It’s unfair. Lewis Nkosi is no more. However, John Maxwell Coetzee has recently celebrated his 80th birthday. Philistines who populate such gory spaces as “Im4theArts” have no clue. JM has already outlived Lewis by six years. Lewis is Black, JM is white, in a country stolen from the ancestors of Lewis by the ancestors of JM. Lewis is my guy. I’ll choose him any day over the doyen of African letters – the respectable sage, the late Es’kia Mphahlele. I think Zakes Mda is too mediocre. He doesn’t even deserve a mention. I’m partial to Lewis because unlike Es’kia, he is just too ungovernable and a stupendously gifted slaughterer.
I’m fascinated by Afrikaner writers. I just made a mental catalogue: JM; Yonker; Rian Malan; and Antjie Krog. Also that tall fellow who was once Yonker’s boyfriend and always over shadowed by JM. I forgot his name – it’s the curse of Cristiano Ronaldo in the time of Lionel Messi. English South African writers are gross. I’m thinking of Nadine Gordimer who represents the best in that tradition. I don’t normally make any distinctions between the white tribes. They are all white but here, on the occasion of JMs 80th birth year, I want to say something about how the Afrikaner writer seems to have something useful in representing whiteness more honestly – is it not better to deal with the Freedom Front Plus (FF+) than the hypocrisy of the Democratic Alliance (DA)?
Antjie Krog to me is the perfect representation of white anxiety, located in an awareness of the historical guilt but incapable of atonement because that’s an Armageddon to whiteness. She strikes me as one being engaged in a non-violent violence of whiteness. It looks harmless. It produces genocides and denies them with love and compassion.
Rian Malan has the rare gift of being able to see the Black abyss created by whiteness. He gets choked by it and takes flight into the Afrikaner laager and snipes back from there. He can see the barbarian hordes forming a Black flood over the kopie. He knows that it’s just a matter of time. His position is prone. That’s why he ends up in the mad house from time to time.
JM, on the other hand, has a very astute and austere response to the coming calamity. In my essay, Blacks Can’t Be Racist, I close off with the perilous words of Lucy in JM’s Disgrace saying that whites basically have to start from nothing for Black justice to exist. I read Disgrace as a pessimistic text that can be used to give some insights into Afropessimism.
JM understands that accounting for what has happened here for the past 350 years can only end via another night with Dingane over beer and meat before Bulalani Abathakathi! So unlike FW de Klerk and Helen Zille, JM took his stuff and left for Adelaide in Australia. There the white tribe didn’t fail, like his Afrikaner ancestors here, to genocide Blacks out of existence.
If you per chance were to bump into JM, please tell him: the barbarians are no longer waiting, we are moving in!