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J. M. Coetzee, author of Life & Times of Michael K and professor at the University of Cape Town, has stated in The New York Times (1/12/1986) that van Wyk's poem "In Detention" is playing with fire. Van Wyk has at least one passage that very dramatically speaks of deaths of people that the South African government passed off following inquests as suicide and accidental deaths. Coetzee calls them "so-called suicides and accidental deaths" identified by "cursory post-mortems by Government functionaries" who labeled them from a "barely serious stock of explanations that the [South African] security police keep on hand for the news media."
Van Wyk turns and twists phrases in his poem to put unrelated events in juxtaposition with others, thus arriving at a sense of intervening outside forces in the deaths he is alluding to without ever making accusations against any individual or, more importantly, against the government. Van Wyk and Coetzee both strive to expose the closed-door operations of torture leading to legally inexplicable deaths carried on in the 1980s by the South African government for the purposes of dissent suppression. Van Wyk's word jumbling
He fell from the ninth floor
He hanged himself while washing
He slipped from the ninth floor
He hung from the ninth floor
He slipped on the ninth floor while washing
intimates the absurdity behind what Coetzee labels as official government explanations and suggests, in absurdist fashion, a sinister explanation behind the deaths. Coetzee connects the deaths that van Wyk alludes to with unofficial, unauthorized, though prevalent, acts of government torture. Therefore, van Wyk's poem "In Detention" is a protest against out of control South African control of what is consider by them to be a disruptive element of society. Coetzee says of van Wyk:
Mr. van Wyk's poem plays with fire, tap-dances at the portals of hell. It comes off because it is not a poem about death but a parody of the barely serious stock of explanations that the security police ... .
Christopher van Wyk was born in 1957 in Soweto (South Western Township), which was established near Johannesburg for South African blacks during the era of apartheid and which was a center of apartheid uprisings.
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