Antjie Krog and the accumulation of 'media meta-capital'.
While Krog's significant body of work in poetry, prose and journalism is undoubtedly central in her trajectory towards international renown, in this essay I explore the dynamics of her "meteoric rise in status". The news media's role in mediating Krog to the world for nearly 40 years becomes crucial to this investigation. I use a mix of media theory and field theory to illuminate the multi-faceted and complex relationship Krog has had with the news media and I argue that her acquisition of 'media meta-capital' has played a significant role in her attainment of a unique voice and speaking platform in a post-apartheid, public domain in which few white voices, and especially Afrikaner ones, are being heard.
Antjie Krog at the age of 55 is a poet with 19 authored, edited and collected published volumes of poetry who has won Afrikaans and English South African literature's highest accolades. (1) She is an author of two award-winning, non-fiction books in English (one of which has been made into a Hollywood film). (2) She is a high-profile director of poetry festivals. (3) She travels internationally to present her work and talk at literary festivals. (4) She is a speaker of choice to mark important events. (5) Her work is read, prescribed, studied and researched for theses. She has received four honorary doctorates (6) and been made an Extraordinary Professor by the University of the Western Cape. These then are her literary credentials.
But she also has political credentials as a dissident Afrikaner: from her first appearance in a newspaper at the age of 17, she was marked as a maverick youngster; throughout the 1980s in Kroonstad she worked as a teacher in a coloured high school and a black teachers' training college and befriended activists and joined their marches; she used any public platform (for example at the award of a prize) to rail against the alliance of the Afrikaans cultural and religious institutions with the Nationalist Party government and their control of Afrikaans literature and culture. In 1988 she became a member of the radical Congress of South African Writers and joined Miriam Tlali and Nadine Gordimer at a "Women Speak" event in Soweto. She was part of the two delegations of writers and intellectuals in 1989 that met the ANC in exile (Victoria Falls and Paris) where they endorsed the cultural boycott; and in 1990 she joined the ANC party when it was unbanned.
Her book Country of My Skull, arising out of her work as a radio reporter on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, has aligned her in the national public's mind with the great political project of transformation, reconciliation and forgiveness in South Africa. She is an expert commentator sought out by the South African media for her thoughts and opinions about the desirability and difficulties of achieving political change. She has also received international invitations to expound on the South African situation. (7) She has been hailed by politicians and her poetry read out at moments when great national shifts are being declaimed. In 2003 she was appointed to the panel of eminent South Africans to advise President Thabo Mbeki on appointments to the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious, and Linguistic Communities.
While Krog is still identified--and still self-identifies--as a poet, she has also had a significant career as a journalist. In 1976 after graduating, marrying and moving to Cape Town, she worked for Die Burger. (8) From 1980 to 1993 (while living in Kroonstad, writing poetry, raising a family and teaching) she did occasional pieces, mostly opinion- and literary-related (reviews of books and poetry) for Volksblad (1980); Beeld (1986); Die Suid-Afrikaan (1987-93); Fair Lady (1987) and De Kat (1990). Notable in this time was her regular work for the anti-apartheid weekly, Vrye Weekblad (1988-92). In May 1993 she was made editor of the relaunched Afrikaans intellectual magazine Die Suid-Afrikaan, which she wrote for and managed until December 1994. Then she worked for the SABC from January 1995 until June 1999, first as the Afrikaans radio reporter on politics in Cape Town, then as the head of the radio TRC team, then for a short stint as parliamentary editor. While at the SABC she also wrote for the Mail & Guardian on her experiences of covering the TRC. (9) Since returning to full-time writing and the editing of books and poetry, translating, and the direction of festivals, and now forging a career as an academic, Krog has not stopped contributing the occasional opinion or commentary particularly when public events coalesce into discussions about reconciliation or transformation. (10) She has continued to write about literature regularly, as in her editing of Rapport's section on books and culture from November 2001 to April 2002.
According to French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu's explications of field theory (1993, 1995, 2002, 2005), Krog's nearly 40 years of work in the literary field has allowed her to accumulate significant cultural, economic and symbolic capital as a literary figure. But more than that, because of her forays into the political field (some informal and personal, some more overtly on the public stage) and her work in the media--particularly on the TRC--she is also a public figure with great symbolic capital as an expert-witness of one of South Africa's signature transitional events. While primarily identifying still as a poet located within the literary field, she has made use of her media knowledge, skills, networks and resultant power to inject into the national and international public domains not only her literary works but also her stance and comments on the South African transition and its demands and dilemmas. In South Africa, at a time when the public contest over who has the right to speak for whom, and on what issues, is fiercely racialised and legitimised by personal, historical experience (preferably via the 'struggle'), Krog as a white female Afrikaner continues to have the power to "produce symbols and values" for this society (Bove 1992:222). While she continues to use her rootedness in race, culture, language and gender to give autobiographical authority to her writing and her public engagements, Krog has also shown her ability to move beyond these categories, to speak to South Africans generally, and for South Africans internationally.
The symbolic power she has accumulated, which gives her status and voice as a public figure, owes a great deal to her particular interwoven and complex relationship with the media. Since 1970, when she first came to the attention of the South African newspapers as a precocious young poet of 17, she has been both a useful--and often controversial--newsmaker for journalists, (11) and a mediator of her own public persona, her work, and debate around the issues she considers important. For nearly 40 years she has been both subject matter and actor, mediated and mediator. In order to unpick how her relationship with the media has contributed to her stature as a public figure, I draw on media theory and field theory in a particular mix for an explanation that goes beyond showing how a particular person becomes a focus of attention for journalists. I will use this combination to theorise how insistent and repeated media attention can attach to the newsmaker herself and thus become a power for enhanced stature and mobility.
