Ingrid Jonker was born on a farm in Douglas, near Kimberley in the northern Cape on 19 September 1933. Her parents, Abraham Jonker and Beatrice Cilliers, separated very early in her life. Beatrice returned to her parents to raise her two small girls. The family moved on to a farm near Cape Town, but when her grandfather died five years later, the four women were left destitute.
Jonker’s mother died in 1943, and Ingrid and Anna were sent to school in Cape Town. The sisters later moved in with their father and his third wife and their children, but it was a traumatic arrangement that yielded the beginning of what would become a permanent rift between Jonker and her father.
Jonker began writing poems as a young girl, producing her first collection, Na die somer, at 13. By 16, she was corresponding with the South African writer and poet D.J. Opperman and publishing in Die Huisgenoot.
In 1956, the poet married Pieter Venter and gave birth to a daughter, Simone, a year later. The couple moved to Johannesburg, but soon separated and Jonker returned to Cape Town with her daughter.
The relationship with her father was tempestuous and bitter. As writer, editor and National Party Member of Parliament, Dr Abraham Jonker was instrumental in implementing censorship laws on art, publications and entertainment. Their political differences were public and humiliating, and Abraham publicly denied Ingrid as his daughter.
The Afrikaanse Pers-Boekhandel prize and a scholarship from Anglo American Corporation enabled her to travel to Europe, however, her harrowing love affairs with South African literary figures, Jack Cope and André Brink complicated her life. One of the affairs resulted in a pregnancy and an abortion, which was illegal in South Africa. In 1961 she received psychiatric treatment at Valkenberg, where her mother had died some years earlier.
The multiple losses of her childhood, her failed marriage, the anxiety resulting from her affairs and her father’s bitter rejection finally proved overwhelming. On the night of 19 July 1965, she walked into the sea at Three Anchor Bay, where a memorial now honours her legacy. When her father heard the news, he allegedly said, “They can throw her back into the sea for all I care.”
Ontvlugting, Culemborg, Cape Town, 1956
Rook en Oker, Afrikaanse Pers, Johannesburg, 1963
Kantelson, Afrikaanse Pers, Johannesburg, 1966
'n Seun na my hart; 'n dram in een bedryf, Johannesburg, 1968, Dalro
Versamelde Werke, Perskor, Johannesburg, 1975
Collected Works, Translated by Jack Cope & William Plomer, Human & Rousseau, 2001
Black Butterflies, Translated by Antjie Krog & André Brink, Human & Rousseau, 2007
A documentary film was made about Ingrid Jonker’s life:
The Sunday Times Heritage Project:
Her Post-humous Award - the Order of Ikhamanga in Silver:
Selected Poems: Ingrid Jonker
Launch of Black Butterflies: