.
On a more pertinent level we have tried to bring together
people of different colours, and to meet students, beginner
writers, language teachers and the community in general. For
that reason we have had several meetings and poetry readings at
Western Cape and Stellenbosch universities/ppen to all members
of the student bodies. At one such a meeting a phalanx of
Afro hairstyles greeted us at the door with "Hier kom die wit
varke". But we stayed till nearly midnight, arguing and
discussing on a much friendlier footing.
At our general dleetings we have not had only white-skinned
speakers, but Zulu, Tswana, Sepedi poets as well. Dramatized
performances of translations into English or Afrikaans have
m4de such encounters very popular. And then, at our meetings
lectures and symposia are of a very actual and relevant kind.
I am looking forward to such talks by Prof. Zeke Mpahlele
and Indian intellectuals in June in Durban.
We are keeping a keen watch on all matters of official
censorship. We have for instance tried to haVe books by black
writers like Lewis Nakosi, Mpahlele, Alex la Guma unbanned.
We collected money to make such revisions by the Publications
Board possible. We have protested about writers' passports.
In short, we have tried to act in the interests of the writing
community as a whole.
Another matter we are busy with LS our relationship with
other writers' societies. Here we ran into unexpected
Not with the oonserNvtive Skrywerskring they are too
unrepresentative of Afrikaans writing to bother about by now.
Not with P.E.N. club or the Writers' Guild in Johannesburg
-- we have excellent relations with them.
Hot with writers of other language groups -- at our annual
meetings nearly a third of the talks or readings were not in
Afrikaans, but in English or some African tongue.
Our troubles do nob lie with writers living and writing
their mother tongue, but strangely enough with writers suffering
from the schizophreny of being born into one language but trying
to write in another. *More specifically, born Xhosa or Sotho,
but writing in an English they do not command well.
Such writers seem to refuse all communication with other
writers if they happen to be white. What is more, they c41i
themselves nonracial, by which they mean black. Black or
These days most people lean over backward to allow the
emergent Africans as much leeway as possible, but it is time
it was said that the attitude of especially the Soweto writers
to other writers of South Africa seems to be neo-rabism as
blatant as can be. Whereas white writers are freeing them=
selves of political dogma, black writers are being drawn into
political dogma; a black writer apparently does not dare
being friendly to a white writer, out of feat of Black Power
It is sad to have to re ort this, because it implies that
much of future v;riting in South Africa is bound to be one-sided
and bad. Pamphlets, tracts preaching violence and division,
not literature embracing all men.
There is a new development, though. An African branch of
P.E.N. is being formed in Johannesburg, and members of the
Writers' Guild and some other white writers are apparently
welcome. Let us hope this leads to more tolerc:nce.
The Skrywersgilde's dream of uniting all the writers in
South Africa in one strong body is temporarily stopped. We
are mainly white and Afrikaans and therefore, apparently,
suspect. On the one hand suspected as pink liberals by our
government, and on the other hand suspected as white pigs by,
let us say, the Azanian WVriters' Union.
I see it as a lesson in humility. That the writer is not
directly an agent of social change. That his primary task is
within his language community. But that only through his books.
Only through his very best books, born from the slow and profound
revolution of living distilled into words, can he speak to all
people of all tongues.