Finding a mix of media theory and field theory
In media theory the very useful concepts of news values, framing, agenda-setting and priming or cueing are helpful in explicating how media attention comes to be focused on a particular individual or issue, and stories made that then convey to a general public a sense of the importance and noteworthiness of that person or issue. While many different theorists have drawn up many different lists of news values, it is generally agreed that factors such as conflict, negativity, sensation, surprise, bad news, enormity, calamity, proximity and relevance to readers, and any activity involving elite people or elite nations, will attract the attention of the news media. (12) I think it most helpful for this essay not to try to synthesise a list but to draw on Harcup and O'Neill's insight that news values are a "predictive pattern which shows us how stories will be treated". They quote Stuart Hall, saying "news values are a deep structure or a cultural map that journalists use to help them make sense of the world" (Hall cited in Harcup and O'Neill 2001:265). So in picking from the overwhelming amount of material that reality offers daily, journalists employ what are often quite unconscious criteria for deciding what gets made into a report. Says Fowler "the formation of news events, and the formation of news values, is in fact a reciprocal, dialectical process ..." (1991:17). News values are the lenses journalists use to survey the world--simultaneously recognising a 'news event' (or 'news maker') and creating it by doing so. Then, having made that choice, next in the story-making process comes framing--which is the mechanism used to embed meaning into a story. Reese says: "Frames are organising principles that are socially shared and persistent over time, that work symbolically to meaningfully structure the social world" (2007:150). Reese is insistent that frames both organise and structure meaning, and that while they "snag related ideas in their net", they also "define some ideas as out and others in" (2007:150). It is important to note that frames are "instruments of emotional arousal as well as edification" (Kinder 2007:159).
Once the story is published or broadcast it is on the media agenda, which according to Dearing and Rogers is a "set of issues that are communicated in a hierarchy of importance" (1996:2). Agenda-setting is the way media signal to their readers and listeners the value and priority of certain people and issues. Dearing and Rogers say:
The agenda-setting effect is not the result of receiving one or a few messages but is due to the aggregate impact of a very large number of messages, each of which has a different content but all of which deal with the same general issue. (1996:14-15)
In agenda-setting--the purpose of which is to influence the public as to what in society deserves attention, and thereby to affect policy or bring about action--repetition is extremely important as a technique:
... the number of news stories measure the relative salience of an issue of study on the media agenda ... repetition sets the public agenda through the continual hammering away of the media on the same issue ... (Dearing and Rogers 1996:18,36)
Agenda-setters are those people and institutions with the power to get their issues, framed in their way, on to the media agenda. Dearing and Rogers point out that elite people, elite media institutions and elite organisations ordinarily have this power in a society. Once a story is on the media agenda and is being repeated in various forms, it is cueing, or priming, readers and listeners to take up particular opinions or institute certain actions, or at least, concede that the person/issue is important and noteworthy. I will use this terminology to unpick how events around Krog show evidence of the news values that attract media attention, how she is framed in reports and placed on news agendas, and how she herself becomes an agenda-setter.
Now I bring to these insights aspects of field theory, which then allow me to sketch both a larger frame within which to situate this media attention and a tighter conception of media attention which is useful for understanding how being known via the media can translate into stature and power.
In Bourdieu's conception of field theory the activities and practices of the news media fall into the general field of cultural production (Bourdieu and Nice 1980). The field of cultural production includes in its range large-scale mass production through to avant garde art production. Journalism with its populist subject matter and mass audiences is situated at the "heteronomous pole" of the field; that is, it is dominated by the external pressure of economic power, which Bourdieu insists has a "powerful determinative effect ... in the contemporary historical context" (Benson 1998:488). Avant garde art production sits, by contrast, at the "autonomous" end of the field because it involves activities that are driven by self-defined, immanent logics, and is less susceptible to external political and economic logics. But while journalism operates under these external pressures, it also (along with politics and the social sciences) seeks to apply a pressure of its own across society--"the legitimate social vision" (Benson 1998:466). In addition, journalism as a practice has the particular hallmark of mediating knowledge and power across fields and through society, so much so that politics and other practices employ the news media as a primary vehicle to distribute important field information to the general public.
According to communication theorist Rodney Benson, commenting on the application of field theory to media, journalism's cross-field activities give it "the power to 'consecrate', that is, name an event, person, or idea as worthy of wider consideration". He says: "the extent to which a particular medium or media enterprise is able to exercise such consecrating power is an indicator of its relative weight within the [journalism] field" (1998:469). He points out that historically the serious journalism of print used to have the consecrating power of media in society but television with its reach into home lives, audiences of millions and economic weight has both usurped and extended this power: "It is television that has helped give journalism a wider reach and capacity to transform the fields with which it interacts" (1998:472). The field theory term 'consecration'--which Bourdieu uses to describe the power that important actors have within fields of conferring legitimacy on producers and productions (13)--is picked up here and used to explain the extraordinary power of media across fields to impose agendas and ideas on the political, social and cultural domains.
