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The Liberated Zone
Monday, 17 July 2006

The Possibilities of Imaginative Expression in

A State of Emergency

[The English Academy Review 5 February 1988: 23-53]

 Michael Chapman

South Africa is undergoing a huge socio-political revaluation. This continues to be provoked by forces which have arisen in general opposition to a fundamentally unjust social and economic system, more particularly since the early 1980s to the sham of ‘tricameral' politics. (In our age of so-called reform, a state of emergency was declared in 1985, lifted briefly, and re-imposed with greater severity on 12 June 1986.) We are simultaneously undergoing a crucial literary and artistic revaluation. 

In social terms the Black Consciousness movements, which were banned in October 1977, charted a distinct era in black South African politics while handing to their successors the movements' major achievement: an urban black population psychologically prepared for confrontation with the state. In literary terms the ‘renaissance' of the 1970s, in the New Black Poets, in the stories of Mzamane, Matshoba, Tlali and others, in the plays of Manaka and Maponye, in the creativity of Staffrider, charted a distinct era of black experience while handing to any successors the confident assertion that poems, plays, stories, songs and paintings do matter in the real life of political confrontation.

Who are these successors? In socio-political activity they are self- evident: a revitalised ANC, the UDF, COSATU.1 Black Consciousness took its impetus from students and experienced almost insurmountable difficulties in appealing to, and organising, the wider community on everyday issues. The so-called progressive movements of the l980s, by contrast, have increasingly, though not unproblematically, addressed both populist and workerist demands. The rhetoric of the political platform has emphasised tactics of non-racial, democratic organisation (in the form of trade union structures, in the street committees of the early l980s and, since the harsh measures of the 1986 emergency, in numerous localised campaigns). At the same time, Africanist impulses, which were germane to Black Consciousness, have continued to manifest themselves in cults of personality (Mandela, Tutu) and in recognisable symbols of culture (Mother Afrika). The dominant discourse is, however, that of grassroots nationalism, as opposed to the apocalyptic scenarios of BC in the 1970s, and the consequences for the writer and artist are profound.

When we try to identify the literary heirs to the Black Consciousness generation, we encounter difficulties. Writers such as Ellen Kuzwayo, in Call Me Woman (1985),2 Petrus Tom, in My Life Struggle (1985),3 and Cikizwa Nzube ka Mokoena, in A Pot of Poetry (1987),4 regard themselves primarily as recently unshackled voices of testimony. By contrast, the imagination, as in Farouk Asvat's collection of poems A Celebration of Flames (1987),5 continues to be stirred by the cultural symbols of the 1970s, and few black writers have emerged in the 1980s who have produced work the volume, power and originality of which are as impressive as that of, by way of several examples, Serote, Gwala, Madingoane, Matshoba, Van Wyk, Head and Dangor. As far as writing by whites is concerned, it is also tempting to think back to the rich period of the 1970s when Gordimer, Fugard, Coetzee, Livingstone and others consolidated their achievements, when Jensma extended the formal and thematic possibilities of our poetry, when Wilhelm first gave to the short story the bizarre perceptions of the ‘interregnum', and when the author of the imagination rather than the revisionist historian or cultural analyst dominated publishers' catalogues.

After an initial reluctance by a largely Eurocentric academic establishment to accept the New Black Poetry of the 1970s6 as ‘good', it became clear, among black and white readers and critics, that Mtshali, Serote, Gwala and others were vibrant new voices. Mtshali's ‘An Abandoned Bundle',7 for example, adroitly juxtaposed myth and social reality, as African and Christian typologies of mother and child presented a shocking, though widely identifiable, indictment of a society which, while professing to subscribe to Western-Christian tenets, had enforced on the majority of the population poverty, family disintegration and the concomitant need for desperate survival. In Serote's ‘City Johannesburg'8 the socially and psychologically alienated black person (the lyrical ‘I' was representative of the communal ‘we') explored a series of complex contrasts (Johannesburg ‘dry like death'/the township where violence lurks, but where people still laugh and weep;  the concrete might of the workplace/a lost ideal of natural life in ‘neon flowers' and ‘cement trees'). The human experience, the images, the rhythms, all signalled the art of poetry. Even Serote's ‘What's in this Black "Shit"'9 ‘was as much about the effects of poetry as about social life. With powerful anti-poetic resonance the word ‘shit' became a weapon with which to undermine middle-class conceptions of poetic register. A dialectic of struggle depleted the expletive of its force as a white man's insult, and hurled it back at the white person: as the threat of the conscientised ‘new black man'. The point is that South African literature in the BC phase of the 1970s discovered a climate conducive to literary and artistic expression. (SASO,'10 the founding spirit of BC, regarded a new cultural language as the prerequisite of any social revolution.) The poetry, in particular, whether by blacks or whites, was innovative and often experimental. It demanded that critical response move beyond moral-humanist, or even modernist, perceptions and see poetry as, in turn, constructed artefact and oral voice, as highly intricate and communally direct, as short lyric and open field of expression. However much black poets spoke of political activism, they also pictured themselves as artists, and Soweto after 1976 experienced a burgeoning of writers' groups. Even the most radical messages were emotionally intensified artistic messages, and, as Ravan Press and Ad. Donker discovered, could be bracketed from the immediacy of the streets into the relative permanence of the attractively produced book.

The state reacted against some of the literature of the 1970s. The unambiguous voice of revolutionary change was banned (as in Matthews' Cry Rage11 and Mtshali's Fireflames12 while Madingoane13 and MEDUPE Writers caused consternation by appearing, around 1976, in the flesh, at Regina Mundi Church and at various schools. ‘Soweto' novels such as Tlali's Amandla (1981) and Mzamane's The Children of Soweto (1982) were banned, and have now been unbanned (an important reason given by the Publications Appeal Board to Ravan Press in 1987 for the reversal of the earlier banning of Mzamane's ‘trilogy' was that the Soweto revolt can be seen, from our present perspective, to have failed). By and large, however, the state viewed poetry as poetry, stories as stories, ultimately removed by their very conventions of language, rhythm, plot, style and mode of reproduction from the points of real confrontation, at the rally, at the funeral, at the work place. Even Matshoba's stereotypes of brute policemen,14 after an initial banning, were admitted to be conventionalised ‘artistic' representations, and if township superintendents as a matter of course forbade the use of halls for theatre groups, plays appeared regularly at fringe venues and at premises owned by various liberal organisations. (Manaka's Egoli - City of Gold15 remains banned, in the text, possibly because it attacks capitalism, the hot issue today, possibly because the publishers have not been sufficiently persistent in their appeals.) With the astuteness of the philistine the state realised that any poem, play or story (however radical in intention) is of less danger to the ruling power than the information of the press; that any text, once placed between the covers of a book that suggests its generic identity as poem, play or story, becomes of less consequence to political action than the authority of the writer as an active participant in actual living conditions. The state, in short, realised what any literary or artistic successors to the BC years are also having to realise:  that in our state of emergency the significance of context supersedes the significance of the text. As the demands of the times increasingly curtail writers in their search amid social activity for imaginative space, the authority of the experience rather than its transformation into the art-object becomes the real locus of power.

A consideration of such issues is prompted here by the debate, in the Weekly Mail, 16 between Jeremy Cronin and Lionel Abrahams on the character and status of the COSATU ‘worker poets' who are collected in the anthology Black Mamba Rising.17 Abrahams sees the text as predominant in any understanding of ‘poetry' (‘When poetry reaches high or deep for us - its main business - a price it often exacts is that of difficulty, for both poet and reader'). In reply to Abrahams' charge that Cronin, in his review of Black Mamba Rising, had given patronisingly high praise to passages of very minor achievement, Cronin in return attacks what he sees as the limitations of Abrahams' ‘bourgeois aesthetics':

 

The principal reason for his misunderstanding lies in his assumption that aesthetics, as opposed to political ideology, is a neutral field of timeless values. The main business of poetry (Abrahams writes) is to pursue the ‘high or deep'- But whose high? The high of the crane operator, or the mystical dreamer? And whose deep? That of the exploited miner, or that of the obscurantist melancholic? 18

 

