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Jack Cope PDF Print E-mail

Jack Cope (1913 - 1991), South African novelist, short-story writer, poet, and editor, was born in Natal, South Africa and attended boarding school in Durban, afterwards becoming a journalist on the Natal Mercury and then a political correspondent in London for South African newspapers. At the outbreak of the Second World War, in a state of some disillusionment, he returned to his father's farm and, while working at various jobs, took up creative writing. During the following four decades Cope published eight novels, more than a hundred short stories, and three collections of poetry, the last one in association with C.J. Driver. For twenty of those years, beginning in 1960, he edited Contrast, a bilingual literary magazine that published contributions in both English and Afrikaans. He co-edited The Penguin Book of South African Verse (1968) with Uys Krige and, as general editor throughout much of the 1970s, produced the Mantis editions of southern African poets. In 1980 he moved to England, where he published The Adversary Within: Dissident Writers in Afrikaans (1982) and his Selected Stories (1986).

Cope's first novel, The Fair House (1955), considers the Bambata Rebellion of 1906 in an attempt to account for the later racial and political conditions in his country. Later novels, including The Golden Oriole (1958), Albino (1964), and The Rain-Maker (1971), chronicle the white man's destruction of black culture and the ensuing struggle by the blacks to regain their pride and identity. However, it is as a short- story writer that Cope demonstrated his finest talent. His stories evoke, according to Alan Paton, 'with a few words the scents and sounds and colours of our country'. In 'A Crack in the Sky' (The Tame Ox, 1960) and 'Power' (The Man Who Doubted and Other Stories, 1967) his moral vision is clear; his third collection, Alley Cat and Other Stories (1973), contains darker themes such as those of alienation and loneliness. Among Cope's main achievements was his influence on South African literature during the 1960s and 1970s, important years in the struggle against apartheid
(From the Contemporary Africa Database -


Selected Work

from The Tame Ox

The veranda of the office looked across a square of low roofs, and beyond them other buildings of the Native College could be seen scattered among the wind-swept gum trees, one- and two-storey blocks in plain stone masonry topped with corrugated iron. Beyond the campus again stretched rolling hills of sugar- cane plantations. The College Principal, the Reverend Dr Luke Njilo, descended the steps to the broad red-earth square. Along the left side was a row of huge old mango trees. It was a tropical day of broiling sunshine and limp, hot air. The dust lay still and the flags round the platform were motionless. The mango trees had their feet in circles of deep shadow. By the time the ceremony was due to begin the platform would be mostly shaded.
Dr Njilo went among the people, moving his big body with an ease that was solemn but at the same time youthful. The women fixed on him coy, bashful looks and smiled. He was a great man, but distant from them. That day he was to be honoured by the white race. An honorary degree, a Doctorate of Philosophy - these were strange terms to them. Yet they knew no other man of the Zulu nation had ever before arrived where he had. The word had gone out and the people were coming from long distances to see the white men do honour to the teacher, Luke Njilo.

Dr Njilo had a few words for all he greeted. He put into his own language an unusual preciseness, a stiffness of the printed letter and book as though he had a proprietary right but no pride in it. He turned to his secretary a few times with a remark in English. The women had brought beer in earthenware pots and large gourds covered with a few willow leaves. He could not refuse the customary offering. During the morning he had drunk a good deal and the midday meal had revived his thirst. At first he took the beerpots from the Reverend Gumede's hands, drank a few gulps, standing, and then wiped his mouth with his handkerchief. There was little to indicate his pleasure or approval. Perhaps his eyes lit up if he came on a fine brew, but he silenced his belches in the European manner and merely nodded as if he were making a severe concession in accepting at all.

In the shade of the mango trees an old wrinkled woman, more pagan than Christian, remarked in a cracked voice: 'Teacher, if you stand, the beer has far to travel -it will make a waterfall: The people turned their faces away to hide their smiles, but Dr Njilo burst into a hearty laugh in which all joined. 'A waterfall? Is that where the Amanzimtoti River started?' He had a resonant, bell-like voice.

Sitting on his haunches, he took a good pull at the old woman's beer-pot and handed it back with a compliment. He was speaking more easily; his quips flew, and now there was a ripple of amusement where the solid dark figure moved, clothed in academic robes. The sun flickered in patches between the leaves on his crisp black hair, neatly parted. He was sweating freely in the all-pervading heat and breathed like a strong-chested horse in the traces. His protruding eyes rolled amiably and a healthy pink tongue showed when he threw back his head to laugh.

At one place six elders were waiting for him, all greyheaded men. Some were in European clothes, others in the skins and sandals of tribal dress; one man, creased and dimeyed with age, had on the polished head-ring of the old royal warriors. Dr Njilo did not know them - perhaps grandfathers or great-uncles of students. There was a short awkward pause. They regarded him with the cool impassive bearing of men who are perfectly assured of their own place. The head of the eldest nodded continually and spittle dribbled over his beard. The others looked through dark, half-closed eyes, faintly contemptuous, it seemed. He had been criticised before; the extremists among his own people called him a 'good boy', a 'tame ox'. As editor of the weekly People's Voice, he was on the side of moderation, tolerance. He mixed with white missionaries, Negrophiles like Miss Poynton, liberals, and even men who galled him with their patronage. He glanced at Charles Gumede and back at the old men. They were not the kind to criticise him politically. But they were studying him, weighing up the future that he stood for as if gazing into the clouds to divine what storms or what sunny days were in store.



1948.  Marie : A South African Satire. Ontario:  Stewart Publishing. 
1955. The Fair House. London:  Macgibbon and Kee.
1958. The Golden Oriole. London:  Heinemann.
1959. The Road To Ysterberg : A Novel. London:  Heinemann. 
1960. The Tame Ox. London:  Heinemann. 
1964. Albino. London:  Heinemann. 
1967. The Man Who Doubted. London:  Heinemann. 
1968. The Penguin Book Of South African Verse (Co- editor).  Johannesburg:  Penguin Books.
1969. The Dawn Comes Twice. London:  Heinemann. 
1971. The Rain-Maker. London:  Heinemann. 
1972. The Student of Zend. London:  Heinemann.
1973. Alley Cat.  London:  Heinemann.
1973. The Africa We Knew. Cape Town:  David Philip Publishers.
1974. Lacking A Label. Cape Town:  David Philip Publishers.
1977. My Son Max. London:  Heinemann. 
1979. Notes Recorded in Sun. Cape Town:  David Philip Publishers.
The Adversary Within : Dissident Writers In Afrikaans.
Cape Town:  David Philip Publishers.
1986. Selected Stories. Cape Town:  David Philip Publishers.
1990. Tales of the Trickster Boy. Cape Town:  Tafelberg.