Against Normalization: Writing Radical Democracy in South Africa 0822325527, 9780822325529

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Against Normalization: Writing Radical Democracy in South Africa
 0822325527, 9780822325529

Table of contents :
Contents
Acknowledgments
Introduction: Normalization or Radical Democracy
One: Radical Democracy and the Electoral Sublime
Two: Njabulo Ndebele and Radical-Democratic Culture
Three: Against Normalization: Cultural Identity from Below
Four: Staging Whiteness: Beckett, Havel, Maponya
Five: Locations of Feminism: Ingrid de Kok's Familiar Ground
Six: No Turning Back: Nise Malange and the Onset of Workers' Culture
Seven: Lines of Flight: Bessie Head, Arthur Nortje, Dambudzo Marechera
Epilogue: Post-Apartheid Narratives: "The House Gun and Fools"
Notes
Bibliography
Index

Citation preview

against normalization

post-contemporary interventions

Series Editors: Stanley Fish and Fredric Jameson

against normalization Writing Radical Democracy in South Africa duke university press

Anthony O’Brien

durham & lond on 2001

© 2001 Duke University Press All rights reserved Printed in the United States of America on acid-free paper  Typeset in Quadraat by Tseng Information Systems, Inc. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data appear on the last printed page of this book.

t o bb,

χρύσω χρύσοτέρα and f or my children

contents ix

acknowledgments

1

introduction

Normalization or Radical Democracy

9

one

Radical Democracy and the Electoral Sublime

36

two

Njabulo Ndebele and Radical-Democratic Culture

76

three

103

four

133

five Locations of Feminism: Ingrid de Kok’s Familiar Ground

176

six No Turning Back: Nise Malange and the Onset of Workers’ Culture

215

seven Lines of Flight: Bessie Head, Arthur Nortje, Dambudzo Marechera

257

epilogue Post-Apartheid Narratives: The House Gun and Fools

281

notes

299

bibliography

325

index

Against Normalization: Cultural Identity from Below Staging Whiteness: Beckett, Havel, Maponya

acknowledgments

I would like to thank my colleagues at Queens College of the City University of New York, most warmly Charles Molesworth and Bette Weidman for many years of ‘‘the real work’’ together and for their unswerving support, and Bill Wilson for his example of the life of the intellectual; and, for their critical reading and encouragement in the early stages of this project, Ali Jimale Ahmed,Thomas Frosch, George Held, David Kleinbard, MaureenWaters, and GordonWhatley. Other Queens colleagues who have provoked and sustained the writing include the Theory Group in the English Department, especially Nancy Comley, Janice Peritz, and David Richter; the World Studies Program, especially Frederick Buell, Annabelle Sreberny-Mohammadi, and Ed Strug; and the Women’s Studies Program, especially Patricia Clough and Hester Eisenstein. For their inspiriting intellectual comradeship, thanks to June Bobb, Jonathan Buchsbaum, Gordon Campbell, Jacqueline Di Salvo, the late Melvin Dixon, Hugh English, Kimberly Flynn, Barbara Foley, Debbie Geis, Larry Hanley, bell hooks, David Kazanjian, Steven Kruger, Marilyn Neimark, Cicely Rodway, Michael Sargent, Ron Scapp, Alisa Solomon, Amy Tucker, Jyotsna Uppal, and John Weir. Many others too numerous to name at Queens and cuny had a hand in the book, and I am especially grateful to the historian Dorothy Helly and the members of her interdisciplinary faculty seminar on feminist scholar-

ship, particularly Nan Bauer Maglin, Susan O’Malley, Barbara Omolade, Nancy Romer, and Florence Tager. Finally, financial support from a series of Professional Staff Congress/cuny grants of the cuny Research Foundation made possible several trips to South Africa, Botswana, and the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London. In Africa, I have been helped by the generous learning of many scholars, beginning at the University of Dakar (as it was called then) in Senegal, with Moctar Ba and other colleagues in English, and especially Monique Seyler and her friends in the sciences, for their introduction to the landscapes and life-worlds of coastal Cap Vert and the Sahel, and their example of how intellectual rigor and passionate collectivity could be practiced by Western researchers in Africa. In Botswana I must thank Ruth Forchhammer, curator of the Bessie Head Papers at the Khama III Memorial Museum in Serowe, and the staff of the Museum, for their help and delightful companionship during a month on the edge of the Kalahari reading Bessie Head’s letters. In South Africa, my way was eased by the hospitality and critical dialogue of South African scholars to whom I am deeply grateful for an openness to a Northern researcher that overwhelmed me. At the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, Jonathan Paton, Jon Hyslop, and Karen Lazaropened manydoors and helped me understand the sedimented history of the highveld; I thank Jonathan for taking me along on a tour of rural schools in the Northern Transvaal, and Jon and Karen for their invitation to present a paperat the 1994 HistoryWorkshop conference on democracy, an intense, swirling debate over issues of the transition that introduced me to the leading South Africanists in a variety of fields and affected me deeply. Isabel Hofmeyr and Bhekizizwe Peterson generously welcomed me into the Department of African Literature for lectures and classes and memorable debate about the field and its location in South Africa, sharing their research and comments on my work and becoming valued interlocutors for the entire project and beyond. I am greatly indebted—without being able to measure up to it—to the example of Isabel’s work at the seam of social history and textuality; I owe many thanks to Bheki and Ramadan Suleman for allowing me to use their working script of the film Fools, and to Ramadan for an invaluable discussion of the making of his film. At the University of Cape Town and the University of the Western Cape I benefited from conversations with Dorothy Driver and Zoë Wicomb, and at the University of Fort Hare from seminars and discussion with Lokanga Lox

Acknowledgments

sambe and his colleagues in the English Department, including my former student at cuny, Philden Ndlela. At Rhodes University I spent a fruitful month reading in the archive and coming upon Arthur Nortje’s letters and diary in the National English Literary Museum, to whose staff I am most grateful. At the University of Natal–Durban there were more lectures, classes, and seminars during several visits, and I spent a month in the libraries as a visiting scholar in the English Department, whose members and staff I thank warmly for their generous hospitality and assistance, especially Michael Chapman, Johan Jacobs, Margaret Lenta, Sally Ann Murray, Matthew Shum, and particularly Margaret Daymond, towhom I owe a deep debt of gratitude, beginning at a Yale conference where I was inspired by her paper on Bessie Head and Miriam Tlali to develop a connection between Head and Njabulo Ndebele. The influence of her beautifully edited collection South African Feminisms can be felt throughout this book, and she eventually read a draft of the entire manuscript and gave me a meticulous, pointed commentary. She also introduced me to Nise Malange and some of her collaborators at the Culture and Working Life Project; I have written extensively on that work in chapters 1 and 5 of this book, and indeed it is at the heart of the whole project. My thanks to Nise for opening the doors of the cwlp and sharing its history with me. Others in Durban who read parts of the manuscript or otherwise helped my thinking include Duncan Brown, David Johnson, and Ari Sitas. To Michael Green, Bill Freund, Yonah Seleti, and other members of the und History Department, Adam Habib of the University of Durban–Westville, and others who participated in a und symposium on neoliberal restructuring of the university in the United States and South Africa, I am grateful for another kind of collaboration, with scholars in several countries who are making new connections between scholarly work and the politics of the embattled site of its production. Those connections are intertwined with the writing of this book in ways I describe in the introduction. On that score, I am also very grateful to the historian of Africa Chris Lowe for his commentary on the und symposium in the online journal Workplace and continuing dialogue about the politics of international scholarship; thanks also to the editors of Workplace and my other incisive collaborators there, Barbara Foley and Marilyn Neimark. To Colin Gardner of the University of Natal–Pietermaritzburg (and an anc councillor), I am grateful not only for his reading parts of the manuAcknowledgments

xi

script but for his warm friendship and discussion of literature and politics in South Africa over several years. The South Africa Reading Group in New York, convened by Penelope Andrews of the cuny Law School and Steven Ellmann of NewYork Law School, has similarlycombined interdisciplinary scholarship with political debate and engagement and has continuously fed my work on the book for two years; I am most grateful to that little New York community of South Africanists, not least for their useful discussion of my epilogue (especially Mark Sanders’s comments), and to my cuny colleague and comrade Penny Andrews in particular, for her always illuminating conversations and her help in translating Arthur Nortje’s Afrikaans. Generous help with the Zulu translations in the book has come from my language teacher at Columbia, Lynette Hlongwane, whose classes gave me a glimpse of the beautiful deep structure of Zulu writing. Parts of the book have appeared in earlier, briefer versions: ‘‘Literature in Another South Africa: Njabulo Ndebele’s Theory of Emergent Culture,’’ diacritics 22.1 (Spring 1992): 67–85; ‘‘Staging Whiteness: Beckett, Havel, Maponya,’’ Theatre Journal 46 (1994): 41–57; ‘‘Against the Democracy Police: Contradictions of Nation-Language in Dambudzo Marechera’s House of Hunger,’’ Current Writing (Durban) 6.2 (1994): 77–92; and ‘‘ ‘Organize and Act’: Cultural Rights in South African Communities,’’ Radical Teacher 47 (Fall 1995): 40–46. For their invitations to contribute and useful editorial suggestions I thank Debra Castillo, Richard Ohmann and Susan O’Malley, Janelle Reinelt, and Michael Chapman. Susan Andrade was an insightful editor for an early version of the chapter on Bessie Head’s letters. Ali Jimale Ahmed invited me to contribute papers to panels at the African Literature Association and the Modern Language Association which were extremely productive in the early stages of writing, and I thank him also for constant wise and challenging dialogue about the place of African studies in the global cultural economy. Biodun Jeyifo and Rob Nixon wrote bracing and helpful comments on the early manuscript, as did an extremely perceptive anonymous reader at Duke University Press on the final draft. My thanks also to Reynolds Smith and Sharon Torian at Duke for their expert editorial advice and encouragement during the years of writing and revision. Closer to home, my deep gratitude goes to those I have worked with during the nineties in the ranks of the struggle to defend cuny against racist politicians, neoliberal policyentrepreneurs, managerialist administrators, and other marauders. They may not have known it, but my comrades in the xii

Acknowledgments

insurgent New Caucus of the cuny faculty union, the Professional Staff Congress, have often been sources and touchstones for this book, whose title holds out in South Africa the promise of immanent critique we have tried to fulfill in New York. The book in its political heart belongs to them. My students have been an inspiration in the classroom and in the streets, and I hope this book is worthy of their comradeship and excitement about radical scholarship. Particular thanks to my research assistants, Mellon Minority Undergraduate Fellows at Queens, Carrette Perkins and Michelle Smith in the early stages, and Shirley Carrie and Denise Ramirez later. Also, thanks to others I have mentored and who became discussants in this project: Tanya Lowell, Robert Sambat, Ruth Garcia, Ferentz Lafargue, and Joanne Noel. Former-students-become-colleagues who have influenced the book include Akhtar Khan, John Rocco, Ron Scapp, and Christine Timm. My children, Michaela, Geoffrey, Clara, and Lily, have all contributed in spoken and unspoken ways to my work, from Michaela’s cool, Londonbred feminist savvy and Geoffrey’s swooping, writerly interventions in the labor of book making, to the bracing generational skepticism of Clara and Lily. The book is what Heidegger called a ‘‘moving into nearness’’ with them, and is dedicated to them in gratitude for their support and the opposition that is true friendship. I would like to recall with love from the far South of the world the memory of my Wandervogel brother Paul and my father, Jack, a strenuously inquiring thinker who agreed with me about very little but always supported my efforts to think as well as he, from our Irish Australian Laborite starting point, about absolutely everything; my mother, Lotta, who taught me to read and still teaches me about love and beauty, the land and memory, and living in time; and all my Australian family, Barbara and Nick and their children, Sue and Kerry, and theirs— especially my brother Kerry, for believing so strongly in this project at the times when it counted most. My loving Northern family, the Bowens, have sustained my work throughout with their interest and their ethic of care; many thanks to Mary and Frank, Betsy and Jeff, Brenda and Richard, and David and Sherrie, not forgetting the inquiring faces of Ben and Becky,who I hope read the book some day. My deepest debt is to Barbara Bowen, fellow worker and companion for the whole journey of the book simultaneously into South Africa and the cuny struggle. To her sinuous mind and life of continuous conversaAcknowledgments

xiii

tion I owe more of thought and the forms of things unknown than I can remember. I dedicate this book to her and to hope, our principle. Parts of chapters 1, 2, 4, and 7 appeared in earlier, briefer versions as follows, and are reprinted by permission of The Johns Hopkins University Press, Current Writing, and Radical Teacher: ‘‘Literature in Another South Africa: Njabulo Ndebele’s Theory of Emergent Culture,’’ Diacritics 22.1 (1992), 67–85; ‘‘StagingWhiteness: Beckett, Havel, Maponya,’’ Theatre Journal 46 (1994), 41–57; ‘‘Against the Democracy Police: Contradictions of Nation Language in Dambudzo Marechera,’’ Current Writing 6.2 (1994): 77– 92; ‘‘ ‘Organize and Act’: Cultural Rights in South African Communities,’’ Radical Teacher 47 (fall 1995), 40–46. ‘‘Poem for My Mother’’ by Jennifer Davids. Copyright 1974 by David Philip Publishers. Reprinted by permission of David Philip Publishers; excerpts from Familiar Ground by Ingrid de Kok. Copyright 1988 by Ingrid Fiske. Reprinted by permission of Ingrid Fiske; excerpt from The House Gun by Nadine Gordimer. Copyright 1998 by Felix Licensing, B. V. Reprinted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC; excerpts from unpublished poems by Votelwa Gwiji and Nicholas Phakathi are reprinted by permission of the authors; excerpts from Bessie Head’s unpublished correspondence are reprinted by permission of the Bessie Head archive at the Khama III Memorial Museum, of John Johnson Ltd., and of Michelle Cliff, Nikki Giovanni, Toni Morrison, and Alice Walker; excerpt from Selected Poems by Ingrid Jonker. Copyright 1988 by the Ingrid Jonker Trust. Reprinted by permission of Human and Rousseau (Pty) Ltd.; excerpt from ‘‘Jamila’’ by Nazik al-Mala’ika, in Women of the Fertile Crescent: Modern Poetry by Arab Women, ed. Kamal Boullata (Lynne Rienner, 1981). Copyright 1981 by Kamal Boullata. Reprinted by permission of Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc.; excerpts from Nise Malange’s poems in Black Mamba Rising: South African Worker Poets in Struggle, ed. Ari Sitas (Culture and Working Life Publications, 1986), Izinsingizi, Loud Hailer Lives: South African Poetry from Natal, ed. G. Evill and S. Kromberg (Culture and Working Life, 1989), and Writers’ Notebook (COSAW Natal Journal) 1.2 (January 1990), are reprinted with gratitude to those publications; excerpt from original verse lines first published in Maishe Maponya’s Gangsters, in his Doing Plays for a Change (Witwatersrand University Press, 1995). Copyright 1995 by Maishe Maponya. Reprinted by permission of Witwatersrand University Press on behalf of Maishe Maponya. Applications to perform this work should be addressed xiv

Acknowledgments

to: Maishe Maponya, c/o School of Dramatic Art, University of the Witwatersrand, PO Wits 2050, South Africa, or to the Dramatic and Literary Rights Organisation (dalro), fax 27–(0)11–404 1934; excerpt from Cemetery of Mind by Dambudzo Marechera. Copyright 1992 by the Dambudzo Marechera Trust. Reprinted by permission of Baobab Books (Pvt) Ltd.; excerpt from Sounds of a Cowhide Drum by Oswald Mbuyiseni Mtshali. Copyright 1972 by Third Press. Reprinted by permission of Okpaku Communications, New Rochelle, N.Y.; excerpt from Dead Roots by Arthur Nortje, and from Nortje’s unpublished letters. Copyright 2000 by the University of South Africa Library. Reprinted by permission of the University of South Africa Library; excerpt from Yakhal’inkomo by Mongane Wally Serote. Copyright 1972 by Mongane Wally Serote. Reprinted by permission of Jonathan Ball Publishers (Pty) Ltd.; excerpts from the unpublished screenplay for Fools, directed by Ramadan Suleman (Natives at Large, 1997). Reprinted by permission of Bhekizizwe Peterson and Ramadan Suleman. Every effort has been made to obtain permission from the following authors. Should any infringement have occurred the author and publisher apologize and undertake to amend these omissions in the event of a reprint. Excerpts from ‘‘Nightshift Mother’’ and ‘‘Long LiveWomen,’’by Nise Malange, in Breaking the Silence: A Century of South African Women’s Poetry, ed. Cecily Lockett (Ad. Donker, 1990). Copyright 1990 by Nise Malange; excerpt from ‘‘Say No,’’ by Gcina Mhlophe, in Breaking the Silence: A Century of South African Women’s Poetry, ed. Cecily Lockett (Ad. Donker, 1990). Copyright 1990 by Gcina Mhlophe; excerpt from ‘‘Koze Kubenini?’’ by Gladman Ngubo, in Ear to the Ground: Contemporary Worker Poets, ed. A. W. Oliphant (cosaw/cosatu, 1991). Copyright 1991 by Gladman Ngubo; excerpt from ‘‘Tears of a Creator,’’ by Alfred Temba Qabula and Mi S’dumo Hlatshwayo, in From South Africa: New Writinog, Photographs and Art, ed. David Bunn and Jane Taylor (Northwestern University Press, 1987). Copyright 1987 by Alfred Temba Qabula and Mi S’dumo Hlatshwayo.

Acknowledgments

xv

introduction

Normalization or Radical Democracy

The shape this book has taken reflects the momentous changes in South Africa during the time of its composition. Writing between 1992 and 1998 on radical impulses in South African literature and politics in the 1980s, I began with a sense of the high tide of antiapartheid struggle in the late eighties as the vivid present, both of South African culture and of its representations abroad. Gradually, however, it became clear that 1990, with the release of Mandela and the somewhat demobilizing onset of negotiations, marked the waning of the resonant insurgency and militant hope of the Mass Democratic Movement of that period. With a growing awareness of how the South African transition was shifting the questions posed to radical imagination and interpretation (including their ramifications in global culture and politics), the book became more and more a retrospect on the 1980s, apparent especially in chapter 3, which directly addresses the political and cultural theory of the transition, and also in the book’s framing between chapter 1, which interprets the writing of the 1994 election, and the epilogue, which discusses two works of the late nineties, Nadine Gordimer’s 1998 novel, The House Gun, and Ramadan Suleman’s film Fools. My readings of the radical eighties in the intervening chapters are thus embedded in an engagement with a putatively ‘‘normalized’’ postapartheid culture, and came to be a contestatory argument precisely against any nor-

malization of the present that would foreclose ‘‘radical democracy,’’ my shorthand term for the spirit of eighties culture and a term whose scope is developed chapter by chapter in the book through the different and distinctive meanings each of the writers gives it. The book is thus the record of one reader’s engagement with the literary South Africa that emerged for cultural critics steeped in the antiapartheid movement of the North. But as a record, it is misleading in one way: in what it leaves out. Brink, Breytenbach, Coetzee, Fugard, and Gordimer have been much discussed already in and beyond South Africa, and though I write about one of Gordimer’s novels in the epilogue and an important compilation of Brink’s in chapter 1, I have been led to less well-known writers, most of them black, to make my central argument. That does not imply that the better-known white writers have no place in the formation of a radical democratic culture (a point argued in chapters 2 and 3 in the context of Njabulo Ndebele’s cultural theory and the debates of the transition), but, against the judgment of most metropolitan critics, I do see their place as more marginal. Still, it would have been impossible for me to write anything about South Africa without the writers named, especially without Waiting for the Barbarians and The Age of Iron, Burger’s Daughter and July’s People. The cultural politics of whiteness in South Africa are addressed theoretically in chapters 2 and 3 and in relation to Ingrid de Kok’s and Gordimer’s writing in chapter 5 and the epilogue. Similarly, although the work of Zoë Wicomb comes in for more than passing mention in chapters 5 and 7, I could have wished for space to devote a whole chapter to her work, and also to Achmat Dangor and Mongane Serote.Wicomb, Dangor, and Serote—and of course others as well— belong fully in the book’s argument, and only space prevented their full inclusion. Also, in writing the chapters on Ingrid de Kok, Nise Malange, and Bessie Head, I owe much more than is apparent, in spite of several references, to the large body of feminist writing by South African women, often in ephemeral or obscure publications—a body of work that, with worker poetry and theater developed within the trade union movement, will, I think, be seen as the beginning of the radical impulses that matter most in the transformation of South African culture beyond its normalization in the image of Western capitalism. To return to periodization: the periods before and after the transitional years 1990–1994 seem to come together around a question that was prominent in South African cultural critique well before the final phase of apart2

Against Normalization

heid and persists well after the watershed election of 1994, namely, how to construct an expressive culture that springs from, responds to, and shapes visions of economic and political democracy deeper than ballot box democracy, parliamentary representation, liberal capitalism, cultural pluralism, and the Enlightenment discourse of rights. The focus in this book is on writers in the eighties and, in the case of Bessie Head and Dambudzo Marechera, somewhat earlier, who pressed that question, and on issues of its pursuit or abandonment in the nineties. In that sense, the book is quite partisan about the hopes and achievements of writing in the eighties and aims to project their spirit into the quandaries of a postapartheid settlement. My intention has also been, as much as possible, to extend this question and this argument beyond South Africa itself, as its own great transition coincides so suggestively with that other watershed, the end of the Soviet Union, and the incitement to new theory entailed by the current triumph of the capitalist world system and the absence for now of significant large-scale challenge to it; here my assumption is that we have much to learn from the South African case about the general debates that rage today over social explanation and the interpretation of culture, especially in African and postcolonial studies. I do not mean that South African writers fit in any simple way into the by now thoroughly vexed category of the postcolonial, or even in some univocal way into the African; but it is true that black South African literature (with the exception of Bessie Head and one or two others), though much studied by Africanists, has not been much included in postcolonial studies, and its inclusion tends to change the look of that field and the questions animating its theory. But if the book highlights the continuing relevance of the eighties literary radicals in and beyond South Africa, it must also recognize that the process of ‘‘normalization’’ of culture, as of the political economy, has proceeded apace since 1990, and increasingly the writing of radical democracy in South Africa and the periodizing of its literature bumps up against this process of cultural normalization, whose most specific South African feature is the drift away, not only from a liberal and moralizing ‘‘literature of protest’’ already under attack from the left in the eighties, but in some ways from politically committed writing itself—a process in the cultural sphere parallel to the normalization of political economy that I would define, borrowing from Graham Pechey (‘‘Post-Apartheid Narratives’’ 153), as the neocolonial outcome of an anticolonial struggle.1 By ‘‘neocolonial’’ I mean to refer to the interest of foreign and local capital Introduction

3

in preserving the structural inequalities of South African racial capitalism that oppress the everyday lives of black working people. Arguably, even after giving full credit to the reforms under way in infant mortality and other primary health care, electrification, the water supply, housing, and land claims, these inequalities are being remedied in the new regime in an ameliorative rather than a structural fashion and show fewer signs of any sweeping structural remedy now that the acceptance of neoclassical economic orthodoxy by the African National Congress (anc) in its macroeconomic program known as gear (Growth, Employment and Redistribution)—under pressure from local and international capital—will continue to prevent it.2 The general outcome thus remains the reproduction of a de facto racist status quo in urban and rural South Africa, even as the white monopolyon state powerand on some sections of capital itself slowly gives way to a semblance of black stewardship. The consequence, despite the efforts of some in the anc and the government, is the development of a largely black political stewardship of racial capitalism in the country of the antiapartheid movement, even as the commanding heights of the economy remain for the foreseeable future in white South African and international corporate hands. I do not suggest that Graham Pechey would necessarily agree with such a harsh statement of the case, but that is precisely the historical definition of neocolonialism, and it is in that sense that I value his striking insight in ‘‘Post-Apartheid Narratives’’: ‘‘The stronger sense of ‘postcolonial’ emerges when we consider this seeming paradox: that it takes anticolonial struggles to produce neocolonial conditions’’ (153). Of course, it is enormously difficult to see how this outcome could be avoided in the current period, but that is why the question of how to avoid it must be continuously asked (most importantly ‘‘from below’’ by radical trade unionists and intellectuals), because part of the difficulty is not being able to see around the ideological normalization of the ‘‘New South Africa.’’ Literary intellectuals play a vital part in this process of ideological critique and utopian re-vision of the normal. Chapter 3 pursues this question in detail through the political debates of the transition, a useful summary of whose terms is provided by the Durban sociologist Devan Pillay’s paper ‘‘The End of a Dream?’’: For those on the Right of the political spectrum, stable, orderly parliamentary democracy needs to be protected from the hordes below. Mass mobilisation and organisation for them means ‘‘mob rule,’’ ‘‘in4

Against Normalization

timidation,’’ and the caving in to ‘‘unrealistic expectations’’ that will frighten away foreign investment. . . . For those on the Left end of the spectrum, mass participatorydemocracy, where working people have had a real opportunity to participate in shaping their future, is under threat from the elites above. For the ‘‘insurrectionist’’ current within the Left, representative democracy and parliaments mean elite rule, the stifling of mass protest, and the caving in to pragmatism, and the dictates of the national and international bourgeoisie. The ‘‘elites’’ have to be held in check, and the best way to do this would be to maintain a high level of mobilisation and conflict, and to keep alive hopes of insurrection and the complete overthrow of the old order. . . . For the ‘‘radical reform’’ current within the Left (see Adler and Webster 1994, and Cronin 1994) there is a recognition that both traditions have shaped the nature of the transition. . . . For ‘‘radical reformists,’’ then, the way out is to seize the opportunity of forging a unique democracy that combines the best of both formal, representative democracy and the less formal, participatory democracy as practiced, in greater or lesser degree, by the progressive social movements. (2–3) The ‘‘radical reformists’’ Adler and Webster extend this view of the transition as follows: From all appearances, South Africa seems to be a textbook case of democratization, as understood by leading contributors to transition theory. These theorists argue that the transition from authoritarianism to democracy can only be brought about as a result of negotiations, of pacts between the reformers in the ruling regime and the moderates in the opposition. The political implication of this alliance between the reformers and the moderates is that prodemocratic forces must be prudent; they must be prepared to offerconcessions in exchange fordemocracy.The corollary is that the democracy that results from this process is inevitably conservative, economically and socially. (‘‘Challenging Transition Theory’’ 1) 3 This book brings parallel questions about culture—anticolonial and neocolonial, antiracist and neoracist culture—to readings of the most radical texts in South African literature of the eighties, to see how they address these most difficult of the questions facing postcolonial writing. Njabulo Introduction

5

Ndebele in chapters 2 and 3, Maishe Maponya in chapter 4, Nise Malange in chapter 6, and Dambudzo Marechera in chapter 7 all offer suggestive partial answers on the way to a new transcendence of neocolonial outcomes. To begin my argument with such a negative view of postapartheid culture may shock Northern readers. But the Mandela honeymoon is over, and as public sector workers stage national economic/political strikes against the postapartheid state, it is not too soon to raise equally unsettling questions, from the perspective of the spirit of the eighties, about cultural outcomes of the transition. Whether the eighties nonracial movement against apartheid led by the anc and the udf (United Democratic Front) ever produced an antiracist movement against racism as such, adequate to reconstructing the discourses and practices of race, is one such question, rehearsed in chapters 2, 3, 4, and 5. The feminist analysis pursued throughout the book, and in most detail in chapters 3, 5, and 6, resonates with the sense in, forexample, Margaret Randall’s Gathering Rage, that no twentieth-century revolutionary movement has been anything like adequate in developing a feminist agenda for deep transformation. ‘‘Radical democracy’’ without the deep transformation of race and gender relations would be a mockery of the term. The argument throughout this book is also that the present newimperialist phase of capital (complete with economic crises, intensely uneven development, dangerous wars, and renascent right-wing ideologies) stands in the way of any reimagining of economic and political democracy, and that in South Africa as elsewhere, though a specifically socialist strategy is now obviously difficult to foresee or enunciate, it is clear that any radical form or vision of democracy must take on an opposition to capitalism if it is not to be neutralized, reabsorbed, and ‘‘normalized’’ in advance.These perspectives on South African cultural production, I argue, are not defeatist or idealist as long as the hypnotic normalizing effect of the commonsense present is resisted. The title therefore implies that the end of formal, legal apartheid is not a profound end point in South African cultural history, but rather an opportunity to review the continuous radicalization of culture some South African writers have insisted on, most powerfully so far in the eighties but evident both before and after the turning point of February 1990. This view entails a study of recent cultural theory in South Africa as well as close examination of some of the major texts and movements that bear in themselves the radical transformative possibilities the eighties espoused. 6

Against Normalization

The sequence of chapters therefore moves from the theoretical debates of chapters 2 and 3 to close readings of writers from some of the different cultural fronts of this battle for what Ndebele called in an early essay ‘‘cultural identity from below’’: Maponya and Black Consciousness theater in chapter 4, Ingrid de Kok and white feminist poetry in chapter 5, Nise Malange and workers’ culture in chapter 6, and the power of marginality in the exile writers Bessie Head, Arthur Nortje, and Dambudzo Marechera in chapter 7. To return to the concept of normalization: there is normalization of ends and normalization of beginnings. The sort of making normal that ended the abnormalities of apartheid no one could possibly be against. It is the normalization—or the norming—of beginnings that is pernicious, the circumscription in advance of just where a search for deep democracy could lead in politics, in economics, and in culture. In that sense I use ‘‘radical’’ democracy to mean open in advance to wherever the participatory and egalitarian and empowering currents in the long tradition of democracy might lead, including and especially away from the current standard prescriptions of free-market economics and Westminster parliamentarism. I borrow the phrase ‘‘radical democracy’’ from Laclau and Mouffe’s Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: Towards a Radical Democratic Politics, whose contribution to socialist strategy, though it seems to me to have faltered, was in its first days a stimulating one; but I emphatically do not mean it to be bound by the specifically ‘‘post-Marxist’’ meaning they gave the term. Rather, I use ‘‘radical democracy’’ in the spirit of the nineteenth-century term ‘‘social democracy’’ or the notion of economic democracy (neither ever yet attained by even the most advanced capitalist formations), which were fought for by the massive communist and socialist movements that took Marxism as their theoretical and political instrument. Anticolonial and antiracist nationalism, feminism, the ‘‘new social movements,’’ poststructuralist critique, and identitarian politics all contribute other questions to an unfolding meaning of the term radical democracy, as can be gauged by work such as Paul Gilroy’s The Black Atlantic, which has deeply influenced this book. But I intend to keep central the historical core meaning of the term from its beginnings in social democracy. The South African cultural economy is a particularly interesting challenge to this kind of interpretation both because of the relative strength of Marxism there and because it has so clearly not carried the day in spite of its historical strength. The South African case is wonderfully instructive, Introduction

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in a time when the great oppositional political movements and the acuity of the theory they gave rise to seem to have failed to bring in lasting radical change; a time when once again people are returning to the source, the base, and chipping away at oppressive structures without benefit of grand narratives; and a time when the chief requirement is openness to the new theory that will arise from the many current practices of ‘‘globalization from below.’’ I am conscious that the left in the North is tempted to project onto places like South Africa its own failed hopes. But on the contrary, I believe that a convergence of world-systems theory and left versions of feminism and poststructuralism in postcolonial theory enable deep structural connections to be made among all the regions of what Arjun Appadurai in Modernity at Large has called the global cultural economy. As an example, while writing this book, I have been making research trips to many South African universities at the same time as engaging in an extended political struggle at my own university, the City University of New York, to sustain faculty and student freedoms and the mission ‘‘to educate the children of the whole people’’—in our case, a majority people of color, disproportionately women, and new immigrants—against the attacks of right-wing politicians and a new neoliberal ethos sweeping universities worldwide. This dual vision, of a particular culture in southern Africa and of my own U.S. site of production of knowledge about it, has been illuminating for the book, and it has also convinced me that the South African intellectuals whose work is studied here offer unrivaled lessons to be learned, experiences to be compared, and theories to be elaborated and tested for praxis in the cultural politics of the overdeveloped North.Thevolume of recent self-reflexive analysis of the neoliberal university suggests that it should no longer be possible to pursue oppositional intellectual work without taking into account the institutional conditions of production of that work, and I see no alternative but to bring the same questions to the object of our inquiry and the place of its making.4 Linking scholarship to activism in the university may become increasingly necessary. Though this book rarely makes the link explicit, the spirit of the cuny struggle has sustained its writing, and the spirit of its South African subjects has flowed into the cuny struggle. In that sense, I hope the book may be a modest contribution to globalization from below and to solidarity among different locations in the global cultural front. ‘‘The air belongs to those who can fly.’’ 8

Against Normalization

chapter one

Radical Democracy and the Electoral Sublime

This is being written just after the fourth anniversary of the first free election in South Africa, on April 27, 1994: a date celebrated around the world. Majority rule since 1994 has already produced tangible benefits. According to the estimate of the political scientist Tom Lodge, the achievements of the first free vote include a primary health care program that has already significantly reduced infant mortality, three million people supplied with piped water, half a million electrical connections a year, the significant spread of home ownership among the relatively poor, and wage rises that have beaten the (declining) inflation rate. (‘‘Besieged in Mafeking’’ 3) Lodge points out, however, that this path is put in question by the government’s adoption of gear, with its neoliberal prioritization of growth over redistribution—to the outrage of cosatu, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (the anc’s principal ally), which argues for an alternative, Keynesian macroeconomic policy. Recent discussion of an anc merger with Inkatha, Gatsha Buthelezi’s right-wing Zulu nationalist party, suggests similar turmoil in the political sphere. When allies and enemies shift ground like this, the famous ‘‘transition’’

in South Africa is clearly still very much in transition, and characterized by fierce debates, not least over questions of culture. This chapter moves into those cultural debates and the discourse of the local, the national, and the global that frames them, along two different tracks: first, at the national level, an account of how South African writers saw the event of the first free election in 1994; second, at the local level, an account of a visit to one of the most important sites where an exciting new radical-democratic culture had begun to be formed in the eighties and was undergoing a significant change in the transition, the Culture and Working Life Project (cwlp) in black working-class Durban. The dialectical tension between established writers representing thevote as a new national act of representative democracy and the cwlp writing class establishing the act of writing as a new local act of participatory democracy is a tension that underlies all the readings of theoretical debates, individual texts, and groups of writers that follow in later chapters. Here an attempt is made to convey the texture and felt experience of both sides of this dialectic as a background for the discussions to follow. Writing the First Free Election To begin a book whose argument is that in this transition period, far from everyone pulling toward some mythical center whose most likely name would be liberal democracy, critical attention needs to be given to the most radical impulses in literature and culture in South Africa, their writing of new directions in radical democracy, it is logical to look at writers’ reactions to that inaugural event of the first free vote and their personal responses to voting—the black writers for the first time. We can do this thanks to the foresight of the novelist André Brink, who in the weeks before election day 1994, asked writers ‘‘to keep a diary of that day and send it to the publisher as soon as possible after the event . . . here was an opportunity for writers to test their word against, arguably, the most remarkable moment in their history’’ (S.A. 27 April 1994 8). Brink printed the responses of forty-five writers, including most of the best-known (notably absent are the radical worker poets of the Durban cwlp), in a volume entitled S.A. 27 April 1994: an authors’ diary * ‘n skryversdagboek. What the rest of the population thought about voting is undoubtedly more important than these few testimonies, and still fresh in the memory is the television coverage of the popular experience of the vote, the long queues, the stories of the old and 10

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sick coming in by wheelbarrow if necessary to cast their first ballot. But the specialized social work that writers do is the work of interpretation, and Brink’s compilation is a unique chance to look at what he calls ‘‘the ‘state of our literature’ and the state of our humanity at this crucial juncture’’ (8). It is an opportunity to inquire into the role and the responsibility of the literary intellectual in constructing (establishing or subverting) a discourse of the nation, the new nation. Benedict Anderson’s anthropologizing of the nation as ‘‘nation-ness’’ summons up at one point the persuasive historical image of citizens everywhere reading the same daily newspaper at the same time, defining for themselves in this way a horizontal belonging in space and time to the bounded ‘‘imagined community’’ of a nation of citizen-subjects as readers of the news (Imagined Communities 61–63). The 1994 vote, the foundational ballot that inaugurated a new democracy and with it, in many people’s minds—if only because of repeated slogans like ‘‘the new South Africa’’— a new nation, is more than a reading in common of putatively national texts like novels and news, ads and soap operas; it is a choreographed performance, a common act of writing, appending that common signature of the citizen, the x, which so strikes Nadine Gordimer’s imagination in her account of the day. It is clear that Brink’s compilation coheres, for all its diversity of tone, style, and opinion, around the discourse of the nation; for these writers, above all else, voting is primarily the key signifier of that discourse. The book therefore raises the question of what is being said, what is to be said, what needs to be said, about the current concept of the nation in South Africa. To found the nation on the ballot is already to privilege Western representative democracyas synonymous with the nation itself, in the same moment in which global late capitalism is assumed to be synonymous with economic rationality, and to risk foreclosing other conceptualizations of democracy, nation, culture, and social life.The most interesting responses in Brink’s invaluable little book are those that mine the writer’s awareness of the limits and ambiguities of the ballot as received truth, as the self-evident, commonsense metonym of democracy and freedom. The book in this way questions the somewhat archaic innocence about the ballot that marked 1994 media coverage, an innocence almost shocking in the overdeveloped market democracies, where there is widespread and justified working-class voter indifference to a process long lost to the professionals of the pro-capitalist electoral parties, media spectacle, and behind-the-scenes lobbying and deal making by big money. Electoral Sublime

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As well as these questions, there is a fascination in the amazingly different experiences the writers had: Brink giving an impromptu lecture on a set book to one of his students standing next to him in the six-hour queue in a Cape Town rainstorm; Achmat Dangor guiding a French film crew around the dusty hamlets of the Northern Transvaal; Mzwakhe Mbuli voting in his old Soweto elementary school, Embuhleni (‘‘in the place of beauty’’ in Zulu); Mike Nicol going down tovote in a childhood haunt, the Camel Rock Cafe, at the southernmost tip of the continent; Mazisi Kunene reluctant to vote at all because he ‘‘has voted with [his] life,’’ then making a brilliant mistake and voting for the ‘‘wrong’’ person; while for Stephen Watson, his vote is as much the day-long climb to plant a native tree in the Cederberg as it is his dawn trip to the voting station. The stories criss-cross the nation—landscape itself becomes a metaphor, especially mountains and native trees—but the larger question is the narrative of the nation these essays represent. Indeed, the key concept here is precisely the concept of ‘‘representation,’’ in the double sense of Vertretung and Darstellung that Marx discussed so often: in this case, political representation, as when I vote for someone to represent, to speak for me (vertreten), to be mydelegate, my proxy, perhaps even my substitute, in the state and the law; and literary or historical representation (darstellen), as when I represent, re-present, myself by my story, my photo album, or my analysis of my life.1 The essays in Brink’s compilation need to be read with both senses of ‘‘representation’’ in mind. The nation defined as a parliamentary democracy (its classic modern form) is built on political representation, and the responsibility of intellectuals is both to re-present the nation and to question its representation. In this book, then, voting is a heavily loaded event, an event not to be distinguished from the discourse that surrounds it. There is a strong impulse to see the first free vote as the political Sublime, yet Albie Sachs (who does see it that way) entitles his piece ‘‘The Banality of Good.’’ The writers feel they must both participate in the vote as a national ritual and stand off at some distance to define its meaning. How do they conceive that civic rite of belonging in an ‘‘imagined community,’’ defined partly by a kind of simultaneous time, in which at the same time throughout all the regions and social milieux of the country the citizen-subjects perform the same act? What is the sense each writer gives to the content of this ‘‘new nation’’ born on April 27—do they conceive it similarly or are there important differences? In focusing on the vote as the birth of a new nation (‘‘the birth of a flag,’’ Achmat Dangor less piously names it), what terms of reference 12