Abrahams' own volume of poetry Journal of a New Man19 contains nothing that could be described as mystical dreaming or obscurantist melancholy. It does contain poems of tough, exploratory humanism which refuse any easy responses to personal and social life. But Cronin is determined to suggest that his own Marxist predispositions are ‘more true' than Abrahams' liberal humanism. (As poststructuralist criticism has shown us, the ideological preferences of critics usually dictate debates about aesthetic worth.) In Cronin's original praise of the worker poets he made overtures to formal appreciations (‘At their very best all three poets show a remarkable ability to swoop back and forth ... between the plain-spoken and the oratorical, between the international and the most local, between the heroic and the ordinary slog of the everyday').20 And such aesthetic features are seen to be thematically functional: ‘Until, at the end, we begin to understand that the truly heroic is the ordinary, the everyday of the South African [black] working class.' This is valuable literary commentary, and the COSATU worker poets, in breaking out of Black Consciousness perceptions and imagery, do, it seems to me, help us to define the end of the 1970s and to identify literary successors of the 1980s. Similarly, we might want to seek successors at the Festival of History and Culture, organised by the History Workshop (University of the Witwatersrand, 14 February 1987),21 and at the COSATU Culture Day which concluded the second annual conference (Johannesburg, 18 July 1987).22 Alongside the worker poets Alfred Temba Qabula, Mi S'Dumo Hlatswayo and Lawrence Zondi, there was Qonda, a play about attempts to disorganise workers' lives amid township violence, and, performed by The Workers Cultural Local (Durban), The Long March, a play about the plight of the black community in the shade of the BTR Sarmcol strike (Howick) and the workers' attempts to fight back and survive. ‘A play about a strike is shown to the very workers involved in that strike,' said Hlatswayo, COSATU's cultural co-ordinator. ‘That process makes activists more determined and grooms them - you know that as a cultural worker you are not special ... Our plays, poems and paintings have the potential of popularising our worker politics?' What is particularly interesting about such comments, however, is that the authority of direct worker participation is finally allowed to dictate the authority of the texts. What Cronin, himself a UDF organiser, really finds valuable is the context of worker poetry: that ‘the poems ... were all originally performed at collective gatherings, at May Day rallies and at services for fallen workers in soccer stadiums, hostels and township halls'. 23 The actual occasions lend substance to the poems.

There seems to be little common ground between Abrahams and Cronin. The former believes that art in a state of emergency should, by its continuing abilities to offer insight into a range of human pursuits, keep alive a liberating imagination. It is an imagination which, in its ‘defamiliarising' tendencies and skills of formal representation, should touch the temper of the times in all kinds of ways while distinguishing itself from the language of the political platform. Cronin would no doubt agree that art, in intensifying the experience, gives shape to inchoate speech and action (his own poems, in Inside,24 are both messages of solidarity and formally skilful utterances). But he is likely to see any liberated zone in Gramscian terms25: in acts of opposition, in symbols of oppositional culture, in confrontational performance, in the affirmation of mimesis where images are related directly to life and, therefore, have narrative power in the real social world.

I want to pursue, initially, some of the implications of the Gramscian liberated zone. For at our juncture of history issues of progressive relevance, people's education, worker solidarity in the struggle for a living wage, and other socialist alternatives can seem to be so pressing as to trivialise by comparison literature of the ‘high and the deep'. Black Consciousness poets of the 1970s spoke of communicating with the ‘people'; yet white liberally inclined readers remained at least the principal purchasers of their books. By contrast Qabula, reciting in isiXhosa, 26 has stirred audiences of thousands on issues of the work place, even as he says, ‘I don't keep myself on that stage. I just feel like an ordinary worker. I always want to work within the organisation.'27 While the plays of Matsemela Manaka become increasingly skilful in their stage impact, they appeal to smaller, fringe intellectual audiences. On the other hand, the recent spate of worker plays (Dunlop, Clover, Sarmcol, etc.) has managed so far to retain the rough-edge of process. Explaining the development of The Clover Story,28 which came about after 168 workers were dismissed in 1986 at Clover in Pietermaritzburg, Hlatshwayo said: ‘This is the story of things that really happened to these workers. As such, one person couldn't just sit down and write it. Shop stewards suggested an outline for the play, and the worker-actors then workshopped each scene, in no particular order, for four weeks. We didn't put people into parts, but tried each scene with different actors, until someone got it right. The scenes were then woven together into a whole which, however, keeps getting unpicked. Workers from Clover branches and other factories would tell us to put other things in. If you come and see it next month, you will see how much it has changed.'29 There are several contradictions here between a theory of aesthetics and theatre as an event in popular culture (Ari Sitas points to the central problem of showing workers as ‘bearers of social process' within the confining space and time of the stage).30 31 plays like The Clover Story continue to have a communicative function to fellow workers that is real rather than merely symbolic. Nevertheless, despite the guiding hands of white academic-sociologists,

In 1986 Sisa Ndaba edited One Day in June.32 Appearing ten years after June 16, this anthology contains a celebratory record, in poems and statements, of the children of Soweto. Biko speaks, in retrospect, with the voice of a martyr.33 Dikobe wa Mogale's voice echoes back to Diepkloof prison where he is currently serving ten years on terrorism charges.34 [He was released together with other political prisoners in 1990.] Benjamin Moloise concludes the book with his poem written on death row.35 Yet One Day in June is freely on sale. By contrast, the cassette-tape Change Is Pain36 by Mzwakhe Mbuli is banned. The words are no more radical than those of Gwala or Madingoane, of ten years ago; and, as in Gwala's ‘Getting off the Ride' (1977),37 the Black Consciousness images of the township poet and Mother Afrika still predominate over and above references to alternative socio-economic systems or to corrupt Bantustans. Assisted initially with percussion by members of the Khuvangano (Solidarity) cultural group, Mzwakhe has since rapped over the Afro-jazz, reggae and mbaqanga rhythms of a five-piece band, so that, packaged on cassette-tape, Change Is Pain is, ironically, already becoming a product rather than a process. Nevertheless, the state has attempted to control the phenomenon of Mzwakhe (he has been detained for several periods). For Mzwakhe has made his mark as a contextualised participant in immediate, symbolically forceful events. Here is an eye-witness account of his poetry of performance:

Mzwakhe Mbuli, Die Lang Man, as the police prefer to call him - poet as he signs himself. The first time I saw him perform was in a church somewhere in Braamfontein on the occasion of an international peace prize being awarded to a South African cleric. The church was hushed after a listing of atrocities and indignities. The officiating priest called upon Mzwakhe to read some of his poetry, and all of a sudden the congregation erupted into a frenzy of cheers, ululations, clapping and finger-wiggling...

Even when he opened his mouth it was difficult to understand what all the fuss was about. He began to recite haltingly, uncertainly, alternately rushing and stumbling over the lines which he had composed for the occasion.

Then the transformation began. The spaces between words became regular, rhythmic, possessed and transfixed by the beat of the words that held them in place. The voice swelled to a thick, heavy resonance to fill the vault of the church, to beat against the far walls, and fall in dark waves to wash over the congregation.

I began to realise just why Mzwakhe cuts the figure he does. You don't even hear the words after a while, just the resonances. 38

 

As in Cronin's comments on the COSATU poets, the quality of intensified utterance and incantation helps to define ‘poetry'. But any response which attempted to treat the text in isolation from its context would miss the ‘relevance'; any response which attempted to divorce the text from the poet as activist in the political sphere would not be able to appreciate the true significance of Mzwakhe as a liberating or a threatening voice of our times (‘The call for cultural liberation cannot take place outside the broader struggle for a democratic South Africa').39 The banning of the tape-cassette hardly gets to the crux of the matter, when the poetry of the political gathering can, in our state of emergency, assume a purpose greater than any poetry of permanent form.

In fact, the political funeral in recent years has given the notion of the ‘happening' a real urgency. Debates are removed decisively from the language of international postmodernism (where attacks on the artefact are usually conducted in the coteries of art with re-adjustments of response occurring, philosophically, in the realms of perception and aesthetics). In the case of Ashley Kriel's funeral, on the other hand, the subject literally involved matters of life and death on a national scale. The report of the funeral by Gaye Davis (Weekly Mail, 24-30 July 1987) confirmed the narrative force of actual events. Instead of fictive transfigurations we have the mimetic sign, emotively contextualised and yielding the rituals of a huge morality drama. As Davis reports, the police broke their word not to interfere in the funeral of the young ANC guerrilla who attained the status of the near-martyr. The larger movement of the crowd was focused, for human interest, on the heroic figures of Boesak and Tutu, and on the anguish of the Kriel family, ‘ordinary people'. Within this frame the songs, the insignia, the tear-gas canisters, the hearse, all provided socially precise symbols of good and evil:

Preceded by robed priests, the coffin was carried out, still draped in ANC colours with the UDF flag flying behind. At the hearse Odendaal [the commander of the local Reaction Unit] dived for the ANC flag. A tug-of-war ensued before mourners bundled it into the departing hearse.

The climactic moments should cause writers in our state of emergency to ponder hard on the possibilities of imaginative expression:

According to the family, police told them they had fifteen minutes to bury Kriel. Boesak, due to officiate, had yet to arrive. Naidoo took his stead. While mourners softly sang an Umkhonto we Sizwe anthem, police took photographs. As handfuls of earth were scattered on the coffin, a flash of the ANC flag could be seen, before the grave was filled to the strains of Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika and mourners started drifting away.

