C.J. ('Jonty') Driver


Born in Cape Town in 1939, C.J. ('Jonty') Driver spent the years of the Second World War in Kroonstad with his mother and younger brother. His father fought through North Africa, then was captured at Tobruk and spent the rest of the war as a prisoner in Italy and Germany. When he came back, the family moved to Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape, where his father was chaplain of St Andrew's College, to which Jonty Driver went as a pupil in due course.


Jonty Driver in the 1960s

After five years at the University of Cape Town, he was elected President of the National Union of South African Students in 1963 and again in 1964. In August and September 1964, he was locked up by the police in solitary confinement, ostensibly on suspicion of his involvement in the African Resistance Movement, and immediately afterwards left for England.


After a year's teaching at Sevenoaks School, he went to Trinity College, Oxford, to read for an M.Phil, and afterwards taught again at Sevenoaks School and then at Matthew Humberstone Comprehensive School in South Humberside.


While he was at Oxford, the South African authorities refused to renew his passport and he became stateless for several years, eventually becoming a British citizen. For more than twenty years he was prohibited from returning to South Africa.


In 1976 he was a Research Fellow at the University of York, and for twenty-three years he was a headmaster (Principal, Island School, Hong Kong, 1978-83; Headmaster, Berkhamsted School, 1983-9; Master, Wellington College, 1989-2000).


He is now a full-time writer. He recently retired from being one of the six Trustees of the Beit Trust, which exists to help the people of Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi, in particular with education, health-care, conservation and other projects.


He has been an honorary senior lecturer at the School of Literature and Creative Writing, University of East Anglia, since 2007. He was a judge for the Caine Prize for African Writing, 2007 and 2008, and recently retired from its Advisory Council. He was a Bogliasco Fellow in 2007, 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.


He is married with three children and eight grandchildren, and he and his wife live in East Sussex. At the end of 2016 he had major cardiac surgery to replace his aortic valve, bypass a cardiac artery, and carry out an ablation to counteract atrial fibrillation.  He has made a complete recovery from the operation, and has resumed his daily programme of exercise.