Academic journal article ARIEL

Reassessing Thematic Crossings between South Africa and Nigeria: Postcolonial Leadership and Power in Mandla Langa's the Lost Colours of the Chameleon and Helon Habila's Waiting for an Angel

Academic journal article ARIEL

Reassessing Thematic Crossings between South Africa and Nigeria: Postcolonial Leadership and Power in Mandla Langa's the Lost Colours of the Chameleon and Helon Habila's Waiting for an Angel

Article excerpt

Abstract: While Chris Dunton has described Nigeria and South Africa as the two powerhouses of African fiction, their literatures have, for evident historical reasons, followed distinct trajectories. Thus far, little critical attention has been paid to comparing theorisations of contemporary South African and Nigerian novels. This article aims to contribute to re-enlivening the sorely lacking dialogue between the countries' literatures by providing a comparative reading of Mandla Langa's The Lost Colours of the Chameleon and Helon Habila's Waiting for an Angel. I argue that Langa's allegorical novel dispenses with the idea of South African exceptionalism by exploring the lust for power in the postcolony. In particular, his representation of the postcolonial ruling class establishes an intertextual dialogue with writing from elsewhere on the continent. Waiting for an Angel, while engaging with postcolonial military dictatorships during the mid-1980s and 1990s in Nigeria, is also noteworthy for invoking a sense of placelessness and, therefore, offers itself for a comparative analysis. Relating the novels to their literary antecedents as well as to recent theorisations of third-generation Nigerian fiction and the post-apartheid novel, I suggest that their reflections on postcolonial leadership unsettle the boundaries of national literatures and invoke a sense of continental connectivity.

Keywords: post-apartheid novel; third-generation Nigerian fiction; comparative literature; postcolonial power and leadership; postcolonial utopia; Mandla Langa; Helon Habila

Introduction: South Africa and the Wider Field of African Literature

In a special issue of the South African journal Current Writing published in 1999, J. U. Jacobs acknowledges that "for historical reasons, South African writing and its reception [during apartheid had] been largely divorced from other African literatures and the debates around them" (i). The theme of that issue, "Return to Africa," reflects its underlying objective to "try and re-situate South African literature in the larger context of African writing" (i). However, this aim turns out to be merely an initial step towards establishing a new field of comparative scholarship. While a new body of comparative scholarship dedicated to the study of South-South relations and migratory processes represented in works of fiction has begun to emerge, this mainly centres on the Indian Ocean world and India in particular. (1) By contrast, the link between South African literature and other African literatures appears to be taking a good deal longer to forge.

Historically speaking, the gulf between South African literature and writing from elsewhere on the continent widened during the post-independence era of many African countries, when African writers felt propelled to voice their disillusionment and feeling of betrayal by the postcolonial leadership. This setting-in of post-independence seemed to diminish the future prospects of writers from independent African countries. South African writers, in contrast, had not yet experienced similar disillusionment and could still imagine a better future after apartheid. In his 1967 essay "The Writer in an African State," Wole Soyinka notes that South African authors--given the dire political circumstances--could still rightfully infuse their writing with the hope for a better future, while the "non South African writer" no longer had this opportunity (11).

With the demise of apartheid in 1994, South African authors and critics began to envisage new possible trajectories for literary activity in South Africa. Mbulelo Mzamane, for example, predicted the appearance of a "honeymoon literature" similar to the literature produced in the aftermath of independence in other African countries (Mzamane qtd. in Hacksley and Solberg 80). While Mzamane drew a parallel to the conventional trajectory of African literature, Jabulani Mkhize aptly pointed out that "[w]hat Mzamane does not say . …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.