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Southern African Literatures Introduction
SA Literature

  Author's Preface

(revised, 2003)

 This study contains my view of the several distinct but interrelated literatures of southern Africa.  Selections range from the expression of the stone-age Bushmen (San) to that of modern voices in the independent states.  While respecting traditions, cultures, and forms of literary response to be specific to immediate contexts I suggest, tentatively, points of common reference in countries that, for better or worse, have entangled histories.  The countries of the region are:  South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Angola, Mozambique and Namibia.  (See the map of the region on p.xxiv.)

Published initially in 1996 the study is republished here with modification only to the opening section of this Preface.  The reasons for not updating the book are twofold:  practical and intellectual.  The consideration of cost cannot be ignored.  Apart from the Preface, the current edition is a camera-copy of the 1996 text.  While I would have liked to revisit one or two judgments, this has not been possible.  To have returned to the electronic files to effect editorial or other changes would have rendered as prohibitive the cost of republication.  Southern African Literatures is a large book.

In addition, there is the danger in any update of introducing inconsistencies to the overall argument.  The study is neither a dictionary nor a compilation of discrete analyses of texts.  A comprehensive picture, I trust, emerges;  numerous individual works are subjected to critical review.  The purpose is to ask, however, what might constitute a literary culture in a challenging political milieu.  The narrative is shaped by several pressing issues, one of which concerns the possibility of writing literary history in the heterogeneous societies of the southern African region.  Here the study concurs with David Perkins's view that the question of whether literary history is possible ‘is really whether any construction of a literary past can meet our present criteria of plausibility.  A judgment of more or less[1]  Such an investigation seeks coherence within parameters that have come to be delineated as ‘postcolonial'.  By this I do not mean studies of the empire writing back to the centre.  Neither do I grant styles of representation alone the influence or force to effect material change in the surrounding environment.  (These are guiding principles of postcolonial studies in academic institutions.)[2]  I refer, rather, to conditions of extreme differentiation in the same social, economic and expressive space.  In southern Africa as in many configurations of the South of the world the traditional, the modern and the postmodern exist audibly and visibly, in simultaneous and antagonist relationships, in the daily life of the present day.  The cellphone is as ubiquitous in the spaza shops of Soweto as in the sphere of e-commerce. As the urban rich purchases 4x4s, the rural poor remains mired in poverty. is required'.

This leads in literary-critical discussion to questions such as:  can Shaka's royal praises in their military aggrandisement be recovered to creative purpose in societies struggling to institute democratic governance?  What significance, comparatively speaking, do we allow the songs of the Zionist church-gathering and the metafiction of J.M. Coetzee?  What are the strengths and limitations of ‘local' and ‘international' perspectives?  Do we grant the expatriate Doris Lessing, for example, a key role in literature from Zimbabwe?  Should literary culture in the South be confined to the art forms of poems, plays and fictions?  How do we - indeed, do we? - classify works as major or minor, or elite or popular?  As these questions suggest, literary history is also literary criticism.  Its aim is not merely to reconstruct the past;  it is also to illuminate literary works.  Its function lies partly in its impact on reading.

I mention this because since the first publication of Southern African Literatures new works have appeared in bookshops and on the stage;  new issues have provoked new responses.  Echoing a fairly widely held view particularly in ‘elite' literary circles (that is, in the review pages of little magazines and the educated press) Michiel Heyns says of Stephen Gray's revised anthology, Modern South African Stories (2002):  ‘how much South African literature has changed in the wake of democracy.  Some of the older stories still reflect the political tensions of the old dispensation...but in general what we have here is a collection facing up to a South Africa without the ready-made topic of apartheid.'[3]  And Elaine Pearson in her review of the volume of Modern Fiction Studies devoted to ‘South African Fiction after Apartheid' notes that ‘literature since 1990 has taken upon itself the task of articulating [the] larger predicament.  Its fields are the experiential, ethical, and political ambiguities of transition:  the tension between memory and amnesia.  It emphasises the imperative of breaking silences necessitated by long years of struggle, the refashioning of identities caught between stasis and change, and the role of culture - or representation - in limiting or enabling new forms of understanding.'[4]