Media theorist Nick Couldry takes this thinking further by marrying the idea of consecration to another Bourdieu notion, that of accumulation of 'capital' within fields, the acquisition of which gives field actors increasing legitimacy, recognition and agency. Seizing on the term "media capital", coined by Bourdieu-collaborator Patrick Champagne, Couldry (2003:662) uses it to capture the notion of a "new type of capital" which crosses fields, imposes social visions and consecrates people, ideas and agendas but which does not necessarily depend alone, as in other more autonomous fields, on its own field's "cultural capital" (knowledge, professionalism and accumulation of expertise) for its value. Couldry says:
... some concentrations of symbolic power are so great that they dominate the whole social landscape; as a result, they seem so natural that they are misrecognised, and their underlying arbitrariness becomes difficult to see. In this way, symbolic power moves from being merely local power (the power to construct this statement, or make this work of art) to being a general power, what Bourdieu once called a 'power of constructing [social] reality' ... such symbolic power legitimates key categories with both cognitive and social force ... this power is relevant also to the wider field of power, and indeed, to social space as a whole. (2003:664)
But in order to explain the impacts that media have on and into all fields simultaneously by "legitimating certain categories with not just cognitive but also social significance" Couldry (2003:665), then develops a term of his own, "media meta-capital", which he defines as "definitional power across the whole of social space" (2003:669). The term "meta-capital" he has also borrowed from the Bourdieu explanation of how the state operates into and across all fields in society. Couldry explains that media meta-capital would also account for the way in which the media influence what counts as capital in each field (for example the pressure exerted by media on cultural producers and intellectuals to speak to large audiences and produce work that is economically viable) and the media's legitimation of influential representations of, and categories for understanding the social world, which are then taken up within particular fields (2003:668). The most useful insight arising from this theorising is that:
By altering what counts as symbolic capital in particular fields, media also affect the exchange rate between the capital competed for in different fields ... so media-based symbolic capital developed in one field can under certain conditions be directly exchanged for symbolic capital in another field. (2003:669)
The key Bourdieu term "consecration" often undergoes a dilution in meaning in its use by media theorists and in its application to journalism. A reading of Bourdieu's work seems to elicit a particular meaning which is that someone established in a field confers legitimacy upon an individual at a key, or ritualised, moment in order to enhance their status. But Bourdieu also says that there is a "process of consecration" (1983:339) or a "series of signs of consecration" (1981:265), implying that as an individual moves through a field seeking to "win prestige" (1983:312), there will be many moments in which the person experiences "consecration". The media theorists' use of this word sometimes reduces and generalises it to the mere attention of the news media, a definition that is too diffuse and unspecific to be helpful when examining an individual's trajectory and accumulation of symbolic power. In that case the media theory ideas of news values, framing and agenda-setting capture and explain this attention quite adequately. But if one wants to get at how persistent media attention translates into an attribute that gives power, voice, and the capacity to speak across fields and to general society, then a marriage of media theory and field theory supplies the better tool. In the examination of particular moments in Krog's life I am going to keep in mind the etymological roots of the word "consecration" in its religious use, ie. the components of ritual or ceremony must be present, the act and/or words of a consecrator must be a factor, and there must be a noticeable transition in position and trajectory for the consecrated person, as well as the attention of the media.
In order to examine whether Krog has acquired media meta-capital, two other ideas from field theory are important to flesh out this media theory-field theory framework. Both affect the trajectory of an individual within a field and across fields, and the first is an important point about agency. In the words of Benson:
The complexity, capacities, and character of any particular agent is due not to his or her submission to or freedom from the effects of a field, but rather to the particularity of any life's trajectory within and through a series of fields. Disposition and position details the convergence. (1998:467)
The second is the Bourdieu insistence that moments of entry and emergence are critically important to an individual's successful negotiation of a field and particularly in fields where autonomy is high and the grasp of the immanent logic of the field is vital. In Bourdieu's terms this is called "the right to enter and the duty to emerge" (2005:46). While conformity to the field's logic is crucial, no artist or writer can make their mark in the field of cultural production without exhibiting a distinction that sets an individual apart in his or her work from all others. This effort marks both the individual and the field. "To exist in a field--a literary field, an artistic field--is to differentiate oneself," says Bourdieu, "... he or she functions like a phoneme in a language: he or she exists by virtue of a difference from other[s] ..." (2005:39). Benson underlines this by saying:
In field theory, changes in the structure of fields are produced from two basic sources. Since to exist in a field is 'to differ', a 'dialectic of distinction' ensures the constant production of change as new actors attempt to enter and make their mark in the field ... changes in closely related fields ... set in motion by their own internal dynamics, can have important cross-over effects on the journalistic field, and vice versa. (1998:487-8)
If an individual, by differentiating her productive output but remaining true to the autonomous logic of the field, manages to accumulate cultural capital within the field (and preferably also economic capital), the resulting symbolic capital can be "converted" (Bourdieu 2002:17) into forms of capital acknowledged as valuable in other fields. Here, symbolic capital attached to an individual takes the form of "prestige, celebrity, consecration or honour" (Johnson 1993:7), a marketable, portable and convertible accoutrement. And when an individual's symbolic capital has been enhanced or created in part by media meta-capital, not only is it portable, but it gives the individual the "almost magical power of mobilisation", the "power to construct reality" (Bourdieu 2002:170), which has effects on other fields, and across the social landscape.
These engagements with Bourdieu's field theory, its application to journalism as a practice across the cultural and political fields, and an explication of the news media's extraordinary power of setting social agendas which coalesce on certain people, events and ideas, allow me to sketch a nuanced enough framework to examine how an Afrikaans woman poet has come to enjoy national and international renown. By looking at particular key moments of entry and emergence, consecration and transition in Krog's life, I argue that the news media have been key to her accumulation of symbolic capital in three fields--literary, political and journalistic--and that the important moments of consecration and transition have been facilitated with journalistic attention. But also, at certain key moments of such confluence, one sees Krog making use of her symbolic capital to craft the appearance of her literary or journalistic work in public or to seize a platform to speak with full consciousness of the media attention this will garner.