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other than the nation—larger terms like the global economy, smaller terms like social classes and ethnicities—does this narrative of election day erase or suppress? What is the ‘‘Other’’ of voting, the suppressed term put in shadow by the electoral sublime? (To anticipate a moment, it seems mainly to be violence: violence, standing unconsciously perhaps for social conflict itself—in which its signifying function is challenged by the equally polysemic term crime—is the event the vote is willed to erase and replace.) What conflicts within the nation are repressed by the narrative of new birth and unified identity? In the other direction, the world was watching the vote, but what is the relation of the new nation to that larger world? Can the narrative of the national vote ignore the ways South Africa is ‘‘transnationalized’’ by global markets and global media, the imf, the ‘‘donor community’’ and its busy high-end ngos, changes in U.S. Africa policy? For some writers it may not be the concept of nation that is the determining one in understanding their vote, but an allegiance to something larger or something smaller than the nation—international imagined communities such as the fellowship of writers, or subcultural ones such as fallen militants of the armed struggle. A stunning example of the latter, not in this book but in a cosatu ad described in Eve Bertelsen’s illuminating paper on the ads of the 1994 election (‘‘Selling Change’’ 8), was the connection drawn by the graphics between the x of the ballot and the crosses on the graves of Steve Biko, Neil Aggett, and Matthew Goniwe. In other words, much can be learned from Brink’s book about how the discourse of the nation operates in postapartheid South Africa. It is an interesting moment in the discursive field surrounding the event of the new nation’s birth, a discursive field that is contested and heterogeneous and still open, both at the time of writing the ‘‘authors’ diary’’ and now, to cultural reconstruction and development.2 A quick way to contextualize and historicize the writing of the 1994 election would be to scan images from the antiapartheid struggle that led to April 27 in the form of resistance posters and other art from the late 1980s, in collections such as Images of Defiance: South African Resistance Posters of the 1980s (South Africa History Archive, 1991), Art of the South African Townships (Gavin Younge, 1988), and Resistance Art in South Africa (Sue Williamson, 1989). These images tell many stories, but here they could stand simply as documents of the pain and hope that knew its moment of triumph at the polls on election day. Or these images might be thought of as part of the political unconscious of every writer in Brink’s book as they went to vote. Electoral Sublime

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The nineteenth-century French theorist of nationalism Ernest Renan said that the soul or principle of a nation is constituted by two things: ‘‘one is the possession in common of a rich legacy of memories; the other is presentday consent, the desire to live together’’ (‘‘What Is a Nation?’’ 19). These images, like Civil War photographs or Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved in this country, are part of that legacy. Renan, more acerbically, also pointed out that ‘‘Forgetting, I would even go so far as to say historical error, is a crucial factor in the creation of a nation,which is why progress in historical studies often constitutes a danger for the principle of nationality. Indeed, historical inquiry brings to light deeds of violence which took place at the origin of all political formations’’ (11).3 These images, like those that shocked some Israelis in a recent television documentary showing the expulsion of Palestinians, should also not be forgotten. They represent the nation that went to the polls, in a different manner than the votes they cast that day but in no less representative a manner. From thevantage point of theirown vote in the polling booth, thewriters with few exceptions choose, to represent the nation, two leading images that may seem oversimple but that clearly predominate in the book. One is the same image the media chose, of voters queuing outside the polls; the other is the image of the act of filling in the ballot paper. Both signify membership in the new nation. The dominant image of the nation in this book, it can be said, is the image of the nation as a community, in the close-up, human-scale form of the voters’ queue. The community on the line is felt to enact or stage (another meaning of darstellen) the community feeling the writers hope the new nation will give them. Here it is, in a very important sense, on the queue, which is thus a metonymic representation of the new nation itself. It is the nation as festival or carnival, in part, with the food and drink runs made to supply all with refreshment; it is eavesdropping across languages on one’s new cocitizen-subjects, as Marguerite Poland listens in to this dialogue about maids and madams in isiXhosa: ‘‘My dear, if the pay went over twenty-five I’d fall on the floor as if I’d been stabbed!’’ Gusts of laughter between them. ‘‘Mine sleeps all the time! She really has no head. Every afternoon!’’ More laughter. I bump the speaker by mistake, leaning too close in my shameless attentiveness. 14

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‘‘Sorry sweetheart, sorry darling.’’ She pats my arm conciliatorily. ‘‘Don’t worry.’’ Ahead, an older woman clicks her disapproval with a sidelong glance at a young girl in jeans and a big sloppy top. ‘‘These girls have no respect.’’ She shakes her head. ‘‘Really!’’ Unrepentant, the young girl dances along the path beside the queue, thumbs up before her, ‘‘Sizodrayiva kahle ngeNew South Africa. Sithole ijekpot! [We will drive well in the new South Africa. We’ve hit the jackpot!]’’ (S.A. 27 April 1994 106–7) Poland’s scene on the queue is notable for herown curiosityabout women’s lives and African languages, a desire to bond amply rewarded by this moment of gendered togetherness. Of course, the new ‘‘jackpot’’ of community feeling the white writer has hit on the queue would not be there at all for someone who has no interest in learning isiXhosa: the scene announces at once that the possibility and the condition of community for whites is to pick up the burden of language as an act of entry into new nationhood, and for white women ‘‘madams’’ to come to terms with the real social relations they havewith ‘‘maids.’’ Brink’s piece invokes the same hope by voting together with his gardener, whom he names at first from the white world of work ‘‘Atwell’’ and renames as they emerge from the polls ‘‘Jongibandla Bontsa’’ (34). The new nation needs new languages, new names, new signatures, new representations, if a new community is to emerge. It happens on the line, but can it happen so easily in the politics and economics of the republic? Poland and Brink may simply be playing with illusions of freedom. The queue as metonym of national community does run into this contradiction, that it links in the rationalized, disciplinary social form of a serial line people who are linked as equals in no other way, and as Nuruddin Farah says in Sardines, ‘‘You can only love your equal’’ (148). But this is no ordinary line, as Nadine Gordimer resonantly writes: Standing in the queue this morning, I was aware of a sense of silent bonding. . . . Here we all were as we have never been. We have stood in line in banks and post offices together, yes, since the desegregation of public places; but until this day there was always the unseen difference between us, far more decisive than the different colour of our skins: some of us had the right that is the basis of all rights, the symbolic x, the sign of a touch on the controls of polity, the mark of citizenship, Electoral Sublime

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and others did not. But today we stood on new ground. (S.A. 27 April 1994 51) To Gordimer’s eye the mere seriality of the voters’ queue has given way to ‘‘new ground’’: on this line all are equal in one important right, what she calls the ‘‘basis of all rights,’’ the vote, nicely not overhyped as political power, but given Gordimer’s typical nuance and sureness of touch, ‘‘the sign of a touch on the controls of polity.’’ She sees through the line to its new social ground.That is also the thought in the conclusion to her piece,which I quote later and which may be the best single piece of prose in the book. Still, Gordimer’s thought, though measured, is somewhat utopian in its discourse of rights. At the other end of the queue images is the hilarious, fictionalized satire of the journalist Gus Silber in ‘‘Queue, the Beloved Country’’: In the tranquil garden suburb of Illovo [Loafer in Zulu], Johannesburg, Mrs Blanche White, a freelance fashion buyer and qualified madam, picked up her telephone extension and asked her maid, Gladys, to meet her in the dining-room for an important announcement. ‘‘Gladys,’’ she said, ‘‘today is a very historical day in the history of the new South Africa. It is the day of the first democratic election, a day on which people of all creeds, colours, and races will join hands and go to the polls together to cast their vote for peace and freedom. Please keep me a place in front of you in the queue and I will join you in seven and a half hours.’’ (S.A. April 27 1994 116) Other kinds of humor abound in the set pieces on the queue, and not only in humorists like Pieter-Dirk Uys. Peter Horn sees two Xhosa three-yearolds, twins, one of whom favors Mandela and the other De Klerk, ‘‘because my sister has already taken Mandela’’ (S.A. April 27 1994 61). For many, humor is part of the staging of the queue as a scene of the ordinary within the extraordinary, the extraordinary (an end of apartheid social life) becoming the promise of the ordinary, a new national life. For Albie Sachs, now a judge on the Constitutional Court, this is the deepest meaning of his vote: what stands out in this disabled veteran fighter’s experience of the day is the complicated need to relish the ordinary: I am astonished by the strain and sadness of this our most joyous day, when we consummate and extinguish our most precious asset, our 16

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hope for the future, because we can’t live for it any more, we are in it, deprived by victory of the longing for victory, destabilised by the neutered quality of the normality we have succeeded in accomplishing, reduced by the democracy we fought for to an equality of emotion with those who preferred a piece of chocolate to human rights, rendered ordinary by the success of our heroism. Now we must let go of the dream so that it can transform itself. (S.A. April 27 1994 111) What emerges from the narrative of the line, then, is a contradictory discourse of the nation and its history; the queue both is and is not a good metaphor of the nation, and implicit in even the most relishing descriptions of its unity and equality is a subtext of difference: maids and madams, white professors and black students, thosewho lost limbs fighting for freedom and those who ate chocolate while the South African police and army crushed freedom into the ground. The writing in its text and its subtext raises the salutary question, which Yerach Gover raises for Israeli Hebrew fiction, of the limits of the moral discourse of the nation, as it is subsumed in the ritual of the vote and the symbol of the queue. A closely related image that glows vividly through these essays is the physical act of voting, making the famous mark, the x, another metonym of freedom and citizen rights. Gordimer pours her whole soul and history, the brilliant testimony of her observant eye and the passion of her political heart, into her writing of the x. The voter’s x, that empty signifier, the sign (like the queue) of the anonymity and Weberian rationality of modernity, is for her the essential signifier of the meaning of April 27. For her, as for the cosatu ad placing the crosses of Biko and others on the ballot paper itself, it speaks to the intractable and continuing social struggles outside the electoral process as well as the power of the vote itself. She tries here to face up to that foundational problem in representative democracy, its transfer of agency from voter to politician, its deferral of social action (sometimes along a seeminglyendless and alienating chain) from the participatory base to the parliamentary superstructure. She faces this troubling crack in the mythology of parliamentarism by facing it down, with an act of faith: The abstract term ‘‘equality’’ took on materiality as we moved towards the church hall polling station and the simple act, the drawing of an x, that ended over three centuries of privilege for some, deprivation of human dignity for others. The first signature of the illiterate is the x. Before that there was only Electoral Sublime

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the thumbprint, the skin-impression of the powerless. I realized this with something like awe when, assigned by my local branch of the African National Congress to monitor procedures at a polling booth, I encountered black people who could not read or write. A member of the Independent Electoral Commission would guide them through what took on the solemnityof a ritual: tattered identitydocuments presented, hands outstretched under the ultraviolet light, hands sprayed with invisible ink, and meticulously folded ballot paper—a missive ready to be despatched for the future—placed in those hands. Then an uncertain few steps towards a booth, accompanied by the iec person and one of the party agents . . . several times I was that party agent and witnessed a man or woman giving this signature to citizenship. A strange moment: the first time man scratched the mark of his identity, the conscious proof of his existence, on a stone must have been rather like this. Of course nearby in city streets there were still destitute black children sniffing glue as the only substitute for nourishment and care; there were homeless families existing in rigged-up shelters in the crannies of the city. The law places the ground of equality underfoot; it did not feed the hungry or put up a roof over the head of the homeless, today, but it changed the base on which South African society was for so long built. The poor are still there, round the corner. But they are not The Outcast. They no longer can be decreed to be forcibly removed, deprived of land, and of the opportunity to change their lives. They count. The meaning of the counting of the vote, whoever wins the majority, is this, and not just the calculation of the contents of ballot boxes. If to be alive on this day was not Wordsworth’s ‘‘very heaven’’ for thosewho have been crushed to the level of wretchedness by the decades of apartheid and the other structures of racism that preceded it [I am tempted to add, and that may well follow it, in the New World Order], if they could not experience the euphoria I shared, standing in line, to be living at this hour has been extraordinary. The day has been captured for me by the men and women who couldn’t read or write, but underwrote it, at last, with their kind of signature. May it be the seal on the end of illiteracy, of the pain of imposed ignorance, of the deprivation of the fullness of life. (S.A. April 27 1994 51–52) It is hard to go past that last sentence and to believe that a mere vote can mean so much. But Gordimer’s is only one particular voice in this chorus. 18

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Of the image of the act of voting there are other remarkable examples. Several writers grew very fearful of making a mistake on their own ballot, an intriguing symptom of the superliterate, given what Gordimer says about the illiterate! Mazisi Kunene’s fear (unlike Njabulo Ndebele’s or Albie Sachs’s) is realized; in the dark booth, having left his glasses at home, he votes by mistake for the Pan-Africanist Congress (pac). A South African friend told me of a domestic worker who did the same thing and was very upset. She had a friend who worked in Mandela’s household, however, whom she asked to apologize for her to Mandela. Mandela then called her at home and spoke to her at length to reassure her that she ‘‘counted.’’ Kunene’s reaction to his mistake is a strong reading of the act of voting that takes it out of empiricist enumeration; as in Gordimer’s piece, the two senses of representation are run together, the meaning of the ‘‘signature’’ overdetermined. This is also one of several cases of those who were, in Stephen Watson’s phrase, ‘‘voting for their dead’’: Suddenly, like a flash of lightning, I realised that my act of voting was not simply physical; to be honest, it must represent many of those people I knew, who would have liked to have voted, but who died in the struggle. As this thought seized me, I moved with the same speed as when I worked in my Organisation for liberation. Silly as it may sound to sceptics, I felt all these friends were walking with me: Luthuli, Mabhida, Resha, Makhathini, Nora, Chris, Mini, Mkhaba, Mkayinga, Makiwane, and many, many others. . . . In a very short time I was standing in another very short line to cast my vote! I was tricked by fate to fulfil my belief that I was voting for them, the dead. In the booth it was rather dark and I did not have my glasses. By mistake, I put my x on the national ballot paper against Makwetu (pac). I was desperate. . . . Still miserable that I had voted ‘‘wrongly,’’ I was seized by a strong thought: yes, I was voting for the beautiful dead, of all parties, who died for freedom. I recalled the names of some of the pac leaders who died in the struggle: Sobukwe, the founder of the pac, David Sibeko, who was always respectful and friendly. . . . The restless firebrand Potlako. I felt a great relief. (S.A. 27 April 1994 73–74) Mzwakhe Mbuli’s poem echoes Kunene: ‘‘I dedicated my vote to the beloved fallen brothers/and sisters of the soil’’ (S.A. 27 April 1994 84); and Gcina Mhlophe’s poem breaks out of English altogether as she reaches for the same theme: Electoral Sublime

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But now, we have cast our votes Looks like waiting is over . . . If it were not for the song of Africa That keeps blowing at the embers Reviving the flame of survival, where would we be? If it were not for the great leaders of my country O Sontonga, owaqhamuka entabeni ehlabelela Ecela kuThixo uMdali Nkosi sikelel’ iAfrika Nkosi sikelel’ iAfrika!! O Stephen Bantu Biko, iinto zoSobukwe O Victoria Mxenge noDorah Damana Amavula-ndlela oMakhanda kaNxele Iqhawe lamaqhawe uNelson Mandela. (S.A. 27 April 1994 86–87) [O Sontonga, appearing on the mountain singing begging the Lord Lord bless Africa! Lord bless Africa! O Stephen Bantu Biko, child of Sobukwe O Victoria Mxenge and Dorah Damana Those who opened the path, the Makhandas and Nxeles Hero of heroes, Nelson Mandela] Mhlophe’s litany adds to the modern ritual of voting a more ancient ritual of the elegiac praise-poem and thus claims a postcolonial, local space of representation in the order prescribed by European modernity. For Tatamkulu Afrika in similar mood, the act of voting recalls not the representative power of leaders but, as its opposite, the violent ‘‘Other’’ of voting, the rank-and-file acts of armed combat by the foot soldiers against apartheid when we warred with more (or less?) than words, when I mourned with the black bereaved, raged with them in the holiness of absolute outrage, slept with them on the small, intervening islands between bloodsheds and became, in soul, as Xhosa as any who are not can get to be.That, too, is now over: the comradeship of wars, of adrenalin shared, the living on the razor’s edge. . . . Forbidden, criminal . . . but inescapably, undeniably there, nostalgia for my now (forever?) past violent years, the satisfaction of the thrust into the soft underbelly of the hated foe, sweeps over 20

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me like a wailing wind and I rock a little in my chair and weep with an abandon that does not shame me, though I know I am out of step and stand accused. (S.A. 27 April 1994 11) I would set beside this amazing and moving confession two other memories recalled by the act of voting: a day in solitaryconfinement in 1966,when Albie Sachs was offered a ballot by a captain of the Security Police through the bars of his cell and refused to vote (S.A. 27 April 1994 110); and Achmat Dangor’s memory, in the voting booth, of another cool, dark place: I remember a cool and dark place, but not pleasant. I hear the sound of a river, the wind rushing through narrow places.The voice of the lieutenant. Yes, Security Police, a coloured man, my ‘‘own kind.’’ He tells me to run, I refuse and sit down in this cool dark place. A trapdoor to the outside world shuts and this metal cave takes off with the ritual squeal of tyres. That lieutenant retired as a major. I heard that he is dying of cancer. I’ll never know whether hewas offering me my freedom from detention or whether he intended shooting me in the back. We heard that that happened to people.What was it, 20 years ago? (S.A. 27 April 1994 38) For Sachs, Afrika, Dangor, and others, the meaning of this act carries with it as a kind of reflex a set of memories of other acts and other historical actors themselves—when they acted directly on history and not by voting for those with greater agency than themselves. The inescapable question posed is how the narrative of voting ends or closes those earlier narratives of captivity and freedom. Freedom or a shot in the back? The ballot or the bullet? Writing the images of voting both establishes and subverts a discourse of the new nation in South Africa. Those who regard the nation as an archaic and reactionary leftover, a hindrance to rethinking new global cultural networks of solidarity,will be more convinced by the subversivevector of this writing. But the text can be read either way with equal accuracy: the new nation as political sublime or as a disappointing closure to a centuryof social movements. I concludewith another passage fromTatamkulu Afrika, a lean, elderly, soldierly poet of subdued power, whom I first heard reading in a smoky jazz club at the Grahamstown festival. Such a glowing intelligence near the end of his life, like Madiba himself. He will take out these reflections on a very personal note, on that other ritual with which I have no doubt election day ended for many of its heroes, sung and unsung: Electoral Sublime

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Later, sun low, tide running out in me, I bus into the township shack of my dear love, my need of her never so strong. She is sitting in a corner of one of the two rooms’ perpetual gloom, her crippled leg hidden under a blanket over her knees, her hands quite still. She says a friend took her in his car to their polling station, brought her back home. I think with the old shafting pityof how, not yet lamed, shewould stride out, back straight and proud, at the forefront of the rallies in those bitter years that this morning have shone so brightly through my tears. How imperiously she had called us to the Flag, screamed abuse at the faceless men in their juggernauts of steel—then so femininely had held me to her in the aftermath of fear. My spirits plummet. Has anything changed for her this Day? Will this Day heal her leg, restore to her what time and terror so remorselessly have taken away? She reads me, smiles, her eyes soft in the room’s dusk, her hands beckoning me to come. ‘‘It is done,’’ she whispers, ‘‘we have walked the last mile!’’ Later still, I help her to the bed. We are careful with each other as though we hold a fine glass, and my heart sings. Yes, against all odds, my heart sings. (S.A. 27 April 1994 13) Grassroots Democracy: A Visit to the Center for Culture and Working Life At the other end of the spectrum of democratic practice from the delegatory tradition of the ballot box is grassroots participatory democracy. This tradition is generally more radical than representative democracycontrolled by a professional class of politicians, and can either exist in permanent opposition, prodding and goading the democracy of officials, or swell to become a mass political movement contesting for control of the state, whether by electoral or insurrectionary means. It is often practiced by groups already organized in other ways, notably by students and communities with strong union or church institutions; in South Africa, it is hard to separate community action of this sort from the grassroots, shopsteward-based style of social movement unionism in the black unions belonging to Federation of South African Trade Unions (fosatu) and later Congress of South African Trade Unions (cosatu). Often an unruly affair, grassroots participatory democracy by no means implies unanimity or a utopian, homogeneous idea of ‘‘community’’ (Crehan and Shapiro); as 22

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in the famous ‘‘civics’’ in South Africa, community self-governing bodies that sprang up in the eighties after the reduction to ungovernability of the official township councils, it is rather the scene of conflict over definitions of community (Lucas, Von Lieres). Neither are grassroots movements always radical or progressive. Apart from right-wing movements of this sort such as ‘‘Christian’’ fundamentalism in the United States or agitation for the death penalty in South Africa, there is always pressure for the normalization of communityaction, mostly through the ideology of development and the agency of the ngo. But it is not the development industry and the high-powered ngo—perfectly compatible with a normalized capitalist political economy adopting the parliamentary state form—that I am referring to here. During the South African transition to democracy, when attention is focused on changes in the state form, it is important to keep this other, less visible tradition of radical democracy in view, especially, for the purposes of this book, in its function as a seedbed of cultural innovation. To examine one such site of radical-democratic practice, where unionism, feminism, and the drive to establish workers’ cultural rights converge, I give here a personal account of a 1993 visit to the Center for Culture and Working Life in Durban. Chapter 6 considers in detail the work of one of the center’s directors, the feminist worker-poet and theater practitioner Nise Malange. Here I want to show the depth of community action from which her poetry and theater of the eighties sprang, and also some of the ways a nascent South African black feminism is negotiating the transition, keeping faith with radical impulses as political settings change. Jolting against the low roof of the bakkie as the driver looked for a safe place in the Umlazi township to drop his passenger, the young poet Nicholas Phakathi, it was hard for me to concentrate on the last lines of the Zulu ode Phakathi was reciting: Mangihlambe ’ze ngikhazimule, mangiphuze nce-mgidele. [Let me bathe and become bright; let me drink and delight.] Electoral Sublime

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This ‘‘Fountain of Life’’ was being invoked in the eroded dust that is Umlazi’s share of the lush subtropical Indian Ocean coast of KwaZulu/Natal, among crowds of labor-weary commuters on the combis and those even more exhausted by the 50 percent unemployment, in a place of death where Inkatha vigilantes or police might at any moment kill people who were politically active or just got in the line of fire. Phakathi is the product of this life, crossed with a remarkable program of writing instruction at a community arts center, the Center for Culture and Working Life in Durban. He spoke the ode from memory, the soft dental click in the fourth line falling ‘‘like an earring,’’ like silver water on rock, into the cadence of incremental repetition and slant rhyme. What stream in the foothills of the Drakensberg or the coastal ranges lives in that image of the fountain springing from ‘‘a colossal scar of earth’’ to shine ‘‘like silver / like an earring’’? He jotted down the five stanzas and his English version in strong schoolboy capitals and left them in my notebook as he slammed the loose latch on the pickup door.We were returning from KwaMashu township, where Nise Malange, the codirector of the center, ran a workshop for high school students in which Phakathi assisted; he had held the teenagers spellbound with a traditional riddle-tale cleverly bent into a modern shape. This day was my introduction to the township work of the center. I was in the country for July and August 1993 on a research and lecturing trip that had taken me mostly to universities and libraries, themselves quite exciting; at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg the black students were demonstrating outside for a transformation of the entire university while I discussed curriculum changes in the English Department. If these demonstrations with toyi-toyi, chants, songs, speeches, and ring dances had something of the look (from my own political life) of our New Left student movement, though incomparably more rooted in a popular mass movement than we ever were, coming into contact with the Natal community arts movement reminded me more of the Mississippi Freedom Schools; there was the same fusion of black and white intellectuals with black workers’ communities, of high art with the creative force of those who need to turn the world upside down simply to find a place in it. Margaret Daymond, a feminist literary critic at the University of Natal in Durban, had brought me to the Center; once there, I was invited to join in the work that was under way. From Malange, the best-known woman in the KwaZulu/Natal oral poetry movement, to theyoung graduate Phakathi, to the KwaMashu pupils 24

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coming up (like the factory workers and community people in the center’s art, theater, and writing classes), all the levels of a determined thrust by African workers for their ‘‘cultural rights’’ were apparent. Institutions like the Afrika Cultural Center in Johannesburg run by the theater practitioners Benjy Francis and Bhekizizwe Peterson and the painter Clifford Charles, and the Durban Center run by Malange and the worker-poet Alfred Temba Qabula, may turn out to play a major role in redrawing the South African cultural map alongside the reconstruction of its political economy. The communityarts center is heir to the great upsurge of African worker theater and poetry in the eighties. As a new state emerges, the fate of the arts center and other such cultural initiatives will indicate how the parallel struggle for a radical democracy in civil society is going. Though I had read most of the worker poetry and drama that’s available in print before this visit, along with the histories and commentaries of Ari Sitas, Astrid von Kotze, and others, the experience of seeing these community arts centers helped to contextualize the history of this radical political aesthetic in black South Africa. The political implications of the way the centers have evolved over the past ten years were also of much interest to a North American visitor, quite telling about the shifts that occur when an embattled union and mass movement takes power through national elections. The history of the Durban Center for Culture and Working Life illustrates these political changes. I took part in a writing class there in which my group told stories in three languages and mime, then I looked on at a drama rehearsal by trade unionists that culminated in an oral poetry performance. As I heard the choral surge of voices speaking and singing, the breaks and shifts from call-and-response anthems in Zulu, and watched the choreography of massed movements of groups of bodies around the playing space, agitprop skits with bosses speaking English and cops growling in Afrikaans, Votelwa Gwiji’s powerful entrance, fist raised, small athletic body striding step by slow step to the center of the space, huge voice crying her first line: ‘‘I have heard cries of despair!’’—as I watched, taking in the outlines of a scene enacting linked struggles in workplace and township, I realized I was not seeing workers’ theater as it had been at the high point of the trade union struggle in the eighties, when it commanded the stage at massive rallies across the country with The Dunlop Play (1983) and The Long March (1985). This was a new cultural form for new conditions, a form that had evolved along with the shift from mass movement to negotiations, the historic passage from struggle to a form of victory. Electoral Sublime

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What was uppermost in my mind as I watched, beneath the emotions stirred by the performance, was a question: could this sort of cultural action, the search for forms of workers’ expressive culture, the social demand for workers’ ‘‘cultural rights’’ (in Nise Malange’s phrase), survive the downturn in union mass militancy and the loss of interest in culture by many of the union leadership? What could practitioner-teacher-activists like Malange and Qabula offer the union members, community people, and students who came to their center in the new political circumstances? Especially when these circumstances included not only the demobilizing effect of waiting for the results of the distant, bureaucratized negotiations process carried on behind closed doors in the building in Johannesburg known as the World Trade Center, but also the violence and widespread use of automatic weapons in the Durban townships in the struggles between the anc and Inkatha. Malange said they had chosen the path of independent action, and I understood this to mean action in the general political direction of the anc and cosatu (the principal organ of the trade union movement as a whole), but delinked from them organizationally. Anxiety as well as pride and determination could be heard in her voice, and my question was whether the vitality and imagination I saw filling this room had a chance of surviving as an independent community arts organization. Was I seeing the beginning of the end of an amazing thing, the black mamba rising, the black Durban workers exploding into creative expression in the middle of a vast union organizing drive—or was I instead watching the birth of a powerful new form, firmly implanted in a workers’ community and seized on by workers as the expression of their rights to culture? There was nowayat that moment to answer the question, but it framed everything I saw in the Durban and Johannesburg centers. On a broader scale, it was unclear to me how many of these centers were currently flourishing, though they have a history going back at least to the early seventies and the Black Consciousness movement, which, like the unions in the eighties, organized, coordinated, and diffused the work of local cultural groups affiliated with their politics; the important journal Staffrider began about the same time and published in permanent form much of the work of these Black Consciousness ‘‘locals.’’ But the Durban and Johannesburg centers I saw in 1993 had more in common, I believe (from conversations with the scholar-practitioners Zakes Mda and Bhekizizwe Peterson), with politically nonaligned cultural work like the rural Lesotho ‘‘theater for development’’ Mda describes in his fascinating 26

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book When People Play People, or the nearly two hundred Zimbabwean community theater groups Peterson had surveyed. Malange’s pedagogy and Mda’s dramaturgy draw on Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed (‘‘conscientization’’—naming, reflection, praxis) and Augusto Boal’s Theater of the Oppressed (‘‘simultaneous dramaturgy,’’ ‘‘forum theater’’); its point, Mda says, is not to provide technical solutions to community problems but to help develop the community’s own critical awareness of the structural causes of their problems. The point is the process of understanding and action, not the aesthetic product. Much of the writing and playmaking is thus site-specific, and recording and publishing it is not primary. Nevertheless, the Durban and Johannesburg centers have small publication programs, and books like Mda’s and von Kotze’s, focused essentially on the process of community-generated or worker theater, do include some scripts and synopses. Common assumptions also issue in some striking similarities between, for example, the Durban diary of Beauty Mahlaba (which I will discuss) and the village plays Mda describes, such as The Agro-Action Play,The Rural Sanitation Play, and The Alcoholism Play. Peterson read a paper at a Rutgers conference in April 1994 that took the line on cultural policy that the new regime should be funding this kind of cultural work rather than new opera houses; this view was widely shared and had a chance of prevailing— which would make Malange and Qabula’s center not an ephemeral or dated model but a paradigm for an enabling new radical-democratic culture. From 1983 to 1987, the period covered by Astrid von Kotze’s book Organise and Act (1988), this sort of theater devised and produced by workers was directly linked to a strike, an organizing campaign, or a mass rally; it exemplified the international left political aesthetic of art as a weapon in the struggle (like, for example, the ‘‘camera as a gun’’ of Third Cinema, the ‘‘guerrilla cinema’’—Solanas’s and Gettino’s term—practiced in Mozambique). Black South African workers’ theater, and the closely associated workers’ oral poetry movement, thrilled national and international audiences as well as the tens of thousands of local unionists whose popular arts they were. The Freirean pedagogy informing these workshops and performances was a collaboration between the organic intellectuals of the shop floor such as Hlatshwayo, Malange, and Qabula, and university people such as Sitas and von Kotze. Already in the eighties, in important ways, both pedagogy and activist performance outstripped the categories of protest art or even resistance art: as the cultural theorist Njabulo S. Ndebele was arguing influentially during that period, in the essays now Electoral Sublime

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published as Rediscovery of the Ordinary (1991), the liberationist aim of the Natal workers’ art movements took care of the future in the struggles of the present and had in its sights not only the winning of the Dunlop and Sarmcol strikes, but what Ndebele calls the ‘‘free[ing of ] the entire social imagination of the oppressed from the laws of perception that characterise apartheid society’’ (65). In a risky transitional tactic that had the feel of that period of political interregnum worldwide, the cwlp seemed to me to have decided to focus directly on that more comprehensive aim, as worker leaders’ priorities shifted, however temporarily, from local action to centralized negotiation and state policymaking. Part of this thinking—a practical pedagogy for community work—was Nise Malange’s stress on the need for healing that people from thewar-torn communities were bringing to the Center, given the fact that, for example, most of her KwaMashu writing class of a dozen fourteen-year-olds had seen someone killed or even had to kill someone themselves (not to speak of the political murder of beloved cadre from the Center itself, like Simon Ngubane, the leader of the Sarmcol players). ‘‘Cultural rights’’ is a radicaldemocratic demand in Malange’s understanding of the term. It involves winning from employers time for cultural activity in the workplace and a shorter workday for cultural activity in the community; she was engaged in that work with the unions. But closer to her teacher’s heart, perhaps, was what she and her comrades could do directly to heal, to liberate the expressive culture of a suffering people, through their classes in the community. In her poem ‘‘Today,’’ Malange embodied her belief in the teacher’s healing voice: Everyone who has died Is here today Those who died in the struggle of the people Are here Singing with us— They are holding our hands, Just that touch Moving through all our bodies Like a bloodstream (in Sitas, Black Mamba 56) The ‘‘touch’’ here is transmitted also by the sound of the teaching voice. Disappointment in union leaders who had lost interest in worker culture except as an adjunct to rallies had given way to the belief in direct teaching. 28

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The risks of volunteerism, privatization, and isolation from large organizations and sources of funding that this path entailed were painfully clear, and the record of ngos in the postcolonial world is mixed at best. But what drew the center’s teachers to this path was an urgency in their students’ lives that can be heard, for example, in Votelwa Gwiji’s ‘‘Cries of Despair’’: I hear cries of despair coming from poor black children hungry with nothing to eat roaming, moving up and down the streets uneducated, wearing untidy ragged clothes with nowhere to live they cry for their rights . . . I hear cries of despair coming from poor black girls forced by parents to marry . . . I hear cries of despair coming from a poor black woman with a five-month-old baby clinging tightly to the mother’s nipples nothing comes out . . . To you murderers I say put your weapons in their places Another student in the center’s writing class, Marjorie Njeje, showed what was compelling about Malange’s strategy, the short-term immediacy of the communal hunger for teaching, in this memory of herself as a child in Cape Town (her domestic worker mother having run short of money for school fees): I was compelled to be dismissed the boarding master would watch me weeping outside the school’s gates not going away not knowing what to do How would that child’s yearning be addressed by an art pedagogy that was defined sternly by culture-as-a-weapon, linked organizationally to union Electoral Sublime

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demands? And even with free compulsory public education under the anc, will that child’s yearning be met with the sort of education for critical consciousness that radical community centers provide? One can see the strategic thinking behind the move to this model. (Njeje later told the end of the story: an African man had come along, seen her crying at the school gate, and lent her mother the money for school fees; now, some thirty years later, Njeje had just finished repaying the loan.) There was another impulse behind the confidence in small-scale local pedagogy as a power-seizing tactic: the woman-identified politics that could be heard in Gwiji and Njeje and that was strongly articulated by Malange herself in her teaching and in her own poetry, the stirring ‘‘Long Live Women,’’ for example, a kind of vorticist chant funneled through the line ‘‘When I talk to women words become stuck in my throat.’’ This is a local feminism that runs somewhat to one side of the ‘‘woman in the struggle’’ line that subsumes feminism into nationalist or socialist movements at the expense of its specific, autonomous necessity. The community arts center might well be a more propitious site for the development of independent feminist consciousness than the male-heavy leadership organizations, fast becoming hegemonic, of the anc and cosatu. Margaret Randall’s Gathering Rage: The Failure of 20th-Century Revolutions to Develop a Feminist Agenda suggests as much from her experience in Cuba and Nicaragua. All the more because there was an unhappy consciousness among some progressive, anc-supporting circles that the anc general line could easily slide toward a politics of reformist capitalist modernization (restructuring, reconstruction), not too different from multiracial societies like the United States, Britain, France, and Germany, rather than leaping ahead to a new, multiracial, radical-democratic social formation. Lauretta Ngcobo’s essay ‘‘Toward a Gender-Sensitive Culture’’ also relocates the site of feminist work from the state to civil society (if that dubious distinction is usable), from the macro- to the micropolitical, the ‘‘domestic struggle,’’ as the Johannesburg sociologist Belinda Bozzoli called it in an important 1983 article revising orthodox Marxist historiography. In this spirit, a feminist pedagogy rooted in the politics of everyday life, in what Ndebele and Bessie Head before him called the ‘‘ordinary,’’ could turn out to be a crucial experiment for the liberation struggle as a whole, redefining notions of power, taking power, getting used to power. I am suggesting, admittedly from the vantage point of an informed outsider, that what is really revolutionary in the South African struggle (which has gone so deep in the hearts of 30

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progressive people the world over) may now be moving—less visibly, less massively, but not less powerfully in the long run—beneath the surface of dramatic changes in the state form. Whatever the truth of these wider speculations, the autonomous local strategy at the Durban Center was producing publications like Umkhumulansika: The Destruction of the Pillars of the Home (1992), prose pieces by women and men from the writing class that respond to the ‘‘period of political war in Natal’’ to which they give the name umkhumulansika, crumbling.This writing, Beauty Mahlaba’s diary ‘‘Impilo Enzima (A Hard Life),’’ for instance, is in the genre of the Latin American testimonio—the work of Carolina Maria de Jesus in Brazil or Rigoberta Menchú in Guatemala. The seven days of Mahlaba’s diary include ten episodes of deadly violence, all by Inkatha vigilantes and the homeland KwaZulu police against township residents. The class has taught her to observe and report with the devastating simplicity of Menchú’s reporting of deaths on the finca, or de Jesus’s descriptions of food scavenging in the favelas: I heard a woman crying. I opened the window quietly and saw a shack burning. I looked at my wall clock, it was ten minutes past twelve. I went to look again and I saw a man running with a woman who was crying following him to the bush. Four men were standing with guns watching that burning shack. I couldn’t sleep. Something was jumping in my chest. In the morning police were taking the corpse from the bush to the mortuary. (Mahlaba 10–11) Visits with relatives, shopping among the pickpockets of central Durban, memories of the country, sharing food with other laid-off workers, sleeping in one morning, weave through the searing violence of the days of this remarkable diarist and show the power of writing to create a home even in the fall of the pillars of the home about the writer’s head. In another piece in Umkhumulansika, Mahlaba writes of a systemic oppression that majority rule and the end of apartheid will not necessarily address: When women work many men demand the full salary and use it on other women in hotels while the owner of that money has nothing to eat in the house. Some women are divorced without knowing it. Some are widows even though their husbands have not died. They leave them with many children and disappear. Many women are being exploited Electoral Sublime

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by their employers. They do not earn enough money because they are women. Somewomen want to buy houses but it is hard if their husbands are not working.There are not enough political and other structures for women.That is why they are always left behind.There is no woman leading any organisation and there is no woman president or vice-president in our political organisation but women are the majority in our country. The unions seldom employ women as organisers and even the union structures have few women in leadership positions. Women must fight for equal rights. (31) This intense, concrete political consciousness reminds me of Menchú’s closing chapter, and testifies to the workshop pedagogy behind both Mahlaba’s and Menchú’s flowering as writers and mature feminist political actors. Some of the details of Votelwa Gwiji’s ‘‘Liberated Woman’’ match Mahlaba’s keen diarist’s gaze, and her focus on the domestic struggle, even amidst a historic transformation of the public sphere and the nightmarish political violence, testifies to a strongly held feminist consciousness in some young black South African women: What curse are the black women carrying? What have they done? For how long have they resisted the yoke? For how long will their resistance last? Have they no right to defend themselves? Have they no objection for what is being done to them? Are they blind? Are they dumb? Liberty and equality! You are oppressed twice Inside the room and outside the exterior world The time has passed away When women would sweat working in the fields While men sit under the trees chatting and drinking beer When women would not sleep all night 32

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being frustrated While men are snoring When kids would cry for food to mothers While men are moving up and down enjoying life When women would be their in-laws’ slaves While men are the beloved ones. The kitchen is the place for both men and women Nursing and caring for the kids is the task for both parents. Freedom of speech must be preserved. Women have a share with men everywhere Corporal punishment is handed to women to do it to men when necessary. Marriage is not a place of slavery frustrations and confrontations but a place of love, peace and happiness. Dear husbands please treat your wives tenderly The ‘‘turn’’ in the last line, and the militant sarcasm, mark Gwiji’s youth in contrast to Mahlaba’s and Njeje’s sadder and wiser tone. Her shifts between an outraged personal ethics (‘‘Are they blind? / Are they dumb?’’), formal legal-political rhetoric (‘‘libertyand equality,’’ ‘‘freedom of speech,’’ ‘‘corporal punishment’’), the direct address of comradely criticism (‘‘Dear husbands’’), and the vignettes of women’s personal narrative (women sweating, men sitting; women sleepless, men snoring) combine to shape a flexible poetic language that can encompass the gender revolution as at once private and public, modern and traditional, about structure and about agency. The tendency to formula (‘‘The kitchen is the place,’’ ‘‘Marriage is not the place’’) marks the writer’s youth as well as the firmness of her conviction, but it is also a traditional feature of oral poetry. Gwiji’s range also includes a praise-poem in honor of her birthplace, Port Saint Johns, in which she finds an image from the old herder/mixed farmer Xhosa culture to describe the pain of migrancy (that century-old feature of the South African industrial labor system): You have not enough milk to feed me with So I’ll have to move out Electoral Sublime

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Like a bird, like ants To find something for a living. ‘‘Port Saint Johns’’ is in the line of one of the masterpieces of the Natal workers’ oral poetry movement, Qabula’s ‘‘Migrant’s Lament,’’ but extends Qabula’s male-migrant subject-position to include the lament of the daughters, now job seekers along with the fathers whose cattle they used to herd as little girls, for whom they fetched water and firewood, with whom they ate wild berries and fruit in the forests, streams, and hills along the Indian Ocean coast. ‘‘Wherever I am wherever I may be / I’ll always be yours,’’ the daughter writes, constructing migrancy somewhat differently from Qabula’s speaker, whose vision of the countryside is one of desolation and hunger and whose mood is to press forward to do battle in the new scene of urban strife; his poem ends ‘‘Now go, troublemaker, go!’’ The daughter, however, looks back as she too heads for Umlazi, KwaMashu, and the roar of the factories; she sees the border behind her as provisional, less than final, refusing the tragic tone of Qabula’s sense of loss (itself an echo of one of the founding poems of the twentieth-century Xhosa tradition, I. W. W. Citashe’s 1892 ‘‘Your Cattle Are Gone’’). ‘‘But eventually I’ll come back / No matter even if I come with nothing / . . . we are yours,’’ concludes Gwiji’s migrant daughter, perhaps claiming from the settler-state not only victoryon the labor union battlefields but the promise of a restored land, healed of its colonial divisions into city and country. Votelwa Gwiji is a product of the rural-urban cultural history that the teachers at the Durban Center have known how to lead their students to articulate and reflect on in poems like these. At another level, the Afrika Cultural Center in Johannesburg produces texts for community arts use, like Francis and Peterson’s inspired weekly comic strip (in which Brecht jostles Augusto Boal) for the black-owned newspaper The Sowetan, which showed readers how to organize their own theater group; or the beautiful 1985 work Fragments in the Sun, which juxtaposes Clifford Charles’s drawings, the long title sequence by the established poet Essop Patel, and a collaborative ‘‘performance text’’ montage of the poetry by Patel, Peterson, and Francis. Notes suggest back-projection of the drawings and an elaborate musical structure for drums, voices, and dancers (the piece was produced in London in 1985). The publication of Umkhumulansika and Fragments in the Sun shows how both community arts centers teach beyond their walls, and how a strong, enduring art of the dis34

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possessed—‘‘a landscape of burning aloes’’—is rising in South Africa. At its strategic heart seem to me to be the arts of performance. Performance is a historical grafting of African rural orature, music, and dance onto urban space and sensibility. It is the ‘‘act’’ of art at the point of its emergence from exploitation and oppression, like Phakathi’s fountain in the dusty Umlazi bus stop. ‘‘By the beach / by the island / by the obdurate rock,’’ as Patel writes with a glance at the prison on Robben Island; a song rises in the margin of the performance text: ‘‘We are the youth of Africa / we won’t be killed/whilst we are still young.’’ Of course, they were being killed; the murdered child-fighter became the South African symbol in 1976. Dying, but writing back, we might paraphrase Claude McKay. The young students of the Durban and Johannesburg centers carry with them as they cross the line between life and death the struggle of memory against forgetting. In the furious complexity of their struggle the teaching of art has become a place to heal, to speak in Patel’s ‘‘chain of whispers’’: ‘‘freedom is a rose amidst thorns.’’ It is no accident that Fools, the first South African feature film by a black South African director, Ramadan Suleman (discussed in the epilogue), was produced by an independent company, Natives at Large, whose leading members come out of the Afrika Cultural Center: Suleman himself, the screenwriter Bheki Peterson, and the associate producer Benjy Francis. In one scene in Zamani’s house the painting on the wall is by Clifford Charles. It is also striking that Fools is a male feminist film, an echo of the politics of Malange’s teaching in her gender-mixed classes in Durban. Beneath the surface, in other words, grassroots arts structures like the Durban and Johannesburg centers have shown their potential for a radical reconstruction of culture in South Africa in defiance of the pressures from above for the normalization of art. May they long remain at large.

