The Forbidden Dialogue

By Nkosi, Lewis | UNESCO Courier, May-June 1986 | Go to article overview

The Forbidden Dialogue


Nkosi, Lewis, UNESCO Courier


The forbidden dialogue

EVEN the proponents of apartheid cannot deny that the blacks suffer untold hardships as a price for the maintenance of the policy of apartheid.

What is not always noted is that, though economically exploitative as a ruling class, the whites are also subject to certain very real deprivations as a result of their determination to live by a policy which would seem to all reasonable men not only unrealistic but insane.

To say the very least, South African whites are the most culturally deprived community in Africa. Emotionally they are just as stunted.

They not only grow up denying their innermost dreams, they also learn to do without some of the best works of modern world culture (in literature, music, painting and intellectual discourse) either because such works are considered subversive, or because traffic in culture with the outside world is rendered almost impossible by the maintenance of the policy of apartheid.

We all know what happens to people who cannot face up to the reality of their lives, who must live by evasions and fantasies; a greater burden is placed on writers or any other kind of artist who belongs to such a community. Before they go on to create anything of value they must make an extraordinary effort to unlearn everything they have been taught.

In South Africa they must, for instance, unlearn what they are taught in schools: that the whites, from their forefathers to the present generation, are all heroes; that the whites have the monopoly on moral wisdom and intellectual enterprise; the pain and the anguish which attend the creative efforts of Afrikaans writers at the moment is not a matter for cynical amusement. It is the agony of creative artists who must break through a sealed cocoon in order to see the world in its variousness or even to say something remotely relevant to their country.

Black writers do not have to make any comparable moral choice; they do not have to choose to oppose a system which is patently contrary to all observable reality; their colour makes the choice for them; what they have to do is learn to survive the system. …

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