Southern African Literatures

Southern African Literatures

Southern African Literatures

Southern African Literatures

Excerpt

The initial premise of this study is that in the countries of southern Africa the texts of politics have wanted to overwhelm the texts of art: that public events have confirmed a history of domination and resistance, in which ancient charters have felt the intrusion of harsh, modernising forces. This modern pattern begins with Bushmen hunter-gatherers and Khoi pastoralists - the earliest people of the region - having to defend themselves against expanding African groups (the descendants of iron-age Bantu-speaking people) and, from the mid-seventeenth century, against Dutch trekboers (wandering farmers) who spread into the and interior of what is now South Africa in search of grazing lands for their cattle. (The parched Karoo has symbolic significance in the literature as a place of solitude, a place of physical and spiritual testing.) With the Dutch East India Company having used the Cape of Good Hope as a refreshment station on journeys to the spice markets of the East, white settlement had begun on the southern-most tip of the continent, and just over a hundred years later, in 1795, the British occupied the Cape, set up administrative structures in Cape Town, and, in 1820, settled on the eastern frontier of the Cape colony. This brought colonists into direct confrontation with the Xhosa who experienced the colonial mercantile and military presence on the edges of their ancestral land.

A politics of racial and ethnic conflict has continued to characterise South African history. The indigenous African people (the Zulu, Xhosa and Sotho, to cite the largest groups) were forcibly brought under white control and, after gold was discovered in 1886 in the Boer republic of the Transvaal, Boer (Afrikaner) pastoralists - the descendants of the early Dutch - found their biblical vision of a promised land in the interior of the country rudely curtailed by British-imperialist mining interests. After the devastation of the ensuing Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902), the two white groups - English-speakers and Afrikaners - came together in a union based on segregationist practice. Rivalries continued, however, and Afrikanerdom having mobilised itself, ethnically, as a chosen volk triumphed at the all-white election in 1948, as a result of which the National Party government was able to institutionalise and extend segre-

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