Fiction by Black South Africans*
WITH THE BEST WILL IN THE WORLD, it is impossible to detect in the fiction of black South Africans any significant and complex talent which responds, with both the vigour of the imagination and sufficient technical resources, to the problems posed by conditions in South Africa.
Where urban African music, for instance, has responded to the challenges of the disintegrative tendencies of city life with an amazing suppleness and subtlety, black writing shows the cracks and tension of language working under severe strain. Where African music and dance have moved forward, not through renouncing tradition but by fusing diverse elements into an integrated whole, black fiction has renounced African tradition without showing itself capable of benefiting from the accumulated example of modern European literature. To put it bluntly, nothing stands behind the fiction of black South Africans – no tradition, whether indigenous, such as energizes The PalmWine Drinkard, or alien, such as is most significantly at work in the latest fiction by Camara Laye.1
* Originally published in Black Orpheus 19 (1966): 48–54, and reprinted in Intro-
duction to African Literature: An Anthology of Critical Writing, ed. Ulli Beier (1967;
Evanston IL: Northwestern UP, 1979): 211–17 (as "Fiction by Black South Africans:
Richard Rive; Bloke Modisane; Ezekiel Mphahlele; Alex La Guma," but minus the
section on Rive), and in Nkosi, Home and Exile (London: Longman, 1965): 131–38,
later enlarged as Home and Exile and Other Selections (London & New York:
Longman, 1983). "Ed."
1 See his story "The Eyes of the Statue," tr. Una Maclean, Black Orpheus 5 (May
1959): 19–27. Repr. in Under African Skies: Modern African Stories, ed. & intro.
Charles R. Larson (Edinburgh: Payback Press, 1997): 13–26.