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chapter two

Njabulo Ndebele and Radical-Democratic Culture

To see South African writing of the eighties as aimed not only at but beyond apartheid is not merely an effect of hindsight. At the time, ‘‘beyond’’ apartheid was understood temporally, conceiving a time after Césaire’s ‘‘rendezvous of victory,’’ and also spatially beyond South Africa’s borders, imagining an eventual international audience even for agitprop poetry at local workers’ rallies in Natal. Indeed, at the time, one ‘‘beyond’’ seemed to guarantee the other: the flow of South African writing, music, and drama outward to a waiting world, and the flow inward of antiapartheid international funding (especially European) to support alternative publishing and theater and the cultural organizations of ‘‘the struggle’’— combined with economic sanctions and the cultural boycott—gave even the most radical writers the sense that their work was part of a massively supported world movement that must inevitably overwhelm the apartheid regime. One of the clearest signs that writers in the eighties already thought in this way is the momentum in cultural theory that, paradoxically, grew more critical of current practice the more it turned toward the time after apartheid. Sometimes converging, sometimes opposed, the main streams of theory on a South African emergent culture bore this hope and this critical edge forward through the decade. It is interesting that a culminating

point of these debates was reached,orat least catalyzed, at the same critical moment of February 1990 that saw the release of Mandela and the unbanning of the resistance parties. In that month the influential anc leader and constitutional lawyer Albie Sachs’s provocative, liberalizing essay on culture, ‘‘Preparing Ourselves for Freedom’’ (which began life as an in-house seminar paper for the anc] executive), was published in part in the Johannesburg Weekly Mail and prompted a widespread discussion throughout even the most grassroots of cultural groups of everything they were doing. (Within a year two book-length collections of responses to Sachs—really a conversation among all the participants in the theoretical debates—had been published: Ingrid de Kok and Karen Press’s Spring Is Rebellious: Arguments about Cultural Freedom by Albie Sachs and Respondents, and Duncan Brown and Bruno van Dyk’s Exchanges: South African Writing in Transition.) But before this culminating moment there had already been considerable theorizing, Marxist, of course, as in the work of critics like Michael Chapman, Jeremy Cronin, Ari Sitas, Kelwyn Sole, Michael Vaughan; feminist, more recently, as a series of conferences, anthologies, and special issues of journals made visible, in the work of Dorothy Driver, Margaret Daymond, Isabel Hofmeyr, Cecily Lockett, Desiree Lewis, and others; and radical-democratic, sometimes influenced by Black Consciousness themes, as in the work of Njabulo Ndebele and others. In many ways the most influential of these theories, the one that played something like a mediating role among the others (including feminism, despite his failure to mention it), was contained in a series of essays Ndebele wrote in the eighties, each essay widely influential in itself, and the whole series collected in 1991 and published with the newly formed Congress of South African Writers (cosaw) as Rediscovery of the Ordinary: Essays on South African Literature and Culture. This book seems the appropriate beginning to a retrospective study of the last decade of antiapartheid culture for several reasons, not least the mediating role its author can be seen to have played. In the discussion of Sachs’s ‘‘Preparing Ourselves for Freedom,’’ for example, it was Ndebele’s name more than any other (more than Gordimer’s or Chris van Wyk’s, also much invoked) that was urged, either in support of Sachs’s thesis or in mitigation of it, by the more radical respondents such as Nise Malange, Tony Morphet, and Ari Sitas. But reading Ndebele, I want to suggest, is not simple. His work can be taken, as it is by Kelwyn Sole, as a compelling version of radicaldemocratic, left-liberal humanism (perhaps ‘‘post-Marxist’’ in the vein of Njabulo Ndebele

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Laclau and Mouffe): ‘‘It seeks to help constitute and empower a democratic, critical and self-critical civil society’’ (‘‘Democratising Culture’’ 13). Some have taken it, approvingly, as a new mining by a radically minded black intellectual of the tradition of classical liberal humanism, with much promise in the new dispensation. Others, like Tony Morphet in an incisive essay in the Spring Is Rebellious collection, have seen its assumptions, like Sachs’s, already by-passed by poststructuralist critique of textual mediation and the site of enunciation (de Kok and Press 143); and the feminist critic Margaret Daymond uses a comment by Nise Malange to point to ‘‘the absence of gender questions in the theorizing of culture and cultural practices put forward by Ndebele and Sachs’’ (Daymond, South African Feminisms 226). Perhaps because of Ndebele’s eclectic style, which uses Marxist terms sparingly, is careful to avoid a narrow black nationalism, leaves his feminism implicit, and seems to ignore poststructuralism almost completely, few have seen in it what I want to claim: an original opening to a theory of emergent culture in the specific setting of an internal-colonialist formation in the throes of decolonization—eighties South Africa. This reading of the evolution of Ndebele’s views through 1990, enabled by an international frame, is crucial to seeing his connections to other radical streams of theory such as cross-race feminism and ‘‘grassroots’’ or anarchosyndicalist theory in the workers’ arts movement; and particularly to seeing how, aligned with those other currents, he may represent a radical displacement of the shift from revolution to reform that was the real import of the Sachs/anc redefinition of culture in 1990 as the anc realized it was close to taking power. If the South African eighties gave voice to the most radical impulses in literature and culture anywhere in the world at that time, as I think they did, it is Ndebele’s work that comes closest to theorizing their possibilities well beyond the temporary settlement the movement ended up consolidating with the state and its global capitalist matrix. Ndebele’s silences and blindnesses (as Morphet, Malange, and Daymond have revealed them) are themselves instructive of their historical moment and could be overcome theoretically if brought to the bar of his own deepest insight. The Commitment to Theory It is not enough to try to get back to the people in that past out of which they have already emerged; rather we must join them in that fluctuating movement

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[ce mouvement basculé] which they are just giving a shape to, and which, as soon as it has started, will be the signal for everything to be called in question. Let there be no mistake about it; it is to this zone of occult instability [ce lieu de déséquilibre occulte] where the people dwell that we must come. —Frantz Fanon, ‘‘On National Culture,’’ Wretched of the Earth The greatest challenge of the South African revolution is in the search for new ways of thinking, ways of perception, that will help to break down the closed epistemological structures of South African oppression. The challenge is to free the entire social imagination of the oppressed from the laws of perception that have characterised apartheid society. For writers this means freeing the creative process itself from those very laws. . . . The operative principle of composition in post-protest literature is that it should . . . reveal new worlds where it was thought they did not exist, and reveal process and movement where they were hidden. —Njabulo Ndebele, ‘‘Beyond ‘Protest’ ’’

Up to 1990, newspapers and television gave a kind of representation to some events in the anguished, hopeful breakthrough the South African liberation movement was trying to consolidate. But they said nothing about the urgent questions of cultural theory in the movement, a debate that drew Nobel nominees and worker-poets from the Dunlop shop floor, women of color around the magazine Speak and white social science and literary feminists, aspiring writers in a cosaw fiction workshop and video artists doing community organizing, documentary photographers in Afrapix and rally organizers, political leaders and undergraduates, church and theater people, literacy workers and academics.1 The movement—democratic, nonracial, beginning to acknowledge the necessity of feminism, and including a small gay movement—was massive,with a strong workingclass core.To observe cultural theorydebated in such a context is towitness a historic convergence, a local knowledge that also speaks powerfully to the theoretical impasse of the late-capitalist global cultural economy. The mood and the status of such a moment are evoked in the epigraphs from Fanon and Ndebele, separated though they are by thirty years of postcolonial historyand the length of Africa. Both cohabit the thrilling and sobering air of an unstable moment of masked or hidden movements in the popular imaginary, epistemological shifts in a people who have everything to rethink and remake, the real possibility of a decolonizing public culture. Both take it for granted that the literary intellectual positions herself or Njabulo Ndebele

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himself in that uncertain, provisional space the people occupy, and that commitment to the people is therefore a commitment to theory. Njabulo S. Ndebele is only one contributor to that commitment, his voice rising from a ‘‘South African stage’’ on which, as he said in February 1990, is to be seen the ‘‘frantic entrance of new actors all carrying their own scripts’’ (‘‘Liberation’’ 22). But there is an unusual clarity and resonance in his essays which many people in South Africa respond to, and he is much in demand to speak abroad on cultural questions.2 ‘‘One of the most soughtafter guest speakers in South Africa’’ (Gibbons 79) and ‘‘possibly the most influential figure in South African literary studies at the moment’’ (Bunn and Taylor 267), Ndebele had chaired departments of literature and become a leading university administrator and the president of cosaw. He has been important in South African literature from his beginnings as a poet of the Black Consciousness movement of the early seventies, when new black writers broke into print again after the long post-Sharpeville repression of the sixties; then for his short fiction in Fools and Other Stories, which won Africa’s highest literary prize, the Noma Award, in 1984, and since then for the work to be discussed here, a body of critical and theoretical essays (most collected in 1991 in Rediscovery of the Ordinary: Essays on South African Literature and Culture) that point to a provocative and coherent theory of literature in a democratic nonracial culture. His work is arguably the best place to begin to assay the theoretical claims of the South African emergent culture of liberation.3 The main issues and problems in Ndebele’s theory of culture, as I see it, are those of an inquiry into rethinking and remaking power/knowledge— ‘‘breaking down closed epistemological structures,’’ ‘‘freeing the entire social imagination of the oppressed’’—on the basis of an actual historical emergence of such a new hegemony, borne by the historically new subjects of the mass movement. These issues and problems can be readily thematized as a set of possible subject-positions or identities: of state and nation, ‘‘race’’ and ethnicity, language, gender and class, with Ndebele’s own focus falling mostly on the first three. The political/intellectual vantage points, themselves historically unstable and changing fast, from which these issues are addressed in Ndebele and the movement as a whole are also readily visible, though their entanglement in South Africa is not at all the same as in Europe or the United States: democratic humanism (not necessarily pro-capitalist), feminism, nationalism, and Marxism (all the isms should probably be in the plural).4 40

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Ndebele’s essays from 1982 to 1990 fall into a fairly clear pattern as they engage this project. Always speaking from his disciplinary niche as writer/critic, but extending progressively further into cultural studies, he has moved from formulations of Black Consciousness poetics (‘‘Artistic and Political Mirage,’’ ‘‘Life-Sustaining Poetry’’), through three major articles on the political aesthetic of black fiction (‘‘Turkish Tales,’’ ‘‘Rediscovery of the Ordinary,’’ ‘‘Redefining Relevance’’), to a series of influential inquiries into the conditions of cultural production in South Africa: on language (‘‘English Language’’), cultural institutions (‘‘Towards Progressive Cultural Planning’’), the restoration of African literature (‘‘Challenges’’), the organized action of cultural producers (‘‘Writers’ Movement’’), the aims and spirit of academic criticism (‘‘Ethics’’), and the viability of a new national culture (‘‘Liberation’’). Although I pay attention to Ndebele’s personal development and to the intellectual traditions informing his work, my focus is on the theoretical issues it addresses, particularly its narratives of nation and gender. But the theme of positions just raised—‘‘the politics of location,’’ in Adrienne Rich’s phrase—also catches up with any U.S. reading of Ndebele, which needs not to assume the transparency of African writing nor the innocence of American interpretation.There is a better understanding now of what is known as ‘‘Africanism,’’ on the model of Said’s Orientalism.5 Rather than rehearse the indispensable literature on the politics of Western interpretation, where Aijaz Ahmad, Homi Bhabha, V. Y. Mudimbe, Gayatri Spivak, and Trinh Minh-ha are major figures, I would prefer here merely to disavow any notion of bounded cultures in the present world system and to align my reading of Ndebele with Arjun Appadurai’s assumption that all social texts are distributed through the power networks of an actively functioning ‘‘global cultural economy.’’ Ndebele’s theory of an emergent culture in Southern Africa I treat as one ‘‘flow’’ in that economy, marked but not bounded by its point of origin, just as this response from the United States is another such ‘‘flow,’’ similarly marked; each seems to me interested— in both senses—in a self-consciousness of all the overlapping knowledge and power relations that obtain here. Though the usual functioning of global cultural flows is malign for oppressed people, as Ndebele’s critique of normative English in his country certainly makes clear in one instance (‘‘The English Language and Social Change’’), and although I take Jeyifo’s point that in the global regime of truth Western and African exchanges of views occur not merely as knowlNjabulo Ndebele

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edge but as power, I think that in this case, given the exemplary value of the South African struggle, the authority of Ndebele and his comrades resists American distortion.6 A complicitous North American reading of Ndebele, a complicity of oppositional theory in the U.S.A. and the R.S.A., seems no less possible than collusion of Western interpretation withWestern power. Much of Ndebele’s thinking has been delivered before European and U.S. audiences and so has moved into Trinh’s ‘‘undetermined threshold place’’ between inside and outside; the point of the international ‘‘commitment to theory’’ about which Homi Bhabha writes with such hope (Location of Culture 19–39) would then be to move into the same ‘‘hybrid’’ place, from which we may affect both political locations and the flows between. My intention in coming to grips with Ndebele’s work is to see how it speaks to cultural politics in the United States as much as in South Africa, and to suggest some implications for the way U.S. intellectuals position themselves toward South Africa. For South African and other readers who have followed Ndebele’s position as it has been developing since the mid-1980s, this will be what Trinh calls an ‘‘outside in’’ reading. There are historical grounds in this case for an optimistic commitment to theory in Bhabha’s sense, the claim that cultural theory can be ‘‘split’’ between the ‘‘differential histories’’ (Location of Culture 31) and the ‘‘disruptive temporality’’ (37) of different national sites of enunciation, can be saturated in the power effects of its disjunctive and unequally developed ‘‘institutional history’’ and yet not forgo ‘‘its conceptual [and political] potential for change’’ (31). The relevant site of enunciation here is not a reified ‘‘nation’’ but the political movements in both places, Fanon’s peuple (given Bhabha’s or Appadurai’s post-Marxist gloss of multiple identifications and hybridity, if you prefer). Against the constitutive formation of white settler colonialisms, well chronicled in George M. Frederickson’s White Supremacy, we have seen unfold in both countries the parallel satyagraha antiracist movements of the late fifties, the Black Power/Black Consciousness developments that succeeded them in the late sixties, and the U.S. antiapartheid campaign that responded to the revival of mass struggle in South Africa from the strikes of 1973 through the 1980s. One should not overlook the differences either,7 notably the transformative potential and scope of the organized mass movement in Ndebele’s country through the early nineties, which swept all intellectual work into its mouvement basculé, its déséquilibre occulte—in contrast to the (temporary) isolation of radical cul42

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tural workers in the neo-imperialist U.S.A. But both countries are on the same seesaw. A formal basis for thinking this is Bakhtin’s concept of the chronotope, ‘‘historical time condensed in space’’: ‘‘to see time, to read time, in the spatial whole of the world and, on the other hand, to perceive the filling of space not as an immobile background, a given that is completed once and for all, but as an emerging whole, an event’’ (qtd. in Willemen 15). Building dialogic linkages between African and Western theory (between Samir Amin and Elizabeth Spelman, for example) is listening/speaking in and from one chronotope with and toward another. Toni Morrison’s reconciling phrase from the end of her cruelly gender-disjunctive novel Beloved could stand for the ‘‘optimism of the will’’ in these linkages as narratives next to or alongside: ‘‘He wants to put his story next to hers’’ (273). But the temptation of liberal humanist universalism always present in appropriations of Bakhtin needs to be offset by a clear sense—which tends to blur in Appadurai—of the unequal development that frames the global cultural economy. Ndebele expresses it acidly in his address to the English Academy of Southern Africa by simply quoting ‘‘Western Civilisation,’’ a piercing short poem by Agostinho Neto (Rediscovery of the Ordinary 107). Mongane Serote, his poet comrade from the early seventies, outlines a resistance to the power/knowledge of unequal development in Black Consciousness idiom: White people are white people, They are burning the world. Black people are black people, They are the fuel. White people are white people, They must learn to listen. Black people are black people, They must learn to talk. (Yakhal’inkomo 61) If these lines could be overdubbed onto Bhabha’s international commitment to theory, the achievements of the South Africans could begin to make a political difference everywhere.

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The Autonomy of Black Emergent Culture Ndebele’s theory, though it has evolved along with South African politics during nearly twenty years, had its origins in the Black Consciousness Movement (Petersen interview 73), whose best-known exponent was Steve Bantu Biko, and which influenced virtually every black writer in the country and ended forever white liberal condescension in cultural matters. And his thinking was always theoretical. As early as his 1973 undergraduate thesis on the poet Oswald Mbuyseni Mtshali, the critical readings tend to enunciate a political aesthetic. Mtshali’s Sounds of a Cowhide Drum had an extraordinary impact when in 1971 it broke a decade of silence imposed by censorship, jail, and exile; it was the first volume of poetry ever to make a profit in South Africa and went through five printings in two years (Barnett 34). Nadine Gordimer’s foreword (Mtshali xi) expressed the white literary reader’s excitement, shared by many black readers then and now (e.g., Shava 78–83). Ndebele took a different view in the essay adapted from his 1973 thesis and published in 1982, ‘‘Artistic and Political Mirage: Mtshali’s Sounds of a Cowhide Drum.’’ Gordimer considered that the ‘‘shock of recognition’’ in Mtshali’s graphic vignettes (e.g., ‘‘An Abandoned Bundle,’’ 68) performed an essential gesture of naming for black readers (for whites, they were ‘‘a revelation of a world they live in and never know’’). But Ndebele’s critique saw this recognition/naming effect as salutary rather for white readers at a certain point, not for black, and therefore as only ‘‘one part of the artistic problem which the black South African writer has to confront’’ (193). Ndebele’s symptomatic reading ignored equally the irony Gordimer valued and the indirect strategies of protest Shava praises in Mtshali, to bear down on Brechtian and Fanonist questions of voice and address that a black poetryof liberation must face: ‘‘Poetry should not only shock us into a fresh recognition of familiar situations, but should force us to considerdismantling oppressive structures’’ (‘‘Artistic and Political Mirage’’ 193). This axiom led him away from Mtshali’s virtuosity of visual image—‘‘poetry is more than a photograph’’ (192)—to a scrutiny of his authorial silences. ‘‘At no stage does he positively assert the human worth of the oppressed’’ (192); ‘‘Mtshali has merely confirmed the fact of oppression without offering a challenging alternative. Our poetry, however, should go beyond the confirmation of oppression to reveal the black man’s attempt to re-create himself ’’ (193). The ‘‘our’’ here, specifically black (in the Black Conscious44

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ness Movement ‘‘black’’ was a political, not a racial category merely, and designated all people of color fighting apartheid), interpellates the black poet in the name of an awakening ‘‘consciousness of the oppressed’’ (190); the textual work of producing a ‘‘re-created’’ black subjectivity is felt to subsume both represented figure and implied author in the text. Beneath these implications of voice is the notion of address: above all, black poetry needed to address the black reader. For Fanon it was axiomatic that only then could one speak of a national literature (Wretched of the Earth 240). Ndebele could only be a resisting reader of a poetry he found addressing, too much or in nontransformative ways, white readers. Irony was not enough.This is the reason for Ndebele’s deliberate méconnaissance of figures like Mtshali’s men in chains, washerwoman, and old man in church as emblems of hopelessness, when they might more conventionally be read as powerful indictments of the system and witnesses to its effects. He says of the figure in ‘‘The Washerwoman’s Prayer’’ (‘‘her face / Like a bean skin soaked in brine’’) that ‘‘we would expect from the ‘victim’ some sort of protest’’ (‘‘Artistic and Political Mirage’’ 192), though in fact the second half of the poem is a Job-like protest, full of authorial irony, complete with a self-satirizing god of the oppressor: ‘‘Good Lord! Dear Lord!’’ she shouted ‘‘Why am I so tormented? How long have I lamented? Tell me Lord, tell me O Lord.’’ ‘‘My child! Dear child,’’ she heard, ‘‘Suffer for those who live in gilded sin, Toil for those who swim in a bowl of pink gin.’’ ‘‘Thank you Lord! Thank you Lord. Never again will I ask Why must I carry this task.’’ (Mtshali, Sounds 7) But Ndebele overrides Mtshali’s irony, because for Fanon’s freezing souls of the people, the accumulated depressive effect of images of oppression, uninflected by formal features like an interventionist speaker’s voice, is just too painfully out of key with ‘‘the committed and positive search for oneself ’’ (‘‘Artistic and Political Mirage’’ 193), the ‘‘imaginative and artistic exploration’’ (192), which the Black Consciousness Movement enacted— with reason and to good effect—as the political necessity of the time. On Njabulo Ndebele

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the other hand, the complexity inhering in such questions comes out in Ndebele’s later essays on fiction, where figuration rather than interventionist voice is put forward strongly, where ‘‘protest’’ becomes a tradition to be broken free of, and where irony is explicitly upheld as the privileged mode. In ‘‘Turkish Tales and Some Thoughts on South African Fiction’’ (1984), however, he is still to be found saying that ‘‘it was the aesthetics of recognition that was the basis of dissatisfaction with the early poetry of Oswald Mtshali’’ (Rediscovery of the Ordinary 27). It is worth noting again here that Black Consciousness, as Biko’s writings and studies like Robert Fatton’s make evident, was never merely an essentialist cultural nationalism, but rather a historic dismantling of the structures of white supremacist biopower.U.S. readers may find Ndebele’s strong reading of Mtshali’s first volume troubling, so firmly does it run athwart the ironic intentionality of some fine poems; this readerly subjectposition would be close to Gordimer’s foreword. But that was Ndebele’s theoretical agenda: to confront a formalist poetics of irony and a humanist intentionality silent about its implied white subject-position; to intervene as poet-critic in the direction black poetry was taking in its latest renaissance. Mbulelo Mzamane also points out that his own (and the white critic Tim Couzens’s) published criticisms of Mtshali at the time stressed their objection to the power of white publishers and critics lionizing one black poet and placing him ‘‘as a role model for us all ahead of Mongane Wally Serote, Mafika Pascal Gwala,’’ and others (Mzamane, ‘‘Cultivating a People’s Voice’’ 67). Mtshali, in fact, changed direction dramatically along the lines Ndebele called for in his second volume, Fire Flames (1980); his change, his differences with Serote and Ndebele, and the whole problematic of address and the politics of reading, are discussed in 1981 as part of the history of the new black writing by Mutloatse, Sepamla, and Tlali in Staffrider (Seroke 303–9). Sepamla particularly shows how Sounds of a Cowhide Drum necessarily raised the issues Ndebele codified in his thesis, how in the conditions of white cultural monopoly (tormentingly true even of white people who fought the apartheid state), and the black educational genocide put in place by the 1955 Bantu Education Act, it needed nothing less than a paradigm shift to tip the seesaw of black writing toward an implied black reader, whom the writing would help call up. Ndebele was later to use the language of an epistemological shift for such turning points. Looking back, however,one asks where a Black Consciousness aesthetic leaves the hope fora nonracial democratic culture.The answerof Ndebele’s 46

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group, vital in South Africa itself, also has great interest for Britain, France, and the United States, with their vexatious conflicts over the representation of difference to multiracial and multiply identified audiences. Indeed, the global cultural economy as a whole could be said to be beset by this very problem, in the Balkans and Guatemala as much as in Sri Lanka and the Middle East. While the white liberal readership who took up Mtshali— and the more radical who valued Serote and Ndebele as well—formed a cultural bloc whose weight and presence, whatever their intentions, had to be lessened if an autonomous ‘‘hybrid’’ cultural space was to emerge, the resultant repositioning of antiracist white subjectivity, if not given by Black Consciousness, was still implied, though left undetermined. It has a mouvement basculé of its own, a dynamic that can be seen in that extended meditation on the history of gendered whiteness that is Gordimer’s fiction, the evidence especially rich in Burger’s Daughter and July’s People, the tone more spirited in her problematic, risk-taking recent books, A Sport of Nature and My Son’s Story, and brought up to date in None to Accompany Me. But one can see the struggle of self-reflection in all the best South African ‘‘white writing,’’ to use Coetzee’s poststructuralist pun, not least in the strategic displacements of his own fiction. Far from writing white people out of his history, Ndebele’s early stance left room for exactly this dynamic; more than that, writers such as he were conscious of intervening in the re-creation of white subjectivity so that, rather than the gloomy ‘‘waiting’’ Vincent Crapanzano’s book describes, a historic mood of recontextualizing white consciousness might be induced. That this rethinking of whiteness got under way in the eighties mass democratic movement’s cultural projects is not a repudiation of Ndebele’s attitude but a tribute to it; he has been head of cosaw, one such project of cooperation between differential histories. The conditions of possibility of collective nonracial cultural work are not simple, however, as can be seen in the extremely sharp critique Ndebele addressed to the Ravan Press in 1983, ‘‘Life-Sustaining Poetry of a Fighting People.’’ The occasion was Tim Couzens and Essop Patel’s anthology of black poetry, The Return of the Amasi Bird, whose planned title had been Ask Any Black Man. Ndebele’s letter explained why he would withdraw his own poems if that title were retained: Who should ask any black man? Surely not another African . . . it’s the white man who has to ask any black man. So we have yet another book Njabulo Ndebele

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appealing to the conscience of those who have been proven not to have any. . . . The point of the matter is that the suggested title still very much makes Africans alien objects of interest. (‘‘Life-Sustaining Poetry’’ 44) Ndebele’s activist approach to white reception of black texts stressed the need ‘‘to alter perceptions,’’ not confirm them; his theory of white reader response is the correlative of his theory of black writers’ voice and address: The effect of all this is to help further standardise reader response. A most destructive and reactionary tendency in an oppressive capitalist society. The tendency is to make the average white reader . . . approach the book in a kind of mea culpa fashion, to seek confirmation of what he expects to find, rather than to be made and to be prepared to confront . . . something which may have a most profound bearing on his own humanity. . . . The need is to alter perceptions. The suggested title merely panders to white hypocrisy. (44) The view here of altering perceptions of race echoes the closing sentence of Invisible Man: ‘‘Who knows but that, on the lower frequencies, I speak for you?’’ This is an essay much marked by references to African American cultural politics of race, to Langston Hughes and the historian Vincent Harding, whose title There Is a River Ndebele brings forward as an example. Noting that the anthology was to cover nearly a century of black writing in South Africa, the essay stressed that it should represent ‘‘the voice of Africa over the decades’’ (44), and the African American references (as to Hughes’s ‘‘The Negro Speaks of Rivers’’) are strongly oriented toward voice, the voicing of black history with a ‘‘linguistic evocation reminiscent of the griots’’ for which he praises Harding’s book. Ndebele’s argument is historicizing, looking developmentally at black poetry since as far back as 1891, and passing critically in review recent black titles that lag behind rapid change: Mtshali called his book Sounds of a Cowhide Drum. Not bad. But it was taking an anthropological posture that I did not, and still do not believe in. The same goes for Serote’s Yakhal’inkomo [Cry of the Cattle], but in an urban setting. But it was a step in the right direction. Then Serote came with No Baby Must Weep. After that, we cannot have, any more, titles which imply that people are still weeping. Indeed, the poetry I have seen in Staffrider is not a poetry of weeping people, waiting to be asked what the problem is. . . . It is the poetry of a fighting people! (44–45) 48

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In his conclusion Ndebele spoke more personally than in his later essays: I hope that I have shown something of the strength of my conviction in this very serious matter: Nothing in South Africa is neutral. None of my poems have been written for people who wanted to hear me complain.They have been written in order to share serious insights, to share perceptions, and to alter perceptions in a most profound manner. I have gone far beyond begging to be ‘‘heard.’’ I am not even demanding. It is the pure force of my people’s inevitable presence that I want to consolidate. And I want to help to consolidate it to a point where we shall overcome, much more profoundly, with the very fact of our positive existence.This is what Serote must have meant when he said: ah africa is this not your child come home? My vigilance will permit me no regression to any humiliating aspect of the past. No: no more. (45) The thinking here comes directly from the writer’s own practice, not only in poetry but in the novella Fools, which Ndebele had just completed. ‘‘The pure force of my people’s inevitable presence’’ echoes almost word for word the culminating passage in the climactic whipping scene of Fools: ‘‘I knew I had crushed him. I had crushed him with the sheer force of my presence. I was there, and would be there to the end of time’’ (276).The closing scene of Fools is a Gandhian parable of the truth-force of African presence, Levinas’s face-to-face as anticolonial weapon—which thereby begins to look like a parable of the act of reading and writing as producing a différance of racial subject-positions. His poem ‘‘The Revolution of the Aged’’ two years earlier, which some have read as questioning an overt political voice and a simple revolutionary praxis (Gardner 193–95, Shava 149–50, 154), seems to me more in the key of this essay, with the old man’s flute figuring the ‘‘life-sustaining’’ voice through historical time of a collective black subject looking backward and forward at once, embracing as needed direct and indirect forms of discourse and action and the perspectives of both old and young, which between them construct the temporality of the nation. The poem is printed in the anthology whose title Ndebele succeeded in getting changed. In his early work, then, Ndebele can be seen sketching out the enunNjabulo Ndebele

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ciative site of the autonomous black artist as one of the conditions of possibility of nonracial cultural production. The contested cultural space in which black writing and reading crosses white reading, editing, and publishing nourishes his theory of literary voice, address, and reader response in which black freedom and change become a condition of white— a revolutionary reversal of the entire history of South Africa. Ndebele’s first outline of a political aesthetic also has implications for the U.S. reception of black South African writing. Often seen as synchronically obsessed with apartheid, it appears rather, through the lens Ndebele provides, absorbed in the continental drift of deep historical change. But to see through that lens means confronting the enunciative authority for Western reading of Ndebele’s Black Consciousness critique,without which Mtshali’s poems, for example, are ripe for misappropriation. Just as it should no longer be possible to teach Heart of Darkness without Achebe’s devastating essay ‘‘An Image of Africa,’’ so Mtshali needs Ndebele’s comments (along with Gordimer’s and others’) to provoke in the U.S. classroom the readerly self-analysis that makes the act of reading nontransparent. A useful exploration of this sort of politics of Third World texts in First World classrooms is Spivak’s essay on teaching Mahasweta Devi, ‘‘A Literary Representation of the Subaltern’’ (In Other Worlds 241–68). The point would be, in a kind of recapitulation of Ndebele’s struggle with Ravan Press, that the discursive space of the classroom should be open to the contestation of Third World theory such as Ndebele’s, not simply to a cultural diversity of texts, which may well leave the authority of Western aesthetics undisturbed. Ndebele and Feminist Theory We are in quest today of a rigorous, responsible and illuminating radical criticism, one in tune with the ‘‘terrible beauty’’ of our times. —Njabulo Ndebele

What Ndebele had done up to his 1984 studies of fiction was essentially a rethinking of textual power from a reconstructed African/black, a cultural/‘‘racial,’’ subject-position, enunciated against the official discourse of pluralism in the apartheid ‘‘divided state’’ according to which all cultural/‘‘racial’’ positions were not historical constructions inscribed in state apparatus and civil hegemony, but ‘‘simply the received names of the Obvi50

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ous’’ (Ashforth 209). A repositioning of antiracist white consciousness was entailed, revealing not only that ‘‘racial’’ positions were being redefined but that any identity derived from the nation as an ‘‘imagined community’’ was irretrievably gone: there would either be the agon of ethnic nationalism, cross-cut by class and gender, competing for the state, or a drastic recasting of state and nation along the lines of the preamble to the anc Freedom Charter: ‘‘South Africa belongs to all who live in it.’’ In this way the ethnopolitical nationalist element in Black Consciousness led Ndebele to question not only the state and official culture but also the humanist nonracial politics of the fifties that did not adequatelychallenge the old ‘‘received names’’ and, less obviously, the Marxist narrative centered on class relations of production and the seizure of state power, which influenced both the nonracial anc and the nationalist pac to turn to armed struggle in the sixties. Neither humanism nor Marxism was erased from the movement by black ethnopolitics; far from it. But in Ndebele one can see how they are being strategically, though not teleologically, rethought. The overwhelming question waiting in the wings, however, is the gender question. Can you rethink power, in terms of state, class, ‘‘race,’’ and nation, without rethinking gender as a locus of power, through a feminist breaking down of ‘‘closed epistemological structures’’? What are the intersections? 8 The ‘‘rigorous, responsible, illuminating radical criticism’’ Ndebele called for will be bound to rethink the gender-blind theory of its early days, as the anc did in adopting on May Day 1990 a sophisticated feminist ‘‘Statement on the Emancipation of Women’’ (McClintock, ‘‘ ‘No Longer in a Future Heaven’ ’’ 119). This will mean overcoming the resistances to feminism named by Hélie-Lucas (112–14), hooks (throughout her work), and Menchú (221–22), and staged in the Iraqi poet Nazik alMala’ika’s elegy for an Algerian combatant, ‘‘Jamila’’: They have wounded her with knives we with words and the wounds inflicted by one’s kin are deeper than those inflicted by the French Shame on us for the doubled wounds of Jamila (in Arkin and Shollar 683) Njabulo Ndebele

