Breyten Breytenbach was born in a conservative small town, Bonnievale, on the western side of Cape Town. He entered the then-unsegregated Cape Town University to study painting. The opportunity, for him, was revolutionary. For the first time, Breytenbach met Africans as equals, mixed with left-wing student groups, and delighted in his intellectual freedom and his escape from the narrowness and racism of his upbringing. He became a member of the radical African National Congress. At twenty-one, he left for Paris, completing his liberation, or revolt, from his family and race.
He married a Vietnamese woman (illegal under his country’s race acts). “It was . . . against the moral principles of the Christian Community that two human beings of different skin colour should lie together.” He had no choice but to remain in Paris, where he worked as an artist. He was prevented from returning with his wife even to accept the national prizes that were being awarded his work. A brief visit was arranged in 1972, during which his wife stayed across the border in independent and unsegregated Swaziland. This discrimination and rejection fostered his resentment. In 1975, he decided on active involvement and made plans almost as bizarre in practice as they were optimistic in intention. He returned on a forged French passport to set up a revolutionary organization for whites called Okhela, which would use sabotage and guerrilla action to overthrow the government....
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