Self-Translation of an Afrikaans Short Story by SJ Naude

Eleanor Cornelius and George de Bruin

University of Johannesburg, Johannesburg


South Africa’s recorded translation tradition began during what Botha and Beukes (2019:246) call the mercantilist era (1652-1795), when the Dutch East India Company governed the Cape. The translation into the Khoikhoi language of a handful of religious texts comes from this period, although they were for comparative linguistic (rather than religious) and illustrative academic purposes (2019:248). The second era, which Botha and Beukes (2019:249) call the missionary period, coincided with British rule in South Africa from 1795 to 1902. This era saw Western colonial expansion further into South Africa, with subsequent translational contact, most significantly with the Bantu people. Translations, mainly into Xhosa, of various religious texts come from this period (Olsen 2008), as well as the first Xhosa Bible in 1865.

After the Anglo-Boer War in 1902, the defeated Boers (Afrikaners) wished to assert themselves culturally and developed their own language, Afrikaans. Translation provided a means to this end, culminating in the translation of the Afrikaans Bible in 1933, which established Afrikaans as a language of prestige (Botha and Beukes 2019). After Afrikaans obtained official status alongside English in 1925, the need to translate administrative documents into Afrikaans increased significantly. On the literary front, Afrikaans translations of mainly European and American literature also flourished: almost 40 per cent of the entire Afrikaans literary corpus between 1958 and 1965 comprised translated literature (Kleyn 2013:44). Although the apartheid era (1948-1994) also saw translations into Bantu languages, these were meticulously selected by the apartheid government and generally aimed at emphasising cultural differences to divide the black population into smaller tribes in a divide-and-conquer strategy (Botha and Beukes 2019). In contrast, only a handful of African texts were translated, mainly into English. According to Ricard (2016:59), translation of black authors’ works was neglected because their achievements would denounce apartheid.

The apartheid era also brought another dimension to translation in South Africa in that the translation direction changed. Whereas until then translation usually involved the importation of literature, resistance against apartheid saw an increase in the export of literature through translation (Botha and Beukes 2019:260). The South African government responded to local Afrikaans and English resistance literature in South Africa with censorship and bans. The Sestigers (writers of the 1960s) were among the harshest critics of the apartheid system and included, among others, Elsa Joubert (1922-2020), Etienne le Roux (1922-1989), Bartho Smit (1924-1986), André P. Brink (1935-2015), Breyten Breytenbach (b. 1939) and Chris Barnard (1939-2015). Kruger (2012:279) explains that, during the apartheid era, these Afrikaans authors attempted to avoid this censorship by self-translating or having their works translated into English “in a desperate search for personal literary survival”.

Since démocratisation in 1994, translations of works by Afrikaans authors into other languages have increased (Toerien 1998), especially into English (Rokebrand 2012:4). To widen their readership - “to enter that world arena”, as Attridge (2014:396) puts it—Afrikaans authors made their work available in translation. English translations predominate, as most Afrikaans authors have an excellent grasp of English (Attridge 2014:396). With English currently being a world lingua franca, Afrikaans authors reach an even wider readership. Naudé (2015b) writes that an Afrikaans author’s best chance of becoming known internationally is to publish abroad and reach English readers outside South Africa.

Examples of Afrikaans authors other than the Sestigers whose works have been translated into English include Uys Krige (1910-1987), Dalene Matthee (1938-2005), Karel Schoeman (1939—2017), Ingrid Winterbach (b. 1948), Antjie Krog (b. 1952), Koos Kombuis (b. 1954), Marlene van Niekerk (b. 1954), Deon Meyer (b. 1958), Marietha van der Vyver (b. 1958), Mark Behr (1963-2015) and SJ Naudé (b. 1970). Some of these authors were, one way or another, involved in the translation process (especially when translated into English). For example, the translation of Winterbach’s novel Die boek van toeval en toever-laat (The book of happenstance) began as a draft translation by the author’s brother, Dirk Winterbach (Rokebrand 2012:5). Winterbach then reworked the draft into the final translation. Others, such as Krog and Naudé (whose work is examined in this chapter), translate their work themselves.

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