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Doubled wounds, double shift: against the patriarchal discourse of colonialism and nationalism surges the need to ‘‘Break the Silence’’ that one sees in the art of Sanna Naidoo and Bongi Dhlomo (Goldner 11, 9), in the stirrings of black women’s writing and performance art represented in all the collections of new South African work (e.g., the anthologies edited by Lockett, Oosthuizen, and van Niekerk), and even in areas where women have been absent, such as the documentary photography movement (Weinberg 69). Ndebele’s relation to an emergent South African feminism, especially among women of color, is therefore, on his own theoretical terms, crucial; the independent historical action of a grassroots feminism is exactly the sort of thing he envisages transforming the production of culture, and one imagines he was as exhilarated by it as he was by the surge in worker poetry and theater. On the other hand, his work is silent about gender and feminism both, although he praises Miriam Tlali’s fiction, refers to grassroots women’s groups such as burial societies as one source of the new democracy, and in his practical work as an organizer and mentor of writers has benefited women. In the three essays on fiction I think that relation can be read, by way of an intertextual link to a great writer of Southern Africa, Bessie Head.9 Bessie Head, like Gordimer a declared nonfeminist whose work nevertheless yields much to feminist readings, seems to me to anticipate in her novels of the seventies, especially A Question of Power, the key turn Ndebele made in ‘‘TurkishTales,’’ ‘‘The Rediscoveryof the Ordinary,’’ his acceptance speech for the Noma Award (1985, reprinted as an appendix to The Rediscovery of the Ordinary, 1991), and ‘‘Beyond ‘Protest.’ ’’ 10 Head and Ndebele converge on an extremely radical politics of the unpolitical, critical populism in an anarchist mood (what Vaclav Havel in ‘‘The Power of the Powerless’’ calls the prepolitical) and an aesthetic of the ‘‘ordinary.’’ Implicit in both writers is a critique of Manichaean protest literature with its gender-coded affinity for the ‘‘public’’ sphere, and a displacement of the question about power toward the ‘‘private’’ sphere, traditionally coded female. The turn is partly operated in both Head and Ndebele by a myth and/or practice of the oral tale, for which Ndebele invokes Benjamin’s Storyteller, and which both he and Bessie Head ground in local cultural practice, rural and urban.11 Did Head discover the ordinary that Ndebele rediscovered—and does she in this way link Ndebele to a feminist aesthetic? In A Question of Power she wrote: 52

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Africa had nothing, and yet, tentatively, she had been introduced to one of the most complete statements for the future a people could ever make: Be ordinary. (39) She had fallen from the very beginning into the warm embrace of the brotherhood of man, becausewhen a peoplewanted everyone to be ordinary it was just another way of saying man loved man. (206) Ndebele’s essay is in the spirit of Head’s novel (I do not want to make too much of the merely verbal parallel): In other words, Siluma [in his short story ‘‘The Conversion’’] has rediscovered the ordinary. The ordinary is defined as the opposite of the spectacular.The ordinary is sobering rationality; it is the forcing of attention on the necessary detail. Paying attention to the ordinary and its methods will result in a significant growth of consciousness. (Rediscovery of the Ordinary 50) The ordinary daily lives of people should be the direct focus of political interest, because they constitute the very content of the struggle. (55) The three Staffrider stories by Michael Siluma, Joël Matlou, and Bheki Maseko that Ndebele praises in this essay, like Yashar Kemal’s Anatolian Tales which serve as his model of the Storyteller—and like Fools and Head’s fiction—make a tactical swerve away from the rigors and ‘‘spectacular’’ figuration of head-on political struggle, and in so doing shift their terrain from state to civil society, from the legitimation crisis to ‘‘the forms of things unknown,’’ and, tacitly, from male to female codes of signification. Ndebele stresses in all three of these essays the ‘‘analytical’’ power of this move (‘‘Rediscovery of the Ordinary’’ 35) and its positioning in a local knowledge: ‘‘I have listened to the countless storytellers on the buses and trains carrying people to and from work in South Africa’’ (‘‘Turkish Tales’’ 32).12 All these elements, especially in the most theoretical essay, ‘‘ ‘Beyond ‘Protest’ ’’ (and even more so in the revised 1989 version of that essay published as ‘‘Redefining Relevance’’), not only stand for a new direction in black fiction: they inscribe Bessie Head’s whole ethic and aesthetic as exemplary, even though Ndebele never alludes to her. The point for theory is that in grounding the political and its representation in the miscalled private sphere, Head and Ndebele are following feminist thought, and Ndebele at least might have been expected to acknowlNjabulo Ndebele

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edge it. In social science, for example, Belinda Bozzoli has reread Harold Wolpe’s functionalist Marxist account of the gendered labor process of colonial capitalism in Southern Africa in very similar terms, pointing out the gaps and silences in prefeminist Marxism on the ‘‘domestic struggle’’ where women’s specific history is determined. The epistemological shift Ndebele continues from Bessie Head is a tacit form of feminism more radical in its way than the ‘‘Jamila’’-like celebration of women in the struggle typical of earlier movement writing and of Cherryl Walker’s valuable history of women in resistance. It is a feminism (without the name) that rethinks Marxism and nationalism by shifting the terrain of power from state and mine and battlefield to the ‘‘ordinary daily lives’’ that Ndebele argues emphatically is the ‘‘verycontent’’ of political struggle, the personal as political. Bessie Head’s work as a whole, her sidestep from a Manichaean, ‘‘spectacular,’’ insane South Africa to the troubling embrace of Botswana village life, can now be read back into the South African debates stirred up by Ndebele’s essays. She has constructed a richly elaborated commentary on power and gender in Southern African social formations, particularly the rural areas, where Ndebele also wanted more attention directed by black fiction (‘‘the city appears to have taken tyrannical hold on the imagination of the average African writer’’—‘‘Turkish Tales,’’ Rediscovery of the Ordinary 21). It is curious that he overlooked Head’s work (unless he counts her as working outside South Africa or as the exception that proves the rule) when he pointed to ‘‘a disturbing silence in South African literature as faras peasants . . . are concerned.’’ A feminist reading of rural versus urban responds, like Head’s fiction, not only to the nationalist thematic of return to the source, cultural renewal, and nation building, but to the rural as the site of a women’s history of gender-specific battles for survival and autonomy; by insisting on women’s systemically different membership in class and nation, it deepens nationalist and Marxist historiography and politics. Head’s writings stand in an exemplary relation to Ndebele’s theory of black fiction, which seems to owe a lot to them; they should be brought together on stage to read each other’s scripts. Ndebele begins ‘‘Redefining Relevance’’ with an anecdote that could very easily be the background for a story in Head’s The Collector of Treasures. A strike at a platinum mine near Botswana led to the firing of 23,000 workers, whose wages supported another 100,000 people. His comment could come right from a primer of feminist political economy: ‘‘We concentrate on the 23,000 men, the most observable proof of injustice, and consequently, the most immediate in 54

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terms of the imperatives of political activism.The other hundred thousand maintain a blurred presence, seldom becoming a serious factor of analysis and reflection’’ (Rediscovery of the Ordinary 60). This ‘‘blurring’’ of the gender and ‘‘domestic struggles’’ of the hundred thousand, whose features emerge clearly in Head’s village tales and in case studies such as Wendy Izzard’s ‘‘Migrants and Mothers,’’ reveals the tacit gendering as male of the class identity ‘‘worker’’ and the whole politics of workers’ struggles at the point of production. Ndebele is absolutely not backing away from trade union or workers’ struggles in calling for an extension of attention to the 100,000; he is making a move that in South Africa might more typically have been discussed in gender-blind terms of shifting from ‘‘workerist’’ (workplace-oriented) to ‘‘populist’’ (community-oriented) strategies, but is I think more radically conceived as a feminist move toward the interests of women in the mine community, serious attention to which would redouble the energies of specifically workplace movements without falling into a nonfeminist populism. (Nise Malange’s negotiation of these shifts among union workplace, rural female unemployment, and communityarts project is discussed as a feminist politics in chapter 6.) In other words, the theory Ndebele is developing in the mid-1980s of a fiction and, in the 1989 revision of ‘‘Beyond ‘Protest,’ ’’ an entire cultural production responsive to broader and deeper definitions of a politics of the base, is a theory towhich feminism is indispensable and which seems to me to grow from the rhizome of feminism. His discussion of the miners’ layoff shows a compatibility with a feminist reworking of the political imaginary, for all his symptomatic silence on women’s struggles, their literary figuration, and feminist cultural theory. One could borrow his (and Raymond Williams’s) word ‘‘emergent’’ to describe these proto-feminist openings, these gaps and silences that signify the ‘‘transformation of values’’ he loves in the newly proletarian miner of Joel Matlou’s story (Rediscovery of the Ordinary 53), or the women’s coping mechanisms in Bheki Maseko’s ‘‘Mamlambo,’’ or indeed the crossing of gender codes in his own remarkable feminist story ‘‘Death of a Son.’’ Even his Noma Award acceptance speech at Harare in 1985, which is focused in ungendered terms on ‘‘the form of fiction’’ and his own ‘‘actual grappling’’ with it as a writer and on a philosophy of writing as active intervention in history rather than observation or witness, emerges into feminist terrain as soon as he invokes the public and the private and a consequent expansion of the range of fiction: Njabulo Ndebele

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The task of the new generation of South African writers is to help to extend the material range of intellectual and imaginative interest. . . . It is to look for that area of cultural autonomy and the laws of its dynamism that no oppressor can ever get at; to define that area, and, with purposeful insidiousness, to assert its irrepressible hegemony during the actual process of struggle. That hegemony will necessarily be an organic one: involving the entire range of human activity. Only on this condition can a new creative, and universally meaningful democratic civilisation be built in South Africa. (Rediscovery of the Ordinary 159) It is the liberating ‘‘insidiousness’’ of feminist gender analysis that reveals such an area, a zone of oppression, but unsuspected as a source of resistance by the hegemony of the oppressor; hence the surprise and shock when women struggle politically, especially militantly. On the surface Ndebele seems aware here primarilyof Gramscian terms of analysis,of Cabral’s idea of culture as a revolutionary source, and of Raymond Williams in his insistence on the power of lived working-class culture under whatever conditions. But, especially in its excitement about a self-contained, intact, organic source of autonomy in the culture of resistance, this passage is also full of echoes of feminist scholarship on the ‘‘recovery’’ of women’s history and women’s culture and the transformative effect of exploring this liberated zone—the degree of historical oppression of women notwithstanding. If the ‘‘new formal articulation’’ of African culture Ndebele calls for in this speech were to achieve the expansion of range and the search for hidden sources of active intervention he hopes for, to become ‘‘meaningfully democratic,’’ one sphere it would necessarily take in is African women’s sphere; then (and only then) it could really aspire to the condition with which the speech ringinglyconcludes, ‘‘a profound philosophical transformation of the African consciousness’’ (160). If the parallels to feminism were acknowledged, Ndebele would join other examples in black literature of progressive male repositioning in response to black feminism in South Africa. I find it telling that these examples seem to be precisely the kind of writing Ndebele’s essays call for: Serote’s novel To Every Birth Its Blood, which Ndebele actually claims for his ‘‘new directions’’ in fiction that attempt ‘‘an infusion of the ordinary into the spectacle’’ (Rediscovery of the Ordinary 55); perhaps the fiction of Achmat Dangor (especially the novella Waiting for Leila and part 1, ‘‘The Representative,’’ of The Z Town Trilogy) and of the Zimbabwean novelist Dam56

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budzo Marechera, with their explorations of male sexual politics that even occasionally question heterosexist ‘‘received names of the Obvious’’; and Maishe Maponya’s recasting the Steve Biko–like hero of his play Gangsters as a woman in the 1986 New York production (under some pressure, it seems, from the producers), and even more pointedly in the new version of the play published in Maponya’s Doing Plays for a Change in 1995.The binarism of patriarchal gender relations is breaking down in the new art and politics of the movement, and Ndebele’s troubling the waters of the received protest aesthetic has helped. After apartheid, Peterson and Suleman’s screenplay for the film Fools (1997) takes this lesson explicitly from Ndebele’s text and emphatically continues it into the new period. The advance these writings represent toward black male comradeship in black feminist struggle, such as is evoked in bell hooks’s many essays on the subject, is considerable when measured against the sexism in Black Consciousness and other radical circles before the eighties.13 Ndebele’s theses on culture can be tested by reading them into the interpretation of a single momentous event in the history of the eighties, the launching of cosatu in Durban in 1985, and two poems and a photograph connected to it. At the cosatu launch in a Durban sports stadium, the male worker poets Qabula and Hlatshwayo delivered their praise-poem: We have Come from the sparkling kitchens Of our bosses. We have arrived from the exhausting Tumult of factory machines. Victory eludes us still! . . . Here is cosatu Who knows no color Here then is our tornado-snake-inkanyamba Helele cosatu Helele Workers of South Africa (in Bunn and Taylor 286)

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The event of the launch was also the event of the poem, and Ndebele would explicate both as a making of new languages: the imbongi, a traditional Zulu oral praise-singer, now composes while driving a forklift at Dunlop; the union and the poets deal with ethnicity by embodying nonethnic politics in traditional forms and imagery (unlike Inkatha, with its warrior ethic, and its right-wing union, United Workers Union of South Africa (uwusa), aided by government funds); kitchens and factories gendercode the worker as female and male (black men also work for wages in kitchens). In most ways this is a paradigm of the new cultural theory, the ‘‘spectacular’’ triumphantly infiltrated by the ‘‘ordinary,’’ with its Marxism of the base, its nationalist subjectivity crossed with nonracial principle, its ‘‘Storyteller’’ participatory aesthetic. But the gender question remains. Earlier in Bunn and Taylor’s book (173) there is a stunning Omar Badsha photograph of the same event, with a row of women union militants listening and chanting (with Qabula and Hlatshwayo?). One has a club, one a Walkman; one is in a tidy blouse, most have political t-shirts; they come from factories and perhaps from kitchens as places of waged work, but all know the double shift and work in at least one kitchen unpaid. In Badsha’s frame they are, as women, what Ndebele called ‘‘the pure force of my people’s inevitable presence.’’ Yet it is a question whether their identities as workers and political combatants do not still follow the male-identified pattern of class-consciousness and nationalist heroism, whether as women they may not be ‘‘breaking the silence’’ at all on another political plane, the ‘‘private’’ sphere, the ‘‘domestic struggle.’’ In the photograph—and in Badsha’s series there is considerable political questioning of the significance of the bullhorn as a motif shared by Inkatha, cosatu, and the police—it is a man who holds the bullhorn, who has the power to speak in public, as it is invariably in every shot of the sequence. I am not trying to read the photograph or the event reductively, but to point to the questions black South African feminism is asking and Badsha’s subtle work is staging. Nise Malange is a woman cosatu poet who asks these questions, not so much in the poem of hers in Bunn and Taylor (294), as in the journals and workshops of the women writers’ movement. She might well have read a poem at King’s Park Stadium on this occasion, as she did at another Durban stadium on May Day that year. It is interesting to imagine those women in Badsha’s photograph listening to her ‘‘Long Live Women,’’ later published in the women’s journal Speak: 58

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You have given birth to the leaders of this earth and they have robbed you of your rights. Don’t cry, don’t cry women. History will judge them. When I talk to women words become stuck in my throat Because I am woman . . . Probably all the meetings and organisations will be silenced and my voice will not reach you: It does not matter You will continue to hear me . . . Let’s stand up and fight! I am talking to you women of our country, to the peasant women who believed in the struggle for equal rights, to the working women who worked more, to the mothers who knew of our concern for her children, to the women who have sacrificed their lives for our rights. (in Lockett, Breaking the Silence 340–41) The same women listening in the same place to this text from a woman cosatu comrade would now be responding from a differential history to the same event, which now, like the movement as a whole and the pivotal role of organized workers, would truly ‘‘belong to all who are in it.’’ The consequences of a woman-identified workers’ revolution, with feminism guiding working-class liberation, are indeed ‘‘the forms of things unknown.’’ Ndebele owes something to Raymond Williams in his formulation of a theory that could recognize what was at stake in this gender revolution in the revolution: ‘‘For the oppressed do have a culture; what they need to do is pay closer attention to its material expression during the process of struggle, so that the culture itself can constitute the real content of a changing alternative consciousness’’ (‘‘Towards Progressive Cultural Planning,’’ in Gibbons 97). If, as Ndebele said in the same address, ‘‘art should, properly speaking, be regarded as an extension of the democratic process’’ (96), then women’s art should be regarded as a feminist extension of democracy. And of theory. If we imagine Malange’s strategic presence alongside Badsha’s photograph as a woman worker-poet of color, an organizer of writers, a commentator on culture, we begin to answer the question of theory raised by Sisi Maqagi from a nationalist position in ‘‘Who Theorises?’’ Maqagi deNjabulo Ndebele

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scribes her contest with theory, as she completes a doctoral dissertation on Bessie Head, as the feeling of being hounded into ‘‘self-censorship’’ by ‘‘theory-hunters’’ and dismembered by the ‘‘horny beaks’’ of ‘‘academic vultures’’ (South African Feminisms 30). Ndebele’s later work suggests that the enunciative liberation of Black Consciousness is still on the agenda, for example, for black women doing theory in the academy, without destabilizing the new concept of nation in South Africa: Previously, the traditional focus on white society assumed an identity between South Africa and white society. Now, when we focus our attention on the black majority, we should not be thought to be exercising an arbitrary and reflex alternative choice, but we want to study and evaluate its structural situation within the total national context as a way towards focusing on the entire national entity. When we do that, we invest in a total national concern. (‘‘Challenges’’ 18–19) A repositioning of women of color within feminism around the politics of enunciation or ‘‘Who Theorises?’’ would fall within Ndebele’s dynamic of power/knowledge in a new nation. Malange, Mhlophe, Naidoo, Wicomb, and many other women artists of color are the cutting edge of that repositioning, as is the white feminist work in Daymond’s South African Feminisms. Zoë Wicomb’s essay there, cutting and switching back and forth among multiple identifications and trenchant in her antisexist critique, as is Josephine Dodd, could be seen as the theoretical reflex of Malange’s presence in cosatu. As I have said, Ndebele’s work offers a coherent frame for the new South African feminism, although in the pieces I have read he does not yet acknowledge the theoretical significance of feminism; it must be ‘‘read in.’’ The Storytellers and critics of ‘‘another South Africa’’ will go further along his path than Ndebele’s own generation, but they will still be pursuing answers to his question ‘‘How do we free ourselves from notions of culture that are tied to the ethos of oppression?’’ (‘‘Cultural Planning,’’ Rediscovery of the Ordinary 124). Workers’ and women’s culture in the eighties movement were famous for throwing up new answers, images as exciting as in the days of the 1956 Women’s Day, Black Consciousness, or the great strikes; disentangling their lasting impulses from the more ephemeral forms of protest literature is a task Ndebele’s essays have begun. The integration of feminism is one task under way; critiques of the nation, which 60

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seems a dangerously uncriticized concept-metaphor in Ndebele’s recent work, will also loom large. Models of the Black Public Intellectual now is the time pluck the apple and feed the future with its ripeness —Njabulo Ndebele, ‘‘The Revolution of the Aged’’

Apart from their proto-feminist opening to the private sphere, which can be easily misread as a return to liberal humanist aesthetics, Ndebele’s theoretical essays on fiction in the mid-1980s are important for their original contribution to another project, which he carries further in the later essays: developing the implications of Black Consciousness for culture— not only for creative writing, but for theory, for the position of the autonomous black public intellectual in South Africa. Clearly this is not a matter, any more than the ‘‘rediscovery of the ordinary’’ was a simple return to an earlier poetics, of repeating or reviving Black Consciousness politics as a viable strategy in itself, because all of Ndebele’s work after the seventies fits well within the broad framework of the dominant liberation strategy, the Charterist, or ‘‘nonracial,’’ alliance of the anc, the South African Communist Party (sacp), and cosatu, represented, up to the 1990 unbanning of the anc and the sacp, by the massive above-ground coalitions called the United Democratic Front and later the Mass Democratic Movement. Ndebele is not a classical African or black nationalist, like the pac or Azanian People’s Organization (azapo), standing outside this nonracial strategy, although he customarily speaks, unmistakably, from a black African position. Nonracialism itself is a concept that may need glossing for some non–South Africans. In the United States the closest synonym would be ‘‘multiracial’’ (or ‘‘multicultural’’), though all such terms have their history and local specificity as forms of antiracism. In South Africa, the term ‘‘multiracial’’ (as a form of alliance that still recognizes and foregrounds race) falls far short of the ‘‘nonracial’’ ideal, which critiques, rejects, and transcends race. In the United States, although everything is officially nonracial or color-blind as a tenet of a democratic polity (with the exception of still legal affirmative action programs currently under political attack from the right), in practice not only have there always been massive inequality Njabulo Ndebele

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and segregation, but most progressive organizations that achieve a significant ‘‘multiracial’’ membership have their caucuses of people of color; only on the far left, if at all, has this multiracialism been occasionally and briefly transcended by a fully ‘‘nonracial’’ common membership. South African nonracialism in the antiapartheid organizations, in other words, was a politics whose radicalism on race has rarely been attained by antiracist movements in the United States, from abolitionism to the present struggles to defend a liberal public sphere (like the effort at the City University of New York to preserve access to public higher education for people of color). The Congress Alliance of the fifties, for instance, when the anc was not open to full white membership, was what South Africans called a ‘‘multiracial’’ alliance of separate organizations of black African, Indian, Coloured, and white antiapartheid activists; indeed, it was anc and Indian Congress leaders who deliberately sought the creation of the white Congress of Democrats to strengthen this kind of alliance by including white activists (Lazerson 68). Even in the fifties, however, alongside the African nationalism descended from the anc Youth League’s 1949 Programme of Action, the vision of nonracialism gained ground in the anc and was clearly evident in the Freedom Charter of 1955—a ‘‘nonracial’’ document brought into being by a ‘‘multiracial’’ Congress of the People. Interestingly for Ndebele’s thinking and for the ‘‘new nation’’ view of culture after apartheid, it was a speech by Ezekiel Mphahlele on the Charter’s culture clause that went furthest toward nonracialism: I am looking forward to a day when our culture will so much unify us, we shall no more talk of the Congress of the People as an organisation of Coloureds, Indians and Africans and Europeans. We shall have one movement. We shall have absolutely no distinction, and we will stand together for a united cause. Our culture—this culture is now growing up. It will not be a culture of Indians, of the Africans. It will be a culture of the people of South Africa, and it is this culture that is going to grow up now. (quoted in Lazerson 174) When the anc opened its membership at all levels of leadership to all these groups and on that ‘‘nonracial’’ basis became the leading opposition organization, and eventually the leading party in the government of national unity, it brought nonracialism forward as the dominant progressive politics of race in the country, implying, among other things, that the word ‘‘African’’ in its name now meant a geographical/national and not a 62

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racial designation. It is important to note, however, that the same move that displaced race silently replaced it with nation: the new nation, the putatively ‘‘New South Africa.’’ And this reinscription of nation in the place of race (as though ‘‘nonracial’’ became ‘‘all-national,’’ and even, implicitly, ‘‘only national’’) is a deeply troubling political and theoretical act. It resembles in some ways the once common Marxist position that through the international workers’ movements race and nation both were destined to be wholly sublated into class. This was the position that so enraptured Richard Wright when he first encountered communist thinking in Chicago as a young postal worker: ‘‘I had wondered dimly if the outcasts could become united in action, thought, and feeling. Now I knew. It was being done in one-sixth of the earth already’’ (American Hunger 302). It is equally the position satirized as hypocritical wishful thinking and just another mask of white supremacy by Ralph Ellison in the ‘‘Brotherhood’’ of Invisible Man, the organization quite recognizable as a caricature of the Communist Party U.S.A., and it is the position that Paul Gilroyattacks as ‘‘seeking to subordinate the self-organization of blacks to the mythical discipline of a unified working class’’ (‘‘There Ain’t No Black in the Union Jack’’ 18), from a position of radical black eclecticism in some ways close to Ndebele’s, though more theorized. But the old nonracial, nonnational perspective of the communist revolutionary movement—however much it kept relapsing, less often into racism but quite dramatically into nationalism, as Benedict Anderson notes (Imagined Communities 11–12)—was infinitely more hopeful as an adequate context for the end of race politics than the simple recourse to electoral majority rule in a nation-state such as South Africa. The Interim Constitution enshrined a nonracial national consciousness and culture as official discourse guaranteed by the state, just as it is in the United States, raising the question of whether nonracialism as a principle of radical mass action could mean the same thing as a constitutional doctrine for a coalition government based on the uncriticized concept of the nation. However this dialectic between race and class, race and nation, plays itself out in South Africa, in the nonracial framework of the eighties movement Ndebele’s voice is significant for its subtle and insistent questioning of how race is actually negotiated in practice by nonracialism, a question more urgent than ever as South Africa approaches a U.S.-like state of official nonracialism and de facto racism at every level of social life—with the crucial difference,of course, that there is still a powerful antiracist political will in South Africa, and that with a black political majority (even though Njabulo Ndebele

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the economy of private capital is still largely racialized as a white nearmonopoly), anti-black racism will presumably never regain its hegemony as it perennially threatens to do in the United States. We have seen how Ndebele’s theoretical questioning worked in his early critiques of white humanist readings of Mtshali’s poetry and the title of the anthology that was to be called, until he intervened, Ask Any Black Man. His 1985 speech at the Noma Award for Fools reveals one source of the revisionist essays on ‘‘protest’’ fiction to be an interventionist vision of full black public intellectual life, rather than a partial role as writers of a certain genre; a strong black claim to theory as well as fiction; a demand for black ‘‘definition’’ as well as ‘‘description’’; an insistence that there should be no intellectual division of labor by race in a nonracial cultural production and cultural theory. The same claim is primary in black feminists’ negotiations with white over Sisi Maqagi’s question, ‘‘Who Theorizes?’’ (in Daymond, South African Feminisms 27–30). To develop this argument he went all the way back to 1916 and Sol Plaatje’s Native Life in South Africa, which had noted in reference to the notorious 1913 Land Act that in the Lands Commission Reports ‘‘the native sufferers . . . give no definitions. . . . All they give expression to is their bitter suffering’’ (quoted in Rediscovery of the Ordinary 157). Ndebele comments: Plaatje’s observation here is of very special interest to me. He documents here one of the most debilitating effects of oppression: the depriving of the oppressed of any meaningful, significant intellectual life. . . . That the capability to initiate action has been taken out of their hands implies also, that their ability to define has been drastically reduced. Plaatje notes here, how the African oppressed appear to have been reduced to the status of being mere bearers of witness. They do a good job of describing suffering; but they cannot define its quality. (158) This speech restates what Fools itself enacts, that although ‘‘the political theme itself . . . is worth exploring almost as a duty,’’ it was, in ‘‘protest’’ fiction, ‘‘the manner of its treatment that became the subject of increasing dissatisfaction to me . . . obscuring the existence of a fiercely energetic and complex dialectic in the progress of human history’’ (158). The Noma Award speech looks for that dialectic in an ‘‘area of cultural autonomy’’ including self-definition, historical explanation, and self-fashioning, summoning for the text of fiction ‘‘a new formal articulation’’ (160). Beyond ‘‘protest,’’ then, lay not simply a wider range of material for literature than 64

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the political, but also a more theoretical explanation of history in the text, and especially a rendition of its dynamism, its dialectic, its process. Fools and the Noma Award speech converge in this black claim staked on the terrain of theory itself, as a necessary extension of classic black cultural autonomy into modern democratic print culture. The same claim to theoretical depth (this means largely the depth of historical materialist theory, given the view of history implied in Ndebele’s terms in the mid-1980s), which commentary on Ndebele has tended to overlook in seizing on the revisionist essays as, for better or worse, a return to liberal aesthetics, emerges in ‘‘Turkish Tales’’ as a meditation on why black South African fiction lacked the theoretical or explanatory authority about the processes of rural life that so struck him in Yashar Kemal’s Anatolian Tales. The essay proposes boldly that this insufficiency was because of the same racialized division of intellectual labor Plaatje had noted so long before; in the present case, between the ‘‘exciting and revealing research . . . carried out on South African peasants by a recent crop of radical [and white] historians’’ and the absence in black writers and artists of any ‘‘corresponding surge of interest in peasant subjects’’ (Rediscoveryof the Ordinary 19–20). This division of labor, rooted in government-ordered exclusion of black people from the white liberal English-speaking universities where radical research was located, and in the inability of those researchers to develop a new generation of black intellectuals, seems to Ndebele ‘‘another glaring tragedy of South African life’’ (20). But it becomes the basis for a dialectical reversal: This means that any research of radical interest which, by definition, has to emanate from, and its evaluation be situated in, the very current of the African struggle as it evolves, has no organic relationship with that struggle. . . . It would seem to follow then, that African fiction in South Africa would stand to benefit qualitatively if and when a radical tradition was to be effectively placed in and developed from the ranks of the mass struggle. It is there that the writers will also inevitably be found. (20–21) ‘‘Placed in and developed from’’: the ‘‘and’’ glosses over a crucial theoretical point: whether this new radical theory must develop from within those ranks or whether it can be ‘‘placed’’ there, as Lenin thought, from outside (from, specifically, the white liberal university, because the other possible source, the intellectuals of the anc/sacp, were mostly in exile at Njabulo Ndebele

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the time—Ndebele himself had been away studying in Lesotho, the United Kingdom, and the United States, and was then working in Lesotho). I assume the ‘‘and’’ means that for Ndebele either, or both working together, would serve as a starting point; his point was that the struggle, and the art, of black liberation (or the radical democratizing of South Africa as its condition of possibility) need their own radical theory—not to the exclusion of white intellectuals (indeed, with an implicit invitation to them to work harder with black colleagues at reframing such a theory in an ‘‘organic relationship’’ with black liberation struggle), and not in contradiction with nonracial politics and culture, but its own theory nevertheless.14 Among other things, this passage, with its call in an essay of literary criticism for a drastic shift in intellectual resources and a black commitment to theory, may explain Ndebele’s turn in his own life toward the career of administrator in black universities (Lesotho, the Western Cape, the University of the North)—that is, toward a public, institutional, policymaking position in the formation of black intellectuals who would overcome this debilitating racial division of labor. His own struggle as a writer with ‘‘the forms of fiction’’ in Fools thus led not only to an intervention in those forms themselves (in which, as he himself and others point out, he was preceded in some ways by Lewis Nkosi’s 1967 ‘‘Fiction by Black South Africans’’), but to a new theoretical energy and intentionality in his own work, as he turns to the writing of theory and a career as a public policy intellectual. Such a turn from the text to the ‘‘social text’’ of the university as a site of struggle corresponds suggestively to the increasing nearness of the anc to a share in state power. Perhaps this project of developing black cultural theory within a radicaldemocratic nonracialism explains also the tone of tired exasperation in his later essay, ‘‘The Ethics of Intellectual Combat,’’ with the review of two anthologies of black writing from the magazines Drum and Staffrider written by an established critic on the left, David Maughan-Brown (both the review and Ndebele’s response are in the first issue of Current Writing, 1989). Maughan-Brown’s review is severe, both on the project of anthologizing and on the politics of the Drum writers (he singles out Bloke Modisane’s ‘‘The Dignity of Begging,’’ CanThemba’s ‘‘Mob Passion,’’ and Es’kia Mphahlele’s tribute to Lilian Ngoyi, ‘‘Guts and Granite’’). Ndebele’s exasperation with the review stems partly from his sense that two entire generations of black writers, from the fifties and the seventies,were thus being 66

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hindered from getting the wider hearing that the Drum and Staffrider anthologies would assist. Like Mbulelo Mzamane, who also responds in the same issue of Current Writing, Ndebele somewhat agrees with MaughanBrown’s point of view on the petit bourgeois deficiencies of ‘‘the Drum decade’’ and the critics’ tendency to romanticize both magazines, but he cannot approve the review’s ‘‘denunciatory’’ harshness. Mzamane puts it more directly than Ndebele: ‘‘Yet the exercise which both anthologies represent is susceptible to more sympathetic treatment than Maughan-Brown and Visser accord it’’ (‘‘Unhistorical Will’’ 36). Ndebele contrasts to MaughanBrown’s style of ‘‘intellectual combat’’ a different critical ethic: ‘‘There is a future out there that requires the highest, most liberating, and sympathetic forms of understanding’’ (‘‘The Ethics of Intellectual Combat’’ 35). What neither Mzamane nor Ndebele mention (conforming to the ethic of South African nonracialism) is the fact that Maughan-Brown’s professorial, gatekeeper role in such a review bears on the issue of black cultural autonomy. Ndebele’s essay is designed to foreground, and to deflect, the institutional power (not the radical content) of white left criticism, to ask that such criticism reorient itself with a certain self-aware sympathy and tact, so that an emergent black writing and black theory have the cultural and especially the institutional space to breathe. (The fact that MaughanBrown’s critique is directed largely at the anthologizing work in The Drum Decade of another white radical professor, Michael Chapman—who in this instance, without at all becoming romantic or uncritical, does exhibit the self-awareness Ndebele is calling for—in no way dilutes the force of Ndebele’s point here.) He seems to me, perhaps from a U.S. point of view,where this issue is much more openly named and debated, to be extending into the realm of critical theory the lesson of Black Consciousness that white discourse needs to be aware of its historically determined whiteness, not simply assume it away as optatively ‘‘nonracial’’; but he does so without naming race as what is at issue.15 What Ndebele is offering here, beneath the specific issues, is a new model of the South African black intellectual, and it is suggestive to look at his work in the light of a 1985 essay—somewhat rushed and schematic, but authoritative and convincing—by Cornel West, ‘‘The Dilemma of the Black Intellectual.’’ In the U.S. context, West delineates four possible models for black intellectuals, ‘‘caught between an insolent American society and insouciant Black community’’ (hooks and West 131): ‘‘the bourgeois model: Njabulo Ndebele

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Black intellectual as humanist’’; ‘‘the Marxist model: Black intellectual as revolutionary’’; ‘‘the Foucaultian model: Black intellectual as postmodern skeptic’’; and his favored one, ‘‘the insurgency model: Black intellectual as critical, organic catalyst.’’ Allowing for the huge contemporary differences as well as the deep earlier historical parallels between the R.S.A. and the U.S.A., and not forgetting that Ndebele did his doctorate in the United States, we might think that West comes close in this ‘‘insurgency model’’ to describing Ndebele’s project in South Africa. For instance, just as West wants the best of the first three models to be incorporated in his Gramscian, Freirean standpoint, we could see Ndebele doing the same thing. ‘‘Those of us highly critical of the bourgeois model must try to transform it, in part from within theWhite bourgeois academy,’’ saysWest (140); Ndebele’s essays ‘‘The English Language and Social Change,’’ ‘‘The Ethics of Intellectual Combat,’’ and ‘‘The Writer as Critic and Interventionist’’ are all devoted to that transformation.West notes that ‘‘despite its limitations, the bourgeois model is inescapable for most Black intellectuals’’ (139), partly because of what he calls ‘‘the linchpin of the bourgeois model . . . academic legitimation and placement’’ (138) in the white academy; although Ndebele resigned his professorship after a single year in the African Literature Department at the University of the Witwatersrand and moved on to high academic office at historically black universities, his ‘‘academic legitimation and placement’’ are an obvious support of the role he plays. In the case of West’s second model, Ndebele’s break with the protest aesthetic has something in common withWest’s call to move away from the ‘‘intellectual self-satisfaction which often inhibits growth’’ (141), which he sees as a drawback in the U.S. Marxist model, though, like West, Ndebele would, I think, regard ‘‘the Marxist model, despite its shortcomings, [as] more part of the ‘solution’ than part of the problem for Black intellectuals.’’ And how much more for Ndebele’s South African generation than for West’s North American one has Marxism been ‘‘the brook of fire—the purgatory—of our postmodern times’’ that black intellectuals ‘‘must pass through’’ (141). Indeed, in his interview for D. Brown and van Dyk’s collection Exchanges: South AfricanWriting inTransition, Marxism is the only tradition Ndebele singles out as an influence on his critical theory: The only body of intellectual knowledge that I can say I owe a lot to is the dialectical approach to human society, because I still find that (in spite of all that’s been said of the decline of the Eastern bloc) as an intel68

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lectual body of knowledge that tradition offers theories of society that have a very high explanatory value. (55) This sentiment is in essential agreement with West (except for West’s liberation theology or ‘‘prophetic’’ inflection of Marxism), underpinned perhaps by the fact that in eighties South Africa, as in the United States, ‘‘the Marxist model also provides entry into the least xenophobic White intellectual subculture available to Black intellectuals’’ (hooks and West 140). It is notable, though, that Ndebele has avoided a leadership role in Marxist organizations or the anc itself, something in the Marxist model that West, himself a national leader of the Democratic Socialists of America, finds both attractive and dangerous (‘‘cathartic,’’ ‘‘debilitating’’) for black intellectuals. Instead, Ndebele has worked both from a position of bourgeois legitimacy (in black institutions, however) and from dialectical theories of society—a ‘‘trickster’’ position perhaps, like that adopted by Steve Biko in his subtle fencing with the court, or that advocated at the end of Invisible Man. Although Foucault is not an obvious influence in Ndebele’s work, the newness of Foucault’s conception of the intellectual, in West’s description of it, certainly resonates with the conjunctural open-endedness that Ndebele prizes: ‘‘This conception no longer rests upon the smooth transmittance of ‘the best that has been thought and said,’ as in the bourgeois humanist model, nor on the utopian energies of the Marxist model’’; and Ndebele’s developing body of cultural criticism in the eighties is quite accurately caught by West’s sense of the black postmodern skeptic who ‘‘delves into the specificity of the political, economic, and cultural matrices within which regimes of truth are produced, distributed, circulated, and consumed’’ (142). Both the hegemony of English and, on the other side, the production, distribution, circulation, and consumption of protest writing are examples of regimes of truth Ndebele has targeted. In the same Exchanges interview, Ndebele expresses surprise that Tony Morphet’s article assimilating his position to Albie Sachs’s ‘‘puts my criticism in a certain tradition’’ (in D. Brown and van Dyk 55)—the tradition, which I too found quite surprising (though also illuminating) of Leavisian New Criticism and formalism. But to the explicitly poststructuralist position Morphet speaks from in that essay to castigate all ‘‘fixed positions,’’ especially ‘‘redemptive’’ ones, Ndebele only replies, mildly, ‘‘I was far from thinking about structuralism or post-structuralism. I prefer an open-ended approach’’ (55). A Njabulo Ndebele