Such observations betray on the part of commentators, however, as much a desire as an actuality.  It is possible, of course, by selective example to depict a sea change.  In this, the short story and the poem are perhaps not the best markers.  Their intense, ‘individualistic' forms have always escaped the ‘ready-made topic of apartheid'.  The ‘larger predicament, the experiential, ethical and political ambiguities of transition', for example, provide a fair description of Douglas Livingstone's poetry.  To which one might add:  the stylistically innovative.  The description would apply similarly to many other writers during apartheid including Gordimer, Coetzee, and Schoeman.  And to many ‘before' apartheid such as Roy Campbell, Herman Charles Bosman, and William Plomer.  All of these ‘names' continue to have prominence on the shelves of Exclusive Books.  We have had since 1990 new works by Gordimer, Coetzee, Brink, Breytenbach, Schoeman, Joubert, Fugard, and others of established reputation in which, if the time is now transition, the difficulties of being white in Africa remain a core concern.  Matters of identity, exile and home characterise, also, novels by younger writers like Achmat Dangor, Ivan Vladislavić, Zoë Wicomb, and, in Zimbabwe, Yvonne Vera.  Interestingly, the recent claim that Vera undercuts the ‘master-narratives of heroic acts' could be applied with modification to the earlier fiction of both Chenjerai Hove and Tsitsi Dangarembga.[5]   A Black Consciousness priority of the 1970s - the recovery of African dignity - is utilised to creative effect in the fiction of Zakes Mda.  There is a continuation of a trend identified in Southern African Literatures:  a less guilt-stricken, less selfconscious response to the arts/politics dilemma on the part of several younger writers than had characterised the sensibilities of their predecessors in the struggle years of the 1970s and 1980s.  There are, in consequence, the bizarre, zany, at times hit-or-miss stories of ‘dislocation' by Phaswane Mpe, K. Sello Duiker, and Riana Scheepers;  there is the African-English ‘throwaway' poetry of Seitlhamo Motsapi, Kgafela oa Magogodi and Lesego Rampolokeng.  One may detect a recurrent concern with the issue of centring and marginalisation.  At the same time, one is reminded that the BC affiliations of a previous generation always took cognisance of what in the 1990s began to be called the local/global debate.[6]

The point is that despite the allure of a wider civic space, there remain intractable connections between the past and the present.  Graft in the current order, crime, the AIDS pandemic, the new social movements, the paranoia of senior Big Men (Mugabe, Nujoma) might strike us as recent phenomena, especially when subjected to the biting comedy of Pieter-Dirk Uys.  But it is not so new that inter-racial contact remains obsessed with forms of domination and subservience, or stark articulations of defiance.  The rap words of the group, Prophets of da City, give new rhythms to an old complaint:  that the mean streets of the deprived, whether in pre- or post-apartheid South Africa, remain mean and deprived.  One of the more powerful books of recent years, Antjie Krog's The Country of my Skull (1998), in which she turns testimony at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to question her own Afrikaner identity, owes a clear debt to the understanding of our history.  So in fact does the magical realist, ‘postcolonial' novel of the Angolan writer Pepetela.  The characters in The Return of the Water Spirit (2002) realise that the Marxist ruling elite never went beyond the rhetoric of propaganda:  rather than a concern for the people, leaders had a concern to line their pockets with the booty of war.  Resolution resides in the mythic mode:  Kianda, the water spirit, reclaims from a corrupt history the lagoon on which Kinaxixi Square in Luanda was built.  The real difference between the old colonials and the new Angolans is that the old order was white and the new order, black.  But the sardonic perspective has long been a feature of Angolan and Mozambican writers:  both Vieira and Couto recognised, for example, that whatever the grand words of ideological correctness, venal ambition, the puffery of pride, and the meanness of the spirit have a habit of characterising officialdom usually, unfortunately, to the detriment of ordinary people.  As in the past so in the present, the Being of violence in numerous forms of imposition severely hinders the Becoming of transfiguration. 

Several politically astute, post-1990 columnists (John Matshikiza, for example) and cartoonists (most prominently, Zapiro) may have broadened the satirical lens to see a single society of black and white princes and clowns.  John Kani's Nothing but the Truth steps decisively beyond his partnership with Athol Fugard to offer, on stage, a wise and resonant contemplation of exile and return (the tenor of his play breaks with the black theatre of the 1970s) and in William Kentridge's multimedia stage presentations there are original uses of Western and African stories and conventions.  But freeing the self from the burden of division is not easily accomplished.  Kwaito music still regards its energy as primarily ‘black and urban';  Lexion Kulca, or township fashion, according to its street cred., now smart-entrepreneur designers, is rooted ‘in Soweto'.  And in the literary field authors continue mostly to focus on their own narrower worlds.  Whites know their upbringing in white suburbia (a suburbia where English and Afrikaans rarely enter into meaningful dialogue).  The farm as metaphor outside of contemporary history still serves themes of belonging and belief.  African writers evoke township living, or rural tradition;  Indian writers return to either the security or claustrophobia of the Hindu or Moslem family;  and younger coloured writers are less likely to experience Richard Rive's nostalgia for District Six than Alex La Guma's earlier inheritance:  the gangsterism and poverty of the Cape Flats.  At the beginning of heightened state repression in 1983, J.M. Coetzee with rhetorical intent turned to the idea - or possibly, the ideal - of what might constitute the ‘great' South African novel.[7]  The imagined world should be national as distinct from nationalist.  It should characterise the society at all levels during the time in which it is set.  It should employ realistic techniques that make the work accessible to most of the reading public.  It should make the local, universal.  The challenge was directed at both literature and life:  at a society caught between the realities of strife and the necessity of interchange.  The challenge remains that of Southern African Literatures.  The book in the essence of its argument - I suggest - continues to inhabit a recognisable terrain, and I wish in retrospect to recount the reception that greeted its initial publication.

