My African Heart

My African Heart, by Tossie Van Tonder (Nobonke) on



This is an intensely personal and poetic South African story.

Against the backdrop of racial tension and sincere attempts to overcome these within the intricate fabric of South African politics and society, a woman’s journey towards herself as South African, White, Afrikaans, dancer, lover and mother gets to the heart of being African.

Once an Umkhonto we Sizwe fighter and political prisoner, her husband and the father of her child is a man whose political struggle is "like a fever burning beyond the intention to alarm, protect, conceal, reveal, purge or heal."

The narrative is based on 20 years of journal writing, depicting the complex nature and the sensitive nuances of a mixed-race relationship just before the end of the age of apartheid, encapsulating the hopes and fears of a new future. Three voices speak: the author as apartheid child; the pregnant mother, writer and dancer whose inner world becomes her visceral reality; and her child in utero, communicating with an astonishing heart of wisdom. They weave a tapestry of complex relations, diverse and subjective explorations of transformation and reconciliation, thoughtfully defining race for its uniqueness and awakening spirit.

My African Heart, by Tossie Van Tonder (Nobonke) on

What people are saying:

Extract from My African Heart:

"When you are a storyteller in movement and in words, you need be nothing else. Both are a form of prayer, and at the same time a talisman against evil: both strange to others, mysterious, even dangerous ... but to you, a transitory comfort that only these siblings of the human soul can bring. They serve as sanctuary for the tensions that are always threatening to tear you asunder. With one hand dancing, you ward off despair with exact aesthetic acuity while with the other you note down its dramatic effect."
A Jewel in South African Literature. Prof Ampie Muller, Literary Critic Fine Music Radio

In My African Heart Tossie van Tonder invites her reader to a dance with an unsettling past, a dance as a deeply personal way of making sense of who we are where we are. Johan Myburg, South African Literary and Arts critic

Ek het jou boek gelees, en vind dit ontroerend. Justice Edwin Cameron

I'm really inspired by your integrity and dedication to healing divisions. Peter Powis, Psychotherapist

Like her dance her writing is dense and original. David Goldblatt, Photographer

Read more testimonials

Jou boek is een allemagtige statement - onbeholpe soek ek na woorde. Die bladsye gly soos kwik in my handpalm, vul elke kreukeltjie, elke slooitjie van iets so kompleks soos 'n vinger afdruk. Ek vind dat dit makliker, en MOOIER, is as ek hardop lees. Jirre dis mooi! Werner Marx, former student

Such a moving and exceptional gift to the dance community (and many other communities too). So many profound insights shared and absorbed and I thank you for sharing so much so honestly and cleanly. And for your courage. A bodily map and history of a world I and so many others have known so intimately ... the rupture with tribe ... and much of it so painful but when shared with humility and care, opens the body for a washing. Juanite Praeg, Drama Lecturer, Rhodes Universit

You have a writing style that reflects the inquisitive insistence of your dance. Jeremy Burnham, Writer

The book is compelling. Such a fierce fragility, and a ruthless self exposure. Performance. Magic. Confronting. Naked. Intensity. And self scrutiny. Cheryl Barlow, Teacher

It is a unique and fascinating book. The way you write, I experience your dance throughout. Roaul Goldberg, Physician

In My African Heart, Tossie Van Tonder choreographs an irresistible dance of the mind, body and soul, that, when danced, gives a different meaning to FREEDOM and DEMOCRACY. Nomshado Twala, Radio Presenter OTHERWISE Talking Woman, SAfm

In this memoir / meditation from one of the pioneer artists of our time, van Tonder blurs the boundaries between performance, poetry, politics and everyday life, challenging our notions of difference. Dawn Garisch, author and medical doctor

The power of this story is in the revolutionary revelation (Tsenolo in Sesotho) of My African Heart. The bravery of this warrior emerges as she lays bare the despised history — owning it, exposing the repressed shame, guilt and fear; celebrating it as she expresses the pride of being an Afrikaner, "people who led the modern struggle against a powerful empire and created a new language." Of significance to the My African Heart, she transcends gracefully into the new being, as she internalizes the rhythm, fusing old and new. She celebrates and owns the victory of the Struggle. This book is a true symbol of reconciliation - she teaches us all how to dance. Dr. Vuyo Mahlati, Scholar-Gender Activist

Conceived in Namibia to mixed SA parents, the unborn child brings wisdom and certainty to his mother who knows he must be born in their homeland as one of the first free, true and dignified citizens of a new democracy.
This is a must-read, recording as it does the extraordinary opportunities for growth and human understanding now offered us as individuals and as a country. Marion Penfold - Waldorf Teacher

My admiration for you grows in leaps and bounds as I read and feel into your life story. I am beginning to understand how you come to stand upright, walk tall, and speak gently, deeply, and questioningly. Janet Graaf

Your story demonstrates just how much, and how deeply, a person must move — literally and figuratively — in in order to let go of the old ways and experience something new. The old ways are the means by which we have come to understand basic life necessities such as love and security. Even when these early experiences are shaky, they embed themselves in our bodies. To shake them loose and discover a freedom to choose our own way, we must literally move with them and through them by engaging in free-form dancing, the letter writing, the real and imagined conversations... finding a place of stillness within... and observing your life from that place. I still cannot bring myself to write because I am afraid that the demons would overwhelm me.
This is a uniquely South African story. In writing it, whether you knew it or not, you have written for many. I, for one, am deeply grateful. I feel that you have done something very courageous, both in the doing of it, and the writing about it. I can hear you respond that you were simply finding your truth and living your truth. I suspect that that this kind of "simply" is found only at the other end, the far end, of a long and painfully confusing journey. YS

I was deeply immersed in your pages and touched, moved and exhilerated by your writing and your revelations. Truly ... this book is a perfect companion for me at the moment. It is tapping into much that has meaning in my own life, work and writing. Your writing is beautiful and the structure of the narrative, innovative and captivating. Yes ... you are a poet and a visionary, for sure. SK

Iets wat op die oomblik baie sterk tot my spreek is die idee van die geheime, ondergrondse lewe wat almal in die boek het. Partykeer fantaseer jy oor Sandi se "ondergrondse" lewe, beide in die "struggle" en in al die plekke waaroor hy nie praat nie. Jou dans kan natuurlik ook by tye gelees word as 'n soort ondergrondse weerstand; jou pa deel sy ondergrondse grappe met die swart mynwerkers; jou ma fluister saam met Bettie sodat niemand anders kan hoor nie. Op die oomblik voel dit vir my asof die fantasieë en projeksies wat die karakters oor mekaar se geheime, "ondergrondse" lewens het 'n baie belangrike tema in die boek is. Een manier om aan Tabula Rasa te dink is om dit te sien as 'n begeerte om mekaar se geheime te deel of te verstaan, of om jou eie ondergrond na buite te kan leef. Maar die karakters in die boek is geneig om hulleself vas te praat in hulle eie fantasieë in. Dans (en tot 'n mate skryf) is die betroubaarste maniere om by 'n mensself uit te kom, en miskien ook by ander mense — dis die groot waagstuk. Jacques Coetzee, Singer-song-writer, editor and interviewer in book-launch-performance Tabula Rasa

A labour of fierce love that required unerring dedication, perseverance and tenderness. LM

Your intimate, acutely observed book lives with me in its fearless beauty. I have read every word. Thank you for all that it has cost and given to bring this work to us all. Nicola Visser

I came across your book and I wanted to let you know that I have found it deeply inspiring and comforting. RB