Prose, poetry, and dramas written by South African authors after the repeal of the nation's apartheid laws—rules governing the separation of black and white citizens—in 1990.
Post-apartheid literature comprises works written by South African authors, both black and white, in the last decade of the twentieth century and beyond. When the National Party took control of South Africa in 1948, the government enforced a strict code of racial segregation known as apartheid, which severely limited the freedoms of the nation's black citizens. The African National Congress (ANC) remained virulently opposed to apartheid and, after they were banned by the South African government in 1960, the ANC proposed establishing a military wing to combat their prejudicial treatment. In 1964 the president of the ANC, Nelson Mandela, was arrested for treason and sentenced to life imprisonment. During his incarceration, Mandela became the defining figure of the anti-apartheid movement, attracting international sympathy for his plight. Due to massive unemployment, a shrinking white minority, and international boycotts, the South African government began reassessing their apartheid policies during the late 1980s. In 1989 F. W. de Klerk was elected as the new South African president, promising a nonracist South Africa for the future. He lifted the country's ban of the ANC and released Mandela from prison in 1990. Together, Mandela and de Klerk negotiated the ending of South Africa's apartheid policies and drafted a new national constitution.
South Africa's literary community, including such authors as Nadine Gordimer, J. M. Coetzee, Athol Fugard, and Alan Paton, had been instrumental in bringing world attention to the legacy of colonialism and the unjust apartheid laws in their native country. The end of apartheid, however, ushered in a new transitional stage for South African authors. As author André Brink has commented, post-apartheid literature “can no longer slip so easily into the silences previously imposed by the government.” Writers who were once content to address polemic political themes in their prose are now challenged to explore original subject material and envision a new future for South African culture. Such authors are also confronted with the difficult task of neither ignoring nor dwelling in South Africa's racially-charged past.
Though they are still concerned with political and racial issues in South African society, post-apartheid writers have focused on such contemporary issues as violence, crime, homosexuality, and the spread of the AIDS virus in continental Africa. Additionally, their works offer meditations on poverty and unemployment, Western-influenced materialism, the task of building a national identity, and sociocultural changes in the South African population. For example, Phaswane Mpe deals with AIDS and tribal migration in his novel Welcome to Our Hillbrow (2001), while K. Sello Duiker examines class struggles within the South African black community in his two novels, Thirteen Cents (2000) and The Quiet Violence of Dreams (2001). In Disgrace (1999), Coetzee's Booker Prize-winning novel, the author describes the personal crisis of a man whose life is problematized by South Africa's shifting cultural norms. Several South African poets—Breyten Breytenbach and Lesego Rampolokeng, among others—have utilized unique verse formats to convey the transitory stage of the post-apartheid era and the encroachment of modern life in traditional African society. The end of apartheid has also inspired a flowering of activity in other genres, including drama, short stories, biographies, and historical nonfiction.
As writers and artists return to South Africa, after seeking exile from apartheid, they have emphasized the difficulties of reestablishing their lives in a culture far different than the one they originally left. These figures have also noted a certain degree of tension between the older and younger generations of post-apartheid writers. Zakes Mda, for example, who spent thirty-two years living outside South Africa, has chronicled the struggle of both South African citizens and expatriates in adjusting to the wealth of social changes in post-apartheid society. While the history of racial injustice remains a strong theme in post-apartheid literature, critics have identified a growing trend toward more personal and universal narratives by post-apartheid writers. Critic Mbulelo Vizikhango Mzamane has asserted that, “[t]he move from protest to challenge to reconstruction in South Africa has been accompanied at the literary level by a shift from the literature of surface meaning—dependent entirely upon spectacular events—to the literature of interiority with its concern with introspection and the inner life.” The post-apartheid environment has also inspired critical reexaminations and recontextualizations of several notable South African literary works, including Sol Plaatje's Mhudi: An Epic of Native Life a Hundred Years Ago (1930), Coetzee's July's People (1981), Fugard's Boesman and Lena (1969), Gordimer's Burger's Daughter (1979), and Mbongeni Ngema's Sarafina! (1986).