The reporter has, of course, shaped her material according to her own radical-liberal preferences (the same funeral reported in Eugene Terre'Blanche's mouthpiece Die Stem would fashion its narrative differently). Nevertheless, Gaye Davis is not the author of the story. It is the context of real life, at this particular time, that gives her text its meaning. The participants in the events of the day would have experienced what no reader can experience: the actuality of revolutionary solidarity. And when the last strains of Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika faded away, they must have felt that the story had not come to an end. Rather, closure was a Brechtian gestus, or point of focus on the epic road of history. Recently Njabulo Ndebele argued against sensation, spectacle and the surface images of oppression and resistance in favour of a ‘rediscovery of the ordinary'.40 Seeing in the stories of Michael Siluma,4142 and Bheki Maseko43 a ‘new trend' which has begun to emerge in the aftermath of June 16, he says of Siluma's ‘The Conversion': it ‘has gone beyond spectacle in order to reveal the necessary knowledge of actual reality so that we can purposefully deal with it . . . The analytical ability of Mxolisi [the protagonist] is reflected in the manner in which the story is told so that the story itself is a demonstration of its own intentions. It is an analytical story; a story designed deliberately to break down the barriers of the obvious in order to reveal new possibilities of understanding and action.'4445 - Ndebele wants to retain a continuing and valuable role for the creative writer (‘the task of literature is to provide an occasion within which vistas of inner capacity are opened up').46 Certainly, as Ndebele says, it is valuable to discover ‘complexity in a seemingly ordinary and faceless worker'.47 (It might also be valuable to discover complexity, as Ndebele himself does in Foo1s, 48 in teachers, students and musicians, and, as Lionel Abrahams does, in the individualised consciousness of white middle-class people).49 This notwithstanding, the surface image (as in the ‘documentary" stories of Mtutuzeli Matshoba)50 can, in the Gramscian zone of liberation, have a potency of recognition: a symbolic, even a mythic reverberation. A fundamental question raised by the narrative of the Kriel funeral concerns the adequacy of imaginative expression to compete with sensational events and their subsequent reportage.51 Joel MatIou From his Marcusian base - ‘don't avoid interiority but render it as concretely as possible'

A challenge issued at the Jubilee Conference of the English Academy of Southern Africa (Johannesburg, 4-6 September 1986) was whether writers in South Africa should not for the time being remain silent. As I am suggesting, it is a challenge that needs to be debated in a serious and self-critical way, even if only to force upon writers and critics revaluations of the conventional divisions between ‘fact' and ‘imagination'. Plato banished poets from his ideal state as liars; Milton turned from poetry to political pamphleteering for twenty years during the political crisis of his own time; Alan Paton's involvement in the Liberal Party was consistently placed before his career as a novelist. In fact, many South African writers, from Pringle to Mzwakhe (and including Schreiner, Plaatje, Mphahlele, Brutus, La Guma, Themba, Mazisi Kunene, Head, Breytenbach and Serote), have understood themselves to be, substantively, ‘artists' and ‘political participants'.  A photograph in New Nation of a mother and child sitting in Thokoza township outside their razed zinc shack contains the following caption:  ‘Every time I go to the council, I am told that there are no houses?' Is the photographic depiction, in our present context, more wide- reaching, more searching in its appeal to moral responsibility, than, let us say, Mtshali's poem ‘An Abandoned Bundle'?

Seeking to occupy the Gramscian zone, Menán du Plessis said in her opening speech at ‘Breaking the Silence' (Cultural Art Group Festival, University of Cape Town, August 1986): ‘Resistance art doesn't follow the path of bourgeois art with it access to the entire range of technical apparatuses. Released from the production line, that special economy of publishing and marketing, resistance art finds itself in the daily lives of the oppressed class.'52 She went on to include as samples of resistance tools the rousing toyi-toyi dance, singing, posters, murals, stickers, banners, badges and AK47s made of wire or wood. On the posters we are likely to find not township flute players, but, in the socialist realist mode, figures of comrades and factory workers, flag designs and the colours red, black, yellow and green. Visualise a rectangular poster in yellow. At the top, in solid green lettering, are the words ‘Save the Thirty One Patriots - Do Not Let Them Hang'. At the bottom, in red, is the slogan, ‘Freedom or Death Victory Is Certain'. Underneath this, in green: ‘Botha Stop the Murderous Act'. In the centre, evenly spaced, are designs of six hangman's nooses. (The colour photograph of this poster, which appeared on the front page of New Nation,53 was subsequently cited by the Directorate of Media Relations as ‘having the effect of fanning revolution or uprising or . . . aimed at overthrowing the government by other than constitutional means'.)54 When Du Plessis denies the value of the publishing apparatuses, she refers to the packaging of books (her own novel A State of Fear is, according to her understanding, destined to be read mainly by the ‘educated', liberal middle class). But the surface images of confrontation have been widely disseminated beyond immediate contexts of performance in the pages of the so-called alternative media. (A novel like A State of Fear55 is likely to sell about 1 000 copies over two or three years; New Nation has a weekly circulation figure of 40 000; the Weekly Mail, 20 000.) While literature, in its more traditional forms of the poem, the play and the story, has largely escaped the attention of the censors, the alternative media, in August 1987, began to receive special government scrutiny. As André Brink, in his keynote address at the National Arts Festival (Grahamstown, 7-11 July 1987), felt prompted to say: ‘If the artist has come to be regarded as irrelevant by the authorities, perhaps it is because he has misinterpreted the full extent of his function within this society . . . What is feared by the government is the dissemination of factual information by the media, because whatever happens, people must not be allowed to find out.'

In real ways, then, the literary and artistic successors to the writers of the 1970s are the image-makers of confrontation. The individual artist has sought not only to submerge his or her identity into the collective polity, but to collapse the text into the social arena. Instead of ‘artist' we have ‘cultural worker'; beyond the ‘cultural workers' we have the ‘participating people'. It does seem that in South Africa, in the mid-1980s, it is necessary to confront squarely the implications of a situation where participation in the condition of the streets might be of more importance than any space for the art-object, however hard won. While harsh criticisms of the state are tolerated in the form of the text, the Arts Festival '86, organised in Cape Town by the End Conscription Campaign, was banned before it could open; that is, before its ‘texts' could contribute to what the South African Defence Force and probably the large majority of white South Africans regard as the ECC's highly provocative, even traitorous context of anti-militarism.57 In looking at creative responses over the last four or five years, therefore, David Bunn and Jane Taylor, in their anthology From South Africa: New Writing, Photographs and Art,58 may be right to accord greater attention to Jeremy Cronin's poetry and to COSATU worker poetry than to writing, including Ndebele's, which is more versatile in a recognisably ‘literary' sense. For in turning to Cronin's poems we are forced, if we are at all socially responsible in our approach, to consider the larger, extra-textual question as to whether we should, or can, divorce Cronin's poems as products from the fact that they were written by someone who was jailed for seven years on charges of ANC underground activity.59 Similarly, in reading Qabula on the printed page, can we refuse to re-create, in our minds, the conditions which motivated his utterance and which, in the form of the trade- union movement, are currently seeking to shape radically new socio-economic arrangements in South Africa? Whether or not Qabula's ‘Praise Poem to FOSATU'60 simplifies options or reduces complex alternatives to slogan, it is difficult to refute the wider, contextualised truth of his message and sentiment. In an exploitative racial and capitalist system black workers constitute an exploited class. Before cultivating appreciation of the ‘high or the deep', they need to be conscientised in the advantages of union solidarity. They need to understand their own bargaining powers. We cannot talk separately of a text and a context; rather we are experiencing an interanimating process of literary and socio-political language and response.

In comparison to the involvement of writers at the hustings, the more ‘skilfully artistic' responses in the mid-1980s of, for example, Gordimer, Fugard and Coetzee, seem marginal to what is most crucial in our state of emergency. In fact, the recent works of these three writers strike me as self-indulgent. In Gordimer's case, debate among academics has so far centred on the puzzling creation of Hillela, the protagonist of A Sport of Nature (1987).61 Is Hillela a convincing portrayal? How can a ‘sport of nature', who is apolitical and sexually hyperactive, figure meaningfully in novelistic landscapes of cataclysmic political change? Perhaps - we are always having to ‘suppose' in this frustratingly non-communicative story - Gordimer needed utterly, even violently, to reject white middle-class morality; and Hillela, screwing her way up the African high command, represents the ultimate demystification of that continuing South African bourgeois bogey, miscegenation. (Gordimer herself on more than one occasion has evoked the image of the black man ready to enter the white suburban bedroom.) But more probably Gordimer, in the mid-1980s, has no longer available to her a protagonist who can typically direct a socialising narrative. Such a protagonist, in our state of emergency, would need to be a black activist with a long participatory memory. At least Gordimer has had the honesty not to try to enter the epic consciousness of the black historical-individual, but she could have chosen instead to involve her own story in a struggle to find a suitable hero, and thereby offered a novel of interest at least to the white South African reader. As A Sport of Nature stands, however, I wonder whether Gordimer should not for the time being have remained silent?

