27 April 2012

Namibia: Van Rooyen, an Unrecognised Writer?

Windhoek — Namibia has in its midst, a prolific writer of novels, but who, like the proverbial prophet, is hardly recognised in his own land.

Piet van Rooyen, a professor in Political Studies at the University of Namibia, has written a total of 18 books over the past 40 years. His novel Etosha, was received well in South Africa last year. His latest book, Rodriguez, was published in South Africa last week, while his next novel is scheduled to be published in June this year.

Although van Rooyen is not as well known as he deserves to be, this father of two has built up a loyal following of Afrikaans readers in Namibia, and an even bigger circle of readers in South Africa. Most of his writings are set in Namibia and practically all his books have a Namibian theme. Van Rooyen told Art Life that he concentrates primarily on the theme of man in conflict with nature, and his fellow man and all of his books deal with man in the vast expanse of nature which surrounds him.

Van Rooyen's first attempt at serious writing became a success when, as an 18-year old learner, he submitted an anthology of verse, titled Draak op die erf, to a publisher who decided to have it printed. This inspired him to continue writing. He ascribes his initial passion for writing to the encouragement of good Afrikaans teachers who triggered his interest in Afrikaans during his formative years as a learner at the Windhoek High School.

His next book, titled Rondom 'n boorvuur, was published by Tafelberg in 1983, before his big break came eleven years later with the publication of the novel, Die Spoorsnyer, which won him the CNA Prize for Afrikaans as well as the De Kat Prize. The book sold out quickly and the publishers decided to have it reprinted. About 7 000 copies of this title were sold, and according to van Rooyen, that was a remarkable run, especially for an Afrikaans book in those years. Die Spoorsnyer was also translated into English and German.

Van Rooyen describes the ceremony during which he received the CNA Prize as one of the highlights of his career. "The thrilling part about the ceremony was the fact that at the same time as when I won the prize for Afrikaans literature, the English Prize was awarded to none other than Nelson Mandela for his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom. I cannot describe to you what an honour it was for me to be reckoned on the same level as this great statesman. After we received our prizes, he approached me, congratulated me and shook my hand, a gesture I will not easily forget!" van Rooyen proudly relates.

After completing an Honours and Masters degree in Anthropology and African Studies at the University of Stellensbosch, van Rooyen worked on a mine for a couple of years before returning to Stellenbosch to lecture at the University. With Independence looming, he was driven back home to witness the transition. He found a job at the San Foundation where he taught the San to cattlefarm. During his time with the Foundation, he built up a close relationship with a San leader, Paul Chapman, an outstanding tracker. 'Die Spoorsnyer' was based on Chapman's life story. The award winning book was followed by many more - too many to mention.

Besides being an avid writer, van Rooyen is also a nature lover. He has a small holding near Gamsberg to which he retreats as often as he can - at least every alternate weekend. His other loves include diving, fishing, horse riding, hunting and, of course, reading. He was, in his younger days, a member of the Namibian National Horse Endurance Riding team and also captain of the Namibia Spearfishing team. In fact, he has written a book on Spearfishing titled,Diving and Spearfishing in South Africa. This book was published in 1988 and will be reprinted this year by Random House.

He writes all his books in Afrikaans - about which he has a simple philosophy: "There are certain things one can do only in one's mother tongue, and that is to write, swear and pray, because these three actions are closely associated with one's emotions," he believes. As an Afrikaans writer he is saddened by the fact that less and less people are reading in that language.

" It's sad actually, that people in general, are just not reading any more, period. There are only selected groups who still read. People who do not read are losing out a lot in life. The lack of a reading culture is, of course, brought about by the development of technology, and people have become lazy and have found other means of spending their time. I was inspired as a child to read and write. And I will never stop reading and writing. It's my prime passion that people should read," he asserts.

He agrees that Afrikaans is disappearing because Afrikaans speaking people do not have the integrity to attach any value to their language. But this, he believes, is also the case with English - which is proven by the sms language which is emerging very strongly today. He does, however, believe that Afrikaans will not become extinct. "We Namibians enjoy speaking the language. It's a language with which most Namibians can protect themselves against intruders from outside and we enjoy gossiping in the language. I am positive about the existence of Afrikaans."

Van Rooyen, who spends up to six hour per day in front of his keyboard, also dreams, like all other writers, of having one of his novels adapted for the screen, but until that time, he admits, he will just continue dreaming... and writing. There is, however, some light at the end of the tunnel as a South African film producer has expressed some interest in his latest novel, Rodriguez.

We're holding thumbs with him!

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