Jonty Driver

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Biographical information

Synopsis:

President of the National Union of South African Students (NUSAS), political detainee, educator, poet and writer.

First name: 
Jonty
Last name: 
Driver
Date of birth: 
1939

Jonty (C.J) Driver was born in Cape Townin 1939 and grew up with his mother and younger brother in Kroonstad. His father spent time fighting in North Africa during the Second World War until he was captured in Toruk and imprisoned in Germany and Italy. During this period his family stayed with his grandfather who a rector at St Peter Anglican Church in Cradock. After his father was released, he returned to South Africa and became a Chaplain at St. Andrews College. Thus, Jonty and his family moved and settled in Grahamstown.

Driver attended St. Andrews and spent his formative years at the College. After completing his matric, he enrolled at the University of Cape Town. He got involved in the student movement and joined the National Union of South African Students (NUSAS). In 1963 he was nominated and elected as president of NUSAS serving one term. During this period he came into contact with people who were in the African Resistance Movement (ARM), an organisation linked to the Liberal Party (LP) that carried out sabotage campaigns against the Apartheid government’s infrastructure.

His association with ARM brought him to the attention of the security police who arrested and detained him in 1964 on suspicion of his involvement in the organisation. He was held under the notorious 90 Day Detention law and kept in solitary confinement. He was never charged, but after spending a month in detention he was released.

After his release he left South Africa and went to the UK where he enrolled at Oxford University. He obtained his Masters in Philosophy (MPhil) degree. While Driver was studying, his South African passport was withdrawn by the Apartheid government and he was prohibited from returning to the country. Thus, he found himself in limbo as he was neither a South African nor a British citizen. He was eventually granted British citizenship, but he still remained prohibited from returning to South Africa.

After his degree, he worked as a teacher at Sevenoaks School and then at Matthew Humberstone Comprehensive School in South Humberside. In 1976 he became a Research Fellow at the University of York. From 1978 to 1983 Driver worked as a headmaster at Berkhamsted School. He spent a considerable amount of time as a Principal in Hong Kong. He was Master at Wellington College from 1989-2000.

In 2007 he became an honorary senior lecturer at the School of Literature and Creative Writing, University of East Anglia, and also a Bogliasco Fellow. That same year and 2008 he was a judge for the Caine Prize for African Writing. Driver also became a Fellow at the Macdowell Colony in New Hampshire, USA, in the fall of 2009, and a Fellow at the Hawthornden Writers’ Retreat in March/April 2011.

In 2012 he became the joint-winner of a competition run by the Kingston University Press for a short biography. The biography will be published late in 2013 by the Kingston University Press. Furthermore, in 2013 Happenstance Press will publish twenty-six of his poetic works, titled ‘Citizen Elsewhere’.He is now a full-time writer, though he continues his to be involved in education.

Driver is married with three children and eight grandchildren and stays is East Sussex with his wife. 

Amongst Driver’s publications are:

Selected Poems, 1960-2004, (2005)

Elegy for a Revolutionary, (Faber & Faber)

Send a War in Our Time, O Lord(Faber & Faber)

A Messiah in the Last Days, (Faber & Faber)

Occasional Light, (Heinemann) 


References:
• Eve, J., (2003), Literary Guide to the Eastern Cape, (Cape Town), p. 8
•   Driver, C. J., (1969), Elegy for a Revolutionary, (Cape Town).
•  C.J. ('Jonty') Driver, [online], Available at www.jontydriver.co.uk [Accessed 23 April 2013]

Last updated : 28-Oct-2016

This article was produced for South African History Online on 26-Feb-2013