Fugard, too, I think, should have remained silent. Instead A Place with the Pigs (1987)62 reveals, sadly, the consequences of the playwright's own voluntary removal of himself from the social life of this country.63 By analogy (a Russian military deserter lives for forty years in a pig sty), the play introduces questions of dignity and freedom, and I want to quote two responses to Fugard's work:

A Place with the Pigs has disappointed some overseas critics. I can understand why, for the play offers few of the easy gratifications of a work dealing journalistically with the facts of the South African case.

Instead, it is more like Dimetos, an elaborate metaphor explored from a multiplicity of points of view, using a vocabulary and style closer to philosophical disquisition than what we normally under stand as theatre.

(Robert Greig) 64

Fugard gives us many pictures - obviously pigs (which will probably be extensively explained elsewhere), s-i-g-n-i-f-i-c-a-n-t constellations in the skies, a butterfly (no moths this time) eaten by said pigs, roads to freedom, comfortable slippers, returning to forgiveness, blood, pigshit, ritual cleansing, emasculation and tedium.

But I'm afraid the play was too dense for me - or was I for it?

Yes, one could probably find meaning, significance, universalism, and all that. But why does one have to work hard with some very obvious - and often trite - images?

(Ketan Lakhani) 65
 

It would be comforting to be able to agree with Greig, who is finally very positive in his review. We have, after all, been trained to define ‘good art' as oblique, indirect, complex, nuanced, subtle, universal. However, at the moment I agree with Lakhani. Fugard's avoidance, at this particular time, of our own extremely narrow tolerances of dignity and freedom is disappointing. His ‘universalism' seems a luxury. [Fugard's latest play My Children! My Afrika! returns to a local theme and setting.]

A fellow academic, Kathrin Wagner, sets out, in an appreciative review,66 to sanction the literary postmodernism of Coetzee's Foe (1986).67 We are told that the novel, which employs sophisticated game-playing techniques, is a searching examination of relationships between our experience and our stories; moreover, that such an examination is linked to issues of identity, law, justice and freedom. I am sure Wagner is correct. Similarly, I am sure that there was some virtue in the several earnest papers at the conference of the Association of University English Teachers of Southern Africa (AUETSA), in Grahamstown in 1987, on postmodernism. What bothers me, though, in the middle of a state of emergency, is the unspecific nature of all this metaphor and analogy. In Foe Susan Barton finds herself bound to Friday, but the challenging ‘colonial character' of Defoe's original Crusoe tale has been allowed to lapse, and we have instead a Pozzo-Lucky situation in the best traditions of the psychological avant-garde. But, as Roland Barthes might have said, justice and freedom are undoubtedly universal; let us also ask, however, who was treated unjustly and why, and so return ‘universals' to their particular social derivations. Such a literalism seems to me to be indispensable in the context of the human suffering, on our doorstep, of thousands of detainees who are denied recourse to the rule of law.

Foe reveals the same tendency that disturbed me about the AUETSA papers on postmodernism. The original ‘revolutionary' intention of the poststructuralist response (an attack on the bourgeois education system, its books and its assumptions) has been emptied of social circumstance and adopted as a style, a new Eurocentric intellectual acuteness which manages quite adroitly to separate ‘art' from the real conditions of oppressive orders. It is ironic that radical European thinkers (Macherey, Derrida, Lacan, Eagleton) should have so swiftly become the playthings of the academic-bourgeoisie. It is more than ironic that in the same week as AUETSA was debating almost everything but Peter Vale's point that, in a climate of academic boycott, South African universities must move with far greater urgency and conviction to ‘Africanise' their assumptions and syllabuses,68 the Congress of South African Writers (COSAW) was launched in Johannesburg. This organisation has committed itself to ‘the critical role literature and the arts must play as instruments in the struggle for liberation', and ‘to work with the mass-based movement in the struggle for a non-racial, united and democratic South Africa'.69 At least Coetzee, if not his admirers, seems to realise the precariousness not only of his own authority on the South African scene, but also of the authority of the literary imagination. On receiving a recent Jerusalem Award in 1987 as a writer against apartheid (perhaps Mzwakhe should also have been a candidate), he said (quoting from Nietzsche): ‘We have art so that we shall not die of the truth. In South Africa there is now too much truth for art to hold - truth by the bucketful, truth that overwhelms and sways every act of imagination.'

In the Gramscian zone of liberation, such truth is simultaneously utilitarian and aesthetic. At the National Arts Festival, in Grahamstown (1987), CAPAB presented, in Afrikaans, a surrealistic, theatrically stunning version of Titus Andronicus (Anatomic Titus - Fall of Rome). It was stage-effective, it exploited to the full Gramsci's own observation that in the interregnum all sorts of morbid symptoms arise; its images of maiming might have alluded to the daily reports, in this country, of the tortured victim. Ultimately, however, the play was a social cop-out: its warning of violence begetting violence was so generalised as to have been applicable to the state, the ANC, the world. So much for universalism! By contrast Aluta Continua70 by the Cape Flats Players occupied its own bit of earth and in tableaux, toyi-toyi sequences, mimes, soliloquies and statements conveyed unambiguously its belief that the ruling order in South Africa has institutionalised a violent society. The target audience is a limited one: the community of the Cape Flats (the play had wrenched itself out of its usual context to perform in Grahamstown). Its vision was deliberately circumscribed and idealistic; yet it had a moral conviction that was lacking in the CAPAB production of Titus.71

Possibly Aluta Continua was a special case, the most ‘unmediated' play of the Festival. Like the worker plays of Clover and Dunlop, most plays in Grahamstown were the products of co-operation between white directors and black experience. Nevertheless, my point about the truth of the liberated zone, where the bare sign can generate its emotional justification, is summarised in Barry Ronge's comparison of the plays Strider and Township Boy. I want to quote Ronge at some length, for it is interesting, in our state of emergency, to see a critic who obviously loves the theatricality of the theatre struggling with his own moral priorities (several other responses to the same issue are recorded in the notes): 72

Two plays . . . Strider and Township Boy define the central issue concerning relevant theatre in South Africa right now, and while both must be seen for their own innate merits, I cannot resist a comparison.

I have an entirely schizophrenic reaction to Strider . . . I loved its pure theatricality . . . The play is a fable in which all the actors play animals, and the story revolves around a piebald horse, Strider, played by Marius Weyers.

Marius Weyers, of course, is in a class of his own, and as a display of acting brilliance this ranks with his best.

That brings me, however, to the play itself, about which I am far less certain. Here is a piebald horse, neither black nor white, who cannot find a place in society. Who finds structures of prejudice and class distinction which oppose and limit him, and against which he must struggle to be free. The play is a parable with a political point that is particularly apt right now, or so it seems.  I must confess I could not make that connection very forcefully, although I admit I might be at fault. I wonder whether a fable, aiming at a simple and sincere statement of a universal truth, does not seem a little arch and academic in the context of SA in 1987.

I am aware that by saying this I am shifting my focus from the play as such, to the situation in which it is performed, and to review a political context is not fair comment on the play. But all the same, the play's message does seek to engage the topical realities of race prejudice, class inequality and a freedom struggle, and I don't know that a lyrical beast epic is the way to do it. I admire the intention to universalise the issues we face, and I was thrilled by the theatrical success achieved, but nothing I could do could make my schizophrenia about the piece go away.

It returned even more forcibly when, on the very next night, I saw Township Boy, which dives head first into the political melting pot, and emerges with a passionately partisan bias, which also makes good theatrical sense. The hero is one of the township comrades, a poet and musician, whose life is narrated by his friends and family at his funeral. The experience is bitingly real. The smells and sounds of township life - so alien to whites - become palpable, and the characters emerge not as political mouthpieces but as real people.

The play's final message is that the comrades are right, that the whites are wrong, and even though it left me feeling like a guilty white bastard, on another level I was exhilarated by the theatrical force of it all. 73

 

Where has all this taken us? To an endorsement of the surface images of political struggle. To the power of fact to generate resonance. To the authority of the writer as activist. To the recognition that a context can decisively shape our aesthetic appreciations and that the question of art's endurance beyond the living moment might be rendered nugatory by the urgent need of an oppositional code of value. Were I a comrade I would feel that I had by now made my point. Life in a state of emergency has its own priorities, and imaginative expression must first and foremost serve the charting of a new ‘people's culture'. Were I a leader of the UDF or NUM (National Union of Mineworkers) I might be willing to suspend my ill-ease about the propensity of slogans and insignia to erase the other side of the story (something useful to understand when negotiating with, for example, the bosses of the Chamber of Mines). As a necessary act of resistance, I would be prepared to validate the images of confrontation. As a white academic, I might also be tempted to stop at this point. To pose the challenge of contextualised ‘art' to the still largely European literary certainties of our English departments could in itself be beneficial. My argument, however, is meant to carry considerable personal conviction. I need to confront, with considerable difficulty, my own residual belief/delusion - concerning the capacity of art to explore the individual's humanity in all its complexity, not only to communicate the ‘correct' vision of the mass movement. Briefly, therefore, I want to return to a consideration of Lionel Abrahams' zone of imaginative possibility.