Entry, emergence, consecration and transition
It is a useful device for the purposes of this paper to employ the Bourdieu terms above to highlight three moments in Krog's public life which illuminate the reiterative, mutually reinforcing, relationship between Krog and the news media, and which show, over a period of about 30 years, her growing symbolic power and accumulation of media meta-capital.
Krog's entry into the literary field with a published volume of poetry at the age of 17 is a remarkable story about journalistic attention, agenda-setting and consecration. In her matric year Krog, an A student in Afrikaans literature, had submitted nine pieces of poetry to the Kroonstad high school magazine for publication, some of them were sexually suggestive and one ("My Mooi Land") was politically provocative. When the school magazine came out, parents and townspeople were horrified and their shock came to the attention of the now defunct newspaper Die Beeld. It is evident that reporter Franz Kemp applied the news values of surprise, conflict or sensation to his assessment of the worth of this information. He produced a fairly standard, sensational, Sunday-paper-type story ("Dorp gons oor gedigte in skoolblad" [Town abuzz over poems in school magazine] 16 August 1970:5) using the frame of shocking events in small towns causing an outcry among their unsophisticated inhabitants. But, interestingly, Kemp also contacted Dr Ernst van Heerden, poet and Head of the Department of Afrikaans and Nederlands at Wits University, for his opinion on the poetry. He quoted Van Heerden as saying that this was surprising work for someone so young and advising readers to read the poetry of established poets Breytenbach and Opperman to hear echoes of Krog's subjects. The article also noted that Krog was the daughter of published writer Dot Serfontein and allowed Serfontein to judge her daughter's work as "beyond matric standard" and better suited to a published collection than a school magazine. So what we see here is that the news value of controversy attracted a paper's attention, the story was framed in a particular way for Sunday-paper-reader consumption, and expert comment on the poetry was also used to frame Krog herself. As precocious, brilliant, dissident, and placed in association with Afrikaans literature's most esteemed poets, she had been marked as a newsworthy person and placed firmly on the Afrikaans press's news agenda. This agenda-setting had an immediate effect.
The story alerted Serfontein's publishers Human & Rousseau who contacted her to find out if Krog had written enough poetry to make up a volume. The poetry was produced and the publishers took it to Professor Dirk Opperman at Stellenbosch University for an opinion. Two weeks later Die Beeld (6 September 1970) announced to its readers that Opperman had approved publication and was impressed with Krog's freshness and spontaneity as a writer.
Die Beeld's agenda-setting was to have another, unexpected effect. In January of 1971 the ANC publication Sechaba, based in London, published an English translation of "My Mooi Land" and introduced the poem with the words "Antjie Krog, a 17-year-old Afrikaans schoolgirl has stunned her backveld Kroonstad community with this poem. Where there is so much hatred a germ of love she grows" (volume 5(1)). Here one sees another publication spotting this information, and with a different set of news values, framing Krog for its purposes as a young dissident voice of promise and hope from within the bastion of Afrikanerdom. This contradictory framing and agenda-setting by a banned publication provoked outrage and a renewed attempt to recapture and frame Krog back into a well-behaved, but brilliant Afrikaner girl. In March the London correspondent of Rapport wrote a piece under the headline "Antjie se gedig misbruik teen ons land" [Antjie's poem misused against our land] (28 March 1971). The reporter claimed that an Afrikaans-speaking "kleurling" [coloured] member of the ANC in Tanzania had translated the poem, which was also broadcast on Radio Dar-es-Salaam. Then the following Sunday in Rapport, Serfontein wrote an explanation, "Antjie se skoolgedig verduidelik: Dot skryf oor haar dogter" [Antjie's school poem explained: Dot writes about her daughter] (4 April 1971:9) and attempted to assure readers that Krog was a good Christian and Nationalist Party supporter. She gave the opinion that poets are hypersensitive to influences and told readers her advice to Antjie had been to put her poetry into a volume for publication so that she could put herself forward in public "as digter, as Christen en as Afrikaner" [as poet, as Christian, and as Afrikaner]. Here Serfontein, with licence from the editor, is framing her daughter in two containing ways: within a discourse around why artists write poetry to deal with life, and as secured within the Afrikaner lager.
But the framing battle was to continue: a while later, the story found its way into the English press with a report by Colin Legum which appeared in the Daily Despatch in East London. It is noteworthy that the article was headlined "Afrikaans protest cry sparks a big row" [my italics], thus giving Krog's poem and its appearance in Sechaba a distinctly political status. Legum was living in London in exile and writing for The Observer. He concluded the article:
Antjie Krog is a new phenomenon among younger Afrikaners who, in increasing numbers, are beginning to react against the established racial attitudes and morality of South Africa ... What is unusual about Antjie Krog is that she has broken from the conventional thinking while still at high school, not in the sophisticated urban setting, but in the heart of the platteland, the rural outback of the apartheid Republic. (17 May 1971)
When the volume appeared in 1971, called Dogter van Jefta, the offending 'political' poem, "My Mooi Land", had been left out.
In this sequence of media events there is a very clear indication of a controversy or sensation attracting the attention of journalists and galvanising them into the production of 'news', stimulated by the editors' operating according to the explicit economic imperatives of journalism. But we also see an act of media power across fields and society that facilitates Krog's entry, not only into the Afrikaans literary field in South Africa, but also into the alternative political field marked as a young dissident. By seeking the opinion of a field expert in Ernst van Heerden, Franz Kemp the reporter was doing two things: transferring information about Krog across the field of cultural production and facilitating the pronouncement by a person of literary legitimacy on the worth of the poetry, and thus enabling the moment of consecration. Drawing her mother into the story (Serfontein's position as both mother and published writer was important here) also alerted the publishers, who, in a further act of seeking out a field consecrator, then called on Opperman to give his opinion on the poetry they were thinking of publishing. With the intervention of the reporter, the mother and the two field consecrators, Krog was decisively ushered into the literary field.
