Postcolonial Travel Accounts and Ethnic Subjectivity: Travelling through Southern Africa/Postkoloniale Reisvertellings En Etniese Subjektiwiteit: Reistogte Deur Suider-Afrika

Article excerpt

Abstract

This article deals with three recent South African travelogues, to wit Sihle Khumalo's "Dark continent: my black arse (2007) and "Heart of Africa: centre of my gravity" (2009), and Steven Otter's "Khayelitsha: umlungu in a township" (2007). It argues that the authors are engaged in a postcolonial quest to find out what makes them African: the one, a black corporate employee, by following the footsteps of white nineteenth century explorers; the other, a white journalism student, by living in one of South Africa's largest black townships.

Key concepts:

at-homeness in Africa

black tourism

identity

Khumalo, Sihle

Otter, Steve

postcolonial travel writing

Opsomming

Hierdie artikel handel oor drie onlangse Suid-Afrikaanse reisbeskrywings, naamlik Sihle Khumalo se "Dark continent: my black arse" (2007) en "Heart of Africa: centre of my gravity" (2009), asook Steven Otter se "Khayelitsha: umlungu in a township" (2007). Die basiese stelling van die artikel is dat die outeurs besig is met 'n postkoloniale soektog om uit te vind wat van hulle Afrikane maak: die een, 'n swart korporatiewe werknemer, deur in die voetspore te volg van blanke negentiende-eeuse ontdekkingsreisigers; die ander, 'n wit joernalistiekstudent, deur in een van Suid-Afrika se grootste swart townships te gaan woon.

Kernbegrippe:

identiteit

Khumalo, Sihle

Otter, Steve

postkoloniale reisskryfkuns

swart toerisme

tuiswees in Afrika

1. Increased interest in travel, travel writing and travel theory

In the past few decades we have witnessed a growing interest in travel and travel writing. Not only does DStv offer a very popular travel channel with travelogues by Michael Palin and Louis Theroux but as people have become more and more global and adventurous, travel magazines and travel guides published by Lonely Planet, Bradt, Getaway and so on, showed a significant increase in sales. We have also seen an increase in the publication of travel narratives (whether or not intended for the coffee table), and concurrently with this, an increase in the theoretical aspects of travel writing. My focus in this article will be on the latter category. When studying travel narratives, one of the first issues that come to mind is that of narrative authority. Is the narrator trustworthy or only dishing up a good story? Is the author aware of and playing with the traditions of the genre? Does the traveller move beyond the traditional binaries of superior/inferior culture so characteristic of colonial travel writing? As Wimal Dissanayake points out in an undated internet article called Exploring post-colonial travel writing, the narrative voice in travel literature among other things raises issues related to "textuality, representation, sign, desire, power, cultural intervention and modes of sense-making". To these I would like to add issues of identity raised in the narratives under discussion, in this case (South) African identity. How do Sihle Khumalo and Steve Otter, as postcolonial travellers, construct themselves in the text, what is it that they are looking for in their travels, what role does reflection on their own role as travellers play in this process? Are they, as travellers, looking for otherness, or for confirmation? Do they, as observers, occupy a privileged space, or is it the observed that occupy a desired privileged space? And what role does colonial mimicry play in this process?

Mimicry, Homi Bhabha (1994:86) writes, "emerges as one of the most elusive and effective strategies of colonial power and knowledge". It could be defined as a colonised person's search for identity through adoption of the coloniser's language, imitation of his material culture and way of life, his literature and arts, values, beliefs and attitudes. In this sense mimicry could be seen as a masquerade imparting feelings of inferiority on the colonial subject. …