Serious arguments could no doubt be advanced against the rhetoric and signs of solidarity, especially as reason and analysis are likely to suffer at the expense of emotion. From somewhat different standpoints, both Abrahams and Ndebele have questioned whether truth may best be served by the graphic depiction.74 Standing before the poster of the hangman's nooses which I described earlier is the nephew of Wellington Mielies. He is addressing a sympathetic audience and making a highly charged plea for the sparing of the lives of Mielies and Moses Jantjies, not on principles of humanitarianism but on the grounds that the two were ‘activists'. Neither Mielies nor Jantjies, however, revealed a politicised understanding of the events that surrounded him. As part of a mob that necklaced a so-called collaborator (a KwaNobuhle councillor), the two were certainly victims of the ignorance, poverty and oppression of apartheid. But, unless we allow the argument that the state is sufficiently stupid to declare war indiscriminately on the entire black population, Mielies and Jantjies were not activists.75 If the symbols of resistance can encourage the psychosis of the group, we will need to live in constant fear of the skewed swastikas of the AWB (Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging).

Several writers have, in the 1980s, produced work which has expressly or implicitly questioned the adequacy of mimetic relationships between collective action and the creativity of imaginative response. Besides Abrahams and Ndebele, there are, among others, Christopher Hope, Stephen Gray, Sheila Roberts, John Conyngham, Francis Faller, Moteane Melamu, Zakes Mda, Farouk Asvat, Douglas Reid Skinner and Stephen Watson. (Like Ndebele, the last three mentioned here have offered critical justifications of their positions.)76 As Ndebele attempts to connect the ‘charterist' aims of the Congress of South African Writers to his own depictions of the variety of the ‘people's lives', and as Asvat talks of poetry ‘embedded in a collective experience, which is broader than any ideological faction or party',77 Reid Skinner and Watson indicate the relatively privileged space that, as whites, they feel able to contemplate. In asserting the continuing need of poetry to touch individual life, in its loves, joys and pains, they have both tended to utilise for their own purposes the defence of relative autonomy of imagination as offered by those east European writers who, when faced with socialist uniformity, sought once again to sing of roses. As Czeslaw Milosz has said, ‘Whoever invokes genocide, starvation, or the physical suffering of our fellow men in order to attack poems or paintings practises demagoguery. It is doubtful whether mankind would gain anything if poets stopped writing idyllic poems or painters stopped painting brightly coloured pictures just because there is too much suffering on the earth . . .'78 With Watson referring frequently to Milosz, this is a persuasive argument in favour of literary and, by implication, social tolerance. As both are in short supply in South Africa today, Abrahams' zone of imaginative possibility, contextualised with in our time and place, could be allowed to emerge in vital and necessary counterpoint to the confrontational image. At the same time, however, the Gramscian zone, in the name of a larger social justice, demands to be occupied with all the tenacity of the guerrilla. In a state of emergency such alternatives are more difficult than the arguments of Reid Skinner and Watson seem willing to acknowledge. For one, there is only limited value in invoking, as Watson does, the example of Milosz as a poet who, despite authoritarianism, has continued to defend semi-autonomous territory for the high art of poetry. We need to remember that the Polish, Hungarian, Czech or East German poet is the heir to a centuries-old culture which, by virtue of its indigenous growth, has remained creatively adaptable to the changed socio-political circumstances of the present day. (Interestingly, Qabula, in ‘Praise Poem to FOSATU', also has access - or, at least, limited access - to his own traditions which he proceeds to inject with new socialist content.) Watson and Reid Skinner as English-speaking South Africans, on the other hand, tend to become trapped in a latter-day ‘colonialism' (as ‘colonists who refuse') by always wanting to dig more than the local soil for their roots while searching desperately for new ‘international' dependencies. Watson may see this as a check on a ‘kind of chauvinism, a turning away (as in the 1970s) from the outside world which, in the long term can only have been damaging'.7980 In our highly specific context the ‘international correlative' can very easily manifest itself in a remoteness from the cutting-edge of this country. A critic has already noted that Francis Faller's South African urban landscape, in his volume Weather Words, harks back to Baudelaire's ‘city of solitudes',81 and in reviewing In This City Kelwyn Sole, rightly I think, finds it necessary to set Watson's ‘great longings and bleak lusts' in a literary and social dialogue with other, more politically central concerns.82 Nevertheless, instead of regarding his own particular ‘touchstones' as a measure of all poetic value, he should be prepared to engage with the challenge of regional constraints upon kinds of expression and attend to what Fugard said before the ‘outside world' had for extended periods begun to keep him away from the Eastern Cape: ‘If there have been "universals" in my writing they have had to look after themselves. I concern myself with "specifics". When the fire-blackened paraffin tin or Boesman's flea-ridden mattress, or the mud between Lena's toes means something to me, things might start to happen.'

Of course, the very notion of difficult dialogue is itself a valuable consequence of Abrahams' imaginative zone; and Cronin's somewhat cavalier dismissal of the ‘high and the deep' in poetry could be seen as a disturbing portent of a future intolerance of any opposition to current oppositional images. (We read of a UDF ‘Culture Desk' which alms to advise the ANC on the approval or boycott of writers, artists and musicians.) To set the ‘non-politicised' imagination in debate with the image-maker of confrontation is not utterly to dismiss the one or the other, but to recognise human and social life as diverse and even, sometimes, contradictory. (Can the crane driver, Abrahams might say, not have his romantic dreams - as a goal-scorer for Kaiser Chiefs - even as he shouts Amandla, Ngawethu?) Similarly, in looking at literature of the past or near-past, we may want to acknowledge that the pressures of an increasingly political perception have begun to intrude upon earlier texts, and to retain a contemporary focus on activism and art, without necessarily denigrating what at the time seemed to be different liberations. When I wrote a study on Douglas Livingstone83 in 1978, for example, it seemed important, given the critical neglect of South African writers, to try and define both the ‘South Africanness' and the ‘internationalism' of his poetry. In recent years, I realise that I have tended to return, most often with renewed interest, to the complicated position Livingstone has occupied as a poet of this country. Hence his poem ‘Under Capricorn' (1978),84 which grapples with conflicting ‘Western' and ‘African' intimations of social and literary predominance, may be set in dialogue and debate with Gwala's ‘Getting off the Ride';85 or, in the case of ‘Sonatina of Peter Govender, Beached',86 we might want to explore dialectical relationships between the social base of Livingstone's old Indian fisherman and his attempts to mythologise and universalise his own experiences (‘Contempt for death is the hard won/Ultimate, the only freedom'). Such an investigation would address, as its central question, the peculiar problems and possibilities of poetry by a ‘white African' (to use Livingstone's own description of himself). What authority does Livingstone, a crafter of artefacts, retain as a shaper of vision? What authority has been wrested from him by social discourses on literature and morality? How may the context of a state of emergency in the 1980s force modifications on our reception of literary works written at different phases of our socio-literary life? If such an approach is to avoid contraction into its own narrow circle, where works outside of the critic's own preferred culture-model are only allowed to confirm their ideological or imaginative constrictions, we will need to subject the Cronin-Abrahams dichotomy (the high of the crane driver/the high of the mystical dreamer) to continuing qualification and elaboration.

In ‘Time Has Run Out' (1980)87 Serote, in what can only be described as a noble struggle, attempted to intrude himself, as a racial entity, on to a socio-economic landscape. He sought to discard his own lyric voice in favour of the demand, increasingly articulated in the late 1970s, that his response become organisational as opposed to psychological. The poem marks Serote's departure from the BC-in-exile and his joining of the ANC, and he recently justified his shift of allegiance as a legitimate consequence of the ‘unfolding and rich history of resistance'.88 Yet his latest poem A Tough Tale89 reveals a strangely sad reversion, in literary terms, to an earlier language of sentiment. Intruding on Serote's texts is the story of Serote the human being: a witness and participant in almost twenty years of dramatic history and change. In order to do him justice as a figure in our society we will also have to do justice to his poetry as the evolution of a perception and style. It will require an understanding which goes beyond the assertions by liberal-Marxist academics as to the superior ‘truth' of worker-consciousness and class analysis. We can acknowledge, certainly, that the surface images of an oppositional culture are currently providing a yardstick of value, in that they communicate an almost heroic confidence in tying imaginative expression to issues which are of crucial concern to the majority of South Africans. At the same time, however, we will need to enter the gradations of human pursuit (what Ndebele calls the ‘minute essences'),90 where the ‘approved' response may clash with real life complexity. In responding to Serote the activist and the writer, we should be prepared to be as sensitively alert to the zone of imaginative possibilities as to that of the liberation struggle.91 (1987)

