Apartheid and Beyond: South African Writers and the Politics of Place

Apartheid and Beyond: South African Writers and the Politics of Place

Apartheid and Beyond: South African Writers and the Politics of Place

Apartheid and Beyond: South African Writers and the Politics of Place


Apartheid and Beyond is a major contribution to the study of South African literary culture. It offers elegant readings of Coetzee, Gordimer, Fugard, Tlali, Dike, Magona, and Mda, focusing on the intimate relationship between place, subjectivity, and literary form revealed in their work. It also explores the way apartheid functioned in its day-to-day operations as a geographical system of control, exerting its power through such spatial mechanisms as residential segregation, bantustans, passes, and prisons. Though in the first instance concerned with literary texts, Apartheid and Beyond also meditates on crucial historical processes like colonial occupation, the creation of black townships, migration, forced removals, the emergence of informal settlements, the gradual integration of white cities, and efforts at land reform. Cumulatively, the six essays in this book tell the story of the transformation of apartheid's landscapes of oppression into the more ambiguous landscapes of contemporary South Africa: landscapes of tourism and leisure, of crime and privatized security, of uncontrolled urbanization and persistent poverty. Barnard's methodologically eclectic writing draws on the work of major European and U. S. theorists like Foucault, De Certeau, and Jameson, as well as important African intellectuals like Mbembe, Ramphele, and Ndebele. It also takes literary figures seriously as theorists of space in their own right. Apartheid and Beyond is both an innovative account of an important body of politically-inflected literature and an imaginative reflection on the socio-spatial aspects of the transition from apartheid to democracy.


A “place”: a position whose contradictions
those who impose them don’t see, and
from which will come a resolution they
haven’t provided for.

—Nadine Gordimer, Burger’s Daughter

Apartheid and Beyond is conceived, in the first instance, as a contribution to the study of South African literature of the period between 1948 and 2000—the years of the National Party’s political domination, as well as the first few years of the new democracy. In the broadest terms, this project may be described as an effort to articulate the impact of apartheid on literary and cultural production through readings of a number of important writers: J. M. Coetzee, Nadine Gordimer, Athol Fugard, Miriam Tlali, and Zakes Mda. More specifically, this study examines the cultural and political significance of certain key places, including the farm, the white suburban home, the black township, the shack settlement, and the theater, in the light of theoretical work on the interconnections between spatial relations, systems of power, and ideological and generic forms. It will be evident in these chapters that I am not merely interested in questions of setting, in the matter of the place represented in the text, but also in the place of the text. I will consider, in other words, the situatedness of textual production and consumption—the way in which writing for or from a particular location makes a difference in the form and significance of a text.

At the heart of each of my readings (though variously configured) is a sociospatial dialectic—one that is most economically expressed in the phrase “knowing one’s place.” The ambiguities of this cliché (referring both to one’s standing in the racist power structure and one’s geographical situation) express the oppressive conflation of the spatial and the political. Yet the idea of “knowing one’s place,” as . . .

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