Post-Apartheid Transnationalism in Black South African Literature: A Reality or a Fallacy?

By Rafapa, Lesibana | Tydskrif vir Letterkunde, Autumn 2014 | Go to article overview

Post-Apartheid Transnationalism in Black South African Literature: A Reality or a Fallacy?


Rafapa, Lesibana, Tydskrif vir Letterkunde


Introduction

This paper aims to demonstrate that thus far studies of black South African fiction have been dominated by skewed interpretations that seek to look at it with an extraneous cultural lens alienating it from the context in which it is written and to which it is organic. While the analytical perspective this paper negates could ostensibly be passed for some kind of affirmation lending universality and global impact to black South African fiction, the vantage point I adopt in this essay is congruous with the view that a more genuine achievement of such empowerment is a widening of the impact of black South African fiction written in English along with its Africanist anchor. The kind of universality this study wants to assert is one in which the culturally chequered immanence of world cultures pervades the globe as a justly differentiated tapestry in which the broad cluster of African cultures claims its stake.

The objective of this article is a highlighting of concurring smaller stories handled in black South African fiction and larger patterns of collective black thinking framing them, in spite of the globalising public space being a transnational constellation. Transnationalism, according to Leon de Kock (22) entails a "transnational turn [...] [ushering] in a much bigger world" where the desire is "to step beyond the enclosure of the 'national'." My contention is that unfortunate attempts through the ages to reign black South African literature within matrices of dominant discourses of the Centre, coinciding in the post-apartheid era with what the Centre normatively describes as the transnational 'global' public space, have resulted in a homogenisation this paper intends debunking by means of evidence gathered through literary analyses of the selected works. One weakness of the approach this study seeks to dispute stems from what in postcolonial theory is denigrated as the Centre's marginalising representation (Said), as opposed to self-description by the subaltern.

This study focuses on the post-apartheid black novels Beauty's Gift (2008), Coconut (2007), Room 207 (2006), Dog Eat Dog (2004) and Welcome to Our Hillbrow (2001). These novels are shown as taking forward the communal project black South African writers have undertaken since the beginning of this distinct category of South African English literature in written form through the agency of writers such as Ntsikana in the early 19th century (Booi 12; Mphahlele, "Landmarks" 38), its consistent features surviving through the early 20th century as exemplified by the major writer Sol Plaatje (Gray 69) and continuing to be identifiable in the Drum age of the 1950s through to the post-apartheid era (Rafapa, "Artistic"; "South African").

Without the group of writers across epochs belonging to what would otherwise be periodic coteries with their attendant menace to free imaginative writing, analytically the literary output of these writers can be put into categories while simultaneously continuing to display generic features of distinctly black South African English fiction.

I demonstrate characteristics of the novels Beauty's Gift and Dog Eat Dog by Niq Mhlongo and Sindiwe Magona respectively, as bearing continuities with those of the segment of black South African writers of the 1950s epitomised by Can Themba. The essay goes on to trace how Phaswane Mpe's Welcome to Our Hillbrow, Kgebetli Moele's Room 207 and Kopano Matlwa's Coconut show affinities with the 1950s writings of an aspect of black writing of the time subsuming the narratives of Es'kia Mphahlele.

From Can Themba to Niq Mhlongo and Sindiwe Magona

There is unacknowledged continuity in respect of black South African writing worth highlighting. For black South African writing, the surface level differing degrees of conformity to post-modernist and post-national liminality continue to show since periods earlier than the post-apartheid era that commenced in 1994 when South Africa attained democratic governance. …

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