There was general acknowledgement, if sometimes grudgingly, that Southern African Literatures had to be taken seriously;  indeed, that it could not be ignored in any project on literary history.[8]  The study was reviewed in the major academic journals in the field and went on, in the year 2000, to receive South Africa's premier academic-literary award, the Bill Venter Book Prize.  At the same time, the book and, in terms sometimes approaching the ‘ad hominem', the author suffered a barrage of angry retort.  What authority - it was demanded - had I as a white English-speaking South African to pronounce on Afrikaans literature, or literatures in the African languages![9]  The original Preface - as we shall see - had anticipated such a response, though not the vehemence of its expression.  One critic turned his anger into the mission of pasting his review on the amazon.com website. The gist of his complaint was that in granting value to works by black writers who - he knew? - were poor craftsmen, I displayed (negrophilic?) bad judgment.  I expected white writers (subtle, ironic, international) to write like black writers (typical, direct, local).  Or, something along these lines.  The rationality of the response still escapes me.[10]

Initial publication, at least in South Africa, coincided, I think, with anxieties and confusions about matters of identity in relation to massive socio-political change.  Whose language, culture, or story could be said to have purchase when the end of apartheid had raised acute questions as to what it might mean to be a ‘new' South African?  Conceived of in the years 1987 to 1994 the evolution of the study witnessed the trauma of successive states of emergency, the dramatic announcement to parliament on 2 February 1990 by then state president F.W. de Klerk on the unbanning of the liberation movements, the vicious political rivalries between the ANC and Inkatha and, almost miraculously, the continuation of the Kempton Park negotiations that led to South Africa's democracy.  The other countries in the region provided perspectives on both pre- and post-independence scenarios.  Southern African Literatures reflects the uncertainties and aspirations of its time.  It reflects, also - I return to Coetzee's comments on the no doubt unattainable great South African novel - the need to step beyond categories of separation.

In planning Southern African Literatures I recall how inadequate seemed a companion volume in the series in which the study first appeared:  the Longman Literature in English Series.  Working strictly within the designation ‘in English', W.J. Keith's Canadian Literature in English (1985) either had to or wished to ignore the oral past of Inuit tradition and, because English-Canadian and French-Canadian authors had little to say to one another, to present a very partial picture of a ‘multicultural' Canadian society.  My premise in contrast was that although various elements of literary life might have found few interstices, the contribution of literature to the entire society required the critic to construct necessary intervening spaces:  spaces in which the reader could be alerted to arrangements of difference within the single map.  This contradicted the aims of a national research project, then in its planning stages in South Africa.  The state-funded research body, the Centre for Science Development (now the National Research Foundation), had envisaged a series of language-based literary studies, each volume of which was meant to describe the literary output of one of the several ethnic groups.  A volume on Afrikaans literature was to occupy 80 000 words;  a volume on South African English literature, 70 000 words;  Zulu, Xhosa and Sotho literature were to be granted 40 000 words each;  and, at the end, Venda literature would be given 5 000 words.  However well intentioned, the project - which did not fully realise itself - risked replicating the ‘baasskap' hierarchies of the old South Africa.[11]  The author of Canadian Literature in EnglishSouthern African Literatures  attempts to counter the usual practice of producing separate studies on black literature and white literature, oral literature and written literature, English-language literature and Afrikaans literature, and on the literatures of the several African languages. may not have been able to convince Longman to adopt a flexible interpretation of its own designation, ‘in English'.  The sight of Mandela walking free from prison convinced the publishers that in southern Africa, at least, fresh possibilities could be entertained. 

The attempt to present an ‘integrative' history, however, did not satisfy those who interpreted the shift from discrete, ethnic stories to a continuous story as the imposition on our many differences of a grand narrative, even a national liberation narrative.[12]  Culminating in the collapse of apartheid such a narrative, it was countered, would erase the contours of localities, or different stories, and conclude - Fukayama-style, as it were - at the end of history.  Such was not my intention.  Let me return in illustration to the questions that I posed above as pointers to the overall objective.  Were a simple or singular response possible as to whether Shaka's royal praises could be returned as more than anachronism to contemporary South Africa, indeed to the entire region, I would concede legitimacy to the attack on a grand narrative.  I choose this example deliberately, for the role of so-called traditional leaders - stoutly supported by the Inkatha Freedom Party - remains a particular concern, in 2003, to the ANC government's modernising drive.  Far from endorsing any singular liberation, Southern African Literatures concludes that by analogy Shaka's praises constitute one of our many ‘usable pasts'.  So does the impressive, though often ‘politically incorrect' poetry of N.P. van Wyk Louw.  Just as the study acknowledges many usable pasts, it acknowledges many valuable uses of the present.

