Winternachten constitution. Antjie Krog

Hierdie lesing ook beskikbaar in die

Nederlandse vertaling

van Robert Dorsman.


(Universal) Declaration of Interconnectedness


(Universal) Suggestions for Tolerance



(Luister ook hier na die lesing!)


Antjie Krog

Antjie Krog

Whereas the theme of this year’s festival is Rules, it is important to remember that the word “rule” means: a regulation governing conduct or procedure within a particular sphere; it means the normal or customary state of things; it means norms.

Whereas former Dutch colonies have come to know Dutch rules (eg. that one may take land, that land belonging to people of colour means land free for the taking, for the exploiting etc.) it is intriguing to know that you are re-thinking rules – here in your own country.

Whereas Western culture is fond of opposites, dialectics, tension between two poles, it is perhaps proper to suggest the following: when YOU colonized the Third World, your rules splintered up indigenous communities; the lives of Third World people became fragmented and they had to learn to function in two, sometimes three or even more worlds. The opposite would look like this: YOU, here in Holland, are being “colonized”. The Third World is splintering YOU up with its own fragmented selves and rules from its fractured homes. The First World finds itself more and more invaded by multi-fragmented people bringing with them fundamental believes in rules splintered and distorted by years of exploitation and abuse.

Whereas you are frantically making new rules to regulate the influx of these for-you-unfathomable rules that make their presence abundantly felt in the democracy that you have created, you find your rules more and more inadequate to mend the splintered fibers of your society.

Whereas the word “rules” gives one the creeps as it calls forth one’s most anarchic instincts; whereas rules are a First World Thing, made by those who can enforce them, we want, simply, to suggest, because the Third World never prescribes, it merely suggests. Or it burns. Yes, it likes to burn, because the First World always has an ear for fire. 

Now and Therefore, this Festival could proclaim a Universal Declaration of Interconnectedness as a common standard of procedure for First World Nations in order to arrive at a fairer form of co-existence.


Suggestion 1.

Of us all, everybody has to, as Wittgenstein says: go up to someone.          

In his Philosophical Investigations Ludwig Wittgenstein advocates: We go up to the thing we mean … Yes: meaning something is like going up to someone. (PI, 455 and 457)

This means face-to-face. It shifts the paradigm from intellectual cognition and empirical fact to human experience and perception. To achieve some mutual understanding, Wittgenstein suggests that we should contemplate the everyday differences that seem alien to us. This is a process of cross-cultural understanding; a reciprocal act.

In order to have a safe nurturing society we have to transform the borders dividing us, into seams. (De Kock, 2004:16) We have to suture these different pieces of material together through stitching enduring seams. Therefore we have to know intimately that this piece is satin, that piece is flannel and this is part of a crumbling plastic bag – carefully we have to weave this together. 


Suggestion 2

Of us all, everybody from the West who has gone “up to someone”, standing opposite The Other, having come this far, being filled perhaps with goodwill, doesn’t mean one suddenly understands or make correct meaning. Because one has arrived as an individual. One’s sense of self is based on Western civilization which deems the individual as the most important dynamo for development and progress.

But more and more philosophers and intellectuals are warning that the incontestable result of all this individualisation has brought the world also to the what Susan Sontag has called: the ruins of man’s thought. (Sontag, 1987:8)

African philosopher Kwasi Wiredu describes the obsessive expression of self-affirmation as the “unlovable fallout of the ethic of austere individualism.” (Bell: 2002)


Suggestion 3

Of us all, as she stands opposite you, this Other, she does not know what she dreads most: the moment you say, yes my sister, you are like me; or the moment you say: Oh Mother Africa, I know you are, because Africa is.

Of us all, do not readily interpret from your own world view, do not identify, nor differ, just listen how things you think you know, are being formulated.

Prominent South African Lutheran theologian, Manas Buthelezi has expanded interconnectedness within African spirituality to ‘the wholeness of life’, which means that different areas of life, like the religious and secular, or the spiritual and material, can never be compartementalised or understood in isolation from one another – everything is interrelated. (Brand, 2002: 103) Every meeting of a black family is therefore social, cultural, political, literary, spiritual etc.

