UCT Great Minds: Nine of South Africa's most well-known poets

27 March 2015 | Story by Newsroom

UCT has been privileged to play host to some of our country's most talented poets – as teachers, and as students. Here are just nine.

Breyten Breytenbach

Breyten Breytenbach completed his Bachelor of Arts at Michaelis School of Fine Art in 1959. He fled South Africa's Immorality Act to live in Paris with his Vietnamese wife in 1962, where he focused on writing and painting. In 1975 he returned to South Africa on a false passport, and was promptly arrested and sentenced to a prison term of nine years, the first two of which were in solitary confinement. His book The True Confessions of an Albino Terrorist describes his prison experiences. Breytenbach's poetry, prose and paintings continue to have an impact on the South African cultural scene.

"As long as a society is characterised and conditioned by exploitation and oppression, no-one in that society can be free; the oppressed person is not free from poverty, hunger, squatter conditions, sickness, bitterness, humiliation, corruption and collaboration. Even the oppressor is not free from his fear, his greed, his ignorance, his prejudices and delusions, his inhuman way of life, his economic and political and cultural and moral corruption."


Finuala Dowling

While her more recent works – such as Homemaking for the Down-at-Heart – have been novels, Dowling is perhaps better known as a poet. Born in Cape Town in the 1960s, Dowling was the seventh of eight children of radio broadcasters Eve van der Byl and Paddy Dowling. Her first volume of poetry, I Flying, won the Ingrid Jonker Prize, while her collection, Doo-wah Girl of the Universe was co-winner of the Sanlam Award for poetry in 2003. Not only was she a student at UCT, but she now works at the Centre for Extra-Mural Studies.

Listen to a recording of Finuala Dowling performing her poems For Oom Piet, Repair and To the Doctor Who Treated the Baby and Felt Such Despair


Gabeba Baderoon

Baderoon earned two undergraduate degrees and her PhD in media studies from UCT. She has been acclaimed both for her numerous collections of poetry such as The Dream in the Next Body, The Museum of the Ordinary and A Hundred Silences, as well as her academic contributions in the field of the women's studies. In 2005 she won the Daimler Chrysler Award for poetry.

"The task of the poet is to develop an ear for the truth of the line." Listen to a recording of Gabeba Baderoon performing her poem War Triptych: silence, glory, love


Ingrid de Kok

De Kok has published six works of poetry and fiction, including Other Signs and Terrestrial Things, and her work has been translated into nine languages. She worked in the Centre for Extra-Mural Studies (now a part of CHED) for 24 years, until her early retirement in 2014.

Listen to Ingrid de Kock read from work written between 1989 and 2014 and reflect on what it means to have engaged with poetic language during these eventful years in South Africa, at her valedictory poetry reading at UCT (part 1 of 6).



Joan Hambidge

Joan Hambidge earned her second doctorate from UCT in 2001, by which time she was already known as a prolific Afrikaans poet, essayist and literary theorist. She has published over 20 volumes of poetry, seven novels, and two major works of literary theory. Today she is professor at the School of Languages and Literature at UCT.

Listen to Hambidge reading four of her poems:


Kelwyn Sole

Sole grew up in Johannesbrg and spent time in London and Windhoek before settling in Cape Town. Today, he holds the De Beers Chair for English Literature at UCT where he pursues his academic interests in post-colonial literature. He has published six collections of poetry over the course of 27 years, including Absent Tongues (2012), Land Dreams (2006) and Mirror and Water Gazing (2011). He has won the Olive Schreiner Award and Thomas Pringle Award, among many others. Read a selection of Sole's poetry.

"I think I still have rain somewhere in my heart."


Rustum Kozain

Kozain, born in Paarl, both studied and taught (as a lecturer in literary studies, creative writing and film) at UCT. His first collection of poems, titled This Carting Life was published in 2005 and won the Ingrid Jonker and Olive Schreiner Award for poetry.

Watch Kozain read from This Carting Life


Stephen Watson

Stephen Watson will always be best known for his lyrical descriptions of the city he called home. He published numerous collections of poems, spanning 30 years, about Cape Town, from In This Light (1986) to The Light Echo and Other Poems (2007). Despite being best known as a poet, Watson was also a writer of prose, and a well-known essayist and critic. As a professor of English at UCT and one of the founders of the university's creative writing programme, he was also responsible for honing the skills of hundreds of young South African writers.

"South Africa is held together by a nexus of peoples 'dreaming' each other in terms of the myths that the distance between them creates."


Tania van Schalkwyk

Van Schalkwyk describes herself as "the hybrid of a Hamburg sailor and a Mauritian artist, born in Africa, raised in Arabia and matured in Europe". She graduated from UCT's creative writing programme with an MA degree, and in addition to being a poet she is also a performance artist. Her first book of poetry, Hyphen, won the Ingrid Jonker prize for poetry in 2010.

Watch van Schalkwyk read her poem Siren Song:


Story by Ambre Nicolson. Photo by Michael Hammond.

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Please view the republishing articles page for more information.