The single story/multiple story contention, nonetheless, may be profitably pursued.  It strikes at the heart of whether or not it is possible to write literary history.  A narrative literary history - the argument goes - must necessarily limit the intricacies of the past (its many local stories) or it would cease to be narrative.  A multiple-story approach - that is, the ‘postmodern encyclopaedia' - would seek presumably to problematise the narrative and expose its artifice.  In dismissing the single story as the connivance of the prevailing power and its overarching theory of explanation, the postmodernist - and in some associations, the postcolonialist - would insist on identification with communities and localities, place, region, respect for others, and their many stories.

This is admirable.  I would hope that my literary-historical narrative has not diminished the claims of numerous voices.  It remains hard in situations still wracked  by division, though, to move from local place to societal space.  (A case in point - as mentioned earlier on - concerns the future of traditional leadership.)  The regional resistance of many stories can contribute to, but usually cannot alone bear the burden of, radical historical change.  The slide is to tradition, not as history but heritage:  parochialism and self-referentiality in the face of larger social forces.  At worst - and here the spectre of racism easily rears itself - to sectarian politics, in which the identities of others are reduced to small, though destructive, competitions for scarce resources.  As far as identity is concerned, the aesthetics of identity - the image of the person, the people, the group, the race - supersedes the ethics of narration:  how to move from event to event in historical time.  In short, the many discrete stories in the postmodern encyclopaedia do not usually lend coherence to one another.  This militates against a positive construct of literary history without which there cannot be the move to a next phase.  And a next phase is crucial to any condition of inequality.  To quote Karl Mannheim, a ‘class which has already risen in the social scale tends to conceive of history in terms of unrelated, isolated events'.[13]  A class that has not yet ‘risen' requires a reconstitutive project.  The narrative approach that shapes Southern African Literatures remains appropriate - it seems to me - to the material conditions of the South.

As a result of the original publication of the book, I was invited by several north American and European (west and east) universities to discuss the writing of literary history.[14]  Interest centred on whether it was possible in an age of ‘dissensus' to construct a ‘consensual' history.  The terms are taken from Habermas by Secvan Bercovitch, editor of The Cambridge History of American Literature (1994), a multivolume compilation that like Denis Hollier's A New History of French Literature (1989) is arranged as chapters in the book by numerous individual contributors.  In both histories the organising principle is not narrative, but the dissimilarity of the postmodern approach.  Briefly, Foucault's rejection of metanarratives (his rejection of the inheritance of Enlightenment modernity) is preferred to Habermas's defence of consensual action:  that the ethics of narration may retain a ‘never silent claim to reason'.[15]  Yet in both histories dissensus is more illusory than real.  Almost all the contributors - no doubt carefully selected by the respective editors - adhere to similar, fairly predictable, politically correct sentiments and values.  Despite the formal discontinuity, the landscape of thought suggests homogeneity, and Bercovitch concedes that in the writing of history ideology cannot operate solely as negative critique, but must direct the search for a new coherence.[16]  Southern African Literatures subscribes to such an insight.  It declares its intention to temper a key concept of the ‘post-' challenge, deconstruction (the suspicious reading of all texts against the grain of their own purpose), with the reconstructive potential of the story.

Such an emphasis - to return to an earlier point - sustains the axiom that literary history is also literary criticism.  Southern African Literatures acknowledges that in times of political crisis, we turn with determination to aesthetics.  This is not as paradoxical as it might sound.  In crisis the search is for temporal and spatial resolution:  how to represent, how to be represented.  Although the character or quality of its textual evaluations have drawn little comment in reviews, Southern African Literatures actually devotes considerable attention to the formal dimension of the literatures of the subcontinent.  At the same time, it is prepared to ground imaginative works in moral consequence.  (One critic commented, pejoratively, that I had written a ‘moral narrative'.)[17]  Those who might have occasion to return to the study or visit it for the first time, I trust, will encounter no evasion of art discussion.  What readers might recognise is that after forty years of apartheid, or in a current climate in which tyranny and ruination in Zimbabwe are paraded as the ‘third chimurenga' or liberation war, I remain sceptical of the rhetoric of nations.  I remain committed, instead, to the admittedly difficult conversations of functioning societies.  This is the theme that threads its way through Southern African Literatures.  Little that has transpired since 1996, in either politics or art, convinces me to revise the central argument of the book.


