The Rhythm of Violence and Some Comments
on "The Black Psychiatrist"1
LEWIS NKOSI is the author of more than the two plays that this essay will revisit against the background of some of the questions that, over the years, have been debated concerning both the constitution of the dramatic and the conditions that, in South Africa, made this art form a particularly privileged one as political conditions worsened.
As a critic himself, Nkosi has been, and continues to be, part of this background. Consider, for instance, the comment that he made in the obituary on the occasion of Can Themba's passing:
Can Themba's actual achievements are more disappointing because his
learning and reading were more substantial and his talent proven; but he
chose to confine his brilliance to journalism of an insubstantial kind. It is
almost certain that had Can Themba chosen to write a book on South
Africa, it would not only have been an interesting and to use an American
word 'insightful' book, but it might have revealed a complex and refined
talent for verbalising the African mood. And no doubt, such a book would
have been a valuable addition to the literature of South Africa. As it is, we
mourn a talent largely misused or neglected; we mourn what might have
1 Nkosi's autobiographical account of his experiences in Johannesburg and abroad –
Home and Exile (London: Longmans, 1965) – which informs much of what the two
plays dramatize, will also form a significant part of my discussion.
2 Can Themba, The Will To Die, sel. Donald Stuart & Roy Holland (London: Heine-
mann Educational, 1972): x–xi.