As I was trying to find a pithy conclusion to this essay, I realised that I had no pithy conclusion to offer, but that I too had been involved in a process rather than being able to present the ‘achieved product'. At the time I read in the leading article in The Star (9 September 1987) that nine actors in Gibson Kente's play Sekunjalo (The Hour Has Come) had been locked up after a performance. The play, which warns against the one-party socialist state of the future that will want total power, was given a central billing at the National Arts Festival, the only ‘black play' not to operate on the fringe. In Bisho it was banned; whatever the reasons of the local magistrate, the rumours were that the comrades would take action against what they interpreted to be Kente's reactionary, pro-capitalist propaganda. Yet after a performance in Ikageng, near Potchefstroom, the cast was detained (and released only a few weeks later) by our pro-capitalist authorities. The only explanation, said The Star, can be that ‘officialdom has gone mad'. In attacking the present essay, prior to its appearance in print, the editor of New Coin seems to think that I, too, have gone mad and want to chuck ‘Europe' off the face of Africa.92 Perhaps, in such a climate, the literary critic needs a particularly cool head. Perhaps, however, partisanship, the hypothesis offered as a challenge, even the ploy of the devil's advocate are all necessary as we searchingly continue to examine the possibilities of imaginative expression in an overwhelming social context.

(1987)

Notes

1.     African National Congress; United Democratic Front; Congress of South African Trade Unions.

2.     Johannesburg: Ravan Press. (Nadine Gordimer writes in the Preface: ‘Ellen Kuzwayo is history in the person of one woman. Fortunately, although she is not a writer, she has the memory and the gift of unselfconscious expression that enables her to tell her story as no one else could.')

3.     Johannesburg: Ravan Worker Series. (In the Preface Tom says: ‘1 would like to thank the Technology Advice Group (TAG), who came to the Vaal Triangle in 1983 to do research into health and safety. If not for this visit I would probably never have met Judy Maller who interviewed me about my life and past experiences in trade unionism. Before I met Judy 1 didn't think I could write a book.  I hope this book will be a valuable contribution to the workers' struggle, and that other workers will be encouraged to come forward and write their own books which will tell their own stories.')

4.     Johannesburg: Seritisa Sechaba Publishers. (In her Foreword Makoena writes:

‘As a black married woman, I suffered just as most women who live in semi- traditional style... I have not known myself as a "poet" until I did philosophy of Education (B.Ed) in 1981.')

5.     Johannesburg: Ad. Donker. As the winner of the 1986 A A Mutual Life/Ad. Donker Literary Award, Asvat's poetry is described in the blurb as ‘a powerful, impassioned call. The sanity and courage of this collection arises from the poet's unique experiential perceptions of his milieu, making him one of the few who can write about these traumatic times with such lucidity and lyricism.'

6.     For details of the New Black Poetry of the 1970s see Michael Chapman ed. Soweto Poetry (Johannesburg: McGraw-Hill Southern African Literature Series, 1982).

7.     Sounds of a Cowhide Drum (Johannesburg: Renoster Books, 1971; Ad. Donker, 1982), p.79.

8.     Yakhal 'inkomo (Johannesburg: Renoster Books, 1972), p.12.

9.     Yakhal'inkomo, p.16.

10.   South African Students Organisation.

11.   Johannesburg: Sprocas-Ravan, 1972.

12.   Pietermaritzburg: Shuter and Shooter, 1980.

13.   Ingoapele Madingoane's ‘oral' epic ‘black trial' was banned for possession in its text-form, africa my beginning (Johannesburg: Ravan Press, 1979). The text is no longer proscribed.

14.   See the collection of stories Call Me Not a Man (Johannesburg: Ravan Press, 1979).

15.   Johannesburg: Ravan Press, n.d.

16.   See Cronin's review ‘Poetry: An Elitist Pastime Finds Mass Roots', Weekly Mail, Johannesburg (13-19 March 1987) and replies by Abrahams and Farouk Asvat (3-9 April 1987). See, further, Cronin's reply to Abrahams (16-23 April 1987) and Kelwyn Sole's letter (30 April -7 May 1987).

17.   Black Mamba Rising: South African Worker Poets in Struggle. Alfred Temba Qabula, Mi S'Dumo Hlatswayo and Nise Malange, ed. Ari Sitas (Durban: Worker Resistance and Culture Publications, 1986).

18.   Weekly Mail (16-23 April 1987).

19.   Johannesburg: Ad. Donker, 1984.

20.   Weekly Mail (13-19 March 1987).

21.   Other events of particular interest at the Festival of History and Culture included Factory Vrouens - die waarlike lewe van die werkende klas vrou, a play compiled from plays and poetry written in the l930s and 1940s by garment workers; Mamela, a medley of gumboot dances, poetry and music by Jeremiah Mofokeng and the Youth Alivers: Kliptown a film made by Tyrone Mtoba on the place where he grew up; and readings of Bheki Maseko's short story ‘Those Were the Days' (published in Staffrider, Johannesburg, Vol.6, No.2 (1985)), and Petrus Tom's My Life Struggle (Johannesburg: Ravan Worker Series, 1985).

22.   At the COSATU Culture Day five venues with non-stop performances were needed to accommodate the 20 plays, 27 poets, 16 choirs and six dance groups. Nise Malange, General Workers Union Organiser, explained that ‘workers are growing cultural energy. At first they thought they were doing this for fun. Now they see that a message can be brought to people through plays.' Mi Hlatswayo, COSATU's Cultural Co-ordinator, added that ‘creativity without a base, without direction, without the support of a democratic movement, is easily manoeuvred into commercial art. In some centres, Durban, Howick and Pinetown, "locals" have been set up, cultural bodies that parallel the shop stewards' structures.' It was a statement issued in 1985 by the Durban Workers Cultural Local which provided the overall ‘theme' of the Culture Day: ‘We have been culturally exploited time and time again: we have been singing, parading, boxing, acting and writing within a system we did not control. So far, black workers have been feeding all their creativity into a culture machine to make huge profits for others. Worker creators are promised heaven on earth and hoards of gold - from pennywhistle bands to mbaqanga musicians, from soccer players to talented actors. They were taken from us, from their communities, to be chewed up in the machine's teeth. Then. . . they spat out - an empty husk, hoboes for us to nurse. This makes us say it is time to begin controlling our creativity.' (See John Perlman's report on the COSATU Culture Day, ‘From the Assembly Lines to the Stage', Weekly Mail, 17-23 July 1987.)

23.   Weekly Mail (13-19 March 1987).

24.   Johannesburg: Ravan Press, 1983. See my review ‘Skilfully Conceived Arte facts', English Academy Review No.2, Johannesburg (1984).

25.   See Antonio Gramsci, Selections from Prison Notebooks (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1971).

26.   See, translated into English, ‘Praise Poem to FOSATU' in Black Mamba Rising, p.9, and, with different line divisions, in Michael Chapman ed. The Paperbook of South African English Poetry (Johannesburg: Ad. Donker, 1986), p.29. Qabula has not only recited his poetry to worker gatherings, but has already been ‘taken up' by literary circles. When Dunlop, in Durban, refused to grant him leave in 1987 to attend a literary conference in France, Qabula resigned his job as a fork-lift driver.

27.   COSATU Culture Day (Johannesburg, 18 July 1987).

28.   After a series of strikes around an alleged conspiracy between management and the Inkatha-aligned United Workers Union of South Africa (UWUSA), 168 workers (members of the Food and Allied Workers Union) were in July 1986 dismissed by Clover. In October 1987 the long-standing dispute, which saw a boycott of Clover products, was resolved when, after a lengthy court hearing, Clover agreed to pay the dismissed workers R200 000 in severance pay and to drop all charges against FAWU arising from the dispute.

29.   COSATU Culture Day (Johannesburg, 18 July 1987). On the use of videos (‘praise singers fade into union poets, slapstick from Qonda - a vigilante play - intercut right-wing vigilantes in Natal') Hlatswayo says: ‘It's portable, it's easy to carry, it can be made by the workers and they are able to comment on it before the final version is edited.' Christina Scott, ‘The Working Class goes Hi-Tech', Weekly Mail (4-10 December 1987).

30.   ‘Culture and Production: The Contradictions of Working Class Theatre in South Africa', Africa Perspective, New Series, Johannesburg, Vol.1, Nos 1 and 2 (1986).

31.   See Ari Sitas' article in note 30, above.

32.   Johannesburg: Ad. Donker, 1986. See the review ‘Poetry for the Martyrs', New Nation, Johannesburg (2-8 April 1987): ‘this book shows that there is a rising tide which cannot, and never will, be stemmed by bullets, jails, bannings or detentions'.

33.   ‘Black Consciousness and the Quest for a True Humanity', One Day in June (Johannesburg: Ad. Donker, 1986), p.25.