The study begins, then, from the proposition that literatures in the individual countries have tended to be defined and described according to separate linguistic-ethnic units rather than to the entity of the nation-state.  In South Africa, for example, we have South African literature in English, Afrikaans literature, Zulu literature, Xhosa literature, Sotho literature and so on, each having its hermetic sets of assumptions, myths and conventions while there is little consensus on how we might constitute a single South African literature.  Possibly South Africa, where ethnicity was both encouraged and enforced by apartheid, presents an extreme case of literary-linguistic division.  The procedure of defining national literatures in multilingual, multiracial countries with troubled histories, however, is problematic especially as a fundamental requirement of converting groups into nations is lacking in all the countries of southern Africa: namely, widespread, multiclass literacy in a common language.  While the conception of a nation is clearly necessary to the entity `national literature', what is also required is a strong self-awareness among writers, critics and readers that an intelligible field of, say, Zimbabwean literature or Namibian literature, or Zambian literature exits, or could exist.  In developing societies, in particular, writers would need to articulate whether they actually felt they were contributing to a national literature: whether their interests coincided with so-called national allegiances. Institutions, including universities and publishers, would be expected to air views on the shaping of canons or the compilation of anthologies in relation to educational and cultural goals.  Although themes or genres alone are not sufficient to identify a national literature, there should be an awareness of predominant themes and generic preponderance in response to the idea of the nation.  Such literary schooling, however, exists only intermittently in southern Africa, and in the present study the question is permitted to remain open as to whether the individual countries may be said to be developing an awareness of national literatures.  The larger issue, to reiterate, is whether literary-historical enquiry, in countries where nationalisms or at least sectionalisms have led to tension and strife, should be based on the model of the nation (originary, organic in its symbols) or that of the society (institutional and technical in its daily work).[18]

Whatever way we pursue such arguments, there remains the historical need to give literatures from predominantly African countries their own priorities, and the term southern Africa gains substance in several common subjects and concerns.  In the literature of all the countries, there is the shared experience of colonialism in its abrasive, economic form attendant on strong, permanent settler populations.  A consequence is the large theme of oppression and liberation with people in Zimbabwe, Angola, Mozambique, Namibia and South Africa having had to resort to bitter struggles against intransigent, white governments.  (In this aspect, the character and depiction of southern Africa is closer to that of Ngugi's Kenya than to that of Achebe's Nigeria.)  As a result of the colonial presence in all spheres of life, particularly in education, the racial theories, practices and values of Europe have featured prominently in the language and texts of a great deal of the literary response.  Above all, perhaps, the transition from traditional to modern loyalties in aggressive, industrialising economies has led to swift, often desperate disjunctions in both literature and life.  Literature from southern Africa is broadly about urbanisation, where the old-versus-the-new or the rural-memory-versus-the-city- opportunity characterises forms of expression beyond any stronghold of language, race or nationality.

The contours of the different literatures in the region are encouraged to give the study its shape:  the title deliberately retains the plural form.  As my initial observations suggest, however, I do not follow the practice of balkanising the literature into discrete ethnic units:[19] units that can be unwitting reminders of the divide-and-rule tactics of the colonial legacy.  Instead, I construct the field on comparative considerations.  In looking at frontier clashes in early nineteenth-century South Africa, for example, we might wish to ask whether Xhosa literature would have taken the directions it did had there been no colonial settle­ment in Xhosa territory;  conversely, whether early South African literature in English would have followed its particular course had it not encountered indigenous people around its early settlements.  The questions in themselves are not meant to be profound. We are reminded, nonetheless, that the Xhosa bard and the settler journalist, though divided by language, literacy, race and probably sentiment, were both part of the same story:  a story that remains open, of course, to different interpretations.  When the intent in southern Africa is to move beyond the conflicts of the past and chart new directions, the potential of the comparative method to investigate the inter­sections of traditionally enclosed categories seems to be an important function of literary history. 

Of the countries that comprise southern Africa, the largest and most contentious is South Africa which in terms of its literary interests, publication outlets and relatively large readership, has virtually subsumed any literary identity there might once have been in the neighbouring states of Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland. To take just one example, there is a claim to be made for Bessie Head as a Botswanan writer; the compulsion behind her stories, however, finds its force in the racial stigmatisation of her early South African experience.  With colonial institutions dating back to the mid-seventeenth century, reasonably advanced economic and bureaucratic infrastructures, and an active publishing scene, South Africa in the sheer bulk of its literary output occupies considerable attention in this study.  The next most viable literary culture is to be found in Zimbabwe.  Malawi, Zambia and Namibia have more modest outputs.  An impressive literature by Angolans and Mozambicans, which was mostly published abroad, characterised the years leading up to the freedom struggles in the late 1950s and early 1960s.  Understandably, the output was not sustained during the lengthy civil wars that in the post-independence period sapped the energies of the two countries.