But even more interesting are the volatile, unintended effects of media agenda-setting. An Afrikaans, government-supporting newspaper could not have anticipated that its news would reach Dar-es-Salaam and London and give the ANC material for a quite different interpretation of Krog's writings. The unknown translator and the editor/subeditor of the page in Sechaba set aside the question of the literary value of the poem and instead interpellated Krog as a young voice of hope from within hegemonic Afrikanerdom for the anti-apartheid struggle. This entry into the alternative political field was to frame and set Krog on as important a trajectory in her entry into the literary field.
And in terms of media agenda-setting, Krog had been "snagged" in the net (Reese 2007:150). The Afrikaans press had marked her as a newsmaker to be watched from now on. Krog was to make good use of her decisive entry into the literary field by producing another three volumes of poetry while at university: Januarie-Suite (1972), Mannin and Beminde Antartika (1974). In this she benefited from the alliance with and guidance of Opperman who became her mentor for years, first as editor of her poetry, then as her teacher, with whom she did an honours degree in his "poetry laboratory" at Stellenbosch University. She wrote her MA thesis on his poetry (Krog 1983). As Bourdieu points out, successful negotiation through a field in order to accumulate the field's capital and accolades is greatly enhanced by the alliance with a field consecrator, and Bourdieu and Nice explain that the more powerful the consecrator is, the more the work is strongly consecrated and the more the consecrator "invests his prestige in the author's cause" (1980:283). Furthermore, having been caught in the news net of the Afrikaans press, Krog became a standard newsmaker to keep tabs on. Each volume of poetry was reviewed, each prize acclaimed, and every personal change in her life (divorce, remarriage, births of children, moving cities, changes in job) captured through a combination of news reports, literary reviews and highly personalised interviews and photographs of her with family at home.
2. Emergence and distinction
The "duty to emerge", in Bourdieu's formulation, requires that a field actor distinguish herself from all others. As Krog continued to write poetry, critics and reviewers pointed to the distinctions that set her apart. Although her poetry was often what Kannemeyer called "domestic" (Kannemeyer 1983:504) she was no Elizabeth Eybers idealising marriage and motherhood. Her descriptions of family relationships were gritty, sexualised and often worded in coarse language. She became known as the poet who seized on an English word when an Afrikaans one would not provide the meaning she wanted. This became remarkable and newsworthy with SABC radio devoting time to discussing her use of English and slang on the programme "Leeskring oor die lug" with Ruda Landman. (14)
As Krog grew in stature as a poet she began a public, mediated battle against the stifling control that the Afrikaner cultural institutions exercised over Afrikaans language and culture. She began to use the platforms she was afforded by her cultural capital, and, in full knowledge that she would be reported on, to declare her stance. Some examples: in July of 1984 she told the Afrikaans Olympiad in Bloemfontein that the Afrikaans language could look after itself without the interference of the cultural institutions ("Taal kan vir himself sorg", Volksblad 18 July 1984). She told the Afrikaanse Letterkundevereniging at the University of Port Elizabeth in 1985, that "Die Afrikaanse letterkunde van vandag is feitlik een groot neurose" [The Afrikaans literature of today is actually one big neurosis], (Oosterlig 16 August 1985). In 1987 when she was elected to the executive of the Afrikaanse Skrywersgilde, she made use of the position to take a stand against the prevailing anxiety about "alternative and worker Afrikaans" (Die Vaderland 4 July 1987). At the Nasionale Leeskring-seminaar in 1988 she said apartheid had come between writer and reader (Die Volksblad 6 October 1988). Also in 1988 she told the annual meeting of the board of the Skrywersgilde that Afrikaans needed to be set free of that very institution ("Bevry Afrikaans van die Gilde.") and Krog was quoted as saying "[die gilde] ... laat die skrywers nie uit hul hokke kom nie" [the guild will not allow the writers out of their cages] (Rapport 14 October 1988). When in 1989 the Institute for a Democratic Alternative for South Africa (Idasa) and the Skrywersgilde held a Writers' Indaba, Krog told the gathering that Afrikaans "had failed this country", and would need to reflect a broader reality to survive (Democracy in Action October/November 1990).
While one sees here that Krog's production of distinction was not just her poetry but also the position within the field she was taking up (aligning herself with dissident writers like Brink and Breytenbach), it is also clear that Krog's literary trajectory and political trajectory were converging in her focus on the cultural institutions' handmaid relationship to the apartheid regime. But one can also notice that Krog had come to a particular realisation about media power, that moments of media attention are focused on particular events and people, and that because of her growing cultural capital as a literary figure, she had become one of those people--an agenda-setter--who could then place certain topics onto the media agenda, and hence into the public arena. In an interview in 1987 with Andre le Roux of Die Burger, after winning the Rapport Prize for Jerusalemgangers, Krog said something very revealing about this strategy: "... ek was eintlik bang ek wen nie, anders sou ek nie die kans kry om die 'statement' te maak nie" [I was scared I wouldn't win, and then I wouldn't get the chance to make the statement] (Die Burger 28 April 1987). (15) It is remarkable that in this growing relationship with, and reliance on, the media to convey her dissident stance, Krog seems confident that the media will frame her and her words as she intends. By this time, and up to this point, the way she is framed can be captured most succinctly by two repeated appellations: her first name in headlines, "Antjie"--the diminutive signalling familiarity and endearment (Fowler 1991:110)--and the use of the adjective "die gekroonde" [the anointed]--signalling her literary status and hence weight and worth.
