Writing Dead Ends. Notes on Breyten Breytenbach’s Open Letters to Nelson Mandela

Alwyn Roux, Elizabeth Louise Nortjé


This article discusses open letters written by Breyten Breytenbach to Nelson Mandela after Mandela’s release from prison in 1991, following his inauguration as presi­dent of South Africa in 1994, as well as a 2008 letter in which Breytenbach reflects on his ideas regarding the supposed ‘failed revolution’ in South Africa. In comparison with Ita­lo Calvino’s masterpiece Invisible Cities (1972), and specifically Marco Polo’s account to Kublai Khan regarding the changing nature of the city of Fedora (Calvino 1997: 28), these letters combine disparate images of South Africa, thereby creating imaginings and iden­tifying challenges embodied in the country. Through his admiration of Nelson Mandela, Breytenbach is able to imagine different ‘South Africas’. The focal point of this article is the production of meaning through analysing the intertwined nature of the dead ends of violence found in the texts, and how Breytenbach uses these to rewrite and understand the South African landscape.

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© Tijdschrift voor Nederlandse Taal- en Letterkunde | ISSN (print): 0040-7550 | eISSN (online): 2212-0521