Alba Bouwer 1996


Alberta Magdalena (Alba) Bouwer was born in the Vredefort District of the Free State on 16 March 1920. She spent her childhood there and attended a farm school. Later her mother moved to the family farm at Klein Drakenstein in the Paarl District, and Alba completed her school career in 1936 at the La Rochelle High School for Girls. She obtained the BA and SED qualifications at the then Huguenot University College in Wellington.

She began working initially as a teacher - first for four years at the Burgersdorp High School and then for two years as History and German mistress at the Jan van Riebeeck High School, Cape Town. In 1948 she accepted a position at the SABC where she compiled a children's programme and became an assistant organ­iser of youth programmes. In 1950 she joined the editorial staff of the newly founded women's maga­zine Sarie Marais, where she worked for thirteen years, twelve as assistant editor. In 1963 in Cape Town, she married Hubert Coetzee, Managing Director of Nasionale Pers. After his death in 1969 she married the Riversdale attorney Jan Hofmeyr in 1975 and moved to that town. Since June 1994 the couple have lived in Somerset West.

Alba Bouwer made her debut in 1955 with a children's book based on her childhood, Stories van Rivierplaas, illustrated by Katrine Harries (who illustrated all the Bouwer books up to her death in the early nineteen seventies), followed a year later by Nuwe stories van Rivierplaas (1956). The Rivierplaas stories received the Scheepers Prize for children's books in 1959. Alba's acquaintance and friendship with Malay families in the Malay Quarter of Cape Town found expression in Abdoltjie: ses verhaaltjies oar 'n Ma/eiertjie van die Ou Kaap (1958). This was followed by Katrientjie van Keerweder (1961), Stories van Bergplaas (1963), and Stories van RuyswiJck (1963). These three works were awarded the Scheepers Prize in 1965. Then followed Dirkie van Driekuil (1966), 'n Hennetjie met Kuikens (1971), Ienke/ dienke/: 'n versieboek vir kleintjies (1980) and Vlieg, swaeltjie, vlieg ver (1983). The CP Hoogen­hout Award was presented to her three times: in 1961 (for Katrientjie van Keerweder), 1971 (for Hennetjie met kuikens) and again in 1983 (for Vlieg, swaeltjie, vlieg ver, for which she also won the MER prize in 1984). In 1995 appeared an Alba Bouwer-omnibus containing in one volume her first two works plus Stories van RuysW1JCk.

Although Alba Bouwer's literary stature is probably based mainly on her children's books which have become classics, she has also published works in other genres. Under the pen-name Magriet Coetzee two works have appeared: Gebede van 'n vrou (1973) and Aand van die /ewe (1982), while under her own name has appeared the photographic volume celebrating the 100th anniversary of Afrikaans in 1975: Afrikaans 100. Together with Rykie van Reenen she has published an anthology of the work of her literary pre­decessor MER, and two books containing MER's letters: Familiegesprek. Briewe aan haar dogter (1976) and M.E.R. 'n Kosbare erfenis. Briewe 1916-1975 (1977). In Die lang reis van hart tot hart (ed Rykie van Reenen, 1995) a collection has been made of talks that she has given. In addition she has translated and adapted fifteen youth and children's books from English, Dutch and German, published ten magazine articles and made nine contributions to published collections. In 1987 the Akademie honoured her by naming the Alba Bouwer Prize for Children's Literature after her.

A surprising turn occurred in her oeuvre in 1992 when she changed her focus from the world of children and the young in the novel Die afdraand van die dag is kil which with compassion and humour depicts the dis­integration of aging and the ultimate confrontation with death. Her oeuvre has thus covered the whole spectrum of human life from the exciting and ever surprising world of the child and young person to the shrinking world of the aging and the aged. An important aspect of her children's and youth books is the awareness of other cultures, and indeed respect for other cultures which as a principal element together with a sense of common humanity pervades her work.

On the occasion of her 75th birthday in 1995 appeared a commemorative volume put together by friends and academics: Die blink uur van mooi dinge (ed Thomas van der Walt). In that year she was also made an honorary member of the Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns.

Apart from her stature as an Afrikaans writer, trans­lator and anthologist, Alba Bouwer has also done important work as an Afrikaans broadcaster, women's journalist (in the pioneering footsteps of MER), and in the field of welfare (especially through the ACVV on whose executive she served for twenty-three years).

The University of Port Elizabeth wishes to accord recognition to Alba Bouwer's contribution to Afrikaans literature. It is an honour for the Senate and Council of the University of Port Elizabeth to confer the degree of Doctor Litterarum, honoris causa, on Alberta Magdalena Bouwer.