Tributes to Nadine Gordimer

2014-07-20 15:00

I last saw Nadine at her home in Parktown West, Joburg. We spent about two hours chatting on the veranda just after 2pm on July 12 last year.

She made it easy for me to remember the date. As I was about to leave – reluctantly, to catch a plane – she stood up to go into the house. That left me to decide whether to have another biscuit.

Nadine re-emerged with a copy of her last novel, No Time Like the Present, autographed and dated. “Njabulo – With admiration for all he is! Nadine.”

With characteristic realism, she added, as she proffered the book with both hands: “You may not even have the time to read it. You’ve got better things to do.”

I wanted to protest and declare a commitment but thought better of it. Now I don’t feel I deserve to be admired by her. I still have to read the book.

I recall a part of my last meeting with Nadine with a bit of detail as a small tribute to what she succeeded in, something most of us can only aspire towards: the intricate detail of narrative. Sensory but sparse enough to get your imagination completely gripped by the involuntary yet pleasurable construction of the world her words pull you into.

A tribute to her candour and honesty. A tribute to her love and loyalty. A tribute to her devotion to young writers.

Some six weeks or so ago, I called her, making sure it was after 1pm. We have all learnt never to call her in the morning hours. The voice on the other end was not the one I expected.

It told me that Nadine could not come to the phone; that she did not have the energy to do so. I felt a knot of fear in my chest. Perhaps Nadine did not write that morning, nor on a couple of other recent mornings. How could it have been for her not to be able to do so?

A tribute to her artistic discipline and tenacity. She experienced for so many years the pleasurable frustrations of making art. A tribute to artistic dedication.

A tribute to her strength of mind and character with which she fearlessly, yet with clarity of mind, took on social issues and political behaviour that she felt threatened freedom for all.

Nadine Gordimer was the embodiment of freedom of expression, of association, and of all the freedoms sanctified in South Africa’s Constitution.

She was angry and distressed by what she saw as betrayal: that an ANC government in a democratic South Africa could even contemplate what has come to be known as the Secrecy Bill.

A tribute to conscience, honour, principle.

As I left Nadine’s house, the winter sun was still strong and ablaze in its descent on the distant horizon. But it was no match for the biting afternoon winter breeze of the Jozi of my birth.

Memories unwound like a film reel. In this house of our patron, members of the

Congress of SA Writers met many times, often for business, sometimes for fun, sometimes to sleep, sometimes to solve human dramas of the type that generated insider gossip for the coming week or two.

In this house we would be with our Nobel prize winner. We loved her. She loved us. That love will grow deeper as we live with her in our memories. Now, having confirmed the date of my last meeting with Nadine Gordimer, I begin to read my gift from her.

My final tribute.

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