Peter Horn: 1934–2019

23 July 2019 | Written by Gunther Pakendorf.

Peter Horn was born on 7 December 1934 in Teplitz, Czechoslovakia. After the war, his family moved to West Germany – where Peter completed his schooling – before emigrating to South Africa. He studied at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) where he gained his PhD in German studies in 1970. In the 1960s he taught in the German departments at Wits, the University of South Africa (Unisa) and the then University College of Zululand.

He joined the staff at the University of Cape Town (UCT) in 1974 as professor and head of the German department, a post he held until his retirement in 1999. Between 1987 and 1991 Peter was dean of the then Faculty of Arts. He was made an Honorary Lifetime Fellow at UCT in 1994.

He spent his retirement first in Pretoria and then in Johannesburg, where he was an honorary professor and research associate at Wits University. He was a member of several local and international associations. Between 1989 and 1997 he was the president of the Southern African Association of German Studies.

Peter was an extremely productive researcher with a very large number of scholarly publications on a variety of subjects to his name. He was an internationally acknowledged specialist on the work of Heinrich von Kleist, among others. He continued his research activities throughout most of his retirement years, during which he published more than a dozen books.

Peter had a lively and active interest in South African literature. He was one of the first critics to give serious attention to black South African protest poetry. He played an important role in the debates around the shift in critical methodology of South African literary studies in the 1970s.

In addition to being a widely respected author and poet, Peter was also an active member of the Congress of South African Writers  COSAW). His work was consistently, at times stridently, critical of apartheid society. For his literary writings he was awarded the Noma Award (1992), the Alex La Guma/Bessie Head Award (1995) and the Herman Charles Bosman Prize in 2000. Finally, in 2010 he received the South African Literary Awards (SALA) Lifetime Award for his contribution to literature in South Africa.

He died on 23 July 2019 after a protracted battle with cancer.

Gunther Pakendorf

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