André Brink, a towering South African literary presence for decades whose work in English and Afrikaans fell afoul of apartheid-era censors, died Friday, South African news reports said, citing his publisher, N.B. Publishers. He was 79.
Mr. Brink died while traveling from Europe to Cape Town on a flight departing from Amsterdam late Friday. The cause of his death was not immediately made known.
Mr. Brink’s work was often cited alongside that of Nadine Gordimer and J. M. Coetzee as an exemplar of South Africa’s ability to transform the experience of harsh racial politics into literature with a global reach. He had been returning from a visit to Belgium, where he received an honorary doctorate, according to the South African SAPA news agency.
The language of many of his early works was Afrikaans, the mother-tongue of the Afrikaner minority whose leaders came to power in 1948 and set the country on the path to policies of social engineering and racial division that ended formally with the first free election in 1994, which brought Nelson Mandela to power.
Mr. Brink belonged to a group of Afrikaans writers known as Die Sestigers, meaning roughly the generation of the 1960s. According to Hermann Giliomee, a prominent historian, the group “embraced secularization, modernity, racial tolerance and sexual freedom, and used modern literary techniques and subject matter to explore these themes.”
Mr. Giliomee added in a Web posting, “This literature helped to change the political imagination of the Afrikaans reading public in subtle yet profound ways. They offered a new conceptualization of the Afrikaners and their history that differed starkly from the image the political leaders and cultural leadership tried to project of the Afrikaners as a people determined to crush all threats to their survival.”
But for many outside South Africa, Mr. Brink’s most accessible work came in his novels in English such as “Rumors of Rain” and “A Dry White Season.”
At the time of these works’ publication, the white authorities frequently deployed draconian censorship and other laws to ban Mr. Brink’s work, and he was critical of the censors themselves. “Even in chains, the many voices of the writer must continue to speak,” he once said while accepting one of many literary prizes.
According to SAPA, Mr. Brink “was continually watched by the security police, his phone tapped, and his mail intercepted and occasionally stolen” in the apartheid era.
André Brink was born on May 29, 1935, in the small town of Vrede in a profoundly traditional and conservative area of South Africa, then called the Orange Free State. He studied English and Afrikaans at the university in Potchefstroom. He went on to Paris to study comparative literature and was often quoted as referring to France as his “second homeland.”
After his return to South Africa, he taught at universities in Grahamstown and Cape Town.
On South Africa’s Mail and Guardian news website, Shaun de Waal, a senior editor, said that in 1974, a novel published by Mr. Brink about a man of mixed race who murders his white lover “was the first work in Afrikaans to be banned by the apartheid government. Brink translated the text into English, as ‘Looking on Darkness,’ and began to reach an international audience.”
“His later novels were written in both English and Afrikaans and published in both languages, with the exception of some critical works and the semi-autobiographical ‘States of Emergency’ (1988), which came out in English only,” Mr. de Waal wrote on Saturday.
In his later years, Mr. de Waal said, Mr. Brink turned to autobiography, but he also translated many foreign writers into Afrikaans and wrote works of criticism.