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Author Focus

Ingrid Jonker
Biographical info

Ingrid Jonker was born on September 19, 1933 in Douglas in the Northern Cape. Her mother died when she was a little girl, and she moved around quite a bit as a child. Her father, Abraham H. Jonker, was a politician in the National Party and their relationship was always difficult.

She completed matric at Wynberg Girls’ High and went on to work in bookshops, at publishing houses and printing presses.

Her debut volume of poetry, Ontvlugting, was published in 1956. In 1964, she received the APB Award for her second volume of poetry, Rook en Oker. The prize money and a study bursary from Anglo American afforded her the opportunity to travel abroad.

Her daughter, Simone - who plays an important role in Ingrid’s poetry - was born out of her marriage to Pieter Venter, whom she later divorced.

Ingrid is seen as part of the group known as the “Sestigers” (poets of the 1960’s) of which André P. Brink and Jan Rabie were also members. She committed suicide by walking into the sea at Drieankberbaai, Cape Town, on July 19, 1965.

Her third and last volume of poetry, Kantelson, was published posthumously in 1966.

Did you know?

  • Former president Nelson Mandela read her poem “Die Kind” (“The Child”) at the historical opening of parliament in May 1994. Ingrid wrote this poem shortly after the Sharpeville shootings in 1960.
  • In 1965, her friends created the Ingrid Jonker Award which is awarded annually to a poet who debuts in Afrikaans or English.
  • Ingrid’s poems have been made into songs by artists such as Laurika Rauch, Laurinda Hofmeyr, Marimba and Anneli van Rooyen. Chris Chameleon’s album, Ek herhaal jou, on which 14 of her poems have been set to music, was released in 2005 and quickly became a best seller.
  • In 2002 the Dutch documentary about Ingrid, Korreltjie niks is my dood, was awarded a Silver Rose at the Montreux TV festival.
  • Ingrid’s mother died in 1942 in the Valkenburg psychiatric hospital in Cape Town. Ingrid was also a patient there in 1961.
  • A documentary entitled Ingrid Jonker: Her lives and time, by the acclaimed Mozambican born filmmaker Helena Nogueira, was released in South Africa in 2007.
  • Ingrid wrote a short stage play, ’n Seun na my hart (“A son after my heart”), as well as a few short stories like Die bok (“The goat”).
  • In 2007, as part of the Sunday Times Heritage Project, artist Tyrone Appollis erected an artwork on the beach at Gordon’s Bay to commemorate Ingrid Jonker.

Author bookshelf

Black butterflies: Selected Poems, Human & Rousseau (2007)
Versamelde werke, Human & Rousseau (1994)


Afrikaanse Pers-Boekhandel Prize (1964) – Rook en Oker
Order of Ikhamanga in silver (2004) – For her contribution to literature and her contribution to reconciliation

List of titles

1956 Ontvlugting
1963 Rook en Oker
1966 Kantelson
1975 Versamelde werke (new editions in 1983 and 1994)
2007 Black butterflies: Selected Poems


Kantelson (1966)

  • English, Dutch, Zulu


“Jonker's poetry has a lyricism and a wealth of visual detail which affirms her power as a poet and also locate her quite firmly in a South African locale.”

“This new collection serves as a remarkable introduction to Jonker's poetry. The circumstances of her life will continue to fascinate and interest other readers of her work. And Black butterflies serves to draw you further into the life and poems of a troubled artist.” – Arja Salafranca, Tonight (2007)


Books By This Author