34.   ‘in memoriam: June 16, 1976' and ‘baptism of fire', One Day in June, pp.120 and 121.

35.   ‘Poem Written on Death Row', One Day in June, p.l23.

36.   Shifty Records, 1986.

37.   Jol'iinkomo (Johannesburg: Ad. Donker, 1977), p.60.

38.   ‘Die Lang Man', Bits, Johannesburg (March 1987).

39.   New Nation (23-29 July 1987). See also ‘Talking about the Cultural Boycott' (interview with Mbuli), New Nation (12-18 November 1987).

40.   See ‘Turkish Tales and Some Thoughts on South African Fiction', Staffrider, Vol.6, No.1 (1984) and ‘The Rediscovery of the Ordinary: Some New Writings in South Africa', Journal of Southern African Studies, Oxford, Vol.12, No.2 (April 1986).

41.   ‘The Conversion', Staffrider, Vol.2, No.4 (1979).

42.   ‘Man against Himself', Staffrider, Vol.2, No.4 (1979). ‘My Lifestyle', Staffrider, Vol.3, No.1 (1980) and ‘Life at Home', Staffrider, Vol.6, No.4 (1987).

43.   ‘Mximbithi' and ‘The Digger's Closing Day', Staffrider, Vol.4, No.2 (1981), ‘Mamlambo', Staffrider, Vol.5, No.1 (1982), ‘The Night of the Long Knives', Staffrider, Vol.5, No.3 (1983) and ‘Those Were the Days', Staffrider, Vol. 6, No.2 (1985).

44.   ‘The Rediscovery of the Ordinary', p.152.

45.   ‘Turkish Tales', p.46.

46.   ‘The Rediscovery of the Ordinary', p.l53.

47.   ‘The Rediscovery of the Ordinary', p.153.

48.   Fools and Other Stories (Johannesburg: Ravan Press, 1983). See Melanie Donald's review ‘Some Thoughts on Fools', in which she sees Ndebele's ‘greatest achievement' as ‘his larger humanity which is precisely what makes his stories real tales and not political statements merely'. Donald simultaneously feels the need to defend Ndebele against the possible charge that he does not stretch his ‘large humanity' to whites. (Staffrider, Vol.6, No.3, 1986, p.19).

49.   See Abrahams' article ‘Running On: Down with English', Sesame, Johannesburg, No.8 (Summer 1986/87).

50.   Call Me Not a Man (Johannesburg: Ravan Press, 1979).

51.   See the response in Youth Express (Cape Town: Grassroots Publications, 1987) to the political funeral: ‘Some of the poems in this chapter are on funerals:

1) Why have funerals become such an important means of protest?;

2) Why do you think the South African government has placed so many controls on the funerals of people who have died in the struggle?; Write a description of a funeral for a victim of police bullets. Try to recall all the things you heard, smelt, saw and felt; Write an epitaph or tribute that will be read out at the funeral.' (p.1)

52.   See Glen Shelton's report, ‘The Silences Are Broken with Fierce Controversy', Weekly Mail (5-11 September 1986).

53.   3-9 September 1987.

54. On the recommendation of the Directorate of Media Relations (which was established in August 1987 to monitor newspapers which fall outside the scope of the Media Council) the Minister of Home Affairs, Mr Stoffel Botha, informed New Nation of the government's intention to take action against the newspaper. A series of three editions - dated, 27 August-2 September; 3-9 September; and 17-23 September - were found to be ‘a threat to the maintenance of public order'. The action gave New Nation fourteen days to make representations before the Minister may gazette a warning to the newspaper. Should he then find another issue still continuing to be a ‘threat', he may without further warning prohibit the publication for a period of three months.

Some of the reasons for the intended action against the newspaper were reported in the editorial column (8-14 October 1987):

After studying a series of three copies of the newspaper, the authorities have found that a report which called for the lifting of the ban on the Congress of SA Students (Cosas); a photograph depicting the ‘Save the 31 Patriots' banner; a poem entitled ‘To My Son' and the launching of the Western Cape's ‘Save the 32' campaign ‘have the effect of fanning revolution or uprising or are aimed at the overthrow of the government by other than constitutional means.

A double-page advert entitled ‘Remember Rivonia and Save the 32 Patriots'; a report on the NECC conference entitled ‘Crisis after Crisis'; a review on the rightist play entitled ‘Crazed Omie Is Reality of SA'; a report on ending the post office strike entitled ‘Victory for Potwa' (in so far as it refers to police action) and two reports referring to claims that police appear ‘unwilling' to act on the ‘break in' of COSATU offices and the Hambanathi community gripped by fear of being attacked by vigilantes.

There is also reference to reports of a religious nature like an advertisement by a German Catholic Church group urging the ‘abolishing of torture' throughout SA; a report by a church youth division director on the ‘security action' in the country; a caption on a picture of ANC president Oliver Tambo; a report on an ANC women's ‘major conference'; a report on the striking miners' response to an offer which mentions the SA Communist Party; an ANC comment on the story on ‘Sellouts offered New IDs' in Swaziland and another ANC comment on the country's National Statutory Council.

Some of these reports are seen as ‘having the effect of promoting the image of unlawful organisations, the ANC and SACP, and others seen as stirring racial hostility towards the Afrikaans community'.

Despite its representations New Nation has been ‘gazetted' along with South, Work in Progress and Die Stem. First warnings have been issued to The Sowetan and the Weekly Mail.

[New Nation was subsequently ‘banned' for three months.]

55.   Cape Town: David Philip, 1983.

56.   See note 54 above.

57.   At the opening of the ECC's Art for Peace Exhibition (Baxter Theatre, Cape Town, 1985), Eve Bertelsen posed the question: ‘What is the role of the humane artist in a situation of oppression and low-key civil war? Where, of 3 227 people detained in the state of emergency, 1 988 are still being held incommunicado and without charge; where the average daily prison population for 1984-85 is 107 946, at a daily cost to the state of R1 million; where 700 children in Soweto are arrested for refusing to enter their classrooms from which they have been locked out; and where cartoons in the press send fond messages of ‘vasbyt' to Boetie on the Border in Athlone; while SATV opts for a complete news blockout and fills their disaster slot with airplane crashes.'

Of the 90 art works by 28 Cape Town artists on display, Rose Korber comments particularly on Paul Grendon's monumental 10-metre-wide mural painted on masonite to simulate a tapestry. ‘Symbols and icons abound. There is a huge coffin, for example, containing a mummified corpse wrapped in chains and in strips of the South African flag, while the flag and anthem themes recur throughout in the use of colour and in the way the words "Die Stem" appear in ribbon that twists across the entire top of the mural?' She is particularly stuck by Manfred Zylla's ‘incisive, often brilliant satires on the South African situation. There are two masterful drawings from the "Boys on the Border" series. Particularly memorable is the one of the soldier (depicted as if in a distorting mirror) with the face of a baby and a dummy in his mouth, booties rather than boots on his feet.' (See ‘Portrait of the Artist in a State of Unrest', Weekly Mail, 1-l0 October 1985.)

At about the same time it was reported in the Sunday Times that Vera Johns Sutherland, Miss South Africa in 1975, was to be seen in the leading role in a locally-made high-adventure film, ‘The Hit Team'. ‘It will be an action-packed, often gory adventure set in Mozambique where an aircraft carrying a group of beautiful, wealthy women to a jet-set health resort has crashed. The distraught husbands cannot get government help to rescue their wives, so they hire a Rambo-type figure, local actor Charles Segal, to go into the Mozambique bush and get them. ‘I'm one of the wealthy wives who survives the crash, and is abducted by a group of terrorists', Vera said this week at her husband's farm near Mooi River.

58.   Special Issue of TriQuarterly 69 (Evanston: Northwestern University, Spring/ Summer 1987).

59.   Cronin released a pamphlet bomb, the pamphlets being regarded by the court as revolutionary. He completed a seven-year sentence in 1983, shortly before the publication of his volume of poems Inside.

60.   See note 26 above.

61. London: André Deutsch; Cape Town: David Philip. See Malvern van Wyk Smith's review of Stephen Clingman's study of Gordimer, English in Africa, Grahamstown, Vol.14, No.2 (1987).

62.   South African premiere at the National Arts Festival (Grahamstown, 7-Il July 1987).

63.   Prior to his appearance at the National Arts Festival (Grahamstown) Fugard had spent a lengthy and continuous spell at Yale University.

64.   Cue, Crahamstown, No.8 (10 July 1987).

65.   Cue, No.8 (10 July 1987).

66.   English Academy Review No.4, Johannesburg (1986).

67.   London: Secker and Warburg, 1986; Johannesburg: Ravan Press, 1986. See Tony Morphet's ‘Two interviews with J.M. Coetzee, 1983 and 1987', From South Africa: New Writing, Photographs and Art, Special Issue of TriQuarterly 69, and Coetzee's comments on the novel being colonised by history, which seem to reinforce my sense of Foe seeking to convert history as ‘life-experience' into history as ‘discourse', ‘Coetzee and the Cockroach which can't be killed', Weekly Mail (13-19 November 1987).