Nine Lives (poetry) 1991
Dark Rider (poetry) 1992
Die reuk van apples [The Smell of Apples] (novel) 1993
Daughter of Nebo (play) 1993
The Memory of Birds in Time of Revolution (prose) 1996
An Act of Terror (novel) 1991
Cape of Storms: The First Life of Ademaster (novel) 1993
On the Contrary (novel) 1993
J. M. Coetzee
July's People (novel) 1981
Disgrace (novel) 1999
K. Sello Duiker
Thirteen Cents (novel) 2000
The Quiet Violence of Dreams (novel) 2001
Boesman and Lena (play) 1969
My Children! My Africa! (play) 1989
Playland (play) 1992
The Beautiful Screaming of Pigs (novel) 1991
Ons Is Nie Almal So Nie [Not All of Us] (novel) 1990
Burger's Daughter (novel) 1979
None to Accompany Me (novel) 1994
Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh (play) 1989
Die Swerfjare van Poppie Nongena [The Long Journey of Poppie Nongena] (novel) 1978
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Criticism: Overviews And General Studies
SOURCE: Brink, André. “Literature as Cultural Opposition.” In Reinventing a Continent: Writing and Politics in South Africa, pp. 185-202. Cambridge, Mass.: Zoland Books, 1998.
[In the following essay, based on a lecture originally delivered in July 1993, Brink comments on the role of writers and literature in opposition to political and social realities in South Africa, both during and after the era of apartheid.]
Within the general framework of this seminar, Literature as a Political Force, I have been invited to focus more specifically on literature as a form of cultural opposition. In other words—and this is an important preliminary caution—politics remains the context, not only as the institution “against” which culture may find itself in opposition, but also as a driving force within culture itself. If this is not always evident in sophisticated Western democracies, the situation in what used to be the Third World and what is now more commonly referred to as the South, continues to foreground the way in which politics permeates and informs every choice and every action of civic and even of private life. A “political novel” in the US or in Europe is a very specific kind of novel (i.e. one which overtly interrogates—or promotes—a given ideological system or stance); in South Africa all novels, whether so intended by the author or not, are...
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SOURCE: Brink, André. “Reinventing a Continent (Revisiting History in the Literature of the New South Africa: A Personal Testimony).” World Literature Today 70, no. 1 (winter 1996): 17-23.
[In the following essay, Brink discusses how fiction plays a vital part in describing and interpreting the past in post-apartheid South Africa.]
“Our continent has just invented another,” wrote Montaigne about the discovery of the New World. At the time, of course, to invent was a synonym for to discover; yet both readings of the word are relevant to a procedure which may well become, increasingly, a preoccupation of the literature produced in postapartheid South Africa. The need to revisit history has both accompanied and characterised the literature of most of the great “thresholds of change,” as Kenneth Harrow has called them—those periods in which, as Santayana had it, “mankind starts dreaming in a different key.” This need speaks as much from the inventive historiography of Herodotus as from the Icelandic sagas, the heroic epics of the Renaissance, the flowering of the historical novel in the wake of the French Revolution, the writings of early modernism (from Kristin Lavransdatter to Finnegans Wake), or the postmodernisms of our fin de siècle, which cover the spectrum from One Hundred Years of Solitude to The Satanic Verses,...
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SOURCE: Sole, Kelwyn. “Bird Hearts Taking Wing: Trends in Contemporary South African Poetry Written in English.” World Literature Today 70, no. 1 (winter 1996): 25-31.
[In the following essay, Sole presents an overview of South African poetry since the end of apartheid in 1990, noting how contemporary South African poets “attempt to embrace and represent a world in transition.”]
In the half a decade since 1990 a plethora of new South African art has become visible to the outside world, especially in such areas as the fine arts, music, theatre, and film. In recent written literature, however, there is less evidence of a revitalized consciousness seeking to confront the country's changed political and social circumstances than in these other forms of expression. When critics discuss the output of South African writers today, what is striking is the degree to which it is established literary figures—Gordimer, Coetzee, Ndebele, Brink—who are praised. Moreover, those new writing talents who have attracted attention, such as Behr and Vladislavić, have been primarily individuals working in the genre of fiction.
Yet there has been a fascinating, if quiet, upwelling of new expression in a genre to which little attention is usually given by literary commentators: poetry. Beginning a number of years before liberation, poets using oral and written means have started to emerge in South...
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SOURCE: Ruden, Sarah. “Thoughts on Mda, Ndebele, and Black South African Writing at the Millennium.” Iowa Review 28, no. 2 (summer-fall 1998): 155-66.