This accumulation of symbolic capital on two fronts (literary and political) during the 1980s, meant that Krog was among the Afrikaans writers and intellectuals chosen by Idasa when clandestine meetings were being set up to begin talks with the ANC in exile. In this same year (1989) she produced Lady Anne, the volume for which she won Afrikaans literature's most prestigious award, the Hertzog Prize. In the news reports of this award one can detect Krog's consecration as a poet who has arrived, her distinction as a unique voice, but also her political dissidence. Joan Hambidge, academic and poet and a voice of authority from within the literary field, declared in Beeld (18 September 1989): "Antjie Krog se Lady Anne wys sy kan sonder Opperman werk" [Antjie Krog's Lady Anne shows she can work without Opperman]. In other words the student had outgrown her mentor and proved herself in her own right. The Star (26 April 1990) announced "Free State's controversial Antjie joins establishment as prize winner" but also pointed out that her publisher, Taurus, was "anti-establishment". Many of the reports speculated that like Breytenbach she would refuse to accept the award on political grounds. Instead, Krog, seized the platform to make her statement. In the exactly one minute she was given to thank the Academy of Science and Arts she read a mocking poem with the refrain "maar die akademie is nie my baby nie/nie my baby nie/nie my baby nie" [but the Academy is not my baby/not my baby/not my baby]. A daring performance, the news value of which was clear to the journalists present, one of whom printed the poem in full (Beeld 26 June 1990:1).
3. Consecration and transition
While Krog was accumulating political symbolic capital via her attacks on the cultural institutions in the 1980s, she was still firmly situated within the literary field and primarily used as a newsmaker, or as a mediator, to comment on literature and literary or culture-related political issues. These reports were confined almost totally to the Afrikaans press or occasionally on the SABC's radio programmes devoted to literature. Her direct political involvement was local and modest (marching with the Kroonstad comrades, reading poetry at a "Free Mandela" rally). Two people--with significant symbolic capital in their own fields--changed the degree and quality of her involvement in both politics and the media in the 1990s. Until then, her process of consecration was still firmly within the literary field with the winning of successive prizes and the acclamation expressed by cultural institutions, literary theorists and reviewers of her work. While the Afrikaans press was on first-name terms with "Antjie" and followed her every move, she appeared only now and again in the English press, usually on the receipt of a major award.
This was to change dramatically with a specific event in 1989. On Sunday 29 October, treason trialist Ahmed Kathrada was welcomed on his release from jail by a crowd of about 80 000 and South Africa's major news media in a Soweto stadium. In his address Kathrada read an English translation of the Krog poem "My Mooi Land" which had come to his attention in jail in the 1970s. The journalists were immediately captivated by this completely unexpected turn at what had clearly, until then, been seen as a particular kind of news event. Kathrada was interviewed for further details. In her report Evelyn Holtzhausen of the Sunday Times quoted Kathrada:
I decided to read it at last week's rally because to me it shows an encouraging sign that the monolith of apartheid is also being cracked by Afrikaans youth from within the establishment. The old values are being overturned and replaced with new. And it's an encouraging sign for the shared future of our country. The poem appealed to me as well because it is so anti-racist". (5 November 1989)
The poem which alerted the news media to Krog's existence and work in 1970 and had since been 'lost', re-emerged, at a highly-charged moment of major political transition, in the mouth of a person with impeccable anti-apartheid resistance credentials, and with the same framing as it had appeared in Sechaba. What various newspapers captured was that Kathrada was not reminiscing about his need of comforting words in jail; he was performatively using the words at a major event marking a political change to proclaim a different future for all South Africans. And in the process he was conferring political legitimacy on Krog the poet. Krog, who was not present, was then sought out by journalists to explain the genesis of the poem and asked for her reaction to Kathrada's speech. For the first time, the Weekly Mail--a paper of high journalistic and political legitimacy in 1989 and an agenda-setter itself - paid attention to Krog in an article by Hans Pienaar, "Antjie, the poet from Kroonstad, takes up an angry pen" (Weekly Mail 8 December 1989). What had happened in the moment of Kathrada's speech? He had consecrated Krog publicly as the type of Afrikaner who was welcome in the struggle for a new and different South Africa. And he had anointed her as a voice of that struggle by using her words to mark an event of heightened significance in a time of great political volatility. And the salience of this was then conveyed to the South African public, English and Afrikaans-speaking, via the news media. Until now Krog had had a firm place on the Afrikaans press's agenda. She had been reported on occasionally by the English press, but this new attention helped her straddle that curious divide between English and Afrikaans-speaking journalists and the worlds they reported in a much more significant way.
The second important person to enter Krog's life at this time was journalist Pippa Green who interviewed her for Leadership magazine ("New Jerusalem", August 1990) and then became a friend. Again, the symbolic capital of this magazine in the journalistic field of 1990 was important in putting Krog on the agenda for English-speaking readers. Leadership was positioned by its first editor to speak to enlightened business leaders who were in favour of political change in South Africa. The article dealt extensively with Krog's entry into poetry, her activism in Kroonstad and her voice as a South African seeking change. When, after the 1994 elections, Green was in charge of the radio political desk for the reconstituted SABC, Krog, now the editor of Die Suid-Afrikaan magazine, was her choice for a politically sensitive alternative to the Afrikaans reporters of the past. Within a year, in 1995, Green had made Krog head of the radio team to cover the TRC, the only news media outlet in South Africa which would track the entire process and every public hearing over the course of the Commission's life. While this was also an act of consecration, in that Green was recognising Krog' symbolic status as a political actor and writer, Green was also, and more importantly, facilitating Krog's movement into hard-news, political journalism proper and enabling her to convert her significant literary and political capital into media field capital. While Krog had spent a year as editor on Die Suid-Afrikaan, it was her work with the SABC on the TRC which took her out of the confines of writer-commentator and into the daily processes of hard news journalism, and which was to give her access to a significant political process gaining attention and currency all over the world.