After listening to poetry much absorbed with loneliness, a Zimbabwean poet said: I can honestly say I have never been lonely. I am always surrounded by presences of different realms, forces, fields, spirits… Nothing is simply what I see.   
A transcribed text from a culture more than 5000 years old, tries to explain this cosmic interconnectedness:

/Xam informer: Diä!kwain

when the star feels that our heart starts to tilt

then the star falls

the star knows when we are going to die

whenever a star falls

you know that the heart of someone you love is falling

even the hamerkop bird

sees the water is full of stars


/Xam informer: /A!kúnta

the young wind, that is the son of the wind, once was a man

then he became a bird

and he flew, because he could no longer walk as he did earlier


he now who is flying there, once was a man

once he formed clay and shot an arrow

when he still felt himself to be a man

but then he became a bird

In his famous essay on African Philosophical thought, Kwame Gyekye says that this interconnectedness-towards-wholeness is being held by most of the scholarship on cultures of Africa, as the most outstanding trademark as well as the most defining characteristic. (1997:36)


Suggestion 4

But of us all, what does it mean to be interconnected to the world in its entirety? How does it change one?

It makes one understand that one is not born a person, one has to become a person through continual ethical interaction with the universe. Personhood has to be attained in direct proportion as one participates in this kind of communal life which will transform one from the it-status of early childhood with its absence of moral function, into the person status of later years, marked by a widened maturity of ethical sense. (Bell, 2002: 61)  

The term Sesotho speakers use for a white person is: le-khoa. When a white person behaves humanely and contrary to the white stereotype it would be said that “ga se lekgoa, ke motho”, (“he/she is not white, he/she is a human being”).

To be a person, to possess personhood – is therefore not a state of being, it is a process – a continual process of building oneself through moral acts of sharing, nurturing, washing, providing, harvesting. Nobody can exist or be known except in relation to every pedestrian, in reference to every magnet and field, as part of the buried, part of the array of significant others yet to be born.

We are being forged


by granite, fig

sparrow and sister

through an infinite ongoing series of sharing







Suggestion 5 

Being so close-up to The Other should make one aware how irrefutably linked to the Third World one is. The more one isolates oneself and protect what one has, the have’s wanting to become the have more’s, the more one is dying and the more the earth will wreak itself on one. 

Allow me a quote from John Coetzee’s book: “Age of Iron.” The main character, Mrs Curren is kneeling at the body of a bleeding black teenager. She has come to know him as mean, slow and brutal. She tries to stop the blood flowing from his body. She thinks:

I do not love this child. Yes, he is not lovable. But what part did I play in making him unlovable? … This is the first step: I must love, first of all, the unlovable. I must love, for instance, this child. But I cannot find it in my heart to love him, to want to love him. Therefore let me utter my second dubious word. Not wanting to love him, how true can I say my love is for you, my daughter? (p125)


Suggestion 6

I come up to you. “You will soon be ‘colonized'”, I say. Like me, you will find yourself suddenly in a space that for many centuries had been interpreted and organized via western and European frameworks. But there will come a time that you will find, like me, that most of your references and many of your frameworks have become useless and redundant.

Eg. how, as a South African do I “read” Robert Mugabe? How do I “read” my government’s reaction or those of the Zimbabweans themselves? I want to understand and have an African perspective on the matter. Is Thabo Mbeki’s muteness the perspective, or is Archbishop Tutu’s criticism the perspective or are the crowds cheering Mugabe at President Zuma’s inauguration the perspective, or Morgan Tsvangerai’s inability to formulate ANYTHING the perspective?

Or are they all based on something else which makes them actually not contradictory, but moral and sensible yet diverse interpretations of the same world view which I do not yet know?


Suggestion 7

Like you I want to be part of the country I was born in. I need to know whether it is possible for somebody like me to become like the majority, to become ‘blacker’ (and for you to become more Muslim cultured) and live as a full and at-ease component of your country’s psyche.

How do I come up to The Other, to take up Wittgenstein’s challenge, if I have always identified The Other merely in terms of colour; or in your case, clothes or religion? Standing here, I am not interested in African philosophy versus Western philosophy, but rather in what kind of self I should become, or grow into, in order to live a caring, useful and informed life – a ‘good life’ – within my country?

