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Breyten Breytenbach
Breytenbach at the 2009 Brooklyn Book Festival.
Breytenbach at the 2009 Brooklyn Book Festival.
Born September 16, 1939 (1939-09-16) (age 81)
Bonnievale, Cape Province, South Africa
Occupation Novelist, essayist, poet, painter
Language Afrikaans, English
Nationality South African
Citizenship France
Alma mater University of Cape Town
Spouse Yolande

Breyten Breytenbach (born 16 September 1939) is a South African writer and painter known for his opposition to apartheid, and consequent imprisonment by the South African government. He is informally considered as the national poet laureate by Afrikaans-speaking South Africans of the region. He also holds French citizenship.


Breyten Breytenbach was born in Bonnievale, approximately 180 km from Cape Town and 100 km from the southernmost tip of Africa at Cape Agulhas. His early education was at Hoërskool Hugenoot and he later studied fine arts at the Michaelis School of Fine Art at the University of Cape Town. He is the brother of Jan Breytenbach, co-founder of the 1st Reconnaissance Commando of the South African Special Forces with whom he holds strongly opposing political views, and Cloete Breytenbach, a widely published war correspondent. He is the father of the French journalist Daphnee Breytenbach.

His committed opposition to apartheid policy compelled him to leave South Africa for Paris, France, in the early 1960s, where he married a French woman of Vietnamese ancestry, Yolande.


On an illegal clandestine trip to South Africa in 1975 he was arrested and sentenced to nine years' imprisonment for high treason: his work The True Confessions of an Albino Terrorist describes aspects of his imprisonment. According to André Brink, Breytenbach was retried in June 1977 on new and fanciful charges that, among other things, he had planned a Russian submarine attack on the prison at Robben Island through the conspiratorial "Okhela Organisation." In the end, the judge found him guilty only of having smuggled letters and poems out of jail, for which he was fined 50 dollars.

Released in 1982 as a result of international protests, he returned to Paris and obtained French citizenship.

He became a visiting professor at the University of Cape Town in the Graduate School of Humanities in January 2000 and is also involved with the Gorée Institute in Dakar (Senegal) and with New York University, where he teaches in the Graduate Creative Writing Program.

In popular culture

Breytenbach is the only exception mentioned by name in the satirical Apartheid-era Spitting Image song I've Never Met a Nice South African.

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