My Heart is on My Tongue : Antjie Krog

The Untranslated Self in a Translated World (English)
Antjie Krog (South Africa)
Wednesday 15 August 2007

Antjie Krog

My heart is on my tongue - the untranslated self in a translated world
by Antjie Krog
Presentation Language : English
Writer, poet, academic, winner of numerous national and international awards, well known for her reporting on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission

We come from a divided past. We did not see, talk or hear one another. Then we started seeing one another, but no talking or hearing took place. Then we started talking, but no listening took place. For us to really hear one another we had to have the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It was the first body to provide translation in all the languages of the country, setting people free from groping around with distorted tongues. After three centuries of silence South Africans could daily hear the black voice talking and being translated; for the first time white South Africans could hear and listen. Through translation we could access our deepest emotions and feelings for the first time.

But among the two thousand testimonies there were some that were incomprehensible, that confirmed every racial stereotype built up over many years of apartheid. What does one do with these untranslatable narratives? I want to take a look at one TRC testimony and one Bushman poem. Both of them posed enormous moral dilemmas for me. Does one have to accept that the Bushmen seemingly had no sense of responsibility? Or that some black women appeared to see their children only in monetary terms? Or seemed incapable of grieving?  In other words: I have to share a country, have to accept as my equals people who seem not capable to take responsibility for killing, or who seem not capable to have any real feelings for their children?

I will look at the poem in its cultural context as revealed through translation. In the TRC testimony I want to look at the slippages between the original and the interpretative version and explore the consequences thereof.

Publishing History

Antjie Krog published twelve volumes of poetry in Afrikaans, two volumes of verse for children, a short novel, a play, and two non-fiction books in English: Country of my Skull, on the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission; A Change of Tongue about the transformation in South Africa after ten years.

Her works have been translated into English, Dutch, Italian, French, Spanish, Swedish and Serbian. Her book Country of my Skull is being widely prescribed at universities as part of the curriculum dealing with writing about the past. She was also asked to translated the autobiography of Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom into Afrikaans.

Prizes, Awards and honorary doctorates

Krog had been awarded most of the prestigious awards for non-fiction and poetry in both Afrikaans and English.

Eugene Marais prize for the most promising young writer (1973)
Dutch/Flemish prize Reina Prinsen-Geerligs prize for most promising young writer (1976)
Rapport prize for best literary work in a particular year (1987)
Hertzog prize for the best poetry volume over three years(1990)
Pringle Award for excellence in journalism for reporting on the Truth Commission (1996)
Foreign Correspondent award for outstanding journalism (1996)
Allan Paton award for best South African non-fiction work for ‘Country of my Skull (1999)
BookData/South African Booksellers’ Book of the Year Prize for ‘Country of my Skull’ (1999)
Honourable Mention in the Noma Awards for Publishing in Africa for ‘Country of my Skull’ (1999)
Award from the Hiroshima Foundation for Peace and Culture for the year           2000
Olive Schreiner 2000 award for prose for ‘Country of my Skull’
FNB Award for best poetry volume for the year 2000 for ‘Down to my Last Skin’
RAU prize for best book in the year 2000 for ‘Kleur kom nooit alleen nie’
'Country of my Skull' was named as one of the top 100 books written by Africans in the twentieth century
South African Translators Award for Best Translation in the poetry category for translation of poetry from the indigenous South African languages: ‘Met woorde soos met Kerse’
South African Translator’s Award for best translation overall for ‘Met Woorde soos met Kerse’
‘Country of my Skull’ (no.1)  and ‘A Change of Tongue” (no. 10) have been nominated as one of the top ten books of the ten years of South African democracy by South Africans libraries (LIASA)
Kanna Award at the Klein Karoo Kunstefees 2004 for ‘Innovative Thinking’
Nielsen BookData Booksellers’ Award of the Year for ‘A Change of Tongue’ (2004)
Open Society Prize from the Central European University (previous winners were Jürgen Habermas and Vaclav Havel)

Honorary Doctorate from the Tavistock Clinic of the University of East London UK
Honorary Doctorate from the University of Stellenbosch
Honorary Doctorate from the University of the Orange Freestate

Books Published:

Poetry (Human and Rousseau Publishers)
Dogter van Jefta (1970); Januarie Suite (1972)
Mannin (1974) Beminde Antarktika (1974)
Otter in Bronslaai (1981)
Jerusalemgangers (1985) Lady Anne (Taurus:1989)
Gedigte 1989-1995 (Hond: 1995)
Eerste Gedigte (2003) (Heruitgawe)

Prose (Human and Rousseau Publishers)
Relaas van ’n Moord (1995, Human and Rousseau)

Poetry for young Children
Mankepank en ander Monsters (1989)
Voëls van anderster vere (1992) Buchu Books

Poetry (Kwela Books)
Kleur kom nooit alleen nie (Kwela 2000)
Met woorde soos met kerse (Kwela 2002)
The stars say ‘tsau’
Die sterre sê ‘tsau’

Prose (Tafelberg)
‘n Ander Tongval (2005)

Prose (Random House)
Country of my Skull (1998)
A Change of Tongue (2003)

Poetry (Random House)
Down to my Last Skin (2000)

Poetry (Umuzi)
Verweerskrif (2006)
Body Bereft (2006)

Novel (Heinemann)
Account of a Murder translated by Karen Press (1997)

Translations (Vivlia Publishers)
Lang Pad na Vryheid (translation of ‘Long walk to Freedom’ by Nelson Mandela into Afrikaans)

Translations (Queillerie Publishers) 
Domein van Glas (translation of ‘Mondvol Glas’ by Henk van Woerden from Dutch into Afrikaans)
Mamma Medea (translation of Mamma Medea by Tom Lanoye from Dutch into Afrikaans)

Metz and Schilt (Publishers in Holland)
De Kleur van je Hart (Book about the Truth Commission translated into Dutch)

Podium (Publishing House in Holland)
Om te kan Asemhaal (poetry translated into Dutch)
Kleur kom nooit Alleen (poetry translated into Dutch)
Relaas van 'n Moord (novel translated into Dutch)
Liedere van die Bauwkraanvogel (poetry translated into Dutch)
Wat de Sterren Zeggen (2004) (poetry volume plus CD)
Lijfkreet (2006) (poetry translated into Dutch)

Actes Sud (Publishers in France)
La Douleur des Mots (Book about the Truth Commission translated into French)


Antjie Krog is Extraordinary Professor at the University of Western Cape and a Director of the Institute of Justice and Reconciliation. She is married to architect John Samuel and has four children.



Antjie Krog, poétesse et romancière afrikaner, en née en 1952 dans le Free State, en Afrique du Sud. L’un de ces nombreux recueils poétiques a été traduit en français, Ni pillard ni fuyard, aux éditions Le Temps qu’il fait. Elle vit aujourd’hui à Johannesburg.


Elle a publié deux romans, Country of My Skull, en 1998, sur la Commission Vérité Réconciliation (traduit en français chez Actes Sud : La Douleur des mots), et A Change of Tongue, en 2004. Quelques poèmes et une nouvelle, Rencontre d’athlétisme dans la nouvelle Afrique du Sud, paraissent dans le n°9 de la revue meet São Paulo / Le Cap.


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