The well-known phrase of French philosopher Deleuze is: becoming-minor. Minor in terms of becoming-child, becoming-animal, becoming-woman, becoming-black, becoming-Islam. (See Patton)

But black and Islam is not minor in the world, you will say! Yet Deleuze argues that the majority is presented by the “standard” which is always the adult-white-heterosexual-European-male-speaking-a-standard-European-language. Although there are more females in the world, these men appear twice: once in the standard and once in the group from which the standard is extracted.”

We always have to question the standard. If we are not constantly refiguring the standard we will die. We constantly need to invent new forms of life and different modes of existence in order to survive. Even if it’s piecemeal – questioning the standard will make space for positive change. (On the other hand, trying to become or maintain the standard leads to suffocation and collapse)

To renew ourselves we have to turn to the outsider, the stranger. There will always be an outsider who calls into question the existence of the collective standard and it is the task of especially the intellectual to be an advocate for the figure of the stranger. (Sanders, 2002:129) The ‘stranger’ who threatens the stability of the society, who puts the society at risk, also finally provides the possibility of restoring and saving it. (2002:129; see also Gyekye ,1997:74)

Again to quote Coetzee: How shall I be saved? By doing what I do not want to do. That is the first step: that I know. I must love, first of all, the unlovable.

It is precisely this desire for new pivots, new focal points, new axis, that eventually carry the potential for ‘new earths’ new communities and peoples who are not like those found in defensive barricaded and in the end self-imploding democracies.


Suggestion 8 

Nothing in this Declaration of Suggestions should be interpreted as implying that the tolerant is flirting with the intolerant. THAT we should never do: flirt with the intolerant; or, even more dangerous, trying to be a martyr for the tolerant. We should engage the intolerant. We should work hard in developing a vocabulary, finding the words, the imagery and the means to dissolve the root of intolerance. And the root is almost always: poverty with religion, guns, nationalism, patriarchy as strategies to get out of poverty or to hang on to what you have. We should dissolve intolerance without, and this is important, without becoming intolerant ourselves.

“Because blood is precious, more precious than gold or diamonds. Because blood is one: a pool of life dispersed among us in separate existences, but belonging by nature together: lent, not given: held in common, in trust, to be preserved: seeming to live in us, but only seeming, for in truth we live in it.” (Age of Iron p.58)


Brand G. (2002) Speaking of a Fabulous Ghost – In Search of Theological Criteria, with special reference to the Debate on Salvation in African Christian Theology Peter Lang Europaischer Verlag der Wissenschaften Frankfut am Main Berlin New York Oxford

Bell Richard, H. Understanding African Philosophy – a Cross Cultural Approach to Classical and Temporary Issues (2002) Routledge New York and London

Brown, J. (1926) Among the Bantu Nomads: A Record of Forty Years Spent among the Bechuana. London:Seeley Service

Coetzee, J.M. (1990) Age of Iron London: Martin Secker & Warburg Limited.

Comaroff, J.& Comaroff. J. 2001. Of Personhood: An Anthropological Perspective from Africa. Social Identities 7(2). 267-281.

De Kock, L., Bethlehem L. & Laden S. (2004) South Africa in the Global Imaginary Unisa Press, University of Unisa.

Gyekye, K. (1987) An Essay on African Philosophical Thought. The Akan Conceptual Scheme. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Krog, Antjie. (2004) The stars say ‘tsau’ – /Xam poems by Dia!kwain, Kweiten-ta-//ken, /A!kunta, /Hank=kass’o. Cape Town: Kwela

Imbo, S. (1998) An Introduction to African Philosophy (NY:Rowman & Littlefield.

Serequeberhan, T. (1994) The Hermeneutics of African Philosophy – Horizon and Discourse New York London: Routledge.

Patton, P. Becoming-animal and pure life in Coetzee’s “Disgrace”

Sanders, M. (2002) Complicities – The Intellectual and Apartheid, Durham & London Duke University Press.

Wittgenstein, Ludwig. Philosophical Investigations, ed G.E.M. Anscombe and R.Rhees, trans.G.E.M. Anscombe. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1953.


 (HIerdie lesing is gelewer op 14 Januarie 2010, Den Haag)













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