68.   Paper delivered at the plenary session on South African academics and the academic boycott, AUETSA, Rhodes University (7-11 July 1987).

69.   COSAW agreed to align itself with decisions taken by the UDF and other progressive organisations. Njabulo Ndebele was elected president and office- bearers include Mzwakhe Mbuli and Mewa Ramgobin. Patrons include the gaoled ANC leader Govan Mbeki, the detained editor of New Nation Zwelakhe Sisulu, gaoled poet and painter Dikobe wa Mogale, Dennis Brutus, Nadine Gordimer, Mongane Serote and Jeremy Cronin. The Congress initiated an annual Alex La Guma Literary Award, ‘in honour of the ANC author-activist who died in 1985 in exile in Cuba'. Mrs Albertina Sisulu delivered, in a message, a blistering attack on the sort of collaboration between black South African musicians and Paul Simon which resulted in the commercialisation, in Gracelands, of African pain and talent.

70.   See critical commentary in note 72 below.

71.   See critical commentary in note 72 below.

72,   Some of the debate on ‘art' and ‘politics' at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown (7-11 July 1987) is recorded here. ‘. . .there is a vast difference between sloganising and dramatising. Wouldn't it be much cheaper, and perhaps more effective to hand out pamphlets instead . . . A non-South African play, Tolstoy's Strider, makes the most powerful statement of all the drama works at the festival. It is a work of the most marvellous subtlety, yet bold and uncompromising.' ‘It's All Viva and No Drama!', New Nation (16-22 July 1987); ‘What was extremely problematic, however, was how cultural works tend to respond to the challenge (that culture does not exist in a vacuum). Many of the works, unfortunately, did not go beyond raising clenched fists.' ‘What Can Art Do about Freedom?', New Nation (23-29 July 1987); ‘Aluta Continua is not only a reflection of its society, but offers that society a direction to follow . . . That it was also good theatre was a bonus, but not the point. It was unconfused and inspirational and critics who accuse it of simplistic rhetoric are judging it by a set of formal standards that don't apply to this type of play . . . An interesting counterpart to Aluta ContinuaThe Fantastical History of a Useless Man. Gerard, our latter-day useless man, having been well and truly abused by the history of his forefathers, his national Christian education, his separation from the majority of his countrymen and the political futility of his university environment, decides he is just that: Useless. At the risk of making dangerous generalisations, these two productions roughly sum up the polarisation inherent in the "white" and "black" productions at the festival. The "white" productions often having to fall back on the classics or the absurdists to make their "relevant" points (Alfred Jarry's Ubu Roi, Anatomie Titus - Fall of Rome, an adaptation of Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus); the "black" productions employing straightforward agit-prop.' Charlotte Bauer and Jeremy Bernstein, ‘The Critics Hated It. So Did the Court', Weekly MailUbu Roi came as a refreshing intervention when the freedom songs and devotionals employed by groups like the Cape Flats Players in Aluta Continua, were reduced to their most basic phonetic components, forming ideological war-cries ... It was only in works like John Ledwaba and Christo Leach's Township BoyWeekly Mail (17-23 July 1987); ‘And what are the confessions for? What are our crimes? They are graphically clear. Within the first four days I saw the following on stage - shown with varying degrees of skill, authenticity and panache: electric shocks given to the fingers, electric shocks given to the ears, torture by standing on bricks, cleaning a floor with a tongue, squeezing of the testes, suffocation by immersion in a bucket of water (twice), threatened emasculation, mock execution with a gun/penis in the mouth, severing of hands (twice) and cutting out of the tongue. The effect was of a mass generalised confession. .. This mass voiding of the body corporate, this rictus of purgings, vomitings and abasements floods across the footlights and drenches the audience. They are variously confessor, accused, judge or potential comrade in arms.' William Kentridge, ‘What's Said in Grahamstown Is Unspeakable Elsewhere', Weekly MailTownship Boy (National Arts Festival, 7-11 July 1987). was the Wits University production of (10-16 July 1987); ‘It was in the theatre that the inherent dangers of all too quickly and uncritically adopting nifty symbols and handy homilies by way of convenient iconological shorthand was highlighted . . . CAPAB's brilliant resurrection of the absurdist classic that this unhappy mix of politics and art would fuse into a moving and resonant work of art.' Kathy Berman, ‘To See; To Be Seen; To Be Seen Seeing', (17-23 July 1987); ‘I thought of the state of emergency and the role of the theatre. Specifically here. And the play as a vessel of truth: human waste: death. We did not have much of a choice in telling this story since it demanded to be told.' Christo Leach, Programme Notes to

73.   Sunday Times, Johannesburg (26 July 1987).

74.   See, above, notes 16 and 49, and note 40, respectively.

75.   ‘Six hours before this photograph was taken, this man's nephew, Wellington Mielies, was alive. Now he is dead - hanged, along with fellow activist Moses Jantjies early on Tuesday morning. The battle is now on to save the 31 other activists presently on Death Row - and one of the people prepared to back it is Mielies' uncle, Ben de Booi, who addressed the memorial service at Khotso House in Johannesburg on Tuesday', caption to the photograph, New Nation (23-29 July 1987).

76.   See Asvat's contribution to the ‘Cronin-Abrahams' debate, letter to Weekly Mail (3-9 April 1987) and ‘The Doctor Prescribes' (interview by Francis Faller), Tribute, Johannesburg (October 1987); Reid Skinner's radio programmes ‘The Contemporary Muse' (Radio South Africa, Sundays 18h20, September, October 1987) and his Editorial Notes, Upstream, Cape Town, Vol No.3 (1987); and Watson's ‘Palefaces - A Comment on White English South African Poetry of the Seventies', Work in Progress, Johannesburg, No.5 (1978), ‘Recent White South African Poetry and the Language of Liberation', Standpunte, Cape Town, No.61 (1986), ‘Sydney Clouts and the Limits of Romanticism', paper delivered to the Seminar of the Centre for African Studies, UCT (4June 1986) and ‘Shock of the Old: What's Become of "Black" Poetry?', Upstream, Vol.5, No.2 (1987).

77.   ‘The Doctor Prescribes', p.123.

78.   The Witness of Poetry (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1983), pp.68-69.

79.   ‘Shock of the Old: What's Become of "Black" Poetry?', p.23

80.   CAPAB-PACT-Phoenix Programme Notes with Phoenix Players Production of People Are Living There and Boesman and Lena (late 1969).

81.   Cecily Lockett, ‘Poems of Our Climate: Review of Francis Faller's Weather WordsNew Coin Poetry, Grahamstown, Vol.23, No.1 (June 1987). (Johannesburg: Ad. Donker, 1986)',

82.   ‘Great Longings, Bleak Lusts: Stephen Watson's In This City' (Cape Town: David Philip, 1986), English Academy Review No.4 (1986). See also ‘The Shock of the Old?: More likely Nostalgia for the Past', Upstream, Vol.5, No.4 (Spring 1987).

83.   Douglas Livingstone: A Critical Study of his Poetry (Johannesburg: Ad. Donker, 1981).

84.   The Anvil's Undertone (Johannesburg: Ad. Donker, 1978), p.43.

85.   See my article ‘Literary Studies in South Africa: Contexts of Value and Belief', English Academy Review No.3 (1985), pp.156-58.

86.   The Anvil's Undertone, p.39.

87.   The Paperbook of South African English Poetry, ed. Michael Chapman (Johannesburg: Ad. Don 1986), p.168.

88.   ‘Ten Years After: Steve Biko', New Nation (10-16 September 1987).

89.   London: Kliptown Books, 1987.

90.   ‘The Rediscovery of the Ordinary', p.150.

91.   In this respect, Julia Martin makes the pertinent observation that Farouk Asvat's ‘distrust of rhetorical formulas produces a language that is capable of interrogating the dreams and slogans of the revolution', Upstream, Vol.5, No.4 (Spring 1987), p.45. And in reviewing Saira Essa's play You Can't Stop the Revolution, the New Nation is compelled to say that ‘although the opening night audience was with the cast all the way . . . to the triumphant chorus of Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika', revolution ‘is not simply about retribution. It is also about self-exploration and criticism, and the transformation of an existing situation through this process. Saira's production does not explore, question or transform'. ‘Bliss after the Revolution?', New Nation (26 November - 2 December 1987).

92.   David Bunyan, ‘Editorial. Tradition in a State of Emergency', New Coin Poetry, Grahamstown, Vol.2 No.2 (December 1987). See also Douglas Reid Skinner's ‘Editorial Notes', Upstream, Vol.5, No.3 (Winter 1987).

 

 
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