Literary giant remembered

03 March 2015 | Story by Newsroom
Breyten Breytenbach (left), Gustav Brink and Karina Szczurek honoured the late Emeritus Professor André Brink's memory at UCT on 2 March.
Breyten Breytenbach (left), Gustav Brink and Karina Szczurek honoured the late Emeritus Professor André Brink's memory at UCT on 2 March.

The late Honorary Professor André Brink was remembered as a writer whose "sympathy was always clearly with the downtrodden" at a memorial service held on Monday 2 March 2015, in the same hall in which Brink had delivered his inaugural lecture upon his appointment as a professor at UCT in 1990.

Fellow writer Breytenbach was the keynote speaker at the service, which included tributes from Brink's wife, Karina Szczurek, his son Gustav Brink, Professor Martin Buysse of the Université Catholique de Louvain, filmmaker Euzahn Palcy and Emeritus Professor Ian Glenn, who reminisced about Brink's career and contribution on behalf of the university.

For Breytenbach, Brink was a reminder that writers are bulwarks "against forgetting the need to continue our engagement with matters of concern to the community".

"We know that we have to fight power word by word, that the area of creating perceptions will always be contested between politicians and those who can transcribe the pains and the aspirations of citizens," Breytenbach said. "As writer, André's sympathy was always clearly with the downtrodden, those deprived by systems, policies and religions of the full potential of humanity."

Brink's son, Gustav, drew attention to a trait which he believed was key to his father becoming the person he was: "not believing everything he heard or saw at first glance, but questioning it, searching, enquiring, looking, smelling for more.

"They say you can smell a good story, and he was very good at smelling," said the younger Brink.

Buysse, who nominated Brink for his honorary degree from Université Catholique de Louvain in Belgium, began his tribute with "Dear students", which he explained was how Brink began what would be his final address, when accepting the honorary doctorate in January. Brink passed away in transit back from Belgium.

"He started with the students because they are the ones who ask questions, the ones who look for answers ... moving into the shadows of uncertainty to say 'no' in the face of certitudes of power," Buysse said.

"Four days later, after meeting his passionate readers for the final time in Brussels, he would board the final flight toward the land of his ancestors."

Buysse addressed the next part of his tribute to Brink: "Dear André: you were flying when you passed away next to your beloved wife Karina, with whom you spent the last decade of your life. You died in the sky, like the sun does; you died above borders, conflicts and limits."

Palcy, who adapted Brink's book A Dry White Season to the silver screen in 1989, told of her anxiety while waiting for Brink's reaction to the final edit of the movie.

But her nerves settled when she saw his face: "And there you are, moved, tears in your eyes, and automatically you take me in your arms and hug me, [saying] 'thank you; thank you; it's a masterpiece'.

"[But] it is your book that is a masterpiece," she told him. "Thank you for your faith in me, because I knew that you had turned down many offers and said no to many people."

Glenn reflected on his time at UCT: "I think he was a brilliant lecturer – his postgraduate supervision was superb and then with Coetzee, Breyten Breytenbach, the late, lamented Stephen Watson and others, he set up creative writing at UCT."

Brink had brought a "comparative world culture" to UCT, and his outlook was not limited to "British or Afrikaner culture". The alternative perspective that this gave Brink enabled him to be a "translator, a shapeshifter, someone who moved between cultures, who could be the writer-engager but also the belletrist", said Glenn.

Those tributes were preceded by Szczurek's, who read out a love letter she'd written for Brink a decade ago – the same letter with which she proposed to him, and he said "yes".

"And," concluded Szczurek, "our journey continues."

Listen to the audio of the André P Brink Memorial (51.4 mb)

Story by Yusuf Omar. Photo by Michael Hammond.

Read more:

Reflecting on the life and work of André Brink

Marking the passing of André P Brink

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