Translation and Untranslatability in the Poetry of Dennis Brutus and Keorapetse Kgositsile

Karin Berkman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article traces aspects of the history of translation, familiar both in critical works that address South African literature and in South African literary texts, in relation to two poems by the black South African poets Dennis Brutus and Keorapetse Kgositsile. It considers their insinuation of untranslated or translated Afrikaans into an English text as a radical poetic strategy that both reinforces and disrupts established paradigms of the trope of translation. The article focuses on the untitled poem beginning with the line “Here of the things I mark” by Dennis Brutus, published in 1978 at the height of apartheid rule, and the post-apartheid poem “No Serenity Here” by Keorapetse Kgositsile, published in 2009. I consider the ways in which Brutus both confirms and subverts the identification of Afrikaans as the language of apartheid and I suggest that his use of Afrikaans constitutes a practice of resistance that breaches the rigid segregations enforced by apartheid and exposes their permeability. In a close reading of Kgositsile’s “No Serenity Here”, I relate to his use of the trope of translation and of untranslated Afrikaans within the poem as a radical critique both of European colonisation and of post-apartheid South Africa, still unliberated from the perverse legacies of that colonisation. In parsing the anomalies of Brutus’s and Kgositsile’s use of Afrikaans in these poems, I map possible future directions for the historiography of translation in South African poetics.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-20
Number of pages20
StatePublished - 2020
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020, © 2020 Unisa Press.


  • Afrikaans
  • Dennis Brutus
  • Keorapetse Kgositsile
  • apartheid
  • translation
  • untranslatability


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