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Nadine Gordimer and Apartheid

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  • Découvrir une auteure engagée contre l'Apartheid : Nadine Gordimer
Points clés
  • L'écrivaine sud-africaine Nadine Gordimer reçut le prix Nobel de Littérature en 1991.
  • Elle dénonce le système politique de son pays et les répressions subies par les Noirs, à l'époque de l'Apartheid. Sa littérature était son arme pour dénoncer la discrimination institutionnalisée. C'est pourquoi ses livres furent censurés dans son pays.
  • Les portraits des personnages qui peuplent ses livres constituent une sorte d'histoire sociale d'Afrique du Sud.
  • Amie de Nelson Mandela, elle participa plus activement à la lutte contre l'Apartheid en cachant des militants ou transmettant des messages.

Nadine Gordimer (1923-2014) was a South African writer who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1991. Although it was not her original subject when she started writing, apartheid soon became the main topic of her books because it was difficult for her to talk about her country without denouncing repression and this system which could not be ignored.

1. Why She Became an Activist

At first, Nadine Gordimer was not interested in politics at all, and had she lived in another country the subjects of her books would have been totally different. But when the Afrikaner nationalists came to power in 1948 she knew she had to denounce what was happening in South Africa then and let the world know about the injustices and cruelties of her country’s policies which were based on racial divisions and segregation. The Blacks were considered as underdogs and the Whites were allowed to commit all kinds of atrocities against them.

Afrikaners are the descendants of Dutch settlers who arrived at the Cape of Good Hope in the 17th and 18th centuries. They dominated South Africa's politics until 1994.

As a consequence, the notions of the color bar, punishing laws, fear of the security forces or impossible freedom were systematically developed in her writings which constituted a sort of social history if we refer to the portraits of the characters that filled them.
Nadine Gordimer could not stand the situation and her pen became a weapon against apartheid, ridiculing the segregation and institutionalized discrimination that condemned the black majority to silence.

No wonder she was a supporter of Nelson Mandela whom she met in 1964 during the infamous Rivonia trial and which sent Mandela to jail. As a friend of the ANC (African National Congress) leader her views on the conditions of the black population in South Africa were of course esteemed.
It is worth noting that her involvement for the anti-apartheid movement was not limited to her writings, indeed she sometimes passed secret messages, hid friends and secretly drove others to the border.

The Rivonia trial

In 1963 Mandela and seven other activists were charged with acts of sabotage. Mandela admitted the facts and explained why he had turned to violence:

I did what I did because I wanted to help my people in the struggle for equal rights. I felt very strongly about the laws which discriminated against my people and which caused poverty, ill health and misery for which they suffer.

On June 11 1964, Mandela and the seven other defendants were sentenced to life imprisonment.

2. Banned Novels and... a Nobel Prize!

As we can easily understand the books she wrote during the Apartheid era (1948 to 1994) and which dealt with politics were banned. A world of Strangers (1958), The Late Bourgeois World (1966) and Burger’s Daughter (1979) were unavailable for up to twelve years. But though what she did was risky she was never arrested or persecuted for her work.

The Late Bourgeois World is about an egocentric White South African woman and her failing marriage, love affairs and political intrigue.
The novel was banned in South Africa. It is thought to be Gordimer's most political novel and her depictions of the situation in the country were meant to shock the world.

And in 1991 she was awarded the Nobel Prize by the committee who took note of her political activism. That day, she declared:

Mandela still doesn’t have a vote.

Three years later her long time friend Nelson Mandela, who had been released after spending 27 years in jail, was the first black president of the country in the first fully democratic vote of South Africa.

3. Conclusion

Nadine Gordimer was an involved author who wrote about her native country during and after apartheid, because as she used to say:

No one could live in a society like South Africa’s and stay isolated from politics.

Though deeply involved in the political intricacies of her country during the apartheid period she did not stop fighting against unfair causes in 1994, finding other causes to embrace such as the spread of AIDS in South Africa. People never change.

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