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polemical trickster move, maybe, but revealing both about his fundamentally eclectic or pragmatic (untheorized or bricoleur? ) approach to theory, and about his choice not to distance himself explicitly from either the formalist conception of ironic knowledge or poststructuralism. Missing from both West and Ndebele is any ‘‘feminist model’’ of the black intellectual, as bell hooks notes in her companion essay in Breaking Bread, ‘‘Black Women Intellectuals’’—an omission the more striking as West explicitly, and Ndebele implicitly, have taken more from feminist analysis than many other black male thinkers in either country; indeed, Breaking Bread is set up as an elaborate dialogue between hooks’s and West’s voices. The ‘‘missing’’ feminist model in eighties emergent culture will be discussed in chapter 3 and later in the book. The ‘‘insurgency’’ model West prefers, ‘‘Black intellectual as critical, organic catalyst,’’ also sounds provocatively close to the role Ndebele actually played in the eighties, although it is so closely enmeshed in African American particularity that I would hesitate to transfer it to Ndebele in any simple fashion. For West, one crucial component of ‘‘insurgent Black intellectual life’’ is its connection or reconnection to the ‘‘collective’’ and ‘‘communal’’ networks of the black community, as opposed to the ‘‘voluntarism and heroism of the bourgeois model’’ (hooks and West 144–45); in Ndebele’s case, with long periods of study and teaching abroad in Swaziland, Lesotho, England, the U.S.A., and Lesotho again, that reconnection was made primarily through alternative cultural organizations of black resistance: not the anc or the sacp or some other political party, but Staffrider magazine and cosaw workshops, both forums consonant with the earlier Black Consciousness practice of cultural work in the townships and overlapping with exciting parallel cultural work in the black trade union constituencies, to be discussed in chapters 3 and 6. Ndebele’s constant summons to higher artistic standards and a higher conception of the artist, for example,which some have taken as the old bourgeois cultural ‘‘settlement’’ (Morphet’s term), is in fact contextualized by his Staffrider and cosaw connections as collective intellectual work in grassroots black communities— something utterly different from bourgeois formalism and well described by West’s governing phrase ‘‘insurgent Black intellectual life.’’ I would link these efforts to his administrative posts in the often embattled black universities themselves (when he might have had a more serene academic life at Wits) as instances of heeding West’s urgent call: ‘‘The major priority of 70

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Black intellectuals should be the creation or reactivation of institutional networks that promote high-quality critical habits primarily for the purposes of Black insurgency’’ (144). The racial particularityof West’s formulation would sound jarring in the orthodoxy of nonracialism and ‘‘new nation’’ building, but it seems to me that it is a needed and largely missing tradition in emergent South African culture, and that Ndebele’s work, so described and with its theoretical links to Black Consciousness fully accepted, does contribute valuably to a ‘‘Black insurgency’’ no less needed in the current dispensation. Morphet’s critique of Ndebele recognizes this position: ‘‘the Black oppressed . . . have, in his scheme, a position which does not register within the revisionist framework developed in Europe’’ (in de Kok and Press 140); ‘‘revisionist’’ here means neo-Marxist, as in the revisionist history of the History Workshop and its corresponding literary critical and historical work (Michael Chapman, Dorothy Driver, Isabel Hofmeyr, Kelwyn Sole, and many others). Morphet says he thinks Ndebele is mistaken in such a view of the revisionist settlement, presumably because Morphet regards Ndebele’s view as an Afrocentric or Black Consciousness rejection of Euro-Marxism in all its forms (whereas, as we have seen, Ndebele works within a broadly capacious Marxist framework to arrive at his position of a specific site of enunciation, or of decolonization, for black subjectivity). West’s account, unlike Ndebele’s usual reticence or tact about naming these issues openly, faces the political question of particularism head-on, which should interest those South Africans on the left who are dismissive, not without reason in some cases, of U.S. forms of identity politics. And his formulation of a position is the more powerful because it can be seen to underwrite the new, growing black intellectual networks in the United States that are emphatically redressing the lack he decried in 1985, like the Du Bois Institute at Harvard under the direction of Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (and including West himself and Kwame Anthony Appiah), with the reactivated journal Transition, and the Africana Studies group at New York University under the direction of Manthia Diawara (and including Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Kamau Brathwaite), with its new journal Black Renaissance/Renaissance Noire. West writes: Black intellectual work and Black collective insurgency must be rooted in the specificity of Afro-American life and history; but they also are inextricably linked to the American, European, and African elements which shape and mold them. Such work and insurgency are explicitly Njabulo Ndebele

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particularist though not exclusivist—hence they are international in outlook and practice. (hooks and West 145) In Breaking Bread he and bell hooks discuss this issue several times, holding a position both against what they always call ‘‘narrow’’ black nationalism and also against an older left view of race (or nation) as false consciousness among working people. In my mind this is a debate that is far from resolved, in fact, a debate that it is crucial to resolve concretely on the left (I am speaking in a U.S. context) to move past the present stalemate in critical race theory and the antiracist movement; current work on whiteness as unconsciously lived ideology by Theodore Allen, David Roediger, Vron Ware, and others is a necessary and new step in that process. West’s position, at any rate, is both clear and nuanced, and corresponds to practice at the Harvard and nyu research centers. Again, it seems quite descriptive of Ndebele’s arguments. When he at first refused to appear in D. Brown and van Dyk’s book of interviews because there were no black coeditors, for example (D. Brown and van Dyk x), he was making precisely the argument for an ‘‘international’’ (interracial) inclusivity in intellectual journals, and for both the particularist and internationalist dimensions of that inclusivity—as opposed to a nonracial ‘‘new nation’’ outlook. In the same vein, bell hooks extends the argument by pointing to the gender dimension as an equally insurgent form of inclusivity: Importantly, Black female intellectuals need the support and encouragement of Black male peers. Often sexism stands in the way of Black males offering this support. . . . Such communities emerge from the resistance efforts of Black women and men who recognize that we strengthen our positions by supporting one another. (hooks and West 161) The particularist strain in Ndebele, then, is both clarified and supported, from the left, by the thinking of Cornel West and bell hooks in their own national context; black British analogues, from Stuart Hall’s work on articulation of local and global to Paul Gilroy’s on race formation, could readily be supplied as well. It may be that this question of enunciating a black particularism that is also internationalist is the key question facing ‘‘Black Atlantic’’ styles of theory making, as the corresponding question of enunciating and abandoning the power concept of whiteness, white particularism, is the key question facing the white left. With the work pro72

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gressing on both fronts, it is not impossible to hope for the emergence of the contemporary forms of insurgent internationalism that people need to survive the new world order. West’s model of the black intellectual, to the extent it is generalizable across national borders and around the whole Atlantic ecumene—as I hope to have shown it largely is, in Ndebele’s case—could be an important step in that process. A striking instance of Ndebele’s playing the role of ‘‘critical, organic catalyst’’ is his 1986 essay, ‘‘The English Language and Social Change in South Africa’’ (Rediscovery of the Ordinary 99–118). One of his most combative works, it was delivered as the keynote address at a typically colonial ceremonial occasion, the Jubilee Conference of the English Academy of South Africa. Short of Dambudzo Marechera’s or Lesego Rampolokeng’s showing up in his place, it is hard to imagine an address more disconcerting to the innocence of its establishment audience. If he owed the invitation to his international academic legitimacy, the Noma Award for Fools two years earlier, and the titles of essays like ‘‘Beyond ‘Protest’ ’’ and ‘‘The Rediscovery of the Ordinary’’ (overbalancing, it may be, his less assimilable previous career as a Black Consciousness poet and writer for Staffrider), Ndebele uses the occasion for a trenchant Marxist analysis of the instrumentality of English in past and present imperialisms, a deft Foucauldian genealogy of English as a power discourse in documents from the Chamber of Commerce, Guy Butler, and bbc and sabc television, and a replacement of his own role at the Jubilee Conference (‘‘the intellectual as star, celebrity, commodity’’—hooks and West 144) by a forceful statement of the collective work of recent township and other grassroots democratic initiatives, the basis for a Bakhtinian theory of language(s) ‘‘rooted in the experience of the people themselves’’ (‘‘English Language’’ 110). The essay’s confident accent comes from its prophetic stress on ‘‘the social imagination of the oppressed,’’ on grassroots people’s creativity —Bakhtin’s ‘‘own word,’’ structured in difference and interlocution, as against the ‘‘authoritative word’’ of power’s monologue: The inherently subversive quest for freedom by the oppressed of South Africa is even more evident today where their erstwhile demand merely to be allowed to participate in the various structures of government has clearly given way to an insatiable desire to create: to create comparable structures on the basis of a new human sensibility. (‘‘English Language’’ 110) Njabulo Ndebele

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Ndebele is close here to West’s idea of the black intellectual’s ‘‘central task’’: ‘‘to stimulate, hasten, and enable alternative perceptions and practices by dislodging prevailing discourses’’ (hooks and West 144). Ndebele is interested in the ‘‘dislodging’’ of English from a claim to be the national language, and especially from two forms of hegemony: as the universal language of instruction (‘‘there is a danger that it may become increasingly difficult for us to make a distinction between English and education’’), and as the language of literature (‘‘indigenous languages fulfil the range of needs that English similarly fulfils for its native speakers’’). He is interested in the flowering, out of township forms of self-government, of a cultural self-constitution in language and its arts, and his function as critic is to clear a space for that by puncturing the hegemony of English in the precincts of the English Academy, just as the insurgent civic associations were displacing the township councils who served at the pleasure of the state. Closely allied to Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s decolonizing dismissal of English as his own literary language, though less sweepingly Manichaean and, interestingly, not applying it to his own practice as a writer, Ndebele’s polemic is also, like Ngugi’s, closely linked to community organizing and local cultural initiatives in theircountries, again marking their willed distance from West’s ‘‘bourgeois model’’ of lone, heroic thinker. This essay is congruent with steps taken in other, later essays to ‘‘enable alternative practices’’: those on ‘‘The Writers’ Movement in South Africa’’ (historicizing the emergence of cosaw), ‘‘Against Pamphleteering the Future’’ (the inaugural cosaw address), and ‘‘Towards Progressive Cultural Planning.’’ His interview with Andries Oliphant for Ten Years of Staffrider cites George Steiner for the need to ‘‘respect and suspect everything’’ (‘‘The Writer as Critic and Interventionist’’ 344), an invigorating perspective on his whole career as a cultural critic.The element of pragmatism (which isWest’s philosophical tradition) is worth stressing, because it is often taken to be opposed to political engagement and systematic analysis; inWest and Ndebele,on the contrary, it is more in linewith an openness to praxis and autocritique arising from the community base.Though markedly not linked to Marxist or any other party formations as such, nor to the trade union bodies—rather, connected to more free-floating, less overtly politicized forms of organization in civil society, like cosaw in Ndebele’s case and the black church in West’s—Ndebele’s practice in all these later essays is still deeply collective. It is a feature of his thinking that should 74

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caution against any suspicion that his critique of protest aesthetics was the reflex of a withdrawal from collective politics; the critique is rather an instance of West’s catalytic, mediating function of the black intellectual. This is, I think, the best formulation of Ndebele’s contribution to writing radical democracy in South Africa.

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chapter three

Against Normalization: Cultural Identity from Below

Je ne suis pas prisonnier de l’Histoire. Je ne dois pas y chercher le sens de ma destinée . . . Je suis solidaire de l’Etre dans la mesure où je le dépasse . . . Je ne suis pas esclave de l’Esclavage . . . Et c’est en dépassant la donnée historique, instrumentale, que j’introduis le cycle de ma liberté. [I am not a prisoner of History. I do not have to look to that for the trajectory of my future . . . I am locked into/answerable to Being to the very extent that I move beyond it . . . I am not a slave of Slavery . . . And it is in the act of moving beyond the historical or instrumental given that I introduce the cycle of my freedom.] —Frantz Fanon At the end of this development the intellectuals of the opposition asked themselves in all seriousness: is there still a proletariat? Is there still a ruling class? Whereas they would have been more justified in asking: is there still an intellectual opposition? —Hans Magnus Enzensberger

What about us in South Africa today? We live in an age littered with exhausted philosophies; when the ever resourceful spirit of capitalism trivialises any emergent value almost immediately; when the slogan of freedom soon rings hollow. —Njabulo Ndebele

Cycle of Freedom or Cultural Settlement? In retrospect, Ndebele’s critical resumption and reworking of Black Consciousness ‘‘givens’’ for the moment of transition beyond apartheid can be seen to have introduced a new cycle of freedom, a new political aesthetic, for South African emergent culture. It runs parallel, as unnamed source and unfinished agenda, to the black feminism sketched out by Desiree Lewis, Lauretta Ngcobo, Nise Malange, Zoë Wicomb, and others, and is linked to the other trajectories of oppositional intellectuals laid out in Kelwyn Sole’s history of recent criticism (‘‘Democratising Culture’’). It is also a South African variant of a broader, international, progressive discourse of race and culture. Not only was this true of the inception of Black Consciousness, with Biko’s roots in Du Bois, Fanon, Césaire, Cabral, Nkrumah—anglophone Pan-Africanism and francophone négritude—it is even more salient in Ndebele’s continuation or elaboration of Black Consciousness, which I take him as carrying out within a Gramscian and Bakhtinian Marxism. His positioning between the most potent South African discourses articulating race with class is the main reason for continuing to take Ndebele as the guiding thread of my discussion in this chapter, which looks at the difficult theoretical passage of eighties cultural radicalism through the ‘‘transition to democracy’’ of the nineties. Beyond South Africa proper, Ndebele’s work also has connections with a theoretical impulse originating in black Britain (at the time, Ndebele was getting a degree at Cambridge) with Stuart Hall, Hazel Carby, and Paul Gilroy, and widely influential in U.S. cultural studies, feminism, and African American studies—a culturalist impulse that consciously moves beyond instrumental thinking about history, without abandoning a historical critique of ideology, and remaining open (though this is an element that recedes) to political praxis.1 The ‘‘transition’’ and ‘‘normalization’’ studied here are clearly not South African alone—the normalization of late capitalism is a global condition— nor should the best South African cultural theory, formed from an amazing century of social movements, be allowed to remain within its national borders when new efforts at a ‘‘globalization from below’’ have urgent need Cultural Identity from Below

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of it. How bracing South African cultural debates of the nineties are, for example, compared to the late works of our tired oppositional mandarins in the North. Instrumental thinking about history, however, certainly underlay the decision by the anc, the sacp, and their allies in the face of the repressive might of the apartheid state to abandon the struggle (armed and otherwise) for a decisive victory over racial capitalism in South Africa and settle for a negotiated transition to majority rule under their leadership with all the essentials of a capitalist social formation left intact; the aim became to make South Africa the best that such formations could be, the most enlightened—as indeed the new constitution has been praised for being. The question then became, for the larger ambitions of the ‘‘social imagination of the oppressed,’’ whether this historical turn would make nonsense of Fanon-like cries from oppositional intellectuals, in a rush to abandon the ‘‘struggle’’ aesthetics of the eighties and to fill cultural posts as the new organic intellectuals of an anc-administered enlightened capitalist regime,or whether they would be able to keep their footing, retain a critical independence (utterly distinct from the resistance to the new regime of the cultural old guard, which would hope to legitimate itself, in the name of culture and the arts, by coalitions with some of the former cultural activist intellectuals), and advance radical thinking and black working-class interests in the new circumstances. Enzensberger’s sharp comment stands as a warning of the dangers of partial victory in dulling the edge of radical opposition, a warning, indeed, that that very dulling of opposition is a sign of what is wrong with having declared victory. It has to be said that the new South Africa shows such warning signs, and that a test of any cultural theory is whether it maintains its edge in the new setting. In 1990 the ‘‘cycle of freedom’’ imagined by Ndebele and the radical impulses of the eighties therefore entered a crisis—a crisis of legitimacy— with the onset of a negotiated political settlement in South Africa that offered to exchange radical hopes for a process of normalization, modernization, and democratization. I want to follow the chapter on Ndebele as eighties theorist of emergent culture by looking now at his position in the course of this nineties legitimation crisis, part of the political transition from apartheid state to normative democratic capitalism that began with the release of Mandela and the unbanning of political parties in February 1990, and that was consolidated by the universal adult franchise national election of April 1994. The political transition naturally provoked a shift 78

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in South African thinking about culture as about all other matters, the political settlement being accompanied with remarkable simultaneity by a kind of ‘‘cultural settlement’’ (to adopt Tony Morphet’s striking term in ‘‘Cultural Imagination and Cultural Settlement’’).2 The nature of such a settlement—far from clear at the time and (especially to an outsider) even now—is crucial to the fate of the radical aesthetic impulses of the eighties, whose theorist Ndebele had increasingly become. Its key question, however,was clearenough: the relation of culture to politics—thevery question on which Ndebele’s theory, beginning with ‘‘Turkish Tales,’’ had turned. But the moment of transition reopened this question, because if the political struggle was defined as having achieved victory, then the position of writers and artists might well be thought to have radically changed. A powerful current set in, offering an alliance between some of the liberal old guard and some of the eighties cultural radicals, toward a redefinition of culture as a part of civil society whose autonomy should be kept inviolate from all political interference—as much from the anc as from the old apartheid state. In effect, this view instituted a normalization of culture on the model of its officially sanctioned, officially pluralist place in the Western market democracies, as against the more transformative view of a culture of liberation whose efforts would continue, linked to the fate and struggles of those who continued to be oppressed (in South Africa, mainly black rural and urban working-class women and men), under the new regime. Like many others from the eighties movements, Ndebele can be seen responding to the pull of both these forces striving to establish a new hegemony. He was in a particularly difficult position because his critique of the protest aesthetic was read by many in the liberal establishment as making him their natural ally in declaring an official end to the liberation aesthetic itself, reductively described as allegiance to the slogan ‘‘Art is a weapon of struggle,’’ all the more because, for whatever reason, he did not always distinguish his position from theirs and thus himself entered the zone of ambiguity characteristic of such a period.3 On the other hand, in September 1992 he was still thinking of the relation between culture and politics in a much more radically transformative framework, aware at the same time that his basic assumptions were by no means likely to prevail without an inauguration of deep democracy: ‘‘The state of literature in South Africa also mirrors in a very fundamental way the larger historical imbalances in the country, and . . . lasting answers to some of our literary problems are to be found in the manner in which Cultural Identity from Below

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the larger struggle is finally resolved’’ (‘‘Defining South African Literature for a New Nation’’ 149).4 In this essay, the radical proposal is that white writing, like the ‘‘appropriation of nationhood by a powerful racial group’’ (151) on which it rests even in its oppositionality, will come to be seen as the literature of apartheid; that ‘‘ ‘white’ South African literature, as a sociological phenomenon, effectively oppressed other literatures’’ (151).5 Postapartheid black writing, on the other hand, far from losing its focus, as many people have suggested—‘‘With the monster of apartheid gone, what will ‘black’ writers write about?’’ (152)—will come into its own after apartheid, as long as the momentum continues toward ‘‘the quest for a new society’’ and ‘‘the struggle for democracy’’ (152–53). It is interesting that this piece from midtransition is one of the very few instances in which Ndebele addresses South African white writing, a silence Graham Pechey has remarked in his introduction to Rediscovery of the Ordinary (9); he wrote a brief review of Nadine Gordimer’s career when she won the Nobel Prize (Tribute 1991) and a glowing introduction to Peter Horn’s Poems 1964–1989, but otherwise, to my knowledge, he has ignored white writing. ‘‘Defining South African Literature’’ reveals why, and this is a radical position to take in the climate of wishful thinking in the culture industry that perhaps, with a little affirmative action, things might be managed without much change. For Ndebele, the transition, if it was to produce ‘‘lasting answers’’ to apartheid culture, would need to turn everything upside down so that ‘‘nationhood’’ meant more than a slightly moderated white power monopoly—on education, on language policy, on literacy, on publishing, on ‘‘the accessibility and affordability of books for a greatly increased reading public,’’ on literary awards (‘‘Defining South African Literature’’ 152). He is not afraid to raise the specter of a fading from the scene of white writing (‘‘ ‘white writing,’ to use J. M. Coetzee’s expression, may become exhausted . . . its concerns may become marginal’’—152), accompanying a historically new thing: black writers in the ascendant, with power in cultural institutions, aligned with the creative initiative of workers to create a new cultural identity from below. More than any other of his writings, this brief commentary reveals how fundamental at that time was Ndebele’s conception of cultural revolution in postapartheid South Africa. In the tone of its far-reaching critique of the canon of South African literature it resembles the essay on the English language and the 1987 Wits lecture on the transformation of the university (‘‘European Culture in South Africa ‘Ignores Reality’ ’’). It gives a very 80

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clear context to his eighties critique of black protest writing in Rediscovery of the Ordinary, showing that that critique in no way represented a tropism toward,oran easy reabsorption of, thewhite canon; one sentence added for republication asserted that ‘‘literary standards in South Africa cannot be discussed outside the context of opportunities for many aspirant writers, who are black, to obtain a basic education’’ (‘‘Defining South African Literature’’ 149). Obviously his position allowed for white writers (Ari Sitas, Ingrid de Kok, Jeremy Cronin, Peter Horn, and no doubt many others) to take some part in the cultural revolution (see the ending of the essay), but certainly a much reduced part. In his mind it becomes hard to see how the main contours of a ‘‘cultural identity from below’’ can directly include canonical white literature.Thewhite artist GavinYounge put it well: ‘‘All artists who have loved their tradition have had to disrupt it. . . . The necessary transformational model has to be sought elsewhere—in social processes and in the attitudes of commitment, modesty and courage of those artists who are prepared to re-enter the world from which their myths have separated them’’ (in de Kok and Press 84; emphasis in the original). Such white writing would need to operate a secession of its own from white hegemony that would be more than textual. Speaking of Horn’s work, Ndebele points to ‘‘an appropriate atmosphere of resistance which is suggested as the proper context within which whites can rediscover themselves as people. They must participate in the trying heroism of legitimate struggle’’ (introduction xvi). This contrasts strongly with Albie Sachs’s line ‘‘white is beautiful,’’ attributed to a Mozambican revolutionary poet of mixed race in ‘‘Preparing Ourselves for Freedom’’ (in de Kok and Press 26), as though it (re)became beautiful by that pronouncement or byan anc tactical shift to broad united front politics in the transition; for Sachs, whites participate in the struggle because ‘‘they seek to be ordinary citizens of an ordinary country’’ (27), and a newly beautiful whiteness would simply be, by the abrogation of apartheid, the restoration of whiteness to normalcy (the normal understood as the content of victory, the rediscovery of the ordinary in a sense much reduced from Ndebele’s). Sachs thus elides the labor of the negative implied by Younge, Horn, and Ndebele: the ‘‘white is beautiful’’ slogan, though the cosaw general secretary Junaid Ahmed embraces it on united front, ‘‘non-racial, democratic’’ grounds (in de Kok and Press 123), evokes the comment by the short story writer Jayapraga Reddy that ‘‘the end of apartheid seems to represent for the white minority a defeat in which they have Cultural Identity from Below

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lost nothing’’ (quoted in Ndebele, ‘‘Guilt and Atonement’’ 9). On the other hand, Ndebele’s view is not simply negative as opposed to Sachs’s ‘‘Black is beautiful, Brown is beautiful, White is beautiful. I think that affirmation is beautiful’’ (in de Kok and Press 27). We remember that ‘‘rediscover’’ is a thematic term in Ndebele with a resonance of activist, energetic hope, and the conclusion of his study of Horn’s poetry rings with it: ‘‘To read and enjoy Peter Horn’s poetry is to get a sense of how we can find ourselves as a nation, and then again as individuals’’ (introduction xix). In tone and substance Ndebele’s principled position is unambiguously radical in both its rupture with the canon and its reconstructive hope, pulling to the left, in a spirit quite close to the white critic Michael Chapman’s bold arguments in two major articles from the same moment, ‘‘The Critic in a State of Emergency’’ and ‘‘The Liberated Zone,’’ at a moment when the new ‘‘settlement’’ was pulling strongly toward the center. In fact, Ndebele defined that pull to the center in very sharp terms (the last sentence was added for republication): Now, I have had to learn very quickly since the dramatic events of February 2, 1990, which led to the release of Nelson Mandela, that any attempt at a nonjudgemental understanding of our history is quickly interpreted by many white people as letting them off the hook. They become comfortable and begin to make arguments and demands that have the effect of reinforcing their privileged status. They want to enjoy the leveling benefits of objectivity without abandoning their claims to privilege. (‘‘Defining South African Literature’’ 152) Beset with these pressures, how could white established critics—or all but an exceptional few—take a clear view of the future, or even of the historical canon, of black or white literature? The essay sardonically describes dominant critical attitudes to contemporary black writing (I quote the Staffrider text, where the irony is not dulled by explanation for foreign readers): ‘‘Black South African literature’’ because it was written in English or Afrikaans qualified to be called literature, but was a special nonstandard literature called ‘‘black.’’ This setting apart of this literature confirmed its alien character. For some critics [the later version added here ‘‘mainly white’’], this literature became the cosatu of literature; something with pretensions to literary status but essentially naive, crude, untutored, inexperienced, and ultimately incapable of defining 82

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a literary culture. Yet to others, it was the anc of literature: personable, worthy of being understood, but oftentimes quite frustrating. (Staffrider 24; Beckey 151) The extremely pointed references to cosatu and the anc (with the sacp, the triple alliance then negotiating for power), as well as the amusing distinctions between them (made by Ndebele’s imagined white critics, not by him), reveal what ‘‘below’’ meant for Ndebele in his formulation of cultural identity from below. If the transfer of power was to go to cosatu and the anc, his implication for culture was that there too the end of apartheid was to mean a radical shift, not ameliorative tinkering with the old ‘‘settlement.’’ The beginning of a new cultural settlement-in-formation, whose dominant tone is quite centrist in comparison to the Ndebele essay just discussed, is usually traced to the impact of a single authoritative position paper by an anc leader, which began with the deliberately provocative, somewhat tongue-in-cheek proposal ‘‘that our members should be banned from saying that culture is a weapon of struggle. I suggest a period of, say, five years’’ (in de Kok and Press 19). ‘‘Preparing Ourselves for Freedom’’ was written by Albie Sachs, the distinguished white jurist and anc executive committee member whose resistance work in exile made him a target of state terror: he lost an arm in a 1988 assassination attempt in Mozambique. Sachs’s ‘‘Preparing Ourselves for Freedom’’ was written in 1989— before Mandela’s release—as a position paper for internal discussion in the anc; it was published in the Weekly Mail in February 1990, having already been ‘‘first disseminated in the form of muddy photocopies of a fax from exile’’ (Sanders 56), and set off a ferment of debate, as it appeared to indicate anc thinking about culture just as a new dispensation of power was being inaugurated by Mandela’s release. Further, it appeared to move anc arts policy away from eighties radicalism and toward a frankly belletristic and liberal humanist universalism perfectly palatable to the least political professor of literature, newspaper reviewer, or state theater administrator, not to mention a celebratory, commercial nationalism in which any (uncritical) South African could join: I remember the pride I felt as a South African when some years ago I saw the production known as the Zulu Macbeth bring the house down in the World Theatre season in London, the intensely theatrical wedding Cultural Identity from Below

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and funeral dances of our people, performed by cooks and messengers and chauffeurs conquering the critics and audiences in what was then possibly the most elite theatre in the world. This was Zulu culture, but it was also our culture, my culture. (in de Kok and Press 25) Sachs’s position was that South African art should flourish in some such unproblematic Olympic competition of national cultures as part of the imminent victory of the anc: ‘‘Let us write better poems and make better films and compose better music, and let us get the voluntary adherence of the people to our banner’’ (28).6 Much of the debate stimulated by ‘‘Preparing Ourselves for Freedom,’’ which can be read in the essays and interviews in de Kok and Press and D. Brown and van Dyk, assimilated Sachs’s normative retreat from liberationist aesthetics to Ndebele’s beyond-protest essays of the eighties (and to earlier positions taken by Es’kia Mphahlele and Lewis Nkosi, and contemporary statements by Nadine Gordimer and Chris van Wyk), as if Sachs had simply given them the anc imprimatur. My reading here is meant to question that facile assimilation, at least in Ndebele’s case, and to distinguish what I take to be the radical impulse in his thinking from Sachs’s very widely influential version of a new cultural settlement, which was so emphatically taken up by journalistic and other established voices well to the right of Sachs himself. (Typically, the only objection from this quarter was to the very idea of an anc leader making any pronouncements about culture at all, or to their intellectual banality; Stephen Watson’s interview in Exchanges [D. Brown and van Dyk 88–93] is a particularly livelyexample of this response.) At the same time, however, it is important to examine how Ndebele’s own theoretical writing stands up to the enormous pressures for cultural normalization and ‘‘settlement’’ accompanying the political transition from 1990 to 1994 (and still in process). As the anc and most of the antiapartheid movement gave up revolutionary change for the sure, more limited gains of a negotiated settlement with the de Klerk government, and as the negotiations and elite-pacting in Pretoria among party representatives produced a de facto demobilization of the mass movement, they brought in their train a crisis for the more radical side of Ndebele’s thinking (and for the more radical experiments in opposition culture, such as worker poetry and theater). The feminist currents represented in Margaret Daymond’s South African Feminisms were similarly marked by the transition politics of the nineties; the dominant trope in Daymond’s introduc84

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tory essay, for example, is ‘‘negotiation.’’ Had opting for negotiation and normalization made more pressing than ever Enzensberger’s question ‘‘Is there still an intellectual opposition’’? The Tactics of ‘‘Cultural Identity from Below’’ After the poetical eulogies and murals of victory, most of the current socioeconomic circumstances will continue to persist. Indeed, politicized artists would probably continue to press for wide-ranging, penetrating social change. —Hein Willemse, Exchanges

One sign that there was still an intellectual opposition would be cogent analyses of the transition itself, such as this sentence of Ndebele’s from a 1991 paper: ‘‘The liberation movement perhaps saw the possibility of some strategic gains for the struggle. But the government saw the possibility of consolidating white power without the baggage of the past’’ (‘‘Guilt and Atonement’’ 9). In other words, Ndebele, though like everyone else he was certainly affected by the dramatic turn to settlement, was one of those who at first maintained great caution about the state’s new moves. This is evident in several short pieces such as ‘‘Guilt and Atonement’’ and especially in his 1991 preface to Rediscovery of the Ordinary: Without doubt, the government has come to realize that traditional ways of naked force and brutality were no longer a viable option. As a result of the relative refinement of sensibility within the now fairly developed Afrikaner bourgeois culture, the Afrikaner bourgeoisie are now able to recoil in shame from overt brutality. They are in love with the present while proclaiming their repudiation of a past they made with their own hands and which led to the present. This development has enabled the government to position itself somewhere within the ethical domain of the liberation movement, with rather confusing results. They have carried out what has been demanded all along, but what are we to make of them? . . . The greatest challenge before such a government, desperately wanting to hold on to power to protect white privilege while assuring blacks that it is on their side, is to manufacture the illusion of freedom. They have among other things attempted to do so by appropriating many of the ideals of the liberation movement. (7–8) Cultural Identity from Below

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The preface goes on to describe presciently not just the immediate consequences of such an appropriation—demobilization, the wind going out of the movement’s sails—but the nature of the crisis in consciousness, deeply affecting radical critical work like his own, that political normalization on these terms would entail: One effect of such appropriation is to reduce the capacity of those ideals to inspire a visionary optimism among the oppressed. If these ideals can be espoused by everyone, including the nationalist government, then they enter into the hurly-burly of day-to-day politics where they can be stripped of their dignity. The potential result is that a moral and visionary desert is being cultivated precisely at a time when vision and morality are needed. . . . It would seem, therefore, that the terrible spectacle of apartheid oppression seems destined to end in a comparatively non-spectacular, yet essential process of negotiation. This situation will be extremely demanding on our capacity to know and understand what is going on. (8–9; my emphasis) The ‘‘capacity to know and understand’’ Ndebele refers to here is precisely the end and aim of radical critique, so that his preface effectivelyannounces that the negotiated political settlement will have created a crisis for emergent cultural theory. The preface ends, however, on the more positive note of the opportunities for writers to seize on such a moment, and on a note of conviction that his essays in the volume retain their ‘‘significance and relevance’’ in such a moment. Whether this is so can be tested by looking at his writing after 1990 and his return from Lesotho to a position of considerable influence in South Africa, writing in which the first thing to be noticed is its relative thinning down to shorter, more journalistic pieces than the eighties essays, during years when Ndebele took on onerous tasks in universities, cosaw, innumerable keynote speeches, and the nonaligned national arts lobby he helped launch in December 1992, the National Arts Initiative (later the National Arts Coalition). One observable effect of the new cultural settlement on his work is this plunge into ‘‘the long march through the institutions,’’ surely based on the recognition (as Cornel West spelled it out in ‘‘The Dilemma of the Black Intellectual’’) that it would be selfmarginalizing for radical criticism to remain aloof from ‘‘the hurly-burly of day-to-day [cultural] politics,’’ in the mood of Fanon’s heroic existen86

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tialist passage about defying history. But this ‘‘essential process of negotiation’’ involves some new contradictions, which Ndebele visibly struggles to handle. For one, his ascent to national prominence in the new cultural settlement is in itself problematic, with the potential for separation from the grassroots cultural activism represented by cosaw and the cosatu cultural locals and championed in his eighties essays; with the potential too for an individual career in a new anc-based state class that a reductive reading of his origins in the black urban middle class might already have suggested.7 Ndebele himself, in a talk to the New Nation Writers’ Conference early in the transition (1991), anticipated the ‘‘uncertainty,’’ the ‘‘seductive oppression,’’ the ‘‘glitter of apartheid,’’ which might now produce a ‘‘split’’ in the black community between ‘‘accommodation’’ and ‘‘those who wish to press ahead’’ (thus phrasing it as a political, not a class, division). He begins with the metaphor of not storming the Bastille which he used in the preface to Rediscovery of the Ordinary: ‘‘What characterises the transformation is that those who opened the prison doors were not victorious crowds pursuing a defeated enemy in flight. They were opened by an enemy who had declared that he was now a friend.To date, he still holds the keys’’ (‘‘Guilt and Atonement’’ 9). In the new circumstances the coercion of the old regime would shift strategically from the state to the normative workings of capitalist civil society, and Ndebele saw the wellsprings of that soft coercion as internal and deadly. This piece is a clear indication that he grasped the difficulties ahead for his theories of ‘‘social imagination,’’ of ‘‘the will of the oppressed to create’’ (‘‘Intellectual Challenges for the Struggle’’ 141), of what he had as long ago as 1972 defined, in an early essay called ‘‘Black Development’’ written for a collection edited by Steve Biko, as ‘‘cultural identity . . . from below’’ (23). His New Nation paper put very graphically the possibility of the black cultural identity now intended to be created from above: Just as blacks had no option but to accept the conditions of life imposed on them, if they want to experience some semblance of freedom, in the short term, they may have no options but to fit into the available business and civil culture and rise through the ranks. Thevarious structures that once characterised theirexclusion and repulsive, exploitative white power, now may represent opportunity. The glitter of apartheid: buildings, banks, etc., previously an index of the Cultural Identity from Below

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oppressed’s powerlessness, now represent, disturbingly, the possibility of fulfilment. The brazen oppression of the past can now become the seductive oppression of having to build and consolidate and enjoy what was achieved at our expense. There will be the attractive tendency to accept all this as the spoils of struggle. This situation is likely to split the black community into those who seek immediate relief and those who wish to press ahead. We can choose between absorption and accommodation on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the quest for a self-created reality. . . . One of the prices we can pay for choosing the illusion of freedom is to forget about the past and enjoy the present as much as we can. (‘‘Guilt and Atonement’’ 9) This kind of clarity just after his return to the country, in a talk delivered as the elected president of cosaw and new chair of the African Literature Department at Wits, suggests that Ndebele’s choice of a career in the historically Black universities (although hewas sometime later short-listed for the post of directorof sabc tv) situates him consciouslyand firmlyon one side of this ‘‘split’’: the side of cultural identity from below, of ‘‘a self-created reality,’’ of ‘‘freedom through the agony of strife and struggle’’ (‘‘Guilt and Atonement’’ 9), of ‘‘the creative possibilities for the future . . . located among the ranks of the oppressed,’’ of ‘‘an alternative rationality’’ (‘‘Intellectual Challenges for the Struggle’’ 140–41). (It should be added here— because U.S. academics may well look skepticallyon a college presidencyas an apt location to build cultural identity from below—that whereas senior university administrators in the United States are often clearly management and establishment figures quite alienated from the radical cultural critics on their faculties, the situation in South Africa at embattled places with poverty-stricken black students like Fort Hare, the University of the Western Cape, and the University of the North is, if not without its ambiguities, quite different.) A scathing 1987 lecture at Wits (one of Ndebele’s angriest pieces) had already staked out the university as a terrain of bitter political struggle over transformation and drawn the line between what ‘‘absorption and accommodation’’ would mean in a university dedicated under the guise of ‘‘high academic standards’’ to ‘‘maintain[ing] the illusion of metropolitan purity’’ and ‘‘an already sterile, derivative cultural environment’’ (the university on which Ndebele had turned his back for his 88

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own education in Lesotho and overseas), and the contrary path of ‘‘freedom through the agony of struggle’’: Everywhere we come across the mass, that crowning achievement of South African capitalism. For is it not that at the centre of the history of South African capitalism is the mobilising of millions of people for the exploitation of their labour? Surely it is unrealistic for us not to expect that at some point the mass will make some massive demands on behalf of the mass interest? Surely the children of the masses are destined to invade the universities. To recognise this fact is to appreciate that at this historical juncture the issue is not academic standards, nor is it university autonomy, or freedom of speech: we waste our time when we debate these issues outside of appropriate historical and social contexts. The fundamental issue is the education of the mass. (‘‘European Culture in South Africa ‘Ignores Reality’ ’’ 10) In this one specific site of the creation of cultural identity at least, there is no doubt how Ndebele saw its new creation ‘‘from below’’ developing; it is certainly not along the lines of ‘‘forget[ting] about the past and enjoy[ing] the present as much as we can.’’ It is quite striking too how the tone of these early transition pieces keeps faith with the 1972 Black Consciousness student radicalism of ‘‘Black Development,’’ as in that essay’s bitter attack on the bankruptcy of ‘‘the black middle class,’’ ‘‘most of them . . . obsessed with capitalist values’’ (like Vukani’s parents in Ndebele’s story ‘‘The Music of the Violin,’’ or his later story ‘‘Death of a Son’’), and ‘‘characterised by a general lack of creative imagination’’ as opposed to the ‘‘great initiative and creativity’’ shown by urban black workers; it is the fatal defect of this middle class to ‘‘forget that the mainsprings of a true cultural identity come from below’’ (‘‘Black Development’’ 22–23). This note, echoed as the main burden of Rediscovery of the Ordinary—and perhaps as the central meaning and condition of possibility of South African emergent culture as a whole—is sounded again and again in Ndebele’s later work, even as events seemed to be dislocating that perspective and even as Ndebele himself was to some extent drawn into the new coalitions of culture from above. ‘‘Changes in South Africa’s Cultural Battlefield’’ (1986), for example, argues in the context of expanding urban literacies that ‘‘the remarkable possibility is that even workers can create their own literary tradition as a result of their own domestication [equivaCultural Identity from Below