[In the following essay, Ruden explores some of the difficulties faced by black post-apartheid writers in their critical assessments by both Western scholars and past generations of South African authors.]
It is a frequent complaint in South African literary circles that the West is not giving black African literature a chance, because of racial prejudice. Given the adoption of white anti-apartheid writers into the Western canon, the neglect of black writers, both anti—and post-apartheid, is supposed to be a glaringly bigoted slight. As usual, claims about racism oversimplify. There are vast cultural differences that make black African authors—even the black authors writing in English in relatively cosmopolitan South Africa—hard for Americans and Europeans to appreciate. But the danger is that “cultural differences” will become the new cop-out. Critics should really fight this one. With a demography of the arts like the one that emerged during the late Roman Empire—original talent coming from everywhere but the political center—becoming clearer and clearer, there are reasons to bother about African literature. The cultural differences themselves are a reason; unlike anything conveyed by “multiculturalism” (a strange name for a...
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SOURCE: Lenta, Margaret. “Goodbye Lena, Goodbye Poppie: Post-Apartheid Black Women's Writing.” ARIEL: A Review of International English Literature 29, no. 4 (October 1998): 101-18.
[In the following essay, Lenta describes how the works of black women writers in post-apartheid South Africa have evolved from stories primarily told through an intermediary to stories told by the protagonists themselves.]
“For me, the question ‘Who should speak?’ is less crucial than ‘Who will listen?’” says Gayatri Spivak, in a discussion of the rights of the oppressed to produce literary texts (59). Both questions are crucial for South Africa as a post-Apartheid country, where the rights and wrongs of “speaking for,” as opposed to attending to the efforts of the oppressed to speak, have in the past been obscured by the insistence of the authorities that we listen only to members of our own group. In the 1990s, however, memories of the Apartheid era are fading fast, and charges of appropriation are being brought against South Africans who have imagined and represented the “voices” of other groups.
In 1992, the magazine Staffrider published a polemical piece by Desiree Lewis, in which she gives an account of a conference on “Women and Gender” held in January 1991, at the University of Natal. Lewis attacks the tendency, as she sees it, of white academics to establish...
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Criticism: The Post-Apartheid Novel
SOURCE: Gallagher, Susan Vanzanten. “The Backward Glance: History and the Novel in Post-Apartheid South Africa.” Studies in the Novel 29, no. 3 (fall 1997): 377-95.
[In the following essay, Gallagher offers a critical perspective on how several realist and historical South African novels written before the 1990s are being reinterpreted and recontextualized in the post-apartheid culture.]
Ever since Frantz Fanon's The Wretched of the Earth (1961) initiated analysis of the dynamics of decolonization, the postcolonial historical period has been recognized as having crucial links with culture. Fanon argues that the transformative process by which a colony becomes a nation is accompanied by, informed by, and perhaps even prompted by significant changes in culture. According to Fanon, this process has three phases: in the first, during the course of a colonial denial and suppression of the indigenous past, the native intellectual assimilates the literary tradition of the colonial country without qualification (writing sonnets, for example); secondly, the native intellectual “decides to remember what he is,” by looking to the past for indigenous forms and abandoned traditions (perhaps turning to tom-tom rhythms); finally, in “the fighting phase,” the nationalistic phase, the poet will “become the mouthpiece of a new reality in action.”1 This final phase is vague in Fanon's...
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SOURCE: Mpe, Phaswane. “Sol Plaatje, Orality, and the Politics of Cultural Representation.” Current Writing 11, no. 2 (1999): 75-91.
[In the following essay, Mpe explores Sol Plaatje's Mhudi—the first novel written by a black South African to be published in English—in terms of the relationship between the African tradition of orality and the Western novel. Mpe notes the influence of Mhudi on both pre- and post-apartheid South African literature.]
Besides being an allegorical indictment of the Natives' Land Act of 1913 as well as an interpretation of the history of South Africa in the early 1800s from a black perspective, Mhudi is also Sol Plaatje's endeavour to preserve Setswana oral traditions. This is done in a number of ways, one of which is the inclusion of some oral art forms in the novel. Another one is spelled out in his preface to the novel, namely to use financial profits from Mhudi “to collect and print (for Bantu Schools) Sechuana folk-tales, which, with the spread of European ideas, are fast being forgotten” (Plaatje 1978:21). His fear of the loss of the folktales also applies to proverbs. He states in an earlier book, Sechuana Proverbs with Literal Translations and Their European Equivalents, that “[w]ith the spread of European speech and thought in South Africa, these primitive saws are fast being forgotten” (Plaatje 1916:ix). The object...
