As part of the JAM Festival in the Romney Marsh, CJ (Jonty) Driver will be reading from his sequence of poems,”‘The Journey Back”, interspersed with music from Corelli’s variations known as La Folia, played by violinist Peter Fields.
“The Journey Back”, is a “travel book in verse”, describing Jonty’s first visit back to his home country, South Africa, after thirty years of enforced exile.
In August 1964, when Jonty was completing his second year as the elected President of the anti-apartheid National Union of South African Students, he was detained by the security police on suspicion of involvement with the African resistance movement. This was the night before he was due to catch the Union Castle liner which would have taken him from Cape Town to Southampton and then on to Sevenoaks school, where he had been offered a teaching post.
Held in solitary confinement and without access to a lawyer for nearly five weeks, Jonty was eventually released without charge and, using the South African passport he had managed to conceal from the police when he was arrested, two days later flew to England. In 1965, when he was halfway through a post-graduate degree at Oxford, his passport expired. The South African authorities refused to renew it, effectively making Jonty stateless, until five years later when he became a British citizen by registration. The South African authorities then added his name to the select list of those British citizens who required a visa before admission to the country. When Jonty applied for a visa, it was refused. Only in 1992, as apartheid was officially ending, were these restrictions removed, and Jonty was able to return.
“The Journey Back” is a sequence of twenty-four poems, various in form, each set in a different part of South Africa. The late Dan Jacobson, academic and novelist, described the poems as “by turns lyrical and conversational, grave and ironic, intimate and austere; the poems combine fluidity of feeling with intellectual rigour, a yearning for continuity with an anguished awareness of all that has been disrupted in the author’s own history and that of his native land . . .”
The performance takes place on Saturday July 8 at 3pm in the church of St Mary the Virgin in the village St Mary in the Marsh. Admission to the recital is free, though there will be a retiring collection on behalf of the Hantam Community Education Trust in the Karoo, South Africa.
Photo: Kenneth Bird