Despite or perhaps because of the existence of numerous African languages, all the countries have retained the European language of the erstwhile coloniser as the common medium of communication in government and industry.  English serves the purpose in the ex-British colonies of Malawi, Zambia, Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland and Zimbabwe.  Portuguese serves the same purpose in Angola and Mozambique.  In Namibia, which was colonised first by Germany and subsequently administered by South Africa, English is the language of official practice while Afrikaans is widely spoken.  In South Africa, a union of two British colonies and two Boer republics, English and Afrikaans (the latter an indigenised form of Dutch) reflect the roles of Britain and Holland in the colonial history.  In addition to the European languages, there are in all the countries strong languages in the linguistic family of the Bantu-speaking people: the classification of the negroid groups in southern and central Africa.  As in the past so in contemporary times, it is the indigenous languages, not the European languages, that have enjoyed majority, popular speech in live, oral interchange.  Predating both African and European people in the region were the Bushmen and Khoi, who spoke versions of a click language that is today virtually extinct.  In transcribed and translated form the legends, myths and tales of these ancient people may enter discussion as southern Africa's classical literature.

After an Introduction that enunciates the principles of the study, Part One looks at oral traditions in the subcontinent.  Part Two examines the literature of European settlement in South Africa up to the beginning of the twentieth century. At this point a colonial literature emerges with some persistence in the other countries, and Part Three poses the question of when colonial literature becomes African literature in relation first to early activities in Zimbabwe, Angola and Mozambique and then to South Africa's `continuing colonialism'.  Part Four focuses on the demands that, in the independent states, have been made on writers by the ideals of new nations and the pragmatics of functioning societies.  From such a post-independence vantage-point, Part Five returns to South Africa: the problem of writing in the interregnum - the time between the death of the apartheid state and the birth of a civil society - gives impetus to a consideration of literary activities since the early 1970s. The arrangement of the material is roughly chronological, but I have interrupted the onward momentum to allow for debates concerning the possessions and dis­posses­sions of language, race, identity and power that have characterised life in this part of Africa.  In favouring argument over information, I see the book as having educational value in raising issues about the efficacy of literary study in a contentious social climate.  In universities in southern Africa, literary study is still heavily reliant on criteria of description and evaluation derived from metropolitan great traditions.  I hope my argument, in contrast, will suggest ways of focusing the West through African eyes while granting Africa the importance of its own centrality in the region.  Clearly, the terms the `West' and `Africa' - as I am deploying them here - are not meant to denote essences, but culturally conditioned terms in an argument: terms that in a highly politicised environment can have both semantic and actual consequences in the surrounding life.  In receiving and answering the speaking power of texts in a forum of enquiry and debate, the study acknowledges the contribution made to interpretation by the critical activity and by a community of readers.  The implication is that we neither reduce the work of the past to its past condition nor read it today as if it were a product of our time, but think of the work as needing us for the realisation of its potential.

With readers envisaged primarily as fellow academics and students, I have selected bibliographical material that in my opinion best serves the construction of university courses on the literature of the southern African countries.  In recommending secondary sources, for example, I have chosen stimulating critical introductions that should provide starting points for further study, and articles that raise key issues in the field. Selections presumed that, at least at the time of initial publication abroad, readers would be mainly English-speaking and, in consequence, the General Bibliographies focus on studies written in English, or translated into English, with studies in other languages identified in relevant end notes.  Similarly, the entries on individual authors concentrate on English-language contributions or contributions that are available in English translation.  Readers are referred outwards, nonetheless, to details of all the literatures of the region.  Biographical entries have had to be confined to authors who have important consequences for my argument, and with the General Bibliographies presuming readers who are principally interested in literature, details of other pertinent studies - history, anthropology, etc. - are given only in end notes.  (Whereas complete titles are listed in the General Bibliographies, I have not in end notes included subtitles unless crucial as descriptive guides: accordingly, Fishman's Language and Nationalism: Two Integrative EssaysLanguage and Nationalism.)  I realise that aspects of bibliographical convenience contradict somewhat the spirit of the book which is to regard as less than rigid traditional disciplinary divisions between, say, literary and political study, or major and minor writers.  Restrictions of space, unfortunately, remain a practical consideration.  As general sources of historical detail and debate, I refer readers at the outset to the works listed in this end note.[20] appears simply as

To return to my revised opening to this Preface, I also referred readers in the 1996 edition to an issue that I had anticipated would accompany the appearance of the book:  that of political/textual authority.  Questions and objections focused - are still perhaps likely to focus - on my authority as a white (male) critic to represent, or re-present, others (Others), my authority or competence, single-handedly, to interpret literature deriving from a range of languages and cultures, and my authority or competence to survey the entire subcontinent.  Is it not inevitable - the argument goes in summary - that my narrative will betray my race, class and gender, or - to limit what is in danger of becoming a litany - my linguistic, social and educational condition with English ending up not as lingua franca but metonymic master-code?  A disquisition could be written on the issue.  Indeed, Henry A. Giroux in defining ‘border pedagogy' as respecting the notion of difference in a common endeavour to extend the quality of civil life advises critics and educators to unlearn their privileged positions, listen to other constituencies, and try to speak in ways that those constituencies can take seriously.[21]  The advice at least ties an ideal to a practice. Border pedagogy, as articulated by Giroux, is certainly consistent with the principles of the present study.  The 1990s - after apartheid, after the one-party state, after the cold war - still bear the scars of the near past, and of crucial importance in translating experiences is the creation of new channels of communication.

