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CollectionKlaas de Jonge

A collection of art and ethnography from various parts of Africa collected over several decades.

Klaas de Jonge

Klaas de Jonge (born 1937) is a Dutch civil rights defender who became internationally known as an activist against the Apartheid in South Africa, when he was forced to spend two years as an asylum seeker at the Dutch Embassy in Pretoria in 1985.

He studied sociology, social anthropology and demography in Amsterdam and Paris (Sorbonne). He specialized later in transitional justice/TJ, conflict analysis and community involvement in Africa. He held various academic positions, including the one of senior researcher at the Africa Study Centre in the Netherlands (1968-1980), and the one of visiting professor at the University of Brasília/Brazil for African and Race Studies (1989-1994). He has also lectured at the universities of Amsterdam and Maastricht.

From 1981 until 1985, Klaas de Jonge was a member of a ‘special operations unit’ of MK (Umkhonto we Sizwe) the armed branch of the African National Congress (ANC), doing reconnaissance work and bringing in arms and explosives into South Africa. This led to his arrest in 1985 by the South African Police; he managed to escape and acquired asylum in the Dutch embassy in Pretoria until – after 2 years – he was exchanged for the SA commander of the apartheid regime, Wynand du Toit, in 1987. He continued to do work for MK and the Dutch Anti-Apartheid Movement (AABN) until the end of 1989.

After his release he worked in Africa in the field of Transitional Justice for several international NGO’s, such as Penal Reform International (PRI) from 1998 to 2005, a.o. coordinating PRI’s research into the Gacaca jurisdictions in Rwanda. From 2009 until 2011 he worked for Impunity Watch/IW to prepare a project in the Great Lakes region of Africa (Burundi in particular) and develop IW’s collaborative research approach. Since mid-2011 he is a member of Impuntity Watch’s Advisory Board. He is a member of the African Studies Centre Community of the University of Leiden/ ASCL, a network of (international) Africa experts

Art collection

In the late sixties he already started collecting all kinds of African ethnography. The African masks and statues were to him in line with Picasso and his contemporaries, art which he knew from his childhood with artists as parents.

The main part of his collection comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Tanzania, Mozambique, and West Africa, and was formed mostly in the 1980’s and 1990’s when he worked in Rwanda and often visited the neighbouring DRC. The beauty of art, his passion for aesthetics, gave him a refuge for his often mentally heavy burdening work of questioning suspects of the genocide in Rwanda in 1994. Gradually he was able to built contacts with artdealers in Kigali and Goma. He was known to them for wanting to buy old/ or ritually used art objects. He legally acquired them by declaring them to the Congolese customs and imported them after the objects having been viewed by the Dutch customs at Schiphol.

Originally his collection comprised over 1200 objects. A few years ago he donated some 360 objects to the PaÉstwowe Muzeum Etnograficzne in Warschau, pieces which were selected by two conservators of that museum. Aging brings with it change, one of which is no longer being able to house the large collection, so he has made the decision to part with much of it, although with a heavy heart.

Further reading & videos

English digitised version of Klaas de Jonge’s diary, which “…describes the principles and commitment of an anthropologist turned political activist…”: Two Years in Pretoria: a Journal. (Unisa Press, 1987), the original Dutch version: Dagboek uit Pretoria. (Amst., v. Gennep, 1987).

Dutch language sites

About his art collection, an interview (2010)

Atspire is an art collector and exhibition venue in Utrecht located in the city's central district, where temporary exhibitions and private collections are presented for sale.

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