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SOURCE: Heyns, Michiel. “The Whole Country's Truth: Confession and Narrative in Recent White South African Writing.” Modern Fiction Studies 46, no. 1 (spring 2000): 42-66.
[In the following essay, Heyns analyzes how white authors writing in the post-apartheid state deal with issues of culpability and their own roles in South Africa's history of oppression.]
On 4 July 1996, Mark Behr delivered the keynote address at a conference in Cape Town entitled “Faultlines—Inquiries around Truth and Reconciliation.” Speaking of his own novel, The Smell of Apples, Behr said, “as an act of creation The Smell of Apples represents, for me, the beginnings of a showdown with myself for my own support of a system like apartheid. [… I]f the book's publication has assisted white people in coming to terms with their own culpability for what is wrong in South Africa, then it has been worthwhile” (1).
This formulation reveals, perhaps unintentionally, the ambivalence of what we might call confessional fiction, an ambivalence hinging on Behr's phrase “coming to terms with their own culpability.” He means, presumably, confronting that culpability; but his phrase could equally mean accommodating, establishing a comfortable relationship with it.1 No doubt one's reading of Behr's statement is conditioned by the knowledge that he was about to confess to...
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SOURCE: Farred, Grant. “Mourning the Postapartheid State Already? The Poetics of Loss in Zakes Mda's Ways of Dying.” Modern Fiction Studies 46, no. 1 (spring 2000): 183-206.
[In the following essay, Farred argues that Zakes Mda's Ways of Dying is “a flawed work” due to its focus on the transitory and loosely defined values of the post-apartheid era.]
What good can come of grief?
—Homer, The Odyssey
Despite their rehearsal of the gestures of resistance theatre, Mda's plays never subscribe to resistance theatre's central dogma, the vision of revolution that will transform utterly the lives of those audacious enough to prosecute it. In the spirit of the doubting anarchists he describes as his lasting influences, Mda leaves the stage with few positive commitments. With its thoroughgoing suspicion of systems of every sort, his drama comes closer to the theatre of the absurd than the theatre of commitment.
—Jan Gorak, “Nothing to Root For: Zakes Mda and South African Resistance Theatre”
Zakes Mda's first novel, Ways of Dying, is a flawed work that is, in part because of its shortcomings, symptomatic of the condition of postapartheid South Africa. Resonating with the rich uncertainty of the political transition from the...
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SOURCE: Chait, Sandra. “Mythology, Magic Realism, and White Writing after Apartheid.” Research in African Literatures 31, no. 2 (summer 2000): 17-28.
[In the following essay, Chait explores the use of mythology in two novels by white South African authors—André Brink's Cape of Storms and Mike Nicol's Horseman—in terms of how each author deals with the question of collective guilt in the post-apartheid era.]
The transfer of political power from oppressor to oppressed inevitably brings in its wake the appropriation and reworking of mythological material. As new governments rewrite their people's history, so too do their novelists and poets recover and re-vision the cultural identity embedded in their people's myths. For erstwhile oppressors, however, the change in self-perception may take somewhat longer to materialize. Shock, sorrow, anger at the chaos of upheaval take precedence. Only then are such perpetrators of oppression able to confront their culpability and their authors plumb the mythological depths for signs and symptoms to explain what went wrong. In the case of white South African writers, however, the changeover to black rule has been gradual enough to have allowed a gestation period in which to ponder collective guilt and, as in Germany, to search the past for answers to that inevitable question, “How could it have happened?”
In postapartheid South...
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Criticism: Post-Apartheid Drama
SOURCE: Mda, Zakes. “Theater and Reconciliation in South Africa.” Theater 25, no. 3 (1995): 38-45.
[In the following essay, Mda examines the characteristics of South Africa's “theater of reconciliation,” noting that to truly fulfill such a role, theater must neither ignore nor cling to the past.]