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lent in this essay to the terms ‘‘indigenisation’’ and ‘‘decolonisation’’] of the concept of literariness’’ (53). Similarly, in ‘‘A New Beginning’’ (a 1991 interview at the time of his return to South Africa), Ndebele stresses that a principal cultural task of the transition that cosaw needs to carry out is the training and publishing of young black writers who ‘‘have insufficient opportunities to advance their careers’’ (44). His general preoccupation at this time with the young as source of new cultural identities is reflected in a historical article, ‘‘South Africa since Sharpeville 1960–1988: The Era of the Youth’’ (1989) and in the complex and somber meditations of ‘‘Recovering Childhood’’ (1992): ‘‘Where can we locate the metaphors of hope? No longer in children, for not only do we kill them, they themselves have killed. . . . But we have to locate the process of rediscovery on the child and genuinely believe in the newness that will come from that direction’’ (13). All these emphases harmonize with radical-reform readings of the transition. But painful surprises about the process of transition were also concealed in the new institutional politics of culture. Indeed, Ivor Powell’s account of the December 1993 founding conference of the National Arts Coalition (nac), chaired by Ndebele, reads like a textbook case of ‘‘transition theory’’ in orthodox political science (Adam Przeworski’s is an influential version), according to which successful democratic transitions like South Africa’s are managed by the pacting of centrists from both sides (the old reactionaries and the new democratic insurgents) based on the willing exclusion of their own radicals by each party.8 This depressingly mechanistic (and, as Jeremy Cronin points out, surreptitiously prescriptive) theory does seem to describe in empirical terms not only the larger political settlement in South Africa, but also what happened in the election of the nac steering committee, which left out both the old conservative state-funded organizations known as Performing Arts Councils, and the new grassroots coordinating structure led by the photographer Omar Badsha, fosaco (Federation of South African Cultural Organizations; Powell, ‘‘The Shape of the Arts to Come’’ 42).9 The nac, with Ndebele as honorary president, also took a stand as politically nonaligned, and its first resolution affirmed the independence of the arts from political control.This took place in an atmosphere of real conflict with the anc Department of Arts and Culture, which, while disavowing a policy of controlling art (Sachs’s paper had distinguished between leadership and control), was uncomfortable with the new group’s formally distancing itself from the anc and its 90

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accepting funds from the state, still controlled by the National Party. The conflict emerged in a contentious argument on television between Ndebele and the anc’s Mewa Ramgobin, and an angryopen letter from the National Arts Initiative’s general secretary MikeVan Graan to the supposed anc cultural commissars, Mongane Wally Serote and Mewa Ramgobin (Gevisser, ‘‘The War of the Cultural Workers’’; Van Graan, ‘‘We Want Culture, not Commissars’’). Where ‘‘the social imagination of the oppressed’’ emerges from such day-to-day politics of elite pacting is not at all obvious, although eventually arts policy after the April 1994 election, with a commitment to redress the imbalances of apartheid and to democratize culture, would be acceptable at least in theory to all the disputing parties in mid-1993; the further resolution of these divisions (ultimately class and racial, as Badsha says) will be fought out as part of the evolution of the transition to ‘‘deep democracy,’’ if it is to occur. The point for Ndebele’s positions in the Rediscovery of the Ordinary essays is that the difficulties his preface foresaw did indeed come thick and fast in his attempts at practical intervention in the new cultural settlement, and that therefore for any cultural theory, a theory of the transition itself—and, for radical cultural theory, a radical transition theory like Adler and Webster’s—is necessary. One feature of Ndebele’s nineties writing is that he never (in spite of some flashing insights early in the process) fully articulates such a theory of the transition as it unfolds. He therefore sometimes seems to hover uncertainly between various theories, as those have been outlined, for instance, by Devan Pillay in ‘‘The End of a Dream? Social Movements and the New South Africa’’: For those on the Right of the political spectrum, stable, orderly parliamentary democracy needs to be protected from the hordes below. Mass mobilisation and organisation for them means ‘‘mob rule.’’ . . . For those on the Left end of the spectrum, mass participatorydemocracy, where working people have had a real opportunity to participate in shaping their future, is under threat from the elites above. For the ‘‘insurrectionist’’ current within the Left, representative democracy and parliaments mean elite rule, the stifling of mass protest, and the caving in to pragmatism, and the dictates of the national and international bourgeoisie. . . . For the ‘‘radical reform’’ current within the Left (see Adler and Webster 1994, and Cronin 1994) there is a recognition that both traCultural Identity from Below

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ditions have shaped the nature of the transition. . . . For ‘‘radical reformists,’’ then, the way out is to seize the opportunity of forging a unique democracy that combines the best of both formal, representative democracy and the less formal, participatory democracy. (2–3) The zone of ambiguity in which Ndebele, like most others, operates in these years can probably best be understood as inherent in the highly complex ‘‘radical reform’’ (in Adler and Webster’s sense) theory and practice of the transition, to which one would expect him to be drawn in any case, and affinities with which can be heard often in his early-nineties writing. In Pillay’s formulation of this current of thought, great stress is put on a Gramscian (as opposed to strictly Marxist-Leninist) view of ‘‘civil society’’ as a vibrant counterweight to statist forms of transformation; this too might be supposed to be congenial to Ndebele’s characteristic way of thinking culture in the eighties essays, as well as to his preference for political nonalignment (or perhaps it is for choosing his battles, for keeping a focus on cultural work). But is his arts lobby, the nac, properly such a radicalreformist balance between state formal democracy and civil society participatory democracy? Or is it an elitist lobby based on official state pluralism, a coalition taking in many of those privileged sectors about which the essay ‘‘Defining South African Literature for a New Nation’’ spoke so caustically—as opposed to something like Omar Badsha’s group fosaco, which presumably the cultural establishment was still thinking of as ‘‘the cosatu of literature’’? The question is typical of the difficulties of reading Ndebele’s experience of the transition, especially closer to the 1994 election and after it. Debating the Transition: Ndebele and Albie Sachs The proliferating binaries of apartheid discourse will long outlive any merely political winning of freedom. —Graham Pechey, ‘‘Post-Apartheid Narratives’’

From a different vantage point, one can look at how the radical momentum of Ndebele’s theory stands up to the pressures of normalization by examining its evolution in the context of the culture-and-politics ‘‘Albie Sachs debate’’ of 1990–1991.10 But one should not fetishize the stir created by ‘‘Preparing Ourselves for Freedom’’; other cultural debates were going on at the same time that were at least as significant for the long-term 92

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future of radical democracy, principally debates within feminism and the advent of an incipient gay political discourse. Before taking up the Sachs debate itself I want to look briefly at how Ndebele’s thinking connects to the feminist and gay writing of a transition to their/our notions of deep democracy. Margaret Daymond has been the principal discussant of his work from a feminist viewpoint, in her introduction to South African Feminisms and her own article in that collection, ‘‘Inventing Gendered Traditions: The Short Stories of Bessie Head and Miriam Tlali,’’ where she looks at Sachs and Ndebele together (226–28). Daymond first points out (226), citing Nise Malange, the blatant marginalization of feminist perspectives in the Sachs debate (the only thing overlooked in this judgment is a brief passage by Ari Sitas on women’s struggles in Spring Is Rebellious [in de Kok and Press 97], which also cites Nise Malange). In this light it is interesting that many of the contributors to South African Feminisms (I think especially of Zoë Wicomb, Carol Steinberg, Dorothy Driver, Desiree Lewis, and Karen Lazar) could have made wonderful feminist-inflected interventions in the Sachs debate, but either were not asked or did not for other reasons. It even makes sense to regard the whole of South African Feminisms as a comment in its own right on the topics of Spring Is Rebellious and Exchanges. Daymond’s other contribution is to apply a politics of negotiation among stakeholders—drawn directly from transition politics—to feminist charting of new directions, particularly given the race and class divisions among South African women. I think she avoids a centrist reading of this politics of negotiation of difference, the centrism described by Ingrid de Kok as ‘‘assimilation politics’’: ‘‘In assimilation politics, where there is a place for everyone and everyone has a place, the impulse to draw a magic circle and pull power into the center is very strong’’ (de Kok and Press 16). Instead, in a crucial passage in her introduction, Daymond puts stress not on assimilation but on contestation, ‘‘the contest out of which new practices will come’’: ‘‘The ownership of knowledge—in its several aspects of representation, interpretation, commentary and theory—is being contested in all branches of feminist activity, within the universities and without’’ (South African Feminisms xxii). The feminist epistemology missing from the Sachs debate is itself far from homogeneous, because as Cecily Lockett argues in the essay that begins the collection, ‘‘Feminism(s) and Writing in English in South Africa,’’ white South African feminism faces the question of how to break out of the white metropolitan frame it became conscious, by the late eighties, of findCultural Identity from Below

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ing itself in—the question, in Daymond’s words, of ‘‘the relationship of a developing, heterogeneous post-colonial culture to its hegemonic origins’’ (xix). Although black women do not have the same European ‘‘origin’’ spoken of here, they are also, again as Daymond puts it, caught in the distortion of ‘‘a dominant ideology [that] shapes the utterance of the oppressed as well as the oppressor’’ (xxiii), and therefore have an interest in Lockett’s question. The book offers a lively, plural, often contentious answer on the way to the construction of a possible common purpose, namely, resisting a normalization of patriarchal power in the new dispensation.To resist successfully the incorporation of deep gender polarization and hierarchy into the new regime, the struggle within feminism to overturn historically defined relations of power among women must also succeed; for this to happen Desiree Lewis puts stress on what Daymond called ‘‘the ownership of knowledge,’’ on breaking the ‘‘patterns of racial domination [that] have determined patterns of interpretive authority in South African scholarship and research’’ (Lewis, in South African Feminisms 99–100). As this crux is negotiated in the book, interesting theses emerge among the black scholars. Maqagi and Lewis differ on whether ‘‘legitimate interpretations of groups can come only from within those groups’’ (Maqagi 28; Lewis 102), and Wicomb answers Maqagi’s essential question ‘‘Who Theorizes?’’ bydeveloping an internationalist black feminist critique drawing on discourse analysis, not the womanism of Alice Walker and Chikwenye Ogunyemi, where Lockett had rested her own case (Wicomb 45–54; Lockett 18–23). From a position outside the academy, the black women poet-activists, journalists, and theater performers interviewed by Daymond and Margaret Lenta in a Durban workshop (107–29) are more concerned with sexist obstacles to their work in the culture industry than with the politics of interpretation.Wicomb’s and Lewis’s demands for a supple, race-conscious theory resonate with a range of essays by white scholars: Jill Arnott’s cross-race deployment of Spivak’s analysis of representation (77–89); Jenny de Reuck’s thesis that white feminists’ work need not become ‘‘theoretically voiceless,’’ but can ‘‘resist silence, and interrogate the hegemonic discourse that otherwise would inscribe us’’ (38–39); Dorothy Driver’s performance of such an interrogation in her reading of Pauline Smith’s repression of race (185–206). Daymond is justified in her description of these theoretical essays, including their sharp conflicts and open questions, as negotiating a new space where no one is ineluctably ‘‘scripted in black and white’’ (xxv)—a properly postcolonial space in which, for ex94

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ample, the concept of the new nation itself is subjected to feminist critique as it is in Wicomb’s essay. (Feminism is one of the most likely places from which this needed critique will come.) Although it is written within a particular discipline, literary studies, South African Feminisms may stand here as one instance of what was left out of the Sachs debate. I have dwelt on the importance of feminist thinking in chapter 1 and return to it in chapter 4; it becomes the main burden of my argument against normalization in chapters 5, 6, and 7, which are close readings of writing from different locations in South African feminism: Ingrid de Kok, Nise Malange, and Bessie Head. Though Ndebele is not specifically mentioned in the South African writings on sexual politics I have seen, and though he himself does not address the issue, the first gay anthologies were published in this period of ‘‘preparing ourselves for freedom,’’ and the editors of one of them, Defiant Desire (1994), announce that their book ‘‘is a product of these times: an attempt to engage in the current debate over what we want this land to be’’; they focus their book on the question ‘‘What role does sexual politics play in this time of transition?’’ (Gevisserand Cameron 4).Their perspective, however, strong also in Afrikaans writing which I do not discuss, is missing from the Sachs debate. There are ample grounds for connecting their interventions to Ndebele’s arguments in general and to the Sachs paper in particular. The best formulation of this I have seen is the concluding sentence of Matthew Krouse’s stirring and hilarious theater memoir, ‘‘My Life in the Theatre of War’’: ‘‘If the freedom to love is indeed part of that struggle, then perhaps ours has just begun’’ (in Davis and Fuchs 114). One editor and contributor to Defiant Desire, Mark Gevisser, was also an influential young political and cultural journalist on the Weekly Mail during this period, commenting on many of the general debates (e.g., ‘‘The War of the Cultural Workers’’) and publishing a gripping set of profiles of political actors in the transition, Portraits of Power: Profiles in a Changing South Africa (1996). The two other anthologies of gay writing published during the transition were Hennie Aucamp’s Wisselstroom: Homoerotiek in die Afrikaans Verhaalkuns (1990) and Matthew Krouse and Kim Berman’s The Invisible Ghetto: Lesbian and Gay Writing from South Africa (1993), which, significantly, was published by the organization headed by Ndebele, cosaw. Gerrit Olivier (a contributor to Defiant Desire) and Joan Hambidge are interviewed on the Sachs paper for Exchanges, but like some of the respondents in Spring Is Rebellious who do not speak as feminists (including the editors Ingrid de Kok and Karen Press), they do not speak from gay subject-positions, though Hambidge refers to Cultural Identity from Below

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a new daring in Afrikaans gay writing. Defiant Desire, like South African Feminisms, could be taken as representative of one subject-position that did not ‘‘count’’ in the Sachs debate. But it is certain to be heard from increasingly in the future, if another sort of cultural normalization is to be resisted. With some sense of what is not recorded in it, I now return to the Sachs debate itself. Although Ndebele’s were often taken as more thoughtful precursors of Sachs’s views, the actual indebtedness of Sachs’s ‘‘Preparing Ourselves for Freedom’’ to one Ndebele essay in particular, ‘‘Beyond ‘Protest’ ’’ ‘‘Redefining Relevance,’’ has not been fully explicated.11 Bringing the two texts together shows not only Sachs’s accord with Ndebele but an important political divergence between the two in which Ndebele appears not only more analytical but more radical. We can begin, as Morphet does, with the concept of imagination in both texts. Ndebele, in his most quoted passage, wrote in 1986: The greatest challenge of the South African revolution is in the search for ways of thinking, ways of perception, that will help to break down the closed epistemological structures of South African oppression. The challenge is to free the entire social imagination of the oppressed from the laws of perception that have characterised apartheid society. For writers this means freeing the creative process from thosevery laws. (65) The corresponding passages in Sachs come on his opening page: The problem is whether we have sufficient cultural imagination to grasp the rich texture of the free and united South Africa that we have done so much to bring about. . . . What we have to ask ourselves now is whether we have an artistic and cultural vision that corresponds to this current phase in which a new South African nation is emerging. Can we say that we have begun to grasp the full dimensions of the new country and new people that is struggling to give birth to itself, or are we still trapped in the multiple ghettoes of the apartheid imagination? (in de Kok and Press 19) Morphet rightly questions the return of the old liberal aesthetics of imagination as a defining term in these key questions, whereas Pechey argues that the old term is newly valorized by other recent interpretive contexts (e.g., Castoriadis’s ‘‘social imaginary’’ and Benedict Anderson’s ‘‘imagined communities’’), but neither notices the slippage from Ndebele’s social to Sachs’s cultural imagination, and, though both critics question Sachs’s pro96

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noun ‘‘we,’’ they do not comment on its difference from Ndebele’s ‘‘the oppressed.’’ The shift from ‘‘social’’ to ‘‘cultural’’ bears out Pechey’s claim that Ndebele’s concept of culture is broader (and I would add more political) than Sachs’s too often merely belletristic (culture equals art), or purely expressive, conception: ‘‘Culture is us, it is who we are, how we see ourselves and the vision we have of the world’’ (A. Sachs, ‘‘Preparing Ourselves’’ 22). Ndebele, by contrast, means by ‘‘the social imagination of the oppressed’’ a reconceiving of ‘‘who we are, how we see ourselves’’ in a political clash between residual apartheid and capitalist ideology (often embedded in who we are and how we see ourselves) and an emergent culture arduously in the making. Sachs’s elision of the political when he speaks of culture, his hasty pushing of the struggle toward a premature reification of victory (he says of exile music like Hugh Masakela’s: ‘‘This is a cop-free world in which the emergent personality of our people manifests itself ’’), are in marked contrast to the Ndebele of the insurrectionary year 1986. In ‘‘Beyond ‘Protest’ ’’ he establishes all talk of culture, not on ‘‘a cop-freeworld’’ but on this foundation: ‘‘The starting point is the need and demand of the oppressed for liberation. The political imperatives of that demand are the positing of an alternative future followed by the seizure of state power’’ (66). Whereas ‘‘emergent’’ in the Sachs passage means simply a return to normal civil society when we can be ourselves, free of police, in Ndebele the concept of an emerging ‘‘alternative’’ is bound up with political revolution and a continuing struggle for the social imaginary. The political difference between Sachs and Ndebele here is not the shift between 1986 and 1990 from insurrection to negotiation (which Ndebele did not oppose); it is rather the founding conception of culture itself. Similarly, there is a key difference in the subjects or agents of culture addressed by Sachs and Ndebele. Where Ndebele speaks consistently of ‘‘the oppressed’’ as the agents of emergent culture and draws a clear line between them and the entire apartheid establishment, including its culture industry, Sachs’s ‘‘we’’ slips among the anc, those oppressed by apartheid, artists in general, and all South Africans; in the sentence just quoted, ‘‘The problem is whether we have sufficient cultural imagination to grasp the rich texture of the free and united South Africa we have done so much to bring about’’ (‘‘Preparing Ourselves’’ 19), both pronouns float freely, the first ‘‘we’’ possibly as broad as all South Africans, the second as restricted as the anc cadre being addressed. In Sachs’s first-person pronouns there Cultural Identity from Below

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is a crucial ambiguity or looseness of reference that Morphet sees as a kind of substitutionism in which the anc stands in for the people—‘‘for Sachs ‘our’ represents not the Black oppressed but the anc leadership and its support base’’ (‘‘Cultural Settlement’’ 140)—but that from another point of view is characteristic of his pulling toward the center of a broad united front around normalization—what Ingrid de Kok calls in her introduction to Spring Is Rebellious ‘‘assimilation politics’’ (16). The assimilation of disparate constituencies to a centrist ‘‘we’’ marks Sachs’s strategy as quite different from Ndebele’s on this score, and we have seen how slow Ndebele is during the transition to admit any common ground with government reformers who are to be seen ‘‘appropriating many of the ideals of the liberation movement’’ (preface, Rediscovery of the Ordinary 8). For Sachs, on the other hand, ‘‘cultural imagination’’ sometimes seems happily to include them or anyone else with a ticket to the Zulu Macbeth; if in the course of developing the nac Ndebele seems to have been drawn into the same centrist praxis, his theoretical writings refuse to adopt it. The divergence between Sachs and Ndebele is clarified by a third position, that of the cwlp, somewhat to the left of Ndebele but also tempered and self-critical in its evaluation of Sachs and more specific than either about its constituency (‘‘For those with aspirations caught in factories and in the unemployment queues, in the kitchens and at home, opportunities have been created to compose, to write and share with others’’). The cwlp response, ‘‘Albie Sachs Must Not Worry,’’ signed by Nise Malange, Pax Magwaza, Mathabo Moloi, Alfred Qabula, Lanly Simpson, ‘‘and others,’’ is critical of a political leadership that first shaped cultural work with a firm hand and then (in Sachs’s paper) called that work into question; in their criticism, in which the term ‘‘grassroots’’ figures as the (anarchosyndicalist?) base of emergent culture, they tacitly envisage an overlap between such political leaders and the ‘‘priests of culture’’ who, under Sachs’s rubric of ‘‘quality,’’ may return to their positions of exclusive power: The insurrection of 1984–6 and the violence thereafter has had both negative and positive effects on grassroots creativity. Of serious negative implications has been the lack of self-criticism in grassroots creativity. But, part of the problem was with the nature of many political leaders’ understanding of the relationship between cultural work and politics. Any criticism could be ‘‘labelled’’ as ‘‘anti-,’’ any ‘‘false step’’ could cause marginalization . . . many leaders saw cultural workers as 98

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groupings that were to fit into the gaps of political activity or to become ‘‘adverts’’ for the latest campaign. Cultural workers had to use slogans to mobilise and to demobilise, to fight but also to call for peace; to accuse and defend. . . .The issue of quality is important—what we need to be asking ourselves is the following—will these times we are living through be remembered through our work? Will our lines, like Neto’s, make Luanda come alive again? Will 1984–6 be remembered better, its tensions shown clearer, its darkness illuminated through our plays? Or, will our creative products be surface statements that need to be understood as poor products of the time? We feel that there are enough of both examples around this and our task is to evaluate all the time our work with honesty and realism. The issue of ‘‘quality’’ and ‘‘standards’’ is political in another sense: it is a method through which people are excluded by those priests of culture who happen to control the church. And many churches as we know get their coherence by denouncing those evildoers, those sinners outside. We prefer inclusive congregations. . . . (cwlp 101–3) There is a subtle reminder here that a broad united front welcoming everyone to the cultural feast can reintroduce beneath its expansive inclusiveness precisely the old relations of power that thrive on exclusion; if ‘‘quality’’ rather than ‘‘ ‘adverts’ for the latest campaign’’ is to be the rubric of the leadership, this will not in itself support the emergence of a radical alternative to traditional South African culture—such an alternative, as Teshome Gabriel’s ‘‘guardian of popular memory,’’ has its own definition of quality bound to be contested by the priests of culture. The Culture and Working Life article approaches this problem by examining Sachs’s use of the concept of leadership, which seemed aimed at reassuring those to the right of the anc: ‘‘Wewant to give leadership to the people, not exercise control over them. . . . We exercise true leadership by being non-hegemonic’’ (‘‘Preparing Ourselves’’ 28). cwlp responds by insisting on ‘‘the inevitability of competing hegemonic projects’’ and thus the real power exerted under the name of the nonhegemonic: We are in a process of immense transformation and Sachs’s proposition for a ‘‘non-hegemonic leadership’’ is exciting but difficult because it presupposes a society of broad consensus. We will argue instead that what we firstly need is the platform and the right for principled criticism Cultural Identity from Below

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of creative work at all levels of society. This implies that we will have to enter the fray of discussion and debate to make principles, our principles perhaps, acceptable, hegemonic. . . . A policyof non-hegemonic leadershipwhich encourages freedom of expression is desirable but it would only encompass at the moment an articulate and already tolerant creative elite primarily drawn from the middle classes. (in de Kok and Press 103) Here again cwlp, like Ndebele only more sharply, dissents from Sachs essentially on the issue of the constituency, the subject, of emergent culture. Sachs’s position is developed from within an anc leadership about to enter,with government reformers,what Tom Lodge calls a ‘‘pacted democratization’’ (‘‘South Africa: Democracy and Development’’ 195); Ndebele’s reflects his base in a university rather than a party; but cwlp’s position is mediated through its belief in leadership from the ranks of working-class communities. Although all three are allied positions in practice during the transition, theoretically and in the longer run they are not so harmonious; Ndebele and cwlp have more in common with each other on both the embattled nature and the agency of South African emergent culture than either does with Sachs. Tony Morphet and Kelwyn Sole bracket Sachs and Ndebele together (Morphet as suspended incoherently between liberalism and Marxism, Sole as radical humanists) to lay out positions in opposition to both, but my reading of the debate suggests a ratherdifferent alignment. Although at a certain level of abstraction Sole’s characterization of both Sachs and Ndebele as ‘‘radical humanists’’ (‘‘Role of the Writer’’ 91) is persuasive, and de Waal concurs in the case of Ndebele, tracing his theory to Lukácsian Marxist humanism (review 6), it is the political differences between the two that are more striking and that construct the transition quite differently. I am not speaking of lingering Black Consciousness thinking in Ndebele as against Sachs’s centrist anc orthodoxy, which draws Morphet’s attention (‘‘Cultural Imagination’’ 139–40), but rather of differences close to the classic divide between reform and revolution. When Ndebele in ‘‘Beyond ‘Protest’ ’’/ ‘‘Redefining Relevance’’ attacks ‘‘the politics of reform’’ and contrasts it to a concept of ‘‘radical change’’ that ‘‘relies on continuous critical engagement with reality’’ (Rediscovery of the Ordinary 62), he also links a merely protest aesthetic to reformist politics; in fact, the basis of his critique of the protest aesthetic is its historical links to protest or reformist politics and its archaic outliving the effective end of those politics 100

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with the 1961 turn to armed struggle and (of more impact in the country, as he says) the 1968 emergence of Black Consciousness (63). Moving beyond protest to ‘‘liberation’’ in literaturewas, for Ndebele, the correlative of moving beyond reform in politics to ‘‘the positing of an alternative future followed by the seizure of state power’’ (66)—beyond, precisely, ‘‘the laws of perception that have characterised apartheid society’’ (Pechey’s ‘‘proliferating binaries of apartheid discourse’’), as well as beyond a ‘‘merely political winning of freedom’’ (in Pechey’s words). The ‘‘social imagination’’ of his central passage comprehends both the political and the cultural ‘‘beyond’’ of postapartheid transformation in a single movement: nothing could be further from the idea that his opposition to ‘‘protest’’ is a call for moving beyond political art to its normalized Western archetype. Indeed, the essay cites among the various ‘‘sophisticated strategies of containment’’ of a reformist regime precisely that it ‘‘seeks to create normalcy’’ in the cultural sphere (68). Ndebele’s conception, by contrast, of ‘‘the post-protest South African writer’’ was that ‘‘relevance . . . begins, as it should, with the need for the seizure of state power’’ (69). Although this revolutionary politics is not ‘‘the immediate problem’’ of the writer, it is always in this essay the implied correlative of writing’s ‘‘possibilities of any literary revolution,’’ of the ‘‘social range on which to exercise its imagination’’ (69). For such a conception, unlike Sachs’s conception of a broad acceptance under the rubric of national culture of virtually any nonracist art, the seizure of imaginative power by the oppressed, following on state power, would necessarily be a process of continued struggle, or ‘‘continuous critical engagement with reality.’’ That in the event there was a negotiated rather than an insurrectionary transfer of power in no way mitigates the force of Ndebele’s call for cultural revolution following on political victory. Sachs’s paper, taking so much from this essay in phrasing, does not take overanyof its political radicalism in the redefinition of culture. Perhaps his exile meant that he was thinking more of protest writing from the sixties and seventies than of the liberation art of the eighties (several contributors to Spring Is Rebellious, like Rushdy Siers in his vigorous rebuttal of Sachs’s whole argument, make the point that Sachs was out of touch with current radical eighties art in the country), but his paper has completely lost Ndebele’s sense (exhibited too by the art of the eighties) that the production of a genuine emergent culture would involve strenuous combat with still hegemonic aesthetic views. Sachs’s embrace of those views, as Eve BertelCultural Identity from Below

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sen sharply noted, was instead uncritical and almost unconscious: ‘‘I recall the dismay I felt on first reading your paper. Could it be possible that you were seriously offering as solution to our cultural dilemmas the very . . . commonsense that a generation of radical research has been concerned to expose for its collusion with the status quo . . . ?’’ (‘‘Phasing the Spring’’ 133; quoted in Sole, ‘‘Role of the Writer’’ 94). Gerrit Olivier, in his Exchanges interview, makes a similar critique from a slightly different angle: What Sachs seems to forget in his paper is that the kind of freedom he talks about does not necessarily come into existence by us desiring it or even claiming it. There is a cultural hegemony in place. . . . The situation on the ground does not always offer the conditions for the kind of cultural freedom idealized by Sachs. Sachs’s view of a national literature rests on the concept of an emerging ‘‘national personality’’ which could in itself become a denial of historical differences. (in D. Brown and van Dyk 62–63) In fact, the appeal of Sachs’s paper to the great majority of respondents even despite their many fundamental disagreements lies to one side of its theoretical basis. It is the seduction of a happyending, the promise of lived, immediate ‘‘return’’ to the pleasures of art as the reward of all those years of political work. Perhaps only those for whom art has never been the highest consumer good could resist this appeal, and university radicals—even those uncomfortable with an author who seems never to have read Foucault or Benedict Anderson—were quite vulnerable to it. The lesson of the cwlp response is very important for those reluctantly drawn, despite their better judgment, to Sachs’s happy ending.

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chapter four

Staging Whiteness: Beckett, Havel, Maponya

One striking moment or scene of instruction in the emergence of a new South African culture in the eighties was the appearance in 1984 of a short play, Gangsters, written by the Black Consciousness playwright Maishe Maponya. What is most interesting to me about Gangsters, which otherwise has much in common with such work in the Black Consciousness tradition as Mthuli Shezi’s early Shanti (1972) and especially Matsemela Manaka’s plays Egoli (City of Gold, i.e., Johannesburg) and Pula (1979 and 1983), is its conscious and self-reflexive reworking of the European radical theatrics of Samuel Beckett and Vaclav Havel, which I think has strong implications beyond this one play. Maponya’s ‘‘indigenizing’’ (to use Appadurai’s term) of this theater language in Gangsters is more than the ‘‘influence’’ of Beckett or Brecht or Grotowski, which is more or less a given in world theater at the time, an influence he shares in general with Manaka and even with Athol Fugard’s collaboration with black actors, as well as with the different tradition of black South African theater deriving from Gibson Kente’s popular township commercial company and crossed with Barney Simon’s Market Theater—the tradition of Mbongeni Ngema and Percy Mtwa (Woza Albert!, Asinamali!, and Bopha!). Rather, Maponya’s series of revisions in this one play marks an original contribution to what Ndebele’s theoretical work

had also been striving for: the staking out of an autonomous site of black aesthetic enunciation in South Africa. In Gangsters we can see this emerging as a process of theoretically driven revisions taking place over a tenyear period, from just before the State of Emergency until after the 1994 elections, and marking not only a significant rethinking of gender but a strategic shift from postmodern European dramaturgy to the indigenous political aesthetic of performance poetry. In this chapter I attempt to draw out some of the implications of Maponya’s work on Gangsters, including extensive changes in its second and third versions. This play becomes a worksite of new constructions of gendered black identities. In my opinion it runs strongly parallel to Ndebele’s theoretical formulations in spite of being recognizably in the ‘‘protest’’ idiom and in spite of evident political differences between Ndebele and the more black nationalist Maponya. At the same time, this play is an instance of South African resistant integration into a global cultural economy; it is not merely a local work, but one that rereads the global discourse of theater on its own terms; it is neither South African exceptionalism, nor a merely ‘‘peripheral’’ example of metropolitan genre. The relation of radical black South African theater to European (post) modernism can be understood as a project of decolonizing the stage. Decolonizing the stage means not only a shift in historical and political consciousness away from a normative and oppressivewhiteness, but a strategic turn to the material cultural practices, the signifying systems, of a recovered indigenous theater that is also open to theatrical invention of every sort. To uncenter the whiteness of the white supremacist theater means in the first instance to stage that whiteness, to normalize it within a different set of rules. But that cannot be done without bringing in its wake an effect of retrospect on the white theater that has been decentered, the whiteness of its writing made newly legible.The ‘‘post’’ of ‘‘postcolonial’’ in this sense refers not only to the new products of a decolonizing culture, but to a new periodization of the colonial or metropolitan text itself; if that text is also postmodern, the ‘‘post’’ of its postcoloniality is the same as the ‘‘post’’ of its postmodernity.1 To see this is to make a postcolonial reading of the postmodern, a useful interpretive consequence of a decolonizing cultural project. This chapter explores at the same time an important political opportunity for a decolonizing theater: the possibility of displacing normative male heterosexist representation.2 A provocative instance of this general project is the intertextual chain 104

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that links three plays of the early eighties: Samuel Beckett’s Catastrophe (Paris, 1982),Václav Havel’s Mistake (Prague, 1983), and Maishe Maponya’s Gangsters (Johannesburg, 1984). Gangsters, Maponya’s play on the death of Steve Biko in detention, brings into focus the question of how the postcolonial reads the postmodern because of its appropriation of the stage design and some passages from Catastrophe. Beckett’s play, dedicated to Havel while he was in a Czech prison, shares with Maponya’s the political aim of celebrating and vindicating a writer-activist in the hands of an enemy state. Havel’s short play Mistake, a response to Beckett, was written when he was released from jail and performed in Stockholm on a double bill with Catastrophe; as both plays were published side by side in Index on Censorship, a journal much preoccupied in the early eighties with censored South African writers, Maponya may have known the Havel as well as the Beckett.3 Looking at Maponya’s appropriation of Beckett’s Havel play in the context of Havel’s response allows an exploration of the theatrical and political strategies the three playwrights have used to challenge the state with the power of the stage. Located as they are in three almost emblematically different cultural-political sites, the plays draw attention, first, to what the anthropologist Arjun Appadurai calls ‘‘cultural heterogenization,’’ or the way in which local cultures receive and adapt—resist by adapting, adapt by resisting—the ubiquitous products of the metropolitan centers in the ‘‘global cultural economy’’ (Modernity at Large 32). The roots of Maponya’s Bahumutsi Drama Group in the Black Consciousness movement (of which Biko was a principal figure) highlight the heterogenizing impulse of his interest in an icon of Eurocentric postmodern theater such as Beckett. Mistake, too, is a revision by local knowledges of Beckett’s ethnic and sexual politics. It is equally important to trace the effects of Maponya’s appropriation on the scene of Western reading. By analyzing the staging of race and gender as it circulates through First, Second, and Third World theaters, I mean to show that the decolonizing impulse can inform Western interpretation of Western texts, and that postmodern theater, once we see it restaged by a South African theater of the dispossessed, is at the same time postcolonial.4 What Maponya does, in effect, is not only appropriate postmodernism for a South African liberatory theater, but also in the same act reveal a new reading of the postmodern, as Césaire, Lamming, and others compelled new readings of The Tempest.5 My argument goes beyond the Staging Whiteness

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culturalist one that postmodernism gets acculturated heterogeneously. It is rather that Maponya’s intervention makes visible a different reading of Beckett’s and Havel’s aesthetic transactions with race and with the European sex/gender system. Beckett and the Shadows on White Male Writing Race and gender function as mediations of power in Catastrophe, where Beckett implies a confrontation between rival technologies of power/ knowledge: the writer against the state, the theater against the prison. The only direct reference to Havel is the dedication, and the plot is confined to the rehearsal of the ending (‘‘catastrophe’’) of a play, the three characters being the director (D), his assistant (A), and a protagonist (P). But it is clear that Beckett means the power relations between directorand actor to figure the power struggle between the state and writers or political ‘‘actors’’ like Havel.6 Put on stage, the stage becomes a theatrical metaphor for the state. In such a scene, gender and race mediate power, whether the disciplinary ‘‘biopower’’ of the state, in Foucault’s terms (History of Sexuality, 1:140), or the countervailing power of writing as political agency. But to ask how race and gender function in Catastrophe (as Maponya in South Africa must have asked) already begins to reposition Beckett ‘‘in other worlds.’’ In the light of this postcolonial question it can be seen how Catastrophe must have drawn Maponya’s attention. To begin with gender: the accoutrements of male self-fashioning in D’s furs, cigar, watch, and blustering speech contain a tacitly feminist critique; D is set off against a different coding of the male (a different ‘‘stylization of the body’’) in the protagonist: the male subject as vulnerable, stripped, feelingful.7 P is abject under D’s manipulation, but recovers an aesthetic and epistemic energy in the spotlighting of his intense silent gaze out into the theater, displacing D’s centrality as normative male figure, as well as breaking the homosocial bonds of domination between them. We see a struggle between two versions of male gender performance, deployed on the ground, matrix, or landscape of D’s female assistant, who remains as secondary to P at the end as she has been all along to D. A is an intermediary who executes D’s orders yet sympathizes, not quite consciously, with P. The resemblance of their triad to the nuclear family only makes more evident the fact that Catastrophe rehearses an Oedipal drama in the sense elaborated by Teresa de Lauretis in her theory of male narrative, ‘‘Desire 106

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in Narrative.’’ In the ‘‘male narrative,’’ women stand by to watch, assist, hinder, or function as origin or end of the male protagonist’s quest to control the Lacanian symbolic order. In Beckett’s play, with its self-conscious focus on theatrical signification, D and P battle for control of the symbolic order with a hyperreal clarity: control of closure, ‘‘catastrophe,’’ representation itself, is the stakes of the game. P’s unfilial stepping out of role, the ‘‘anti-Oedipus’’ enacted by his raised head and the line of flight of his unveiled gaze, refuses the transfer of male privilege to good sons according to the established libidinal economy of the ‘‘Law of the Father.’’ But claiming that power anyway, P’s antipatriarchy does not alter the structure of male desire that drives the stage action. The male agon between D and P is fundamentally over the semiotic control of P’s body; the political correlative is state control of civil society. To the extent that P’s move for autonomy represents Havel’s citizen resistance and responsibility, it is sobering to note that resistance and civic will are themselves thus silently encoded as male, and politics as a male preserve. So acute in its grasp of the collusion between the powers of prison and of theater, Catastrophe seems unaware that it underwrites a male monopoly of political power and the theatrical sign. It should be said that the same gap in consciousness is visible in Havel’s political writings, so in this regard the political alliance between Havel and Beckett becomes a form of male bonding. Margaret Randall argues that the new social movements in Eastern Europe, to recover from the failure of socialism—which she ascribes to the failure of its feminist imagination—need to break through precisely on this point (Gathering Rage 101–9, 114–18). And to the degree that Beckett and Havel belong to the same European theatrical tradition, the fact that their thematics of power is mediated exclusively through the male gender position is a strong argument for revision of that whole tradition. One of the most arresting things about Maponya’s Gangsters, to anticipate fora moment, is that we can observe him in the process of making such a revision of the male thematics of power. Disturbing the gender iconography of Catastrophe by casting P as a woman, for example, would tilt the play alarmingly off its axis; the shock of a ‘‘female narrative,’’ differentlyenigmatic,would complicate all the meanings of the play and put into strong relief the play’s concept of power as uniquely male. It is interesting that although Beckett’s directions say that age and physique are unimportant in casting all three parts, he does specify the female gender of A: there is some measure taken here to question Staging Whiteness

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how gender interacts with power. The fact that A is a writer of sorts in the play, even if she mostly takes dictation in the notebook that is a sign of her ancillary status, also acknowledges ‘‘under erasure’’ that the female is excluded from the language of power and from power over language, an exclusion that founds the enunciating subject as male (as feminist thought at least since Cixous has claimed). A’s presence as a woman in the margin of Beckett’s theater of power is therefore not without emblematic force, jarring against its masculinist premises. Questioning how Catastrophe constructs the racial subject reveals an effect, quite unlike the play’s interest in gender hierarchies, of homogeneity, invisibility, and absence. Even in multiracial societies like the France of 1982, where Le Pen’s openly racist campaigns were beginning to make the politics of race, French nationality, and North African immigration as explosive as they remain today, all-white casts playing to mostly white audiences are often not perceived as ‘‘racial’’ at all. Where whiteness seems so much the norm as not even to be a race category, race seems a tendentious intrusion by the critic, even where the theater happens to be surrounded by the swirl of racial politics. But the fact that white audiences do not perceive the racial whiteness of the cast of Catastrophe itself signifies the Western ascription of race as an attribute to other people. Adrienne Rich, writing about race as a white feminist in ‘‘Disloyal to Civilization: Feminism, Racism, Gynephobia,’’ analyzes this propensityas ‘‘white solipsism’’ or ‘‘snow-blindness’’: ‘‘Passive collusion: Snow-blindness. White solipsism: To think, imagine and speak as if whiteness described the world’’ (299). In Ain’t I a Woman and later writings, bell hooks has deepened the analysis of this notion as central to white supremacy, including its contamination of feminist traditions (125–48), and Marlon Riggs’s video Tongues Untied extends the analysis to gay liberation theory. In relation to Beckett’s play, the point is that white solipsism fails even to describe or account for whiteness itself, or rather describes it only from the point of view of its internal experience, radically decontextualized. Havel’s and Maponya’s responses to the play’s ethnopolitics raise this point in different ways. Maponya’s especially suggests the need of interpretation to recontextualize and redescribe whiteness, to stage it, as a racial position rather than a racial norm (it being always a mark of privileged status to constitute the norm). Just as one uncovers gender politics by countercasting, one way of seeing what racially is ‘‘not there’’ in Catastrophe—and the consequences of its absence for Beckett’s thinking about power—would 108

