Questions over Ingrid Jonker’s legacy as daughter dies

Family and friends at the grave of acclaimed poet Ingrid Jonker at Maitland cemetery at the farewell for her daughter Simone Cilliers Jonker.

Family and friends bid farewell to Simone Cilliers Jonker, the daughter of poet Ingrid Jonker, on Friday, at Maitland cemetery, where her ashes are to be scattered at her mothers grave.

Simone, who called Hout Bay home for many years, died in Hermanus, on Monday January 30, after a battle with cancer. She was 66.

Guests were invited to read or say a few words at the farewell. Athol Williams, a social philosopher, poet and public intellectual based at Oxford University, sent a message saying he had been inspired to write a poem, A Very Small Writer, in Simone’s memory after she had described herself to him as “a very small writer”.

Simone’s daughter, Margarita Strybis, and niece, Ashleigh de Villiers, read Ingrid Jonker’s poem Die Kind/The Child, famously ready by Nelson Mandela, in Afrikaans, at his inaugural state of the nation address in 1994.

Simone’s cousin, Cath de Villiers, read Toemaar die Donker Man. Her sons, Gerald Stoffberg and Tyrone Bowman, also said a few words.

Tyrone described how his mother loved people who love books and that her favourite colour was yellow – one of his mother’s yellow gowns was draped over a nearby tombstone.

Winner of the 2022 Ingrid Jonker prize for a debut collection in English, Jacques Coetzee, read his poem, A Chiffon Cloud, in braille and then led the mourners in the Brahms song Lullaby.

In a tribute on social media, actor Martin Venter remembered what Simone said during their last coffee: “I want to honour Ingrid and her legacy by continuing what she started.”

Specialist copyright lawyer Greg Marsh said he had known Simone for 20 years. “She was a deeply spiritual person, tolerant, a kind of angel in my life. Last year we had some deep conversations, she shed tears. I could tell she was in pain.”

Mr Marsh, who is a trustee of the Ingrid Jonker Trust, said Simone had been on a drive to have her mother’s documents returned to South Africa from The Hague.

“They’ve essentially been stolen. The copyright of her literary estate expired 50 years after her death. She now has a clear legal right to own the stuff belonging to her mum,” Mr Marsh said.

Ms Strybis said the project was “in process and for now, there is no comment”.

According to Wikipedia, after Ingrid Jonker’s death in 1965, copyrights and control of her literary estate (including published works, translations, unpublished or partially completed work, papers of intrinsic literary interest such as correspondence or personal diaries and records) were awarded by then Master of the Court to Robert Knox ″Jack″ Cope with whom Jonker had a romantic relationship. He established the Ingrid Jonker Trust and remained a trustee until his death in 1991.

Ownership, according to Mr Marsh, should then have passed to Jonker’s daughter, Simone, as the beneficiary. Copyright is still vested in the trust.

In November, Simone wrote on Facebook, “I think I may lose the case of where my mother’s stolen collection is going to be kept as it is now in the hands of the ANC. I am guessing the Den Haag (the literature museum at The Hague) together with the ambassador to the Netherlands is going to put it in the Amazwi museum in Grahamstown, the hometown of André Brink, who played a key role in my mother’s sad fate. The collection is presently located at Den Haag.”

In a previous post, in September, Simone wrote, “The museum in Den Haag refuses to return them to me and will not return them unless they approve of an institution with museum standards in South Africa.”

The Den Haag museum was asked to comment but did not respond by deadline.

Manager of the curatorial division at Amazwi Museum, Crystal Warren, said Ingrid Jonker’s papers belong to the Jonker family and it is up to them what happens to them.

“There was talk of an Ingrid Jonker Centre or foundation in Cape Town. Our main concern was to assist with the papers being returned to South Africa as they are an important part of the country’s literary heritage.”

Ingrid Jonker married Pieter Venter in 1956, and their daughter, Simone Cilliers Jonker, was born in 1957. The family moved to Johannesburg, but three years later, the couple separated. Jonker also had relationships with Jack Cope and André Brink. In 1965 she walked into the sea at Three Anchor Bay and drowned herself.

Simone married Ernesto Garcia Marques 10 years ago and they, and most of the family, have lived in Hout Bay for many years.

Ashleigh de Villiers and Margarita Strybis read Ingrid Jonker’s poem, Die Kind/The Child.
Simone Cilliers Jonker’s daughter, Margarita Strybis, read her mother’s poem, Begin Somer. Pictured behind are Simone’s cousin, Cath de Villiers, and winner of the 2022 Ingrid Jonker prize, Jacques Coetzee.
Jonker family members, back from left, are Tyrone Bowman, Enzo Rittel, Margaritha Strybis, Gerald Stoffberg, Miro Rittel and Ashleigh de Villiers. Front: Cath de Villiers with Danielle Venter.
Simone’s husband, Ernesto Garcia Marques, pays his respects.
On September 19, Simone Cilliers Jonker posted this picture on social media, saying, “Happy 89th birthday my mamma. I hope to bring you home to me to South Africa for your 90th”.