Such channels include not only the comparative method, but my reliance on English as the medium in which the book is written.  Despite African majority speech it is inevitable that in southern Africa English will continue increasingly to delineate the terms of both regional and international exchange.  As many are not proficient in the intricacies of the language, struggles of linguistic empowerment and disempowerment will remain a key issue.  My contribution has been in my own usage to try to avoid signalling any master code (as mentioned above) and to aim at a plain, serviceable style that may be understood beyond the borders of the specialist journal.

I could not have written this book without insights gleaned from many of my colleagues.  In some instances, acknowledgement is explicit;  in other instances, I have probably absorbed their thoughts into my own deliberations.  For key observations on literary history in southern Africa - the comparative method, translation as cultural intervention, politics as period marker, literature as rhetorical field - I am indebted especially to articles over the years by Tim Couzens, Albert S. Gérard, Stephen Gray, Isabel Hofmeyr, A.C. Jordan, Preben Kaarsholm, Es'kia Mphahlele, Kelwyn Sole and Landeg White.  I am also indebted to several scholars for their comprehensive accounts:  Ruth Finnegan, George Fortune and Aaron C. Hodza, Albert S. Gérard, D.B. Ntuli and C.F. Swanepoel, C.M.S. Nyembezi, Jeff Opland and B.W. Vilakazi (African-language literature), Jack Cope and J.C. Kannemeyer (Afrikaans literature), Flora Veit-Wild (Zimbabwean literature) and, on Portuguese-African literature, Manuel Ferreira, Russell G. Hamilton and Gerald M. Moser.  There are in addition the many excellent articles that, in literary journals in the 1980s, saw the criticism of African literature achieve perceptiveness and purpose.  Despite the many necessary borrowings, I hope I have offered something fresh and challenging in what is the first study to consider all the literatures - oral and written, in the various languages - of the several countries of southern Africa.

I wish to acknowledge the contributions of translators of texts from one southern African language to another, Catherine Dubbeld, Chief Subject Librarian (University of Natal, Durban), who compiled the Index, and Chris Parsons and Suzé Nunes who checked African-language and Portuguese orthography, respectively.  I wish also to acknowledge the research funding granted to me by the University of Natal and what is now the National Research Foundation (South Africa).  Lastly, I wish to thank Longman Publishers for returning copyright to me and thus permitting the study to be reprinted by a publisher in southern Africa.


[1]        Perkins, Is Literary History Possible?  (Baltimore, 1993), p.17.


[2]        See B. Ashcroft, G. Griffiths and H. Tiffin, The Empire Writes Back (London, 1989) and H.K. Bhabha, The Location of Culture (London, 1994).  For a ‘materialist' as opposed to ‘representational' emphasis see A. Ahmad, In Theory (London, 1992), D. Harvey, The Condition of PostmodernityPostcolonialism (Oxford, 2001). (Oxford, 1990) and R. Young,


[3]        Heyns, ‘Relief from that Ready-made Topic, Apartheid', Sunday Independent (26 January 2003), p.18.


[4]        Pearson, ‘Review MFS:  Modern Fiction Studies, 46 (1) Spring 2000:  South African Fiction after Apartheid', Nelm [National English Literary Museum] News (December 2001).


[5]        R. Muponde and M. Taruvinga (eds),  Sign and Taboo:  Perspectives on the Poetic Fiction of Yvonne Vera (Oxford, 2002), xi.


[6]        For a consideration of a ‘post-apartheid' perspective, as it might apply to poetry, see M. Chapman (ed.), The New Century of South African Poetry (Johannesburg, 2002).


[7]        See Southern African Literatures, p.407.


[8]        See, for example, L. Chrisman, ‘New Literary Histories from the New South Africa', Current Writing, vol. 8, no. 2 (1996);  A. Coetzee, ‘Southern African Literatures', Alternation, vol. 3, no. 2 (1996);  L. de Kock, ‘An Impossible History', English in Africa, vol. 24, no.1 (1997);  S. Gray, ‘Opening Southern African Studies Post-apartheid', Research in African Literatures, vol. 30, no. 1 (Spring 1999);  J. McLeod, ‘Usable Pasts', English, vol. 46, no. 185 (1997);  V. Nemoianu, ‘Southern African Literatures', The Comparatist, vol. 21 (1997);  H. van Vuuren, ‘Southern African Literatures', Journal of Literary Studies, vol. 13, nos. 1 & 2 (1997);  T. Voss, ‘Southern African Literatures', English Academy Review, no. 14 (1997).