But more than that: the TRC was a process ambitiously set up to engage all South Africans in major political and social transition via the media. Krog and other journalists were therefore "installed as proxy witnesses of trauma on behalf of their readers" and listeners. Whitlock points out that such processes, taking place recently world-wide, have resulted in an altered status for the journalist who is required to become "conveyer, translator, mediator and meaning maker of trauma on our behalf" (Whitlock 2007:140). In 1996 Krog was approached by Anton Harber, editor of the Mail & Guardian--an editor and a paper with a distinctive agenda-setting authority in the South African political landscape. He had decided to mark the second anniversary of the country's transition to democracy by asking writers to produce reflective pieces. Constrained by daily radio reports to remain 'objective' and within news formats, in her newspaper piece Krog decisively took up the position of proxy witness and focused on the effects and affects of reporting the TRC on her self as journalist. This struck a powerful chord with editor, readers and fellow journalists and led to a further four features on this topic and an award from the Foreign Correspondents' Association for this type of engaged reporting. A very interesting shift had taken place here. Krog the reporter, had moved out from behind the story and become herself the person on the news agenda, again. And she was framed as the voice of greatest salience on the experience of witnessing the TRC.
Her feature articles attracted the attention of Stephen Johnson, managing director of Random House, (16) at a time when the book publishing company internationally was requiring more non-fiction production from South Africa that was specifically related to the political transition. Krog's reportage, filtered empathetically through a personal account, was modified into a book under the editorship of Ivan Vladislavic, and in 1998 Country of My Skull, a hybrid blend of reportage, memoir, fiction and poetry, was published to national and international acclaim. Despite the fact that thousands of voices of testimony had entered the public space to be heard for the first time, and many hundreds of other journalists had also reported on the TRC, it was the voice of Krog that was seized on by the publisher to speak autobiographically on behalf of this experience and all South Africans involved in this process. As Whitlock says:
The memoir is a genre for those who are authorised and who have acquired cultural legitimacy and influence ... memoir is the prerogative of those who possess cultural capital, and it follows that the place of the memoirist in culture is quite 'other' to that of those who testify. (2007:20)
Despite the fact that Krog had been made head of the TRC team without serving a traditional apprenticeship within the journalistic field, she had nevertheless converted her literary and political symbolic capital into currency which gave her the freedom to operate in the most visible and credible way in the journalistic field, and as a result reap its awards--the Pringle Prize for the TRC radio reports and the Foreign Correspondents Award for the newspaper features. This media field capital, plus an increase of symbolic capital attached to her own public persona (as an affected witness to the process of the TRC), was then converted back again into the literary world with the facilitation of the publisher. But this time, as a book author with international exposure, Krog was no longer operating at the autonomous pole of the field of cultural production or at the heteronomous pole of journalism, but in the section of the field in which both cultural and economic capital could come together powerfully with the production of a non-fiction book.
The consecrated authors who dominate the field of production also dominate the market; they are not only the most expensive or the most profitable but also the most readable and most acceptable because they have become part of the 'general culture' through a process of familiarisation ... (Bourdieu and Nice 1980:290)
This is evident in the reception of the book. It was taken very seriously and studied as a book of literary merit, and reviewed by other authors and literary theorists all over the world. The book is also taken seriously as an account of political transition, atrocity and dealing with the past, and as such it is studied and researched by theorists of transition and trauma in many disciplines. But because it is also seen as a personal account of an individual's coming to terms with great national upheaval, it suited the purposes of the Hollywood movie industry which has recently become interested in stories out of South Africa, and has been made into a film, In My Country, with internationally known actors, Samuel L Jackson and Juliette Binoche. The book has accumulated literary, political and economic capital. It has straddled the poles of the field of cultural production, as has its author. It has catapulted Krog into the international arena where she now travels the world pronouncing on the concerns of witnessing, writing, authoring and living through transition. Krog's literary symbolic capital and political symbolic capital have been wound together and enhanced even further. In many international educational institutions dealing with South African history this book is the one prescribed for an understanding of the South African transition. (17) Krog's voice gets to speak for all South Africans to the world. And at home, she is still considered a voice to listen to and to use to mark important ceremonial events which deal with change and renewal. In 2002 on 8 February, Thabo Mbeki used her words in his State of the Nation address: "Urging us to start anew as one people, 'to shiver in the colour of human', the poet and writer Antjie Krog has written ...". He was quoting from the poem "Land van genade en verdriet" (Krog 2000:43).