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be to imagine, at the 1982 Avignon theater festival, the protagonist played byan Algerian or Senegalese or Martiniquan actor, and to register the effect of that (including its reference to Havel’s case) in the France of Le Pen. Unwriting the normativeness of whiteness and maleness in the play redescribes it, within obvious limits (the Mabou Mines female Lear showed that multiracial or cross-gender casting does not by itself work miracles of cultural criticism). Beckett’s discussion of power without reference to race underwrites white solipsism in its silence about ‘‘other worlds’’ even though they are right outside the door of his theater in the form of French internal colonialism. As an exchange between West and East European culture, Catastrophe constructs an alignment in which the East-West axis forms a bloc of white states and white cultures unconscious of their normative whiteness: a Eurocentric ‘‘civilization.’’ It is equally apparent in Havel’s political writings that for all his Heideggerian ecopolitical critique of modern postindustrial society or ‘‘technological civilization,’’ he has not yet thought beyond a Eurocentric order as synonymous with civilization itself. Havel allows himself a terrifying innocence about racism and ethnocentrism, claiming at one point that Christianity has ‘‘that element of universality’’ that Indian religions lack, and assuming throughout that what he calls ‘‘global civilization’’ is simply the internationalization of the Western technological model. One revealing passage concerns the use of a legal code by posttotalitarian states: ‘‘This could all be done, of course, without a legal code and its accessories, but only in some ephemeral dictatorship run by a Ugandan bandit, not in a system that embraces such a huge portion of civilized humankind and represents an integral, stable and respected part of the modern world’’ (Living in Truth 97, 104, 114– 17). Unfortunately, all the resonant terms of Havel’s existentialist humanism—‘‘life,’’ ‘‘truth,’’ ‘‘humanity,’’ ‘‘society,’’ ‘‘community,’’ ‘‘civilization,’’ ‘‘people,’’ ‘‘individual’’—are here contaminated by a radical ethnocentric snow-blindness. Before each of these common nouns he does not seem to realize that he has silently placed a European proper name. Catastrophe may be less egregious, but in a postcolonial world the subtlety and profundity of its meditation on power are undercut by its normative unconcern with its own racial politics. The consequences of this ‘‘white’’ alliance between figures like Beckett and Havel are obviously far-reaching. If we look more searchingly at Catastrophe, nevertheless, we notice at the center of the play, as so often in Beckett, a single obsessional image—P Staging Whiteness

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stands on his platform under D’s appraising eye while A adjusts him—and we realize that at some level of deeply repressed memory, this image derives from the life-world of racial slavery and colonialism: the auction block, the master’s dining room, the colonial parade ground. (Claire Denis’s film Chocolat, pairing the girl France and the servant Protée like Beckett’s A and P, is full of similar images from the French colonial context, and they are ubiquitous in British and North American culture.) Even without having P played by a black male or white or black female actor, the white male solipsism of Catastrophe’s iconography of domination is thus ‘‘shadowed,’’ as Ralph Ellison and before him Herman Melville used the term, by gender and racial otherness, by the half-acknowledged presence of another history than the white quarrels between European socialism and capitalism, or European citizen and state. Given the political prehistory of this formalistic ‘‘plinth,’’ the play’s use of blackness and whiteness (again, like Melville’s) looks different; no longer purely formal elements of minimalist theater idiom, the colors begin to make dialogical patterns, not so much of their traditional European symbolism (interestingly, black and white in Catastrophe both suggest the deathly, the moribund), as of their racial connotations: ‘‘To have him all black,’’ ‘‘Whiten all flesh.’’ The play turns so much on the thematics of the (male) body, and particularly the body surface, its colors of exposed and ‘‘whitened’’ skin against black or gray cloth, that a racial connotation, once glimpsed, comes to seem an inevitable, enigmatic component of the play’s politics. It seems true, then, that just as A imports subversively into Catastrophe an emblematic female presence, so Beckett’s shadow images of the auction block and racializing skin color insert a subtly unbalancing racial intertextuality in the play. Centrality, no matter how blithelyassumed in the white writing of Beckett and Havel, always somehow evokes the half-seen and half-heard afterthought of the margin. It is Maponya’s decolonizing staging of whiteness as the margin in Gangsters that enables this reading back into the social text of European theater. Havel: European Micronationalism and Postcolonial Language Though it may seem a slight sketch, Havel’s Mistake is a considered response to Catastrophe, which he had read in a Polish translation Antoni Libera sent him just after his release from prison. (He had already written Beckett an appreciative letter for his act of solidarity at the Avignon fes110

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tival.) It was Beckett and Ionesco who first inspired Havel to move from poetry to plays, and he said in a letter to his wife that ‘‘after Samuel Beckett, we live in a different world than we did before him’’ (Letters to Olga 276). Havel’s affinity with Beckett, as the leading Eastern European exponent of Beckettian forms, ensured that Mistake was to him more than an occasional piece or a thank-you note. It reworks the terms of Beckett’s comments on theaterand prison,writerand state.The play begins with the newcomer, Xiboy, being confronted by three other prison inmates and a trusty (‘‘King’’) because he has made the mistake of smoking before breakfast, unwittingly violating one of their cell rules. The whole fabric of prison life is laid bare in this event: its regimentation of individuated bodies through their willing submission to norms of time, space, functions, tasks, gestures, postures, pleasure, and work is a textbook illustration of Foucault’s analysis of ‘‘carceral institutions,’’ ‘‘docile bodies,’’ and ‘‘the power of normalization’’ in Discipline and Punish. The veterans are bent on enforcing the norms and negotiating Xiboy’s acculturation and submission. Xiboy responds with a puzzling silence, a second ‘‘mistake’’ that, even when it is interpreted as his not knowing their language, is about to be punished as the play ends with the four inmates closing in on him. In Mistake, Havel’s scene of the humiliated humiliating others is so much cast in gender and ethnic terms that it makes one speculate about how conscious a response Mistake is to those terms in Beckett’s play. In the allmale prison milieu, an emasculated victim is preyed upon by exaggeratedly masculinist violence; like torture in being accompanied by a relentless interrogation, this violence also hints at prison rape. Intertwined with this pattern, ‘‘foreign’’ silence is punished by nativist garrulity. Although Xiboy has the same shaven head and prison garb as the others (resembling Beckett’s P in this, as in his mutedness and impassivity), the blank language of his untattooed skin (like P’s ‘‘whitened’’ skin) is a marker, in prison, of not taking part in a requisite male gender-game or gender display of toughness; there is presumably a narcissistic/homosocial sexual game involved as well, at least in the realm of the scopophilic (exhibitionism/voyeurism), which the decorative play of tattooing enhances. Emasculation is also the burden of Xiboy’s facial expressions, the ‘‘apprehension,’’ ‘‘embarrassment,’’ ‘‘puzzlement,’’ and ‘‘apologetic smiles’’—all features of feminized language styles—which lead the violently profane Second Prisoner to ask him, ‘‘What’re you gawping at, you cunt?’’ And Xiboy’s body language, his shrugs, slow movements, and refusal either to fight back Staging Whiteness

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or to enact the rituals of submission, mark off almost a gender difference from the dominant group. But it is not quite a fiction of ‘‘feminization’’ that Xiboy deploys; rather, Xiboy is not properly ‘‘accountable’’ to his sex category, to use the terminology of the sociologists Candace West and Don Zimmerman (‘‘Doing Gender’’ 125–51). Lapses of gender accountability draw punishments to enforce gender solidarity and gender hierarchy, a process eminently theorizable in Foucauldian terms, in spite of Foucault’s failure to include in his own work feminist theories of gender. In this case a gender code underlies the enforcement of a prison code, and a certain obligatory construction of masculinity (which itself would be quite difficult to describe, mixed perhaps in equal parts of homophobia, a straight travestyof gay male sexuality, and genuine homoeroticism), a caricatural display of machismo, is seen to form part of the prison’s discipline, its ‘‘anatomo-politics of the human body’’ (History of Sexuality 1:139). There are similar structures in Catastrophe with its two contrasted styles of masculinity, one dominant over the other. What is different in Mistake is that there is no valorization of the less macho style as there is in P’s ‘‘reversal’’; the play closes grimly on a tableau of primitive enforcement. Again this can be read as a ‘‘mistake,’’ Xiboy’s gender category mistake, which points beyond itself to the more encompassing mistake that is the tyranny of gender itself. The prison dynamic in which the humiliated humiliate is homologous with the gender dynamic in which the emasculated emasculate to recover, as well as require, a fictional hypermasculinity. Havel also revises Beckett’s ethnopolitics. A border or barrier of ethnicity arises in the play as the ‘‘mistake’’ at its center. It does so through language alone, as there are no other signs of Xiboy’s foreignness.The discovery of Xiboy’s linguistic (and so ethnic or national) difference is not followed by understanding or empathy; the prisoners advance menacingly on him as though newly and more gravely incited to violence by this difference (‘‘That’s his funeral’’).The play never positively confirms the Third Prisoner’s guess that Xiboy must be foreign (he himself cannot testify), but the only other explanation, a less plausible one, would be that he is a deaf mute. Perhaps that theoretical possibility only amplifies the point that difference is a barrier and an incitement to violence. Again their mistaking his linguistic/ethnic identity turns out to be no mistake but (for them) an explanation of everything that is scandalous about Xiboy; torturers who cannot obtain a confession, they feel legitimately compelled to the last violence by 112

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the fact that the victim is unable to confess. In Catastrophe there is no ethnic implication in P’s silence, which is explicable as the actor’s participation in mime, and P’s lack of voice is compensated by the power of his glance. Havel’s conception of Xiboy seems to comment on P’s silence by adducing a silence of another type,which expresses the powerlessness of ethnic marginality, doubly muted because Havel suppresses all countervailing body language. There is a dialogue of silences between Beckett and Havel: each silence is a differently chosen metaphor for the loss of power, in each case contrasted to an image of power as crude and ‘‘fallen’’ speech; in both plays in different ways the silence of the prison echoes in the theater, the place of speech, now self-violated by a usurping babble of power. A silenced ethnicity as a political mistake: this motif is surely Havel’s glance at the ethnic conflicts of Central Europe, not least in the former Czechoslovakia itself; and it is not impossible that it responds subliminally to what I have referred to as P’s iconographic resemblance to the nonEuropean slave or colonial servant. In the European context alone, ethnic difference and its political expression in nationalist bullying and recrimination are mostly a matter of land, religion, and language, not of ‘‘racial’’ markers. Yet, like Catastrophe, Mistake has selected a mark of dominated status, in this case language, which leaps outside of a purely European frame, or rather reframes Europe in its history of linguistic imperialism. It is a clear implication of Mistake that, to survive, Xiboy would have had to unlearn his own language and learn the language of the ‘‘king,’’ as many generations of colonized people have had to do. Not to speak the dominant language, in territorial or internal colonialism, is to be without social defenses, like Xiboy in his cell; failing to code-switch when confronted by the arrogance of the linguistic norm is a ‘‘mistake’’ that, in the deep structure of Havel’s play, always points further on, here to critique the world-historical mistake that is the colonialist dream of linguistic autarchy. Havel’s politicizing of linguistic competence in his Central and Eastern European context invokes the marginalized and colonial history of many peoples and nations in that region, as well as the threat of micronationalist fragmentation there in the future (the future of 1983 soon became the tragic present in the Balkans). But it also connects the play, quite clearly though how consciously one cannot say, to all the issues of decolonization of language in a global context, to the questions about Caliban’s language and Ariel’s song so eloquently rehearsed by Aimé Césaire, Rigoberta Menchú, Roberto Retamar, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, David Diop, and others. My Staging Whiteness

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argument here, as with Beckett’s play, is not simply that a postcolonial interpretation ‘‘returned’’ to Europe must find these suggestive reterritorializings, these memories and afterimages, in European texts (though that is the case); the more essential claim is that such references are material, historical traces in the intertextuality of a European culture that has never been purely or only European, since the entry of Islam into Spain and the Portuguese voyages beginning in the fifteenth century. The slave on the block or the colonized person without language are cultural residues of the European history of slavery and colonialism, which are activated somewhere in consciousness by Beckett’s image or Havel’s plot; interpellated by the postcolonial question, they rise up to give another account of themselves.The task of critics in the West who are persuaded by the problematic of the postcolonial is to ask the new question of this old history, to make conscious the operation of this European intertextuality, to admit that history as an object of critical reflection in every European text, and so move on from solipsism and myths of centrality. Indigenizing a Global Discourse: The First Version of Gangsters What has Maponya made of all these European transactions? Gangsters negotiates questions of powerand representation differently from Catastrophe and Mistake because of its South African cultural location—not merely as a local or micropolitical difference, but as a feature of the ways South Africa is integrated into the global cultural economy. (The global cultural boycott of South Africa at the time Gangsters and the two European plays were written is only one, paradoxical, feature of this integration.) In its inscription of race and gender, particularly, Gangsters is not merely local but global in its reference; the particular links and references the play has to Catastrophe and Mistake make this apparent, but there is a rule here, not an exception. Dutch and British colonialisms have guaranteed historically that there is a cultural continuum, a single though differentiated history, between Europe and South Africa and between South Africa and other European settler colonies.The historic shift all but completed around 1960 from territorial colonialism to the current world-system of transnational capital, with its attendant global mediatization of culture, has not erased the continuum laid down by colonialist history but simply built upon it. The meaning of a black South African play’s treatment of race and gender therefore resonates through the postcolonial global cultural economy, 114

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particularly through the African diaspora and other multiracial societies. To see black South African theater in Los Angeles, London, Nairobi, Jerusalem, or Sydney is to see one’s own race and gender system through that theater. The three plays examined here illustrate this general rule. Gangsters, written in 1984 and performed in South African townships, Johannesburg, and theater festivals in London, Edinburgh, Dublin, and NewYork, is a playabout the death of Steve Bantu Biko in prison seven years before. In its first version, which I am discussing in this section, it works through a split temporality; interrogations of the Biko figure, Rasechaba, by white and black security police, Whitebeard and Jonathan, are interspersed as flashbacks with the ‘‘rehearsal’’ scenes (later in real time) in which Whitebeard and Jonathan try to touch up Rasechaba’s dead body for the inquest. It is the idea of these rehearsal scenes that Maponya has taken from Beckett’s Catastrophe: the triad of characters, the task of constructing a theatrical image from a passive stage body (in Gangsters, it is also a legal ‘‘image,’’ a piece of false evidence), and a few of Beckett’s incantatory lines, such as ‘‘To have him all black.’’ 8 Whereas the interrogation scenes (the bulk of the play in its first version) give powerful lines, political effectiveness, and moments of victory to Rasechaba, the use of Beckett’s design to frame the play’s opening and closing scenes is crucial to its elegiac tone and purpose. Gangsters breaks with the frame and mood of Catastrophe by setting elegy in a dialectic with heroic action, but Beckett is essential to the elegiac function of the play, its tribute to the fallen. Gangsters is thus, like all imitatio, a kind of tribute as well as an allusion to Beckett, just as Biko and Havel become political analogues through this associative link. Of course, Maponya’s play is centrally about black self-representation as the production of new, decolonized, theatrical images; as such, it comes up hard against the exclusions and absences, the hints and shadows, the colonialist residues and traces in Beckett and Havel. But it is also a staging of racial whiteness, whose decolonizing point criticism has to decode. bell hooks has written persuasively of this necessity, and South African fiction by Coetzee, Brink, and Gordimer shows the decolonizing process at work in white consciousness.9 ‘‘Whiteness’’ is a cultural code enmeshed in representation throughout the world-system, and what someone like Maponya is saying about that code is not relevant only to white people in South Africa. Maponya’s racial casting in Gangsters is especially interesting, in a way that breaks with his own tradition and perhaps shows—as Staging Whiteness

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Njabulo Ndebele’s cultural theory would predict—how Black Consciousness, its project of autonomy carried out, has much to contribute to the other side of decolonization in South Africa, the difficult process of white repositioning in a nonracial ‘‘new nation’’—if that is the outcome. Black theater before Maponya used black actors to play white roles, often with techniques of multiple characterization that are themselves full of meaning, such as the actor’s slipping on of a pink clown nose, as in Mtwa’s Bopha! and Ngema’s Asinamali!, to denote his shift to a white role. Because of segregation in the theater, Maponya was the first black playwright in South Africa to direct white actors in white roles. An interesting sidelight on his venture is provided by Kavanagh’s story (Theatre and Cultural Struggle 62) of how Fugard, ten years before, reluctantly capitulated to the apartheid authorities’ demand that he not play a white role in his collaborative play No-Good Friday when it was to be performed in black townships, and the disappointment of his collaborators Modisane and Nkosi at this selfcensoring resegregation of their breakthrough ‘‘nonracial’’ theater.10 Read against Catastrophe, where there is much business with skin and makeup, a thematics of the body surface, Maponya’s casting decision to deploy white and black actors has important consequences. His white interrogator, Major Whitebeard, is not a cartoon like Beckett’s D, but has dramatic force and menacing intelligence, particularly in contrast to the loss of force in Rasechaba, who is seen repeatedly as a dead figure hanging limply on a cross. The whiteness of the actor is thus not dismissively or derisively rendered. But in Maponya’s design the dramatic force of his actor’s whiteness is pointedly strategic: he has extended the thematic of the body surface from the target figure, Rasechaba (Beckett’s P), to the power figure, Whitebeard, whose ‘‘raced’’ quality thus comes into focus. The act of exhibiting a white face, body, gestures, and language on the black stage, before an audience that in South Africa was at first, in the township productions, mostly black, is in itself a claiming of power from the mystified domain of whiteness, white police, white prison, white nationalism, white power, for the new insurgent domain of blackness, black theater, black poetry, black political action, black nationalism, black power. The actor’s whiteness, the magic of this supremacist fetish, is thus given room to have its full theatrical effect on Maponya’s stage, while still being fully subordinated to a black artistic intentionality and Black Consciousness theatrical forms. This dynamic culminates in a struggle between Whitebeard and Rasechaba over the question of voice, of who speaks, who 116

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has the floor, who controls public discourse, who determines the fate of black speech, black words, black texts. In their second encounter, Whitebeard forcibly (at gunpoint, inside the jail) removes one of Rasechaba’s poems and insists, over the author’s protests, on reading it himself. This emblematic act of power, expropriating a black text from its author and giving it an alienated voice, is then subjected to a double dramatic reversal. (Does Maponya here glance at his own ‘‘seizure’’ of Beckett’s text?) First, Whitebeard’s voice is, at the very moment he exhibits its power, molded to the black poetic text, Whitebeard becoming a vehicle for Rasechaba’s words which the audience is hearing for the first time. Then, as Rasechaba immediately reads another of his poems,Whitebeard’s reading is overread or erased by Rasechaba’s own voice. Fanon’s psychology of decolonization gets a beautiful expression in this play of racial voices across and through each other’s registers, as the fetishism of racial domination—and the psychology of torture and interrogation—is reexperienced by the black spectator in order to be demystified by the dramaturgy. On the other hand, whiteness (blackness, too) is not an uncriticized, reified concept metaphor in Gangsters. To begin with, ‘‘black’’ was primarily a political category, not a racial one, both in the antiapartheid movement as a whole and (surprisingly, to a U.S. reader used to African American cultural nationalism, though not to a British reader familiar with ‘‘black’’ as the term of Afro-Asian unity in Britain) within the Black Consciousness Movement in particular.11 That movement, as is clear in Biko’s own writings and the studies by Robert Fatton and Anthony Marx, was not a politics of simple race consciousness or ethnic nationalism, ideologies fostered rather by the regime’s tribalist policies, the ‘‘separate development’’ of autonomous ‘‘population groups,’’ as the official discourse had it, and by the Zulu-separatist ‘‘cultural’’ organization Inkatha. It was, rather, in Fatton’s words, ‘‘ideological resistance to white supremacy,’’ something else altogether, logically entailing a deconstruction of the social construction ‘‘race.’’ These are complex matters, and it will not do to obscure the important debates among traditional Pan-Africanism that regarded the land as belonging uniquely to indigenous African people, a Black Consciousness that extended to all people of color who were targets of apartheid regardless of their ethnicity, the nonracial policies and vision of the anc (which are more radical, as in Ndebele’s formulation, than their apparent resemblance toWestern color-blind liberalism might lead one to believe), and left class-conscious analyses of ‘‘race.’’ 12 It often seems that the major texts Staging Whiteness

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of South African writing shift constantly, even bewilderingly, back and forth among these various political subject-positions, whose interaction will undoubtedly determine the future of South Africa. It is a question of which decolonization, decolonization for whom, once apartheid and white supremacy are dismantled juridically. Gangsters is, arguably, about the deconstruction of race as a category, from the vantage point of a Black Consciousness whose reflection has deepened under the impact of radical nonracial struggle (e.g., by the United Democratic Front, udf) and massive trade union organization (cosatu) in the South Africa of the mid-1980s.13 One striking illustration of this is the way the play’s representation of the black subject is, like Beckett’s white P, ‘‘shadowed’’ or deconstructed by racial alterity, by its white shadow. Maponya’s choice of the cross as emblematic center, resiting Beckett’s dais/auction block, introduces as Rasechaba/Biko’s shadow the figure of Christ crucified. Within an ideal Christianity, of course, the figure of Christ is not white-identified; but the history of European Christian colonialism enforces precisely such a racial identification of Christ, and nowhere more painfully than in South Africa, where until very recently white supremacy wore a theocratic mask and the Christian cult of the Afrikaner ascendancy could hardly be separated from its ideological cult of whiteness. The independent black churches in South Africa are devoted to a different figure of Christ. But what does this figure signify in a Black Consciousness play? If in Beckett the ‘‘shadow of the Negro’’ is an absent presence, Toni Morrison’s ‘‘unspeakable things unspoken’’ (‘‘Unspeakable’’ 1–34), or a kind of forgetting-to-remember/remembering-toforget, in Maponya this white-coded Christological shadow of the tortured black artist is emphatically foregrounded, fully in focus, and deployed in the service of a critique of race. There were close links among Biko himself (who never abandoned an occasional use of Christian frameworks), Black Consciousness, and the liberation theology of the University Christian Movement, which, along with the South African Student Organization (saso), gave birth to Black Consciousness as an organized movement; Christian antiracists are a recognizable and important force in the antiapartheid movement generally. Maponya’s play may well not, unlike its predecessor in 1973, the first Black Consciousness play, Shanti (Shezi 63–84), express a degree of Christian faith. But whether it does or not, there is a complex intention to violate the cult of whiteness in Afrikaner nationalist religion by the very image of 118

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a black Christ, a revolutionary Christ, a ‘‘terrorist’’ Christ; such a Christ appears centrally in Mtwa and Ngema’s Woza Albert!, where he (as Morena, Lord) is confined to Robben Island as an ‘‘agitator.’’ Putting Rasechaba/ Biko on a cross decolonizes, if one may say so, the image of Christ, reterritorializing Christ as an insurgent in the theocratic white prison. It also inscribes Rasechaba/Biko in the homoerotic iconography of European paintings of the Deposition (e.g., Caravaggio’s in the Vatican Pinacoteca, freely copied by Rubens, Fragonard, Géricault, and Cézanne), acknowledging, perhaps, male homosocial leader-follower relations in the movement, like male actor-spectator relations in the theater.14 Jonathan can certainly be felt to respond in complex ways as the play returns him compulsively to Beckett’s scene, studying the body of the hero he has killed. But it can also be said to confound or ‘‘cross’’ racial whiteness and blackness as supposedly distinct essences or categories. A policy of ‘‘confusing’’ race, or rather recognizing its actual historical confusion, in a nation whose population is as racially mixed as in any other settler colony, is a powerful gesture against white supremacy and its fantasy of pure races. Beckett, and Havel with his thematic of power languages and mutedness, may be said to do the same thing from their vantage points, but with them it seems unconscious. Maponya’s confounding of race is a conscious trope; it may be found as well in the blending/confounding of Whitebeard’s voice with Rasechaba’s words, in the state police uniform that clothes equally white officer and black subaltern, and, most hauntingly, in the psychic divisions within the black subaltern, Jonathan. What happens to the black policeman in the service of white supremacy? Percy Mtwa’s play Bopha!, written the same year as Gangsters, explores this question at length and shows a conversion and recuperation of the lost soul. Maponya is grimmer. A salvationist possibility for Jonathan is glimpsed, interestingly, in the church scene, but refused. Jonathan, racially black, politically ‘‘non-white’’ (to use the insult some Black Consciousness members directed at those who collaborated with white people), drowns in the confusion. Maponya is then very far from a glib nonracial stance (not that all nonracial stances are glib); race for him is perhaps a historical given, a contradiction that cannot be transcended but must be lived through. The project in this play would then be to achieve as much clarity as possible about the foundationlessness of race as a concept metaphor, even while living through its painful historical reality. The final words of Rasechaba’s last poem in Gangsters carry further yet a Staging Whiteness

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deconstructive, antiessentialist politics of race.The staging of these poetry readings, Rasechaba alone on a blue-lit stage, is taken directly from one of the most powerful forms of conscientization that Black Consciousness developed in its community organizing work. The poetry reading, often to music, traced a line back to African orality and performance traditions, while in its educated, urban tone it proposed a modern forward-looking Black politics for its audience. The same effect, in a very different setting, the industrial workplace and the union rally, is achieved by the oral workerpoets of cosatu, such as Hlatshwayo, Qabula, and Malange.15 Given this emphasis, then, and the sanction of the direct poetic voice, Rasechaba concludes: We loved this land And cared for all its people, White and black Free and unfree (in Ndlovu 86) In these lines the racial signifiers ‘‘white’’ and ‘‘black’’ float undetermined, like the related pair ‘‘free’’ and ‘‘unfree,’’ in a swirl of motions and countermotions: all objects of love and care, are they also, or which of them are also, the subject of the loving and caring that is Rasechaba’s last definition of revolutionary action? The political and syntactic ground of the assertion— ‘‘we,’’ ‘‘loved,’’ ‘‘land,’’ ‘‘people’’—is fixed and firm, defining the collective revolutionary subject by its action, its object, its solidarity. Who may join? The modifiers of race, status, class (we could take ‘‘free’’ and ‘‘unfree’’ as gender terms also) float in the semantic field of those who have yet to decide this for themselves. The lines echo and reinforce Maponya’s design as a whole, rejecting any reified concept of race while figuring the revolutionary content of Black Consciousness as a dismantling of white supremacy. From a slightly different angle, Maponya’s staging of race throws another light on the European plays; it inserts race into their meditations on the relations between theater and the state. By quoting or importing Catastrophe’s central scene into Gangsters, with the two conspirators, Whitebeard and Jonathan, posing and costuming and making up the bodyof Rasechaba in a cell, Maponya has critically disengaged the concept of (state) power from the concept of whiteness; equally, he has disengaged the concept of resistance from an essentialist identity with the concept of blackness. Race, achieving its own politics of deconstruction and tragic irony, is cru120

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cially distinguished from the politics of power in the nation-state (which entail class and gender issues alongside race, even under apartheid). In this way Maponya can engage in a spirited representation of black voice, black unity, and black resistance, and at the same time signal a politics of race beyond mere race, which maps out a further terrain of political struggle over power and representation. Maponya has modified Beckett’s metaphor of state-as-stage in another direction also. No less than D and A, Whitebeard and Jonathan are engaged in a true rehearsal, cooking the evidence for the coroner’s court, that theater of falsification. Gangsters, like Brecht (the title is also Brechtian), exposes state processes as themselves theatrical, as ‘‘social dramas,’’ in anthropologist Victor Turner’s phrase. The social drama of the state in its juridical forms is here shown caught in the supposed antinomy of law and violence, the rituals of law undone, and rendered more nakedly theatrical, by the prevailing operation of state terror. Again Maponya is closer to Havel on the surface of the plays, which agree that the prison itself is an adequate scene of power for their purposes. But in a strangeway Maponya’s adaptation of Beckett, even though it refuses his metaphor, comes back to it in reverse by this stress, not on the power relations of the theater that were the vehicle of Beckett’s metaphor, but on the theatrical structure of the text of state power. From Rasechaba to Masechaba: Repositioning in Response to Feminism The inscription of gender in Gangsters already shows the influence of feminist consciousness in the antiapartheid movement, but only up to a point. As first written and performed, the play was all male—Beckett’s female A having become Jonathan—and so far I have discussed it on that basis. But a feminist critique of some of the same gender effects that were noticed in Beckett and Havel—in line with Carol Steinberg’s essay on Asinamali!, ‘‘Now Is the Time for Feminist Criticism’’—is forestalled by Maponya’s autocritique. What I am calling the second version of the play, a change in the 1986 production rather than a new printed text, takes a crucial next step, leaving A male but making the pivotal P role female. In the 1986 New York production as part of a festival of black South African plays, Gangsters was cast with the actress Nomathemba Nomvume Mdini in the role of Rasechaba, now named Masechaba, ‘‘mother [not father] of the nation.’’ Staging Whiteness

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There is a poem, ‘‘Masechaba,’’ by the Black Consciousness poet Ilva Mackay, in an issue of Staffrider devoted to commemorating Women’s Day, the great protest rally of women in Pretoria on August 9, 1956: its theme is Africa as political motherof political children. Maponya said of this casting change that ‘‘women have long symbolized the strength of our movement, refusing to break under the yoke of oppression and sacrificing their very lives for the liberation. I thought a woman was more appropriate for the role for the overall sensitivity she would bring to the part’’ (in Ndlovu).16 These formulations are problematic, with their typecasting of women as selfless servants of the cause and their apparent belief in essentialist gender traits such as sensitivity.17 They still leave many questions about the staging of gender in the play, the construction of a female political subject, the substitutability of a woman in a male role otherwise unchanged. But the main point is that something in South African cultural politics in the mid-1980s, the rise in the influence of a women’s movement within the antiapartheid movement, impelled Maponya (unlike Ndebele in his critical work, though arguably not in Fools) to tackle these questions of gender politics head-on, his public self-correction underscoring the solidarity between women and men of the movement, the high stakes involved, and the strength of the liberatory impulse at work. Because Masechaba is not just a dramaturgically important character but a Steve Biko figure, a model of the new black intellectual as revolutionary poet, the revision is a clear response to feminist questioning of the gendered basis of political action and political leadership, such as bell hooks’s questioning of Cornel West’s models of the black intellectual in the United States (hooks and West 147– 64). Does Maponya’s rewriting of the gender code of power—putting the female subject as poet and revolutionary in the place of the male, giving her the site of enunciation, making her the subject in the deep structure of the play’s narrative—take the play out of the mode of male narrative in which Catastrophe and Mistake are written? It is too simple to believe that could occur as if by magic, without a fundamental reconceiving of the play. The poems, for example, are Maponya’s own and distinctly in a male voice: voicing that poetryas a woman’s with a woman delivering the lines on stage would seem to deny gender difference in a kind of speaking-for, a ventriloquism. Wouldn’t the casting change require a woman’s poems? And yet these questions are being asked not only byWestern feminism as questions of interpretation, but by South African feminists as questions of cultural production. Margaret Daymond’s collection South African Feminisms is a rep122

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resentative selection of these new voices, and the necessary complications of cross-race feminisms are being fought through in conferences where sharp criticism of white essentialist feminism is being made.18 Such questions are essential on both ends of the process, for negotiating an exchange between Third World writing and First World reading and for a revolution in gender relations insideThird World revolutions; both kinds of questioning coexist in tension with each other. To show Masechaba, the black female subject of the interrogation scenes, vanquishing Whitebeard by an art of words is a significant reordering of gender and enunciative space in the play, consistent with its interventionist, power-seizing dramaturgy. It literalizes the metaphor of the Other’s shadow, left offstage in Mistake and confined to a subaltern role in Catastrophe: here the shadow, Masechaba, has suddenly taken over the space where the white or black male ‘‘body’’ was. Her physical struggles with the police and the spectacle of her abject body (another ‘‘crossing’’ trope as she occupies the space of a now female African Christ) also reposition the female protagonist in the political sphere. There is a gathering of energies about the new possibilities of Maponya’s Masechaba, which defers some of the questions that undoubtedly remain about his tactic of substitution. Clearly, the effect is to seek a way to break out of the solipsism of heterosexist male theater. Rewriting his own patriarchal script, Maponya has made his widest swerve away from Beckett and Havel and hinted at gender liberation as the secret heart of an aesthetic of the dispossessed. Performance Poetry as Decolonization of the Stage: Gangsters, the Nineties Version The last version of Gangsters was published in a collection of five Maponya plays, Doing Plays for a Change (1995), and almost completely rewrites the play. Specifically, it moves all the scenes modeled on Beckett’s Catastrophe to the end of the play, running them all together in quick sequence as a chronological end to the stage action (where the first version began with such a scene and used the others to punctuate the stage action that was told as a series of flashbacks from prison). This makes Beckett into an endnote. It also radically alters the structure of the body of the play, which had to find a new dramaturgical principle. Instead of being a series of interrogation scenes merely, the bodyof the play nowemphatically foregrounds a theatrical image that was already powerfully present in the first version—a blue Staging Whiteness

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spotlight on Masechaba reading her poems—and makes it the dominant trope, a genuine counterweight to her interrogation. In effect, the Beckett scenes have been replaced, as a repeating element in the play, by the twelve scenes of poetry in performance (almost twice as many as in the first version), which is to say that the international (post)modernist aesthetic has given way to a local performance idiom—and not just any idiom, but one associated in the nineties with the now beleaguered earlier aesthetic of the struggle: the culture of resistance to the Emergency. Maponya’s revision here adds a comment of his own to the debate over culture in the transition, by still giving centrality on stage to revolutionary speech. Both reframing Beckett’s theater and still pointedly framed by it, this trope of the speaking person emerges in the last version of the play as Maponya’s dialogical conclusion about where the radical impulses of the eighties should lead under the new dispensation. If the Beckett scenes outlast the living Masechaba, her voice at least still has the last word on a tape-recorded version of her valedictory poem, like a disembodied memory of the eighties themselves returned as voice though they have lost their place as a visual spectacle on center stage (the taping technique too might be thought to be an ambiguous gesture toward Beckett). His preface to the new collection puts these changes in perspective by revealing the story of his involvement with Beckett and his initial impression that there was nothing there for him: In 1984 I started writing Dirty Work [which became a kind of curtainraiser to Gangsters as part of a double bill], a one-hander focusing on the regime’s preoccupation with state security. Around the period of the writing, I was approached by novelist Nadine Gordimer to direct Beckett’s Catastrophe for which she had acquired performance rights. I was excited by the proposal that I take charge of the work of this writer whose plays I had not read—in fact I heard the name for the first time from Ms Gordimer. We arranged two readings of the play together to find meaning for ourselves. After the second reading, and having read the play a number of times on my own, I found it totally remote from my experiences as a black person living under apartheid. If there was any resemblance to my situation it was highly intellectual and would not appeal to black audiences who were being jolted by the direct agitprop theatre emerging from committed black writers and theatre makers. 124

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In DirtyWork, I recreated the performance style of Catastrophe in which the Director (D) and his female Assistant (A) use the Protagonist (P) as a puppet with no will of its own. In Gangsters, the Protagonist is transformed into the poet, the Director is Major Whitebeard and the Assistant is Jonathan, a black security policeman. The idea of the poet was first inspired by my own experiences as a poet and performer but later found root in the image of Steve Biko, interrogated and tortured to death. (preface, Doing Plays x–xi) The mediation of Gordimer in the Beckett-Havel-Maponya circuit of plays is very interesting, both for her own sense of how Beckett could be used in the South African resistance (which she frequently, in lectures and essays of those years, linked to Eastern European dissident figures like Havel) and for Maponya’s reactions to her suggestion. It almost seems that, far from looking to Beckett for a usable form for a preexisting idea of a Biko play, he may in Gangsters have begun from the other end, interested by Gordimer in doing a kind of local version of Catastrophe. The two things, a ‘‘performance style’’ from Beckett that he at first found antipathetic, and his own experiences as the Protagonist (multiplied by his ‘‘roots’’ as a performer in Biko’s life and work), obviously ran together in a complex interaction, and they became further entangled by the censoring response of the apartheid state to the finished play. As Ian Steadman describes this response in his introduction to Doing Plays for a Change, it involved not only increased harassment of the playwright (the authorities literally acting out the part of Whitebeard in the plot) but restrictions on the play under the new 1982 Internal Security Act so that it effectively could not be seen by large black audiences. Not only the author but the text was ‘‘detained,’’ and, paradoxically, the play was then widely seen by international audiences while being virtually put under house arrest at home. We should take the mid-1990s revisions to Gangsters as in part a comment on this political history of its production, a strong writing of Masechaba’s story past the historical moment of the play’s first appearance, and a revindication of her voice within the Babel of victory over apartheid (or is her taped voice both victory and warning?).This makes the last version very much a postapartheid narrative in Graham Pechey’s sense, the changed circumstance giving Beckett a different look within the play’s new economy. Steadman confirms this view: he calls Gangsters ‘‘as radical a play as has been produced in South Africa,’’ not only in its own time but as ‘‘a precursor of the new [i.e., postapartheid] Staging Whiteness

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voice of South African theatre’’ (‘‘The Theater of Maishe Maponya’’ xxi, xxii). What began in Gordimer’s inspired bringing together of Beckett and Maponya has had a complex unfolding, but its drift has been finally determined by Maponya’s original sense that Beckett’s was not the idiom the logic of his work was seeking. The Protagonist has escaped the Director (as indeed he does in Beckett), as a close reading of the changes will show. The new version replaces with a vigorous prologue the old opening scene: ‘‘Rasechaba dressed in black with hood on head is balanced on the cross-structure. Dead’’ (in Ndlovu 61). Instead, displacing Beckett from the function of setting the tone and staging of the play, Maponya has Masechaba stride into the half-lit auditorium declaiming three different poems from different parts of the house (‘‘walking and sometimes running, depending on the mood in each poem’’), with the stage at first in darkness. After the first poem, lights come up to 30 percent onstage, revealingWhitebeard and Jonathan sitting at the office table reading newspapers. During the next two poetry performances in the auditorium, the figures onstage remain still and mute, the whole prologue taking a considerable time and ending with the Black Power salute and the line ‘‘Amandla to the people!’’ (Doing Plays 78–82). The two playing spaces of house and stage balance speech against silence and catch the spectators between them; but obviously the audience will be more drawn into the energy of Masechaba’s performance, turning toward her as she moves around, away from the stage (the state). Her first poem is also in Xhosa, not translated, though interspersed with English, making the house a terrain where African languages are hegemonic. ‘‘Sister Disorder!,’’ ‘‘Sister Incoherence!,’’ she addresses the audience (‘‘Sisi Phithiphithi!,’’ ‘‘Sisi Wiliwili!’’); ‘‘Come together, people of our land! / It is ours!’’ (‘‘Hlanganani mawethu! / Lelethu!’’). The two contrasted languages and uses of language —Xhosa and English, political poem and newspaper—make the spaces agonistic. While the auditorium has thus been reinvented as a public rally of the people, Maponya keeps enough of Beckett’s metaphor of the state as stage to identify the physical space of the stage as the state structure, Whitebeard’s office. In the new prologue Masechaba is not under the surveillance of Whitebeard and Jonathan walking around her dead body judicially, but under the direct gaze of the audience summoned by the poems to respond to her. She is out of reach of the police (this is, chronologically, a scene be126