[9]        This was the tenor of a session devoted to ‘writing literary history' at the conference Literary Studies at the Crossroads, University of South Africa, Pretoria (20-21 February, 1997). Proceedings in Journal of Literary Studies, vol. 13, nos. 1 & 2 (1997), pp.210-253.


[10]       S. Crehan, ‘Broken English', Southern African Review of Books (July-August, 1996).


[11]       The result of the project was three short surveys in English:  J. Kannemeyer, History of Afrikaans Literature (t) (Pietermaritzburg, 1993);  D. Ntuli and C. Swanepoel, Southern African Literature in African Languages (Pretoria, 1993);  and M. van Wyk Smith, Grounds of Contest:  A Survey of South African English Literature (Cape Town, 1990).


[12]       See M. Green's comments at the symposium, South African Literary History: Totality and/or Fragment, Institute of Cultural Studies, University of Essen, Germany (July 1996), as reported by S. Meyer, "Literary History:  A Thing of the Present', Current Writing, vol. 8, no. 2 (1996), p.157.  See also L. de Kock [n.8, above] and ‘The Central South African Story, or Many Stories?:  A Response to Michael Chapman's "Red People and School People from Ntsikana to Mandela"', English Academy Review, vol. 10 (1993).  See several essays in Rethinking South African Literary History, (eds), J. Smit, J. van Wyk and J-P Wade (Durban, 1996).


[13]       Mannheim, Ideology and Utopia (New York, 1936), pp.129-130.


[14]       Papers were delivered at the following universities:  Ohio, Emory, Toronto, Zürich, Basle, Venice, Mascarata, Palacky (Czech Republic) and The West-Timişoara (Romania).  The gist of the argument is contained in M. Chapman, ‘The Problem of Identity:  South Africa, Storytelling, and Literary History', New Literary History, vol. 29, no. 1 (1998), pp.85-99.


[15]       See J. Habermas, The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity (Oxford, 1987).


[16]       See S. Bercovitch's discussion of the principles informing The Cambridge History of American Literature in ‘The Problem of Ideology in American Literary History', Critical Inquiry, vol. 12 (1986), pp.631-652.


[17]       A. Coetzee [n.8, above], p.235.


[18]       On the issue of nations and literature generally see: B. Anderson, Imagined CommunitiesNation and Narration (London, 1990), B. Davidson, The Black Man's Burden: Africa and the Curse of the Nation State (London, 1992), J. Degenaar, `Nationalism, Liberalism and Pluralism', in J. Butler, R. Elphick and D. Welsh, eds, Democratic Liberalism in South Africa: Its History and Prospects (Middletown & Cape Town, 1987), J. Degenaar, Nations and Nationalism: The Myth of a South African Nation (IDASA Occasional Paper, Cape Town, 1987), R. Emerson, From Empire to Nation (Boston, 1962), J.A. Fishman, A.C.A. Ferguson and J.D. Gupta (eds), Language Problems of Developing Nations (New York, 1968), J.A. Fishman, Language and Nationalism (Rowley, 1973), S. Gikandi, `The Politics and Poetics of National Formation', in A. Rutherford (ed.), From Commonwealth to Post-Colonial (Sydney, 1992), E.J. Hobsbawm, Nations and Nationalism since 1780 (Cambridge, 1990), B. Lindfors, `Are there any national literatures in sub-Saharan Black Africa yet?', English in Africa, vol.2, no.2 (1975). (London, 1983), H.K. Bhaba, ed.,


[19]       See General Bibliographies ii) `Descriptive, thematic, critical, theoretical surveys', where titles will usually indicate a focus on a specific language or race, or on written or oral literature.  Literature and Society in South Africa (ed.), L. White and T. Couzens, offers `case study' essays on literature in several languages as well as in both oral and written forms.


[20]       J. Grace and J. Laffin, Fontana Dictionary of Africa since 1960 (London, 1991), P. Williams and B. Hackland, The Dictionary of Contemporary Politics of Southern Africa (London, 1989), R. Oliver (ed.), The Cambridge History of Africa, 3 vols. (Cambridge, 1977), J.D. Omer-Cooper, History of Southern Africa (Cape Town and London, 1987), J. Pampallis, Foundations of the New South AfricaThe Making of the South African Past: Major Historians on Race and Class (Cape Town, 1988), M. Wilson and L. Thompson (eds), The Oxford History of South Africa, 2 vols. (Oxford, 1969, 1971).  See also several titles in the Penguin African Library and the series `Perspectives on Southern Africa' by the University of California Press. (Cape Town, 1991), C. Saunders,


[21]       Giroux, Border Crossings: Cultural Workers and the Politics of Education (New York, 1992), p.27.

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