South Africa has produced many great writers, whose work and voices have moved beyond the literary domain and into public, political life, often at crucial moments. But in most cases it is the symbolic capital of the literary field which allows them at moments to be heard, called upon or quoted. Krog, I have argued, has a mobility across fields, and a facility to inject her opinions and voice (often when she chooses to do so), that is sometimes substantially different from the usual treatment of authors in public space by and in the media. How did it transpire that what she does and says is received as so substantial in our public domain? I have argued that it is because of a particular relationship of interest and mutual benefit developed over many years with the news media, that Krog is treated as more than a well-known writer with important thoughts. Over four decades she has maintained a relationship with an Afrikaans-speaking public via the Afrikaans press, but she has acquired an English-speaking public (both national and international) through the attention of the English-language press, her work at the SABC, and the publication of Country of My Skull and A Change of Tongue. When compared, for example, with the fraught relationship that another dissident poet--Breyten Breytenbach--has had both with the media and the Afrikaans volk (Galloway 2004), (18) Krog's relationship with the news media has worked powerfully to advance her standing within the Afrikaans community and literary establishment, and then enabled her to transcend this community as her public when she began to work in English and was taken up as a representative voice of the post-apartheid South Africa by English-language media and a publishing house. Krog continues to be able to use her specificity as an Afrikaner (in producing poetry and translations in Afrikaans), but has acquired the power also to speak for the interests of the new South African nation, both here and abroad. This ability, I argue, is precisely because of a double-sided relationship with the media: on the one hand their particular treatment of her as a newsmaker, their framing of her as valuable and important, and on the other her use of and involvement in the media both as a journalist and agenda-setter. This sets her apart from other writers who enter the public domain and marks her as a person who has both acquired 'media meta-capital' and uses it.
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(1.) Eugene Marais Prize in 1972 for Januarie-Suite, the Reina Prinsen-Geerlig Prize in 1977 for Mannin and Beminde Antartika; the Rapport Prize in 1987 for Jerusalemgangers, the Hertzog Prize in 1990 for Lady Anne, the FNB Vita Poetry Award in 2001 for Down to My Last Skin, the RAU Prize in 2001 for Kleur Kom Nooit Alleen Nie, the South African Translators' Institute prize in 2003 for Met Woorde Soos Met Kerse.
(2.) Country of My Skull (1998) won the The Sunday Times Alan Paton Award; the BookData/South African Booksellers' Book of the Year prize; the Hiroshima Foundation Award (shared with John Kani); the Olive Schreiner Award for the best work of prose published between 1998 and 2000. It received an honourable mention in the 1999 Noma Awards for Publishing in Africa and is listed as one of "Africa's 100 Best Books of the Twentieth Century". A Change of Tongue (2003) won the 2004 Bookseller's Choice Award.
(3.) Tradewinds Poetry Festival in Cape Town, 2004, and the annual Spier Summer Season in Stellenbosch, 2005, 2006 and 2007.
(4.) Poetry International Festival, Rotterdam June 1992; Aix en Provence Book Festival in France, March 1997, keynote address to the Zimbabwe Book Fair in August 1999, Fest' Africa in Rwanda where she led the session on "Writing as a duty of memory" in June 2000.
(5.) For example: She gave the keynote speech at the World Bank's conference on "Women and Violence" in Washington in 1998, at the inaugural NP Van Wyk Louw lecture at RAU in 2004, and on the occasion of Andre Brink's 70th birthday celebration at the Baxter Theatre in Cape Town, 5 July 2005.
(6.) From the University of Stellenbosch, the Tavistock Clinic of the University of East London, UK, University of the Free State and Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University.
(7.) She has given lectures on aspects of the Truth and Reconcilation Commission at the University of London, the University of Glasgow, the universities of Essen and Dortmund in Germany, the University of Utrecht and the Netherlands Institute for Southern Africa in Holland, the universities of Bishops, Concordia, McGill, Carleton and Toronto in Canada, and at New York University and Bard College in the United States.
(8.) She had written occasional pieces for this paper as early as 1974.
(9.) There are five lengthy features from May 1996 to June 1997.
(10.) See for example: "Risk is the first step to reconciliation" The Star 24 July 1998. "Embarrassed by forgiveness" Sunday Times 29 February 2004. "A space for the disgraced" Mail & Guardian 15-21 September 2006.
(11.) To get a sense of Krog's exposure in, and therefore importance to, the news media, it is useful to employ the agenda-setting method of counting numbers of stories (see Dearing and Rogers 1996:18). Using the SA Media Archive (University of the Free State) and the National English Literary Museum archive I have found 27 articles in the 1970s, 110 in the 1980s, 261 in 1990s and 405 from January 2000 to date. In the SABC radio archives there are 92 audio recordings of her TRC reports, and 17 recordings of interviews with her between 1979 and 1995 on various literary programmes.
(12.) See Harcup and O'Neill 2001:262-264,279.
(13.) "In short, the fundamental stake in literary struggles is the monopoly of literary legitimacy ... the monopoly of the power to say with authority who is authorised to call himself a writer ... it is the monopoly of the power to consecrate producers or products ..." (Bourdieu 1983:323).
(14.) SABC sound archives T83/61-62. Ruda Landman interviews Celine and Rika Cilliers, Dot Serfontein and Antjie Krog. Celine Cilliers said to Krog: "Jy gebruik vreeslik baie Engels, is dit jou persoonlike skryfstyl?" [You use an awful lot of English, is that your personal writing style?] Krog answered: "Ons praat almal so" [We all talk like that].
(15.) And in personal communication (5 November 2005) Krog said how carefully she plans the launches of books and speaking tours with her publishers so as to focus media attention on what she considers important.
(16.) Personal communication with Stephen Johnson, 19 August 2004.
(17.) For example, at Ohio University it is prescribed in History 342B/542B for the course "South Africa since 1899". In this case it is the only book for the section "The transition and the New South Africa 1989-2000" http://oak.cats.ohiou.edu/ ~hawthorn/southafricasyl.html. At Brandeis University, Krog lectured and was read as part of the course "Mass Violence and Literature: an international perspective".
(18.) Galloway looks particularly at letters from readers, newspaper editorials and a website poll by Die Burger in 2001 to show the degree of antipathy and annoyance against the man acclaimed by Rapport as unique in his talent (2004:11) but considered an "enemy" of the volk by many fellow Afrikaners.
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|Publication:||Current Writing: Text and Reception in Southern Africa|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Jul 1, 2007|
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