Obituary: Nadine Gordimer
Morakabe Raks Seakhoa | July 15th, 2014


My first introduction to Comrade Nadine was through her writing during my student activist days in the mid-1970s and later when I was serving five years on Robben Island as a political prisoner from 1979 to 1984. Her writing struck me so powerfully as it spoke of the lived experiences of people like me fighting the everyday trauma of the inequities and horror of apartheid. Alongside the writings of Karl Marx, Rosa Luxembourg, Samora Machel, Fidel Castro, Mariama Ba, Chinua Achebe and countless other revolutionary authors and thinkers, Comrade Nadine’s work occupied a pride of place in the reading and study menu of Robben Island prisoners and activists in the streets of townships, rural villages, exiled freedom fighters, or university lecture halls.

It was after my release from a year-long (1986-1987) State of Emergency detention that I met Comrade Nadine face to face in July 1987 when she and other comrades (Prof Njabulo Ndebele, Achmat Dangor, Andries Oliphant, James Matthews, Gladys Thomas, Nise Malange, Mavis Smallberg, Barbie Schreiner, among others) converged at Wits University to form the once-vibrant but now-defunct Congress of South African Writers (COSAW). She was, and continued to be, a live wire of COSAW until its demise in the late 1990’s. She was always ready to serve, through its regional and national structures, the course of empowering young up-and-coming writers by organizing and taking part in creative writing workshops, encouraging “barefoot publishing,” straddling the country distributing books through what COSAW termed “suitcase” libraries, fundraising, international writer-exchange programmes, interaction with other writers’ organizations on the African Continent and elsewhere. She even put her own money into uplifting an already accomplished musician’s knowledge of reading and writing music and awards to encourage short story writing in African languages.

A freedom fighter always looking out for the less-privileged than herself, she was a committed campaigner in PEN International‘s prisoner of conscience committee to support detained writers and journalists.

Comrade Nadine’s brutal honesty and consistency are legendary, from picking a fight with Amiri Baraka on the best socialist route to her shredding you to pieces until you got your writing to a modicum of acceptability, to speaking truth to power at every level, whether you are friend or foe…

I had the privilege, through Comrade Nadine, of getting Nelson Mandela’s endorsement of a book of poetry Richard Bartlett and I were compiling, titled Halala Madiba–Mandela In Poetry. It was quite a feat when my wife, Sindiswa, Comrade Nadine and I got an audience with the great Madiba to personally hand the book over to him. Comrade Nadine was very selfless in that and many ways.

As we bid a sad farewell to this gallant fighter, Comrade Nadine,we remember her uncompromising stance in her defense of her political homes in the African National Congress and the South African Communist Party.

When it was not fashionable, she reached out to people she may not have seen eye to eye with, including the PAC’s firebrand, the late David Sibeko, whose last stop before he and his family went to exile was Comrade Nadine’s house: she and her late husband, Reinhold Cassirer drove them over the Botswana border.

There is more, so much, to say about this indomitable freedom fighter and fine writer.

May you beautiful and forever revolutionary spirit rest in eternal and graceful peace, you, guerrilla of the imagination, Comrade Nadine!

Image Credit: Bengt Oberger (Wiki Commons)

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Morakabe Raks Seakhoa is Managing Director of the wRite associates and Project Director of the Africa Century International African Writers Conference, of which Comrade Nadine was a Patron together with Chinua Achebe, Keorapetse Kgositsile, Hugh Masekela and Wangui wa Goro, and also Project Director of the South African Literary Awards that gave Comrade Nadine Lifetime Achievement Award and established the Nadine Gordimer Short Story Award (for writing in African languages in South Africa).

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3 thoughts on “Obituary: Nadine Gordimer

  1. Yes wonderful writer. Didn’t know she was a comrade?? I thought she was a humanist and not a propagandist or ideologue.

  2. Beatrice, how generous of you to try to score a cheap political point down here in the comments section. Of course anybody interested in literature and, thus, language, could remind you that the etymology of the word “comrade” has nothing to do with propaganda or ideology. If the author of this piece chooses to claim a comradeship with the late Ms. Gordimer (in a struggle, incidentally, that is not specified — we could take it to be the struggle against apartheid, against colonialism or neocolonialism, for a socialist future, or all of the above), who are we to object? Seems appropriate, after all, given that the author had, in fact, shared a room with the late Ms. Gordimer on more than occasion, and this post describes Ms. Gordimer’s willingness to share a room with (and open her own home to) those with whom she might have disagreed on this or that political point. Nice to hear that her work was widely read on Robben Island — since that means that despite apartheid’s efforts to keep them apart, Ms. Gordimer and those imprisoned on Robben Island would, in some sense, have been comrades. They shared that room, those cells, even if Ms. Gordimer was only present through her work. Stripping Ms. Gordimer’s work of its political/revolutionary investments in favor of some bland version of “humanism” (even if she was also that) is no way to honor her legacy.

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