In South Africa, a society which has been, for centuries, characterized by racial segregation, political oppression, and economic exploitation, culture has always played a role both to reinforce these conditions and to challenge them. Here I shall attempt to show how the products of our culture, with particular emphasis on theater, have responded to these conditions, and how they can continue to play a meaningful role in the new order. In no way, however, am I trying to be prescriptive in my observations or assertions. Suggesting that the arts have a role to play in transformation does not mean censoring artistic freedom. Whether we like it or not, the artists will always respond to the prevailing political and social conditions because they select their material from society. They do not create their works about something that is divorced from their day to day reality. Politics is part of their intimate daily experience, and for better or for worse, politics will feature in their works.
When the predominant political culture in South Africa was that of resistance, the art that was...
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SOURCE: Chapman, Michael. “The Black Theatre Model: Towards an Aesthetic of South African Theatre.” In Southern African Literatures, pp. 360-68. London, England: Longman, 1996.
[In the following excerpt, Chapman traces the course of theater in South Africa from the 1960s through the 1990s, focusing on the works of Athol Fugard, Zakes Mda, and Mbongeni Ngema.]
An upsurge of black theatre in South Africa in the 1970s characterised political and cultural consciousness-raising and identified the Black Consciousness movement as a powerful source of resistance to apartheid. It was a theatre adaptable to both popular expression, as in the play Sarafina!, and to more self-consciously artistic treatment in the work of Zakes Mda and Athol Fugard, probably the two most literary playwrights to turn to their purpose what I call here the black theatre model.
The model is a hybrid. We may identify local elements of traditional African performance: oral storytelling and improvisation, a pattern of action suggesting the imagistic accretions of folk tale, rituals of ceremony, and the ‘call and response’ of actor and audience sharing experience, knowledge and aspirations. This is not tradition, however, in any antiquarian sense; rather tradition has to ‘live’ in the contemporary idiom. It rubs harshly against city experience; there are allusions to the soap-opera musical, radio...
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SOURCE: Morales, Donald M. “Post Apartheid Drama.” In African Visions: Literary Images, Political Change, and Social Struggle in Contemporary Africa, edited by Cheryl B. Mwaria, Silvia Federici, and Joseph McLaren, pp. 253-65. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2000.
[In the following essay, Morales evaluates the influence of politics on post-apartheid drama, noting that political issues afford both artistic opportunities and thematic limitations.]
In Esiaba Irobi's play, Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh (1989), the Nigerian playwright turns the long-standing debate on Wole Soyinka's linguistic complexity into high comedy. The setting is an African Writers' convention at Ibadan's University Staff Club where Soyinka is on trial for “crimes” of “private obscurantism,” and “gratuitous conundrums” (25). To underscore these charges, Irobi gives Soyinka, “Ogun” in the play, an interpreter to paraphrase his remarks for an attending audience of writers and scholars.1 However, in the midst of this comic debate, a South African woman proffers a sobering thought, “Do you think all this howling about elitist and traditional literature would arise if you were in South Africa? If you were suffering the abject negation of man” (44).
Such a literary debate and satiric play would seem improbable in South Africa—at least in the South Africa of apartheid. Apartheid...
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Attridge, Derek. “Age of Bronze, State of Grace: Music and Dogs in Coetzee's Disgrace.” Novel 34, no. 1 (fall 2000): 98-121.
Attridge explores J. M. Coetzee's novel Disgrace in the context of his portrayal of a post-apartheid society troubled by changing personal and social values.
Cook, Méira. “Metaphors for Suffering: Antjie Krog's Country of My Skull.” Mosaic 34, no. 3 (September 2001): 73-89.
Cook discusses Antjie Krog's journalistic memoir, Country of My Skull, in terms of how post-apartheid writing can present victims' pain without appropriating their voice.
Jolly, Rosemary. “Rehearsals of Liberation: Contemporary Postcolonial Discourse and the New South Africa.” PMLA 110, no. 1 (January 1995): 17-29.
Jolly examines some of the problems inherent in applying postcolonial discourse to discussions of post-apartheid society and literature.
Mzamane, Mbulelo Vizikhungo. “From Resistance to Reconstruction: Culture and the New South Africa.” ARIEL: A Review of International English Literature 27, no. 1 (January 1996): 11-18.
Mzamane comments on the social and cultural atmosphere in post-apartheid South Africa, concluding that, although there are signs of change, many aspects of life are still as they...
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