Reading a poem by Ingrid Jonker in Buitenkant Street

The poem was read aloud. Construction workers stopped with their hammers and then started up again when the recitation as done. By then, the rhythm of their striking had changed and become more melodic, as though the hammers were hitting a large marimba, sounding like the animal tracks described in the poem. Two gangsters with some mal-intent revised their plans for the day and asked for a copy of the anthology.

How amazing was it that Nelson Mandela read one of Ingrid Jonker’s poem during his address to the first democratic parliament? Poetry in parliament! Poetry for the start of a new democracy! Poetry for politicians!

I went searching for the way of my body
Ingrid Jonker
Translated from the Afrikaans by Jack Cope and William Plomer

I went searching for the way of my body
and could find only the strange scars in the dust
Tracks of blue wildebeest elephants and leopards
trampled across the safe secret of the white path
Oh I wanted simply to know your shadow, steenbokkie
and the near weightlessness of your fleeing shape

Ingrid Jonker (1933-1965) is one of the 149 poets included in Africa! My Africa!
She was one of Die Sestigers, Afrikaans writers of the 1960s, along with Andre Brink, Adam Small, Breyten Breytenbach and others who were challenging Afrikaans literary norms of the time. Her poem The child who was shot dead by soldiers in Nyanga Die kind wat doodgeskiet is deur soldate by Nyanga was recited by Nelson Mandela during his address at the opening of the first democratic parliament on 24 May 1994.

To order a copy of Africa! My Africa! please email




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *