Rustum Kozain. Die nie-toekenning van die Ingrid Jonker-prys

Statement on the Ingrid Jonker Prize 2010

Following criticism about the suspension of this year’s Ingrid Jonker Prize, herewith a statement on behalf of the committee that administers the award.

The work of the committee

The Ingrid Jonker Prize committee is made up of volunteers; no committee member receives any remuneration for serving on the committee. There are no written regulations that govern or guide the selection, ‘appointment’ and number of committee members. Customarily, a poet is approached by the committee if there is a ‘vacant position’. If such a person is prepared to volunteer, they are welcomed to the committee. Thus I was invited and joined the committee in 2008.

Similarly by custom, the committee is made up, ideally, of five members. It had a full complement until late 2009, when one member resigned; in March 2010, the former acting chair, Louis Esterhuizen, also resigned, after having given notice two years prior of his intention to resign. (He had himself previously become chair by default when other members withdrew from the committee and he was left as the last one standing.)

The committee itself does not decide on the winner of the award, but chooses and invites a panel of judges who are poets. The judges receive no remuneration but volunteer to adjudicate.

My understanding is that up until 2007, the adjudication was done by two people. In that year, there was a hung decision and a third judge was then approached to cast a deciding vote. To avoid a repeat of such a situation, committee members now each nominate three poets as judges in the relevant language to decide on a winner from volumes submitted by publishers.

The committee discusses and chooses, mainly via email, three judges from the nominated pool. Part of the work of the committee is to invite publishers to send in debut volumes, which the committee then sends on to the judges. Over the past few years, the solicitation and sending of books have been done by Louis Esterhuizen, in his capacity as a book dealer.

The judges individually and independent of each other decide who they believe the winner should be by scoring a mark out of three for each candidate and writing a short report motivating their decisions. The committee tallies the marks and declares a winner. This mechanism is not formalised as written rules or guidelines, but continue as orally transmitted custom and tradition.

Someone from the committee then usually volunteers to draft a commendation as press release announcing the winner. The draft is sent around among committee members for editing and approval, translated into English or Afrikaans, and then sent off to major newspapers.

The prize money comes from the interest earned from a small capital amount (R32 000) in the Ingrid Jonker Prize fund, held at ABSA, Stellenbosch. Two committee members have to sign the winner’s cheque. At present I am aware that two past members of the committee still have signing rights, Louis Esterhuizen and Zandra Bezuidenhout. Danie Marais and I are the other two with signing rights.

A record of committee discussions and decisions exists in emails as most of the committee ‘meetings’ have been virtual. Where we have met for face-to-face meetings, no minutes exist.

For the time that I have been serving while Louis Esterhuizen was chair, he, thanklessly, has done all of the work soliciting submissions, approaching potential judges and sending them the books.

I provide this detailed explication on how the committee works in order to provide information for the benefit of some critics and readers who may be unaware of its operation.

The need for regulations

The customary rule of the Ingrid Jonker Prize is that it is awarded to a debut collection of poetry, alternating each year between an Afrikaans and an English volume. This is the crystal clear rule that some critics have highlighted.

However, there have been three occasions over the past few years which have made it clear that better, more precise and publicised rules would be to the benefit of the award process, the committee, the judges, and candidates for the award. The first such occasion concerned a debut volume in one language where the author already had a significant poetry oeuvre in the other language. This was then raised for discussion among the committee: could or should this author be eligible on the basis of that volume which was, by some reasonable definition, a debut? One line of argument among the committee was that, given the absence of rules, the volume should come under consideration. In other words, there were no rules excluding such a book. The counter argument among the committee was that it would not be consistent with the spirit of the Ingrid Jonker Prize, which, broadly speaking, should be to the celebration and further encouragement of new talent. The committee voted and the latter argument won (not unanimously).

The larger point here is that in the absence of written, formalised and publicised rules, ad hoc rules detract from any sense of fairness that the process behind the Ingrid Jonker Prize may have. If there are formal rules, and if these rules are publicised, publishers of potential candidates will know whether to submit or not, and disappointment and resentment can be avoided. It would befit the prestige of the Ingrid Jonker Prize to have stable, written rules, rather than the ad hoc way in which a book may or may not be excluded.

A second issue was when the committee was tempted to consider awarding a shared prize. Even though judges’ marks declared a clear winner, judges themselves were unsure (in their reports) of larger, not exclusively literary, concerns. In short, judges were unsure which of two books better paid homage to the spirit of Jonker’s poetry. While the committee did not intervene to guide the decision, the temptation existed to do so. By virtue of the fact that the committee considered, even if briefly, whether to discuss it, shows that it entertained engaging in the decision. This can be avoided by formalised rules which clarify the issue for both judges and committee, especially the independence of the judging process.

A third occasion was when a potential judge was willing to adjudicate only if an award could also not be made. In other words, the judge did not want to be associated with an award made by default and for the sake of having an award. Rather, the judge was concerned, in principle, with whether there was a right to refuse making an award. Again, one can see the need for written and publicised regulations.

There are other scenarios where the benefit of written rules is clear. What do we do when a South African publishes a debut in another country? What do we do when a non-resident, someone from another country on a student visa in South Africa, for instance, publishes a debut in South Africa? Should a poet of merit, who, in the difficult market of poetry publishing, decides to self-publish be excluded? What about poetry ‘published’ by CD, and with musical accompaniment. If a young poet debuts in this format, should it be excluded? What about a writer, of age and with an extensive prose oeuvre, publishing a first book of poetry?

Irrespective of the answers to these questions, the fact remains that in the absence of written and publicised rules, there is uncertainty. Would it not be better and fair to have rules that everyone is aware of, rather than have potential submissions excluded ad hoc?


I volunteered as chair on condition that we hold over the awarding of the prize; I had this condition because, by March 2010, when Louis Esterhuizen resigned, I had a clear sense of how the administration of the award, for which the committee volunteers, would impinge on my freelance work and on my own writing projects. There was debate and disagreement about this, but I would not have volunteered to be chair of the committee had the proviso been rejected.

The impasse which some critics now see is indeed due to the structural problems inherent in the informal nature of the administration of the award: there is nothing by which the committee can be held accountable (except by excoriating attack in the press). As chair, I may be criticised for not publishing a press release which explains the decision in detail timeously, but Versindaba, at which the award is announced (and has normally been done for the past several years), takes place on 17 and 18 September. And, while I was expecting criticism, the vituperation with which some critics have attacked the committee and me was unexpected. (I hope that further responses, criticism and debate will carry at least a sheen of civility.)

The criticism that it is unfair on candidates that the pool of competition for English debuts is now increased ignores other elements that may be unfair in the process of making the award, highlighted above. It is also disingenuous. Normally, one imagines that where a pool is larger, the competition would be stronger. And where the competition is stronger, a winner emerges even stronger than had the field been weaker. Is it better – for both South African poetry and the person who is the winner – to have a winner from a smaller and therefore weaker field, or from a larger, stronger field? Some critics have been concerned about damage now done to the prestige of the award. This leaves the question of how in one instance a stronger competition detracts from that prestige, while one would imagine that a winner out of a strong field adds prestige.

The issue of poetry, prize money and prestige is a difficult issue. On the one hand, there is the idea that money somehow introduces a venal strain to what is a prestigious poetry award. In addition, the prestige of the award is thought of as independent of the purse (currently R2000). But all round, poets complain about their craft being treated like the stepchild of South African letters. Publication opportunities decrease, review pages for poetry disappear, market and readership shrink. It is not an encouraging environment for poets, let alone for new or young poets. Is it not possible, and desirable, that a bigger purse may add to the prestige? Is it not possible that a bigger purse may add to the encouragement of a new poet by gifting that poet with, say, at least enough money to pay rent and bills for a month, during which they can gain both material and cultural benefit: time to work on new poetry, for instance?

I hope the above explanation clears up matters with the critics and the wider public. On behalf of the committee, I welcome suggestions about all matters concerning the administration of the Ingrid Jonker Prize.

Critics have highlighted the problems inherent in the informal nature of the award administration. And so perhaps this is an opportunity to consider ways in which to develop a structural mechanism that can guarantee a committee’s accountability. What would be the way to do that? A foundation? Are there any legal experts with an interest who can volunteer time to develop this? But what about the added administration then? Would we still have volunteers prepared to do the work?

The vituperation which accompanied much of the criticism is unfortunate and unexpected, yet understandable in retrospect. The fact is that the committee was fully within its ‘rights’ to make the decision now criticised. The unhappiness regarding the holding over of the Ingrid Jonker Prize this year nevertheless underlines the need for transparency and a formalised agreement on the functioning of the committee and the vision, mission and regulation of the prize. The committee hereby undertakes to submit a bilingual draft proposal for such a regulatory constitution to the media by middle November and suggestions are welcome. Members of the public will have until the end of January to comment and criticise the proposed constitution. By the end of March 2011 the new constitution and the rules regulating the award will be published in print and on various internet forums. The next Ingrid Jonker Prize for Afrikaans poetry will be awarded at Versindaba in September 2011.


Rustum Kozain

Ingrid Jonker Prize committee


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22 Kommentare op “Rustum Kozain. Die nie-toekenning van die Ingrid Jonker-prys”

  1. Johann de Lange :

    Rustum Kozain has managed to complicate (or make it seem complicated) something which has been working just fine for a very long time. To keep it simple, let’s use the analogy of a 1oom race: the medal goed to whoever finishes first. The judges don’t get together & decide not to award the medal because the winner’s time is not as fast as that of the previous year. It would be ludicrous. Looking at the winners of the prize over a period of time should be a reflection of the state of poetry at any given moment. And since he makes so much of the spirit of Ingrid Jonker, I wonder whether she’d have decided to NOT award a prize because the ego’s or agendas of committees got in the way. Seriously.

  2. Joop Vorster :

    “goed”? G’n wonder die Engelse respekteer ons nie meer nie!

  3. Daniel Hugo :

    Die Ingrid Jonkerprys bestaan al probleemloos vir 44 jaar. As daar ‘n onvoorsiene moeilikheid opgeduik het, is dit op ‘n kreatiewe wyse opgelos, soos wat ‘n mens van digters kan verwag. Waarom nou skielik ‘n burokratiese rompslomp daarvan maak? En dan nog ‘n hele jaar nodig hê om dit te implimenteer!

  4. Joan Hambidge :

    Daniel ek gaan akkoord met jou. En met Johann. Lees Sondag Rapport vir my reaksie. Dit is ‘n skandaal. Werklik. En Kuzain wat skryf dat dit ‘n ondankbare werk sonder vergoeding is. Hoekom dit dan aanvaar as jy betaling eis?

  5. Johann Lodewyk Marais :

    Dit sal bitter jammer wees indien voortgegaan word om aan die wese van die Ingrid Jonkerprys te torring. Ek was in my RGN-dae by die administrasie van sowel die Louis Luyt- as die Rapportprys betrokke en het beleef hoe maklik pryse in omstredenheid kan verval. En ophou bestaan. Die Ingrid Jonker-prys het sedert 1966 daarin geslaag om nie in allerlei omstredenheid gedompel te word nie. Die oorspronklike konsep en benadering het daarvoor gesorg.

  6. Joan Hambidge :

    Johann Lodewyk jy het gelyk. Hierdie prys kan sy werklike glorie verloor weens hierdie omstredenheid. As Kozain & kie dit net wil besef, kan hulle red wat daar te redde is en die wenner aankondig by die Versindaba. ‘n Mens het nie ‘n sabbatsverlof nodig om ‘n wenner aan te kondig en ‘n kortlys by die uitgewershuise te kry nie.

  7. Desmond :

    Joop Vorster, jy heg darem te veel waarde aan ‘n onbenullige taalfout. Eerstens gaan geen normale Engelstalige ophou om ‘ons’ te respekteer oor ons foute maak in Engels nie; en tweedens kan ‘n mens jouself nie meer korrigeer nadat jy reeds ‘Stuur Kommentaar’ gekliek het nie. So ek dink jou kommentaar op Johann de Lange is geniepsig en het niks te make met die gesprek nie!!

  8. Charl-Pierre Naude :

    Dear Rustum, and the committee of the Jonker Prize. Your arguments are crystal clear. It is time for more regulation. Nothing proves this better than the very dispute raging above. The goodwill and ipso facto common sense of colleagues are NOT enough. Tye verander. Tye het verander. As daar ego’s betrokke is hierbo, is dit die die ego’s van die kritici. Reageer asseblief PUNTSGEWYSE op elke PUNT wat Kozain maak, of bly stil.

  9. Johann Lodewyk Marais :

    Ego’s? Regtig?

  10. Riet :

    As ek dan ook ʼn eiertjie hier mag lê tussen die dinosourusse: Kozain se hele betoog en verduideliking is glashelder en baie sinvol. Dat daar skriftelike reglemente moet bestaan vir prystoekennings is tog net logies! Die prys het geen ‘wese’ soos dit tans daarna uitsien nie. Daar is juis niks om aan te ‘torring’ nie. Prestige ja, maar dis ook ‘n abstraksie. Waaraan moet voldoen word vir ‘prestige’? Kom ek as debutant op 90 jaar met drie hare op die kop in my rystoel ook in aanmerking? Omdat alles sommer so lukraak geadministreer is, is van ons beste digters soos Gilbert Gibson – en hoeveel ander ook – nie eens daarmee vereer nie. As dit die manier dan is hoe dit in die verlede plaasgevind het, waarom kan enige een nie maar sommer op die verhoog stap en die prys toeken nie? Ons het mos nie Kozain se toestemming nodig nie, daar is geen reëls nie? Die bladsy is skoon. Pure blue skies en al daai jazz.
    My voorstel: dat Kozain en maters wel hulle reglemente asseblief tog opstel, maar ten minste vanjaar nog ʼn prys op die ou inie minie maainie mo pick and choose manier oorhandig aan die beste digter volgens hulle se persoonlike sentimente en letterkundige smake. Hulle hoef nie die prys met enige fees te oorhandig nie, hulle kan dit for that matter ook op Krismisdag doen. Die digter se uitgewer kan ‘n oujaarspaartie vir sy ongeveerde kuikentjie gee om die prys te ontvang? Daar is nog baie tyd en geleenthede oor vir 2010.
    En dan… dan is almal mos tevrede?
    Die digter sal juig, die akademici sal weer plesierig voel en die anonieme belangstellende massas sal dankbaar wees dat daar nie meer in die verre toekomstige donker moontlik gekonkel gaan word nie, omdat daar deursigtige regulasies sal wees. Ek ‘vermoed’ Ingrid sal ook verheug wees.

  11. Joan Hambidge :

    Riet, Gilbert Gibson is nie vereer nie, gewoon omdat net een digter binne ‘n siklus vereer kan word.

  12. Riet :

    Net een? Sorrie Joan. Dan is dit des te meer noodsaaklik dat daardie prys vanjaar nog toegeken moet word.
    Ek is beskikbaar om die medalje te oorhandig. : )

  13. Joan Hambidge :

    Presies my gevoel. As die komitee inspring, kan hulle ‘n wenner aanwys.

  14. Joop Vorster :

    Ek stem saam met Naudé.

  15. Joan Hambidge :

    Ek wou nog vra: wat vir ‘n ding is ‘n basaarkoei, toe is dit weg! Joop Vorster, verduidelik asb.

  16. Joop Vorster :

    De Lange en Hambidge: die Rudi en Corlea van die Afrikaanse digkuns.

  17. Marlise :

    Lina Spies reageer op Rustum Kozain se persverklaring oor die Ingrid Jonker-prys
    Woens 15 Sep 2010, 21:00 DIE BURGER

    Ingrid Jonker-prys

    Die kontroversies rondom die Ingrid Jonker-prys wat vanjaar nie toegeken word nie, het my herinner aan die twee keer wat ek by die prys betrokke was: eenmaal as ontvanger en eenmaal as beoordelaar. Op Saterdag 24 April1974 het ek die prys, in 1973 aan my toegeken vir my poësiedebuut Digby Vergenoeg (1971), ontvang onder die bome by Jack Cope se huis op Onrus op ’n genotvolle, informele geleentheid. Ek het die geleentheid beskryf in my essay “Klein seremonie by Eldorado” in my essaybundel Ontmoetings (1979) en gelukkig die brief wat Jan Rabie in dié verband aan Hennie Aucamp geskryf het in sy geheel aangehaal: “Hennie, jy is mos ook op die Ingrid Jonker-ding. Die prys moet oorhandig word aan Lina Spies. Help asseblief! Ons kan reël dat dit hier op Onrus gebeur, by my of by Jack. Ek sal sorg vir die wyn. Marjorie vir die kos. ‘Sal jy vir Lina bring?’”

    ’n Klinkklaarder bewys van hoe gemaklik en lukraak met die Ingrid Jonker-“ding” omgegaan is, kan ’n mens nie verlang nie. Dit geld ook vir die beoordeling wat ewe lukraak hanteer is. Hoe Henning Snyman en ek verkies is tot beoordelaars en hoe die debuutbundels ons bereik het, weet ek nie meer nie, wel dat ons een oggend op kantoor ná ’n kort bespreking besluit het dat die prys aan Johann de Lange moet gaan. Tye het verander en ek is daarvan oortuig dat riglyne vir die prys duidelik geformuleer behoort te word wat betref wie geskik is as beoordelaars en of uitgewers of boekhandelaars die werke wat in aanmerking mag kom, moet voorlê. Tans is die beoordelaars volgens Kozain slegs digters waarteen ek ernstige besware het. Soos in geval van Johann de Lange in 1983 was ek, soos Snyman, behalwe digter, ook ’n literator. Eweneens was in geval van die toekenning aan my die literator, Ampie Coetzee, naas Wilma Stockenström, die beoordelaar. Dit lyk vir my na ’n kombinasie wat gerus as reël kan geld.

    Volgens Kozain is “poësie, prysgeld en prestige ’n moeilike kwessie.” Die geld verbonde aan ’n prys bepaal sekerlik nie sy prestige nie. Wat hy bedoel deur poësie eweneens ’n moeilike kwessie te noem, is onduidelik. Iemand wat as literator en/of digter geskool is in die poësie behoort darem te weet wat ’n verdienstelike debuutbundel is. Die kwessie van prysgeld verbind hy daaraan dat “digters oral kla dat hulle genre soos die stiefkind van die Suid-Afrikaanse letterkunde behandel word.” ’n Digter wat nie weet dat die poësie die kuns van die enkeling vir die enkeling is nie, is die naam van “digter” nie werd nie en as hy dan nog verwag om groot geld uit die publikasie daarvan te maak, is hy/sy verbysterend naïef. Poësie is beslis nie die stiefkind as dit by feeste kom nie. Op Stellenbosch word die poësie gereklameer, gepropageer en bejubel op twee geleenthede per jaar: die Woordfees in Maart en in September die Versindaba wat uitsluitend aan die poësie gewy word. Dat die Ingrid Jonker-prys vanjaar nie toegeken word nie is beslis nie ’n nasionale ramp nie. Net so min as wat dit enige digter te na kom, word die prestige van Ingrid Jonker se nalatenskap daardeur aangetas.

    Lina Spies

  18. Joan Hambidge :

    Antwoord aan Lina Spies oor die Ingrid Jonker-prys

    Dit kom wel die digters te na wat hierdie jaar sou kon aanspraak maak op die prys. Hoe sou hierdie bekroondes gevoel het as dit met hulle gebeur het?

    Hierdie oorsig is dalk nie ‘n nasionale ramp nie, maar wel ‘n mini-skandaal.
    Natuurlik is die digter ‘n eenspaaier en enkeling wat besig bly met die digkuns.

    De Lange se bekroning – dit staan opgeteken in Ensovoort (onder redaksie van Johann Lodewyk Marais & Renée Marais) is na ‘n besluit, dat dit nie toegeken gaan word nie, na ‘n arbiter verwys. Sheila Cussons het Johann de Lange se debuutbundel, Akwarelle van die dors, verkies bó Lucas Malan se debuut.

  19. Johann Lodewyk Marais :

    Lina Spies se weergawe van die gebeure rondom die Ingrid Jonker-prys 1983 is inderdaad nie korrek nie. Dankie vir die regstelling, Joan.

  20. Joan Hambidge :

    Danie Marais

    Nou dat Rustum Kozain bedank het, moet Danie Marais (wat in alle tale swyg) asseblief so gou as moontlik antwoord op my, Johann Lodewyk Marais en Johann de Lange se skrywes. (De Lange s’n verskyn op die Burger se boekeblog).
    Wat gaan gedoen word om die wa uit die drif te kry?
    Hoe gaan die omstredenheid opgehef word?
    En die prys moet ten minste vanjaar nog aangekondig word. Die oorhandiging kan volgende jaar plaasvind.

  21. Joan Hambidge :

    En Daniel Hugo se raad sal ook van waarde wees.

  22. Louis :

    Joan, ek antwoord sommer voorlopig namens Danie. Hy het reeds vanoggend die nuwe komitee gefinaliseer en ‘n persverklaring voorberei wat reeds in my besit is. Tans word daar net gewag vir sanksie deur die nuwe komiteelede en dan sal ons dit kan plaas. So, binne enkele ure mag al jou vrae en ander se onsekerhede uit die weg geruim wees …
    Hoe sê hulle in Engels? Watch this space, of wat ook al. 🙂