Freedom’s inspiration: Gordimer’s words shook the foundation of apartheid

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Nadine Gordimer, the Nobel Prize-winning, South African writer who vigorously assailed apartheid in her novels and short stories, died last Sunday. She was a luminary in the anti-apartheid movement, whose words infuriated the censors but reassured an imprisoned Nelson Mandela so much that he asked to meet her immediately after his release.

Her work is a stark yet searching meditation on the politics of race and hatred. In the novel “July’s People,” she explored a South Africa where a successful black revolution leaves the white minority hated and mistreated. “Burger’s Daughter,” about an activist family, was one of her three novels censored by the apartheid regime.

In her short story “Once Upon a Time,” a white family’s fanatical need for alarms, fences and barbed wire as security against an oppressed black majority comes to be its own undoing. At a time when paranoia of the foreign and zeal for border militarization go unabated, it’s a lesson well worth rereading.

Ms. Gordimer lived long enough to become disenchanted with the African National Congress, which she joined in its underground days as a righteous protest movement. When the ANC later morphed into the corrupt governing party after the dismantling of apartheid, she turned her attention to AIDS activism and public health awareness.

Nadine Gordimer was not just an accomplished wordsmith, but she was also a leading crusader against one of the world’s cruelest oppressions — and she won. Her words helped to inspire that victory and will continue to inspire many more.

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