Academic journal article Journal of Literary Studies

A Town Called Nobody: Violence, Nationalism, and Witch-Burning

Academic journal article Journal of Literary Studies

A Town Called Nobody: Violence, Nationalism, and Witch-Burning

Article excerpt

Summary

A decade ago, when South Africa was undergoing dramatic political, cultural, and social changes, newspapers began to print stories on a curious phenomenon--the burning of so-called witches in rural areas. Although this trend had probably been on the rise since the mid-1980s, this particular moment was riddled with issues that found resonance in the witch-burnings. Complex intersections of new politics, old customs, and extreme violence formed the basis for the press reports, which often attempted to draw clear lines between modern and traditional, legal and unauthorised, and secular and sacred, despite their overlaps.

This paper seeks to investigate the phenomenon of witch-burning and its representations. The very discourse of witchcraft, with its simultaneous resonances of atavistic witch doctors and historical witch trials, demands interrogation. Discussions of witch-burning emphasise the historical moment of the early 1990s--the last death throes of apartheid and the emotional transition into a new South Africa. Within this historical flash point of social, cultural, and political uncertainty, discourses around witchcraft become attempts to reinstate definitive boundaries and witchcraft itself becomes a contested act.

The witch-burning debate also has larger, global implications, Experienced as a crisis of multinational investment, the changes in South Africa pose a threat of uncertainty. The instabilities already built into modernity--the necessary migrations of a mobile labour force, for instance--also undermine a belief in stability and certainty. As workers cross and recross national borders, they provoke an epistemological crisis of knowable space so that economic, political, and cultural conflicts all become questions of mappable and definitive boundaries. Threats to the national form get displaced onto liminal subjects and marginalised activities in an attempt to chart out geographies of belief. Under South Africa's transition from apartheid the comfortable distinctions between foreign and familiar, modern and traditional, and home and abroad previously held sacred are undone, and witchcraft becomes visible in the interstices.

Opsomming

'n Dekade gelede, toe Suid-Afrika dramatiese politieke, kuturele en sosiale veranderinge ondergaan het, het koerante begin om berigte te publiseer oor 'n eienaardige verskynsel--die verbranding van sogenaamde hekse in landelike gebiede. Alhoewel hierdie tendens waarskynlik sedert die mid-1980s begin toeneem het, was hierdie spesifieke periode deurtrek met kwessies wat weerklank gevind het in die verbranding van hekse. Komplekse snypunte van nuwe politiek, ou gebruike, en ekstreme geweld, het die basis gevorrn van persbedgte war dikwels gepoog her om duidelike onderskeid te maak tussen modern en tradisioneel, wettig en onwettig, en sekuler en gewyd, ten spyte van die oorvleueling.

Hierdie artikel poog om die verskynsel van die verbranding van hekse en die voorstelling daarvan, te ondersoek. Die blote diskoers van heksery en die gelyktydige resonansies van atavistiese toordokters en historiese verhore van hekse, eis interrogasie. Bespreking van die verbranding van hekse beklemtoon die historiese moment van die vroee 1990s--die laaste doodsnikke van apartheid en die oorgang na 'n nuwe Suid-Afrika. Binne hierdie historiese brandpunt van sosiale, kulturele, en politieke onsekerheid, word diskoerse rondom heksery pogings om beslissende afbakenings te herstel en word heksery op sigself 'n omstrede daad.

Die debat oor die verbranding van hekse het ook groter, globale implikasies. Waar dit as 'n krisis van multinasionale belang ervaar word, hou die veranderings in Suid-Afrika die gevaar van onsekerheid in. Die onstabiliteite wat reeds in modernitiet ingebou is--die noodsaaklike migrasies van 'n mobiele arbeidsmag,byvoorbeeld--ondermyn ook die vertroue in stabiliteit en sekerheid. Wanneer werkers nasionale grense oorsteek en heroorsteek provokeer hulle 'n epistemologiese krisis van kenbare spasie sodat politieke en kulturele konflikte vrae oor karteerbare en beslissende afbakening word. …

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