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fore the police catch up with her), out of the orbit of the state and the bounded area of the stage; she is dynamically connected to the people, the play now pulling the audience directly into that role of antiphonal respondents to her call. The European representationalism, even if nonnaturalistic, of Catastrophe is replaced by African presentationalism in the specific form of the eighties militant redaction for public performance of the traditional praise-poem.19 Another nuance of the prologue is that when Masechaba turns to English the poems address the oppressor (the two policemen now semivisible on stage) rather than the people: ‘‘Ugly brown canvas uniform,’’ ‘‘Mister Gunslinger.’’ Given this new beginning, the play has embarked on a quite different dramaturgy. The next scene, ‘‘First Encounter’’ (from here on all the action is onstage), cuts the second Beckett scene and runs two scenes together that were originally separated by that scene of the body on the cross: Masechaba’s first interrogation by Whitebeard, and its follow-up, Jonathan’s shadowing her in the church and her confrontation of him there. The encounter is thus first with Whitebeard in his office and then with Jonathan in a black church, and in both Masechaba is given a poem to speak directly to (or rather at) her enemy. The conversation leads her naturally into the poem in both cases, but Maponya then stops the action and puts the blue spotlight on her as she speaks.The design is to carry us back to the opening image of the performance poet, who now breaks into the stage action with the effect of seizing power from the police. With the images on the cross gone, the only stage image of Masechaba now is of her power as a poet to seize the initiative from the male security policemen. It puts poetry into the verbal texture of the play as a weapon she uses to win the verbal battle with the police. It also recalls a great moment in Steve Biko’s career, his skill as a key defense witness in the May 1976 trial of several Black Consciousness members, when he turned his examination by the prosecutor Attwell into a cross-examination of the regime Attwell spoke for (in Arnold 167). With the cross has gone the image of the militant as victim, replaced essentially bya representation of verbal masteryon the attack. But this defiant image is shadowed by the menace in the voices of the police—Whitebeard’s threat that she’ll be ‘‘burnt,’’ Jonathan’s that ‘‘you’ll know what death is’’—which underscore the fact that this is not finally a conflict of words alone. Also, although the whole dynamic of Catastrophe (at least before its great reversal at the end) has changed here, it is not for the ensemble theatrical style Staging Whiteness

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of collective struggle (as in the all-male troupes of Bopha! and Asinamali! or the Workshop 71 play Survival); the newly powerful Masechaba remains alone, her poetry become a direct confrontation with the police in which she has no visible allies. One effect of delaying the scenes from Catastrophe until Masechaba’s struggle is lost is to put tremendous emphasis on her heroic vulnerability to force, a formula of melodrama in which her femaleness perhaps works in a more stereotyped way than Maponya intended.The gender politics of the ‘‘strong woman’’ figure cut in several ways at once. WhenWhitebeard takes and reads her poem in the ‘‘Second Encounter,’’ the effect of difference from her readings is now much stronger, the effect of appropriation intensified; it’s now as if she’s been taken bodily into jail, as if the poem itself has been jailed—and in fact it is now being used as evidence, as a text in the interrogation and potentially in a court proceeding. This alludes to the frequent reading of Biko’s writings at the Black Consciousness trial, where the evidence included ‘‘three pamphlets, one saso resolution, one poem, and four statements, one written by Steve Biko’’ (Arnold xiii). The taking and withholding of words as evidence in this scene, the effort of the interrogator to make the victim speak on his terms and her effort to control her own speaking, which Elaine Scarry in The Body in Pain describes as the essence of the genre, lead Maponya into a second pointedly political staging of language difference (as in Havel’s Mistake), when Masechaba speaks a fairly long poem in Xhosa (‘‘Hoyina!,’’ ‘‘Listen!’’) and refuses to translate. In the original version she had spoken a different poem with fewer untranslated lines. This time we are again taken back to the prologue’s claiming the stage for untranslated Xhosa, so that non-Xhosa-speakers in the audience are placed in the same position as Whitebeard and, like him, are given no help by the playwright (most black people, in the cities at least, would be able to understand the main drift of the Xhosa lines, whereas because of the history of apartheid, rather few white people would). It is interesting that after this Xhosa defiance Jonathan is markedly more violent with her, and the descent into state (and male) terror begins at this point. Some of her lines may explain his provocation: Abanye bayathengisa Abanye bayathengiswa Kuvuthumlilo Ithayela lityumtu 128

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Kwenze njanina sizwe sintsundu Aqhubeka njalo Amaculo esizwe sintsundu e-Azania Igcwele imigaqo ngasebenzi Bayazabalaza nabo Baqhubeka phambili Abantwana bayalishukumisa ilizwe Baculela phezulu [Some people sell Some are sold It fans the fire The tire is ready to burst What’s wrong with the black nation? But still they continue The songs of the black nation of Azania The roads are filling with workers They also are fighting back They move forward The children are stirring up the nation They are singing this loudly] (Maponya, Doing Plays 94–95) 20 It can be seen that these lines are not only frankly a war song, they evoke an expansive collective struggle (from workers to children) outside the jail that contrasts strongly with their speaker’s isolation inside it—the point Jonathan’s violent shove is designed to make. Whitebeard may not have understood the songs of the black nation, but Jonathan (standing just outside the door in this scene) is fully aware of their affect and import. As if to stress the explosive buildup in the language of ‘‘Hoyina!’’ Masechaba’s next poem, after a blackout of the prison scene, is read in a township setting in direct defiance of her banning order, and is a head-on denunciation of apartheid, ending with the demand to bring P. W. Botha to trial like a Nazi war criminal. (‘‘Apartheid’’ is a new poem, clearly a comment on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, confirmed by Botha’s more recent notorious refusal to testify before it.) The text gives it entirely in English, but it is written exactly in the style of the Zulu worker-poets of Natal, as in the poem ‘‘You, Apartheid, You’’ (‘‘Bandlululondini’’) by Gladman Mvukuzane Ngubo: Staging Whiteness

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Awugcinanga lapho Uye wasigqema olentwala Ngob’ inqola yethu yomzabalazo Wayikhip’ emgaqweni Wabopha abaholi-ngqangi Abanye bajomb’ imingcele Washiy’ izigccele Wasinik’ imfundo-mbumbulu Sadukuz’ emnyameni Saphenduk’ imihambima Kwelakithi lengabadi Ngenxa yakho njalo Bandlululo ndini But you didn’t stop there you bashed in our heads as you dragged the wagon of our struggle off the road you arrested the leaders, the important ones though some got across the borders you planted your informers you fed us your lying ‘‘education’’ we went groping around in the dark crazed, going round in circles in our own country, our part of this earth because of you, always you you, apartheid, you (Zulu text in Oliphant 70) We can be sure Masechaba delivers her version of ‘‘Apartheid’’ in a performance style such as can be heard on Ngubo’s recording of ‘‘Bandlululondini’’ on the Culture and Working Life audiotape Celebrating Oral Tradition/Bandlululondidni! (1992): at a sustained, projected pitch and tempo; each line hung, resonantly, end-stopped, in the air; the penultimate syllables deepened in tone and rhetorically lengthened, as in imihambbima and nddini; an occasional line slowed, heightened, dramatically pointed, like Ngubo’s ‘‘Ngenxa [pause] yakho [pause] njalo [pause].’’ As Masechaba’s poems succeed one another, they build up a texture of the eighties mass democratic struggle in the words and idiom of its oral poets (among whom Maponya was one, an early example like Don Mattera, going back 130

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to the early days of Black Consciousness poetry), and her militancy, in this context, becomes more than the somewhat grandstanding petit bourgeois heroics of a single person declaiming provocatively before the police. Maponya’s new text brings that wider struggle onto the stage borne by its most typical verbal expression, and the centrality of performance poetry in this last version thus moves on from the poetics of heroic, lonely defiance in Beckett’s P or Havel’s Xiboy. Ironies remain—particularly the ironies of the inside/outside that cleave language itself under apartheid, that segmented dividing line—but they displace the ironies of postmodern Europe focused on action/inaction. The ‘‘Third Encounter’’ follows, still without any interpolation of Beckett’s text or images, and is now a scene of violence fully unleashed: she has been ‘‘prefrightened’’ (a Prague dissident phrase), she has been banned, she has been jailed (speaking the poem that opens this scene spotlit, ‘‘her face behind bars’’), and in this scene she is beaten, kicked, and taken out for Jonathan to kill by electrocution. At last Whitebeard has his text as evidence, as the two ‘‘gangsters’’ write their text of violence on Masechaba’s body-in-pain: a book of her poetry has been found among a cache of guerrilla arms. The literalization of the mot d’ordre ‘‘Poetry is a weapon of the struggle’’ is an uncanny detail that echoes the literalization here of Beckett’s D and A ‘‘touching up’’ P’s body. Masechaba resembles P in her last gesture, rising from her knees to speak her last lines facing the audience: ‘‘White and black / Free and unfree.’’ With his intensification of the onstage violence in this scene (including the squatting torture seen in the film Mapantsula), Maponya evokes images of male violence (particularly Jonathan’s) against women that in the mid-1990s may echo beyond their immediate context in this play, just as Ramadan Suleman’s film Fools (the screenplay based on Ndebele’s novella and written by Suleman and Bhekizizwe Peterson) takes this element from another eighties text to elaborate it for the nineties. In Gangsters the liberation of women’s words and bodies is in the first instance from the apartheid state, but the images especially of the ‘‘Third Encounter’’ seem to widen this theme to one of the central concerns of civil society after apartheid. Now comes the use of Beckett, deferred until after Masechaba’s death: in a quick series of four short scenes full of the desublimated squalor of police culture,Whitebeard and Jonathan play the roles of D and A readying their corpse for judicial interpretation.The repetition compulsion of these scenes is interesting, marking an obsessive behavior less evident in the Staging Whiteness

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single scene of this type that closed the first version of the play.The elegiac effect of Beckett’s play is here condensed into this final sequence, rather than counterpointing the action throughout, and the combination of the police pathology on display and the pathos of Masechaba’s body lying on a slab and then sprawled on the floor is deeply unsettling, an accusation. But as has been said, Masechaba returns, in the form of her taped voice speaking a new poem, spotlight on her head and shoulders, Whitebeard and Jonathan visible as shadows onstage in semidarkness. This epilogue completes the cycle of performance poetry as its negation: the poet cannot perform, or performs by her silence, while the poem is technologically reproduced. Taping also has unmistakable associations with confessions and evidence obtained by stealth and torture, and here the taped voice as well as the spotlit body testifies against the torturers. The poem is in fact a chilling indictment of the unredeemable and irreconcilable social fracture between the authors of apartheid and its abolitionists: Perhaps finally They would be calling me out To rebuke the storms But all hope and understanding Shall have gone by then (Maponya, Doing Plays 111) Maponya is directing the end of this play at Whitebeard’s successors, the reformers, those of whom Ndebele had said in 1991, ‘‘They have carried out what has been demanded all along, but what are we to make of them?’’ (preface, Rediscovery of the Ordinary 8), against the wishful thinking of that oxymoron ‘‘truth and reconciliation.’’ It is interesting that what Masechaba imagines they will want from her in the latter days is to use her performing voice against itself, to quell the very storms it had been devoted to arousing, to help get things back to normal. Maponya’s last word, then, in the long march of this play from before the Emergency to deep within the process of normalization, is to uphold the memory of the eighties poets’ voice, now preserved only on tape perhaps, but still the most radical creative impulse that South Africa has ever seen, and still heard in the latest stirrings of freedom struggle among those whom Dambudzo Marechera called the deepest of all the shades of black,21 the have-nots, les damnés de la terre.

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chapter five

Locations of Feminism: Ingrid de Kok’s Familiar Ground

I have adumbrated the importance of feminism in the argument of this book in various ways in the preceding chapters, from the feminist implications of Ndebele’s theoretical work, through its disturbing absence from the cultural debates of the transition—though it speaks from the margins—to male authors like Maponya who reposition their work in response to it. This chapter and those that follow, on Ingrid de Kok, Nise Malange, and Bessie Head, take up South African feminisms directly in a series of close readings.These are obviously in no way exhaustive, and I am particularly sorry that I am prevented by reasons of space from including Zoë Wicomb and Tsitsi Dangarembga, and by reason of language from including the rich feminist writing in Afrikaans, which I hope to read in the near future. But I have wanted to study the figure of the feminist writer in Southern Africa in its broad contemporary historical sweep and in a wide range of South African locations, thinking both of Adrienne Rich’s politics of location and of the segregated amalokishi, the ‘‘locations’’—slum or suburb, city or village—in which women of the South and especially the African South have been constrained or seduced to live. I do not take location in the sense of racial or even class identity to be all-determinative; on

that score I like something June Jordan once said to the assembled bisexual, gay, and lesbian students of Stanford, in a talk called ‘‘A New Politics of Sexuality’’: This is a New Politics of Sexuality. And even as I despair of identity politics—because identity is given and principles of justice/equality/ freedom cut across given gender and given racial definitions of being, and because I will call you my brother, I will call you my sister, on the basis of what you do for justice, what you do for equality, what you do for freedom and not on the basis of who you are, even so I look with admiration and respect upon the new, bisexual politics of sexuality. (in Gates and McKay 2241) The feminist writers read in this book I admire for all the non-identitybased reasons Jordan gives and more besides, but ‘‘even so’’ . . . there remains the need to look at the multiply identified ‘‘inessential woman’’ of Elizabeth Spelman’s argument in the historical locations of her experience. I would align my readings with the effort by the authors in Daymond’s collection South African Feminisms both to acknowledge difference and to negotiate its passage into common action in history. To my mind, in all the movements of culture ‘‘from below’’ that are writing radical democracy in South Africa, there is a feminist heart; feminism thus records, yet again in South Africa as elsewhere in the global cultural economy, its historical presence and its suasive political force as ‘‘the longest revolution’’ (Mitchell). ‘‘Origins Trouble the Voyager Much’’: Working Mothers, Writing Daughters In the closing storyof Zoë Wicomb’s You Can’t Get Lost in CapeTown, the narrator, Frieda Shenton, casts her position as a biracial or black feminist writer in South Africa and Britain in terms of a language-shifting rebel daughter’s relation to her language-giving mother. Frieda/Wicomb defines this as the Caliban-Prospero relation, but with a dissonant feminist reading— Prospero is fading into Sycorax: ‘‘I can’t imagine why people have children.’’ She turns from the stove, her hands gripping the handles of a pot, and says slowly, at one with the steam pumping out the truth, 134

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‘‘My mother said it was a mistake when I brought you up to speak English. Said people spoke English just to be disrespectful to their elders, to You and Your them about. And that is precisely what you do. Now you use the very language against me that I’ve stubbed my tongue on trying to teach you it. No respect! Use your English as a catapult!’’ I fear for her wrists but she places the pot back on the stove and keeps her back turned. I will not be drawn into further battle. For years we have shunted between understanding and failure and I the Caliban will always be at fault. While she stirs ponderously, I say, ‘‘My stories are going to be published next month. As a book I mean.’’ She sinks into the wicker chair, her face red with steam and rage. ‘‘Stories,’’ she shouts, ‘‘you call them stories? I wouldn’t spend a second gossiping about things like that. Dreary little things in which nothing happens, except . . . except . . .’’ and it is the unspeakable which makes her shut her eyes for a moment. Then more calmly, ‘‘Cheryl sent me the magazine from Joburg, two, three of them. A disgrace. I’m only grateful that it’s not a Cape Town book.’’ (171) In this battle Hannah Shenton, cooking for her returning expatriate daughter, fights her off by deliberately, provocatively failing to understand her, adding insult to injury by using the literary-critical terms of philistine establishment taste: the stories should have had exciting plots, should have avoided taboo subjects, and should have brought unproblematic success and fame to the author and her family. Instead her daughter has written plotless, unspeakably taboo fiction that disgraces her and her mother. Frieda, on the other hand, not allowed to help with the meal, fights off her mother by understanding—by writing—her all too well. But because the daughter’s form of understanding is a failure in the mother’s eyes, a public, published disgrace, Frieda has failed her mother precisely by turning her into a tabooed or antiestablishment fiction, a shape-shifting language whose understanding is fiercely misunderstood. The impasse between daughter and mother is an impasse between writer and resisting reader, between two regimes of knowledge. The writing daughter has, in fact, ‘‘You and Your[’d]’’ her mother about in her fiction—addressing her here, undressing her there—and the mother’s revenge for being written is a refusal to read, her critical misreading of the stories turning them simply into a gesture of disrespect. (They are indeed such a gesture, although toward philistine apartheid aesthetics, not toward Hannah herself.) Locations of Feminism

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Holding in her hands a steaming pot of stewed beans—a fearsome weapon—Hannah hurls words instead at her daughter, ‘‘at one with the steam pumping out the truth’’: English words, which have already wounded Hannah’s own tongue in a painful learning to speak (a wound disgracefully exposed by Frieda/Wicomb’s first story ‘‘Bowl Like Hole’’) and which now assail her ears with the force of a stone fired from a catapult. The truth, or profit, of language for mother and daughter is that each knows how to curse, to wound, the other, frustrated by their battle in the kitchen of a house at the edge of the Coloured location in a small town of the Northern Cape. In this way Wicomb’s last story closes the collection by referring us back to its opening story, where Frieda hides from her mother under the kitchen table, and where Hannah is discomfited to learn she had always mispronounced a trivial English word, ‘‘bowl.’’ The whole fictional space between ‘‘Bowl Like Hole’’ and ‘‘A Trip to the Gifberge’’ is thus collapsed by the return of language upon itself, without profit to either Caliban or Sycorax. As a black Caliban-daughter (a ‘‘Stark,’’ as Kamau Brathwaite calls the sister he invents for Caliban),1 Frieda Shenton has learned her English first from Sycorax, though she later went to school to Prospero’s daughters and to his South African henchman, the lazy-minded Afrikaner lecturer at the new Coloured university in the Western Cape who teaches her Hardy’s novel by rote. Later yet, Frieda teaches English to the homeland English themselves, her students in British schools. But Frieda/Wicomb/Stark’s heuristic journey through English brings her circling back to her mother’s kitchen and the still uninterpretable first lesson she received there. (Afrikaans, the mother’s first language, used to be disparagingly called, before the careful construction of its nationalist hegemony, Kombuistaal, ‘‘kitchen talk.’’) English, fiction, language, writing have not freed her life, or her mother’s, or the country’s, or England’s; and mother and daughter are left face to face with that steaming truth—a truth, for Wicomb, between mother and daughter and not either’s alone, binding daughter to mother in the bitterness of (mis)recognition. What Judith Raiskin analyzes as Wicomb’s ‘‘skeptical’’ relation to narrative authority comes brilliantly clear in this passage, a mirror-scene in the larger plot of South African black women writers’ ‘‘panga duel with English’’ (to use Dambudzo Marechera’s phrase). What troubles the writing daughter is her origin, her mother, a pattern Wicomb draws attention to by quoting her fellow expatriate, the Coloured poet Arthur Nortje, as her book’s epigraph: ‘‘Origins trouble the voyager much.’’ Another Coloured 136

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woman writer from the Cape, Jennifer Davids (also an expatriate in England), wrote the same mother-daughter scene into her ‘‘Poem for My Mother’’ (1975), where the daughter’s poetry is turned away, rejected, disgraced, by the mother’s hands working at her wash: That isn’t everything, you said on the afternoon I brought a poem to you hunched over the washtub with your hands the shrivelled burnt grenadilla skin of your hands covered by foam. And my words slid like a ball of hard blue soap into the tub to be grabbed and used by you to rub the clothes. A poem isn’t all there is to life, you said with your blue-ringed gaze scanning the page once looking over my shoulder and back at the immediate dirty water and my words being clenched smaller and smaller (in Lockett 201) When the daughter brings her writing proudly as a gift, the work of her hands, the mother in Wicomb’s and Davids’s scenes responds with a painful counterclaim, the work of her own hands; it is an impasse, situating the daughter’s writing outside the circle of her mother’s recognition, warmth, love, acknowledgment. The link between her writing and her alienation from her mother sends the daughter into emotional exile and betrayal: Locations of Feminism

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‘‘and I the Caliban will always be at fault.’’ Only a new regime of truth could reconcile mother-Sycorax and Caliban-daughter. While Prospero and his daughters and henchmen rule the book and the world, daughters can gain working papers there only by betraying their mothers. But recognizing that impasse in the colonial racial patriarchy is the first breakaway by black feminist writing toward its own new regime, whose first requirement will be that writing daughters are not at fault with their mothers, and that cooking and washing mothers will read their daughters’ work with love. ‘‘The Closed Rooms, Home’’ Black mothers draw back into themselves the energies of another major feminist book of the 1980s, the white poet Ingrid de Kok’s Familiar Ground. The closing poem, ‘‘Small Passing,’’ begins with an epigraph: For a woman whose baby died stillborn, and who was told by a man to stop mourning, ‘‘because the trials and horrors suffered daily by black women in this country are more significant than the loss of one white child.’’ (61) De Kok’s position as a white feminist (also, like Wicomb, returning from abroad) pulls her firmly into agreement with this statement, at the same time as the poem reacts angrily to the ways the man’s smug calculation gets it all wrong. Her strategy in the poem begins with the dedicatory ‘‘For a woman,’’ casting in her lot with a stigmatized feeling—the woman’s mourning—and with the ‘‘smallness’’ in general under patriarchal eyes of women’s claims to the worth of their experience. ‘‘Small Passing’’ explores the meaning and authority of the white mother’s experience of loss, under the moral pressure of the greater claims to significance that the man (we do not know if he is white or black) asserts for the losses suffered by black women. (His position, in principle, is the reason Nadine Gordimer once gave for disclaiming allegiance to white feminism in the apartheid context.) De Kok must divide the man’s claim into its true (antiracist) and false (sexist) parts, detaching herself angrily from his demeaning of white women’s experience, while undertaking from her own position the necessary reseeing, recasting, of even the tragedies of white South African women in the light of a difficult and honest solidarity with the greater claims of black women. The burden of white-dissident marginalization in South Africa—bro138

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ken off from mainstream racist opinion, but still striving for full inclusion in the struggle against the internal colonialism of the apartheid settler regime—is doubled for women, who must reckon with this kind of misogyny in the movement. On the other hand, there is power on the margin the white feminist writer inhabits, the power of the breakthrough impulse and the revisionary seizing of power from sexist and racist epistemology. The ground, familiarand achingly strange at the same moment,of de Kok’s exercise of this epistemic power in feminism is the forging of solidarity between white and black women, a project she necessarily undertakes from thewhite side. ‘‘Small Passing’’ looks for this passing over from a marginalized female whiteness to ‘‘the place of mothers’’ already occupied by black women. The poem abandons the safety of white silence or reticence, the safety of waiting for black women to invite and open dialogue, the safety of passivity behind a respect for black women’s self-determination and their anger and resentment at the relative privilege of white women, the safety of avoiding by inaction mistakes, misstatements, and missteps. The stakes are what the man’s ugly pronouncement emphatically withholds: a common ‘‘place’’ for white with black activist women in framing the meaning of their history. Necessarily, the poem is a monologue, where history requires a dialogue: that marks its historical moment, where under feminist pressure a whitewoman’s lyric of intense privacyemerges into the glare of the eighties mass democratic movement. De Kok embraces racial monologue in this emergent moment, enunciating a fragmentary voice in its very fragmentariness, because that is what states the case of the feminist project itself under apartheid conditions. This poem pulls her whole book forward onto unfamiliar ground, the risks and ambitions of modern left feminism as they test themselves in the South African Emergency. Along with other overtly political poems in the book, like ‘‘Our Sharpeville’’ and ‘‘Al Wat Kind Is,’’ ‘‘Small Passing’’ launches this radical movement of lyric into the public sphere from familiar, or familial, ground, the figures of mother and child that also frame the opening and closing stories of Wicomb’s book. Both de Kok and Wicomb need to empty those figures of their patriarchal resonance (sons’ and fathers’ constructions, so readily elaborated in politics as mother of our country, mother of the struggle, mother of the Volk, Mother Afrika) 2 to reorient them usably for feminist consciousness. Although Wicomb and de Kok write apart, this common work joins their racial monologues so that they sound together, if not in unison, as women’s Locations of Feminism

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voices who know ‘‘this country’’ from inside racially separated spheres but also from outside, from abroad, from the perspective of international feminist aspirations that both writers bring back to ‘‘the closed rooms, home’’: Walking backwards, called back, I returned to the closed rooms, home. (de Kok, ‘‘Our Sharpeville,’’ in Familiar Ground 14) In ‘‘Our Sharpeville,’’ the closed rooms are white, and the young girl backing into them after her grandmother’s summons is unwillingly retreating from a racial boundary, the gate dividing her from the street where black miners are passing by in trucks, demonstrating with chants and raised fists against the 1960 Sharpeville massacre. What pulls her back from the ranks of the miners is her grandmother’s disciplinary call to gender: ‘‘Come inside; they do things to little girls.’’ This is a moment in the formation of white womanhood, the domestication of white women; for de Kok it is our Sharpeville, the ground on which white women’s responses to events like Sharpeville and the national protests that followed it are consciously shaped, the site where white girl children’s minds are massacred in the name of the racial patriarchy, but also where antiracist and feminist consciousness may be born. The girl needs disciplining, because to her the male appeal of the miners is the appeal of the heroic, the political, the historic, passions of the great, open, public world that older women’s brooms have swept safely outside the domus: I ran to the gate to watch them pass. And it seemed like a great caravan moving across the desert . . . And our Sharpeville was this fearful thing that might tempt us across the wellswept streets. (14) If the speaker of the poem is de Kok herself, she would have been nine years old when she was taught to associate black men with ‘‘things that had to remain nameless.’’ But the pupil, like Wicomb’s Frieda Shenton learning English, resists the lesson and learns another: how gender and racial borders are policed, how women are secluded from public life, how women’s speech and language are regulated. The miners stand not only for the sheer scale of a black politics and 140

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a black history that attract the child’s imagination, but for the country’s material substance and wealth, its economic topography: their chanting foreign and familiar, like the call and answer of road gangs across the veld, building hot arteries from the heart of the Transvaal mine. (13) Black males figure for the child the world of industrial labor that has built the country’s social body: its mineral heart, its arterial roads. They appear not only as heraldic objects in a historical (biblical) frieze, but as the subjects of history in their voice, chant, music; the always present (‘‘familiar’’), newly seen and defamiliarized (‘‘foreign’’), suddenly apparent, in relief. De Kok has reversed a whole white liberal iconography of Sharpeville as the place of victims: her Sharpeville is the place where the heart of the country’s history and political economy suddenly discovers itself in the massed bodies and voices of the miners as black and male. The girl’s retreat from this knowledge is unwilling and temporary, in a flood of shame (and, retrospectively, anger) at what white women are called upon to be: But, walking backwards, all I felt was shame, at being a girl, at having been found at the gate, at having heard my grandmother lie and at my fear her lie might be true. (14) Sartre said that shame (not guilt) was a revolutionary emotion. Here it implies at least a strategic distancing from the ideologies of whiteness, a looking back at what has in principle already been learned—and then unlearned, refused—of those ideologies. The speaker’s retrospective ‘‘I’’ notices that the experiencing ‘‘I’’ even at the age of nine had already been awakened, in her shame, by the miners’ call to leave the constricted rooms of racial and gender polarization and hierarchy. This image of confinement echoes through the first section of Familiar Ground, ‘‘In a Hot Country,’’ set in the South Africa of de Kok’s childhood. (The second section, ‘‘Where There Is Water,’’ is framed by her student years in Canada, and the last section, ‘‘Small Passing,’’ brings her back home.) The double curtains of her grandmother’s house in ‘‘Our Sharpeville’’ reappear in the poem on her father’s death, ‘‘My Father Would Not Show Us’’: Locations of Feminism

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My father would not show us how to die. He hid, he hid away. Behind the curtains where his life had been . . . everything he hears is white. (18) In ‘‘At This Resort,’’ ‘‘women wardens stand / shaking hands forever at the church door,’’ and in ‘‘Sun, Aloe, Rain’’ a veld fire closes in on ‘‘a meercat maddened / by the cremating arc.’’ The sun and sky bear down on the body: ‘‘husk of heat on the back / The sky enters into the skin’’; ‘‘And those in the cool green houses / . . . die swollen’’ (‘‘To Drink Its Water’’). The women of her family, ‘‘not loving women,’’ ‘‘move as if robed in black, all widows, / all clean, all careful’’ (‘‘Leavetaking’’); her childhood is ‘‘a house with a tin roof / being hailed upon’’ (‘‘My Father Would Not Show Us’’). Coffins are everywhere: her father’s ‘‘gleams unnaturally,’’ her own in a dream ‘‘is painted with wild white roses’’ (‘‘Leavetaking’’), and ‘‘At This Resort,’’ in another dreamlike image, ‘‘the coffins heave themselves into the sea.’’ Constriction, most intensely focalized in ‘‘Our Sharpeville’’—the cordoned heart—is the starting point from which Familiar Ground describes its upward, outward, and inward curve: upward into a new history, her solidarity with black figures in several poems; outward to Canada,where South African experience is laid open to reflection; and inward to the exploratory, feminist-confessional lyric of the long middle section. De Kok’s work is a flight from the place where everything she hears is white. ‘‘I Ate the Dolphin’’ The whiteness of the North, the Canadian landscapes in many poems of ‘‘WhereThere IsWater,’’ seems at first, like the privacyof confessional lyric, an ironic end point to such a flight, but the lateral movement to another settler-colonial culture allows de Kok to restage the white mythologies of her place of origin. ‘‘Two Places,Two Dreams’’ displaces the ironies of moving from South Africa to Canada into her child’s dreams of crossing, his ‘‘hot summer dream’’ of the Cape, and the Canadian dream where ‘‘pines, like ravens blue with cold, / fly into the ice’’ (25).This poem uses landscape to suggest the phenomenology of how place memory persists, yielding up the mystery of Dasein, being-in-place, embodied consciousness—not as metaphysical mystery merely, but, in the context of the preceding South African section, as a historical puzzle: where is one’s being, and one’s own 142

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child’s dependent being, really grounded,or world-ed? Where dowe ‘‘find’’ ourselves? Where have we been ‘‘thrown’’? Her lateral displacement from the historical South African shame and horror to a depoliticized Canadian innocence, or historical placelessness, while still lying within the historical terrain of white European settlement, suggests that de Kok’s northern landscapes must be paysages moralisés, that the one place implies reflections on and of the other. The ghostly walkers she outlines against winter mist in ‘‘Old Weather’’ (her son, his father, herself ) seem to walk into a nothing that empties out the body into its empty place: The mist leaves no spoor, hasn’t a shadow. My hands rise slowly, like wands. (26) Yet her cold breath warns the walkers in this poem that ‘‘the land is dangerous,’’ precisely in seeming to swallow up the now deracialized white bodies of her South African family.The male play of father and son (‘‘shoot arrows into the mist, / find heroes in its shapes’’) is threatened by ‘‘white roots and ledges / . . . waiting to trip them.’’ The mother/partner/poet is equally disembodied by foreignness, her voice become ‘‘the cold mist I breathed,’’ her hands the ‘‘wands’’ of magic, music, or choreography. The new Canadian weather is saturated with the old South African sense of dread, as she follows son and partner ‘‘along the bone of land / that juts into the lake’s throat.’’ Similarly, many of the poems of female solitude or loneliness (‘‘this thing we learn from others’’) are troubled by the persistence of place memory, which stands in for historical/political memory. In ‘‘Skylight,’’ the speaker’s desire (‘‘so far from home. / In my room high in the pines’’) is for an absence—part flight from the old presence, part outline of the new: What I want to love is the empty space beside my empty body (27) As ‘‘Ruth in the Corn’’ of Canadian autumn, she reads the ‘‘hieroglyph’’ of flying geese differently, as one of ‘‘the others, who see / plantations of olives, / the Southern Cross,’’ and she feels the longing to return: ‘‘Sick for home are those watching people / when the fall sky moves its migrating birds’’ (29). In ‘‘In the Rain Forest’’ the rain that connotes a strange pleniLocations of Feminism

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tude in Canadian forests at the lonely ‘‘end of the world’’ triggers contrary place memories for her: I remember the rainy season as the season behind the jacaranda, the season of the sudden purple bruise on the thighs of the city . . . But this is not the rainy season, this is the rain that comes out of the tree like wings or air and into the earth forever (28) In ‘‘Arrangement: A Poem for Myself,’’ to her rootedness in ‘‘the room with a round mahogany table’’ where ‘‘I recognize myself ’’ she brings ‘‘freesias, anemone, yellow roses / and jasmine, fragrant as water,’’ from ‘‘spring somewhere else’’; her simile for cutting the flowers is ‘‘culling of flowers like young impala’’ (45). The Canadian places create a landscape poetry that is really binational, and the solitary figure centering the landscapes and interiors is a binational consciousness. The emotional atmosphere of these poems resembles a moratorium or retreat, and their desire is to discover a truth too hard to see in the old place, but still hidden in the new; they yield, nevertheless, a new sense of the body’s material placed-ness in historical space. Their lyricism recalls the sensuous expansiveness of Gordimer’s Rosa in Burger’s Daughter when, in a similar state of moratorium, she encounters the Mediterranean world. Nise Malange, the Durban poet, speaks of her own feeling of release of tension when in Amsterdam for a conference and her ability to write there so much more easily than when immersed in the community arts movement of black Durban. This group of poems culminates in the symbolist seascape of the shore ode ‘‘Dolphin Eater,’’ a brilliant ecofeminist metaphor for all the coastlines of colonialism, and a sustained deconstruction of the ‘‘white mythologies’’ of the settler imagination, whether in Cape Town or Dakar, Vancouver or Macao, Port au Prince or Sydney: There was nothing else to eat. So I ate the dolphin and asked my friend never ever to tell. Like lightning that night 144

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sea struck me and I screamed in my sleep for a boat to take me back to the first shore where I had eaten no dolphin. In my eyes dolphins dancing in the bay close to shore a gift of the evening tide to the strollers on the beach. In my mouth, dolphin. I tricked the silent ferryman, gave beads for land, and the silver cargo of the dhow discharged into my palm. Nothing will save me now in the waves off the cliffs. I will not be brought home on the leeside of a dolphin’s fin. (35) De Kok’s opening confession abandons her earlier impulse to conceal, driven by the logic of the self-punishing dream that gives up the poem’s meaning to her. Its underlying trope is the breaking of a prohibition, which becomes the fracture of a loved solidarity: the dolphin, dancing for the stroller’s eye or bringing her back safe from the waves, has been eaten. A superstitious dread of one’s capacity for cannibalism (‘‘In my mouth, dolphin’’) converges with the ancient mariner’s albatross; both are fears of the explorer or settler, the colonial unconscious. The poem’s verdict is final: her first hope of redemption, ‘‘a boat to take me back’’ to the metropolitan ‘‘first shore’’ before the colonial voyages, is cancelled by her later offenses: the colonizer’s dishonesty, unequal trade, and the amassing of surplus (the ‘‘silver’’ of the dhow’s fish also manages to suggest the wealth of mines): I tricked the silent ferryman, gave beads for land, and the silver cargo of the dhow discharged into my palm. Locations of Feminism

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The poem leaves her in her fearful dream, ‘‘in the waves off the cliffs’’ of the Emergency. It stands as a lucid acknowledgment of de Kok’s historical position as a white South African, at the moment the country seemed to be lurching toward a final reckoning of the costs of its colonial history. It is a clear and unflinching poem, perhaps even more valuable after the change of regime, in the deliberate amnesia that Mandela famously urged for the transition to democracy. Forgetting after such an acknowledgment as this poem makes is different from forgetting to acknowledge at all; in an essay on ‘‘Theater and Reconciliation in South Africa,’’ Zakes Mda remarks that ‘‘our white compatriots seem to find it threatening that we have a memory. They insist that the past must be forgotten’’ (43). Cutting against the white amnesiac grain, ‘‘Dolphin Eater’’ touches a nerve in its radical candor, bringing to the psychological surface the continuing scandal of white class privilege—the settler’s spoils—that hangs like an albatross around the political unconscious of the New South Africa. ‘‘These people / have left droplets of blood on my shoes,’’ as Mongane Serote put it in Third World Express (27); de Kok’s poem recalls the vividness of the same bad dream of empire in Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians or Gordimer’s July’s People, both earlier white texts of renunciation and of what Adrienne Rich called ‘‘disloyalty to civilization.’’ Njabulo Ndebele’s 1991 preface to Rediscovery of the Ordinary touches the same nerve, seeing this history as the dolphins write it: The Afrikaner bourgeoisie are now able to recoil in shame from overt brutality. They are in love with the present while proclaiming their repudiation of a past they made with their own hands and which led to the present. This development has enabled the government [of de Klerk’s National Party] to position itself somewhere within the ethical domain of the liberation movement, with rather confusing results. They have carried out what has been demanded all along, but what are we to make of them? (7–8) De Kok’s answer to this necessary question for any emergent South African culture begins in ‘‘Our Sharpeville,’’ looks further inward in ‘‘Dolphin Eater,’’ and expands in the closing poems of her book, where she does indeed position herself ‘‘somewhere within the ethical domain of the liberation movement’’ that Ndebele refers to here. The question is where, within that domain; one thing that distinguishes de Kok’s radical impulse from 146

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the calculated stocktaking of the Afrikaner bourgeoisie is its feminist deep structure. The idiom of ‘‘Dolphin Eater’’ may seem not particularly feminist, but its disloyalty to a dolphin-eating ecology, its anti-imperialism from inside an internal colonialism (in which it is particularly instructive to postcolonial Europe, and even more to the United States), may come more easily to radical women because the ideology of empire, like that of U.S. slavery, has been emphatically sexist, with an edge turned against both colonized and colonizing women. (Coetzee’s magistrate, for instance, has to undertake a reconstruction of masculinity—in bell hooks’s sense—to break with the Empire; and Maureen Smales must adjust to the loss of the white ‘‘masculine’’ privileges she takes over from her husband in their gender-reversing agon with their black former servant, July.) The image of the dolphin may seem female in its pairing with the female speaker; in that sense the solidarity broken by eating dolphin is the solidarity of women, a bond whose cross-racial character in South Africa (or any other terrain of internal colonialism) is perhaps figured by the difference between, and the shifting subject-object relations between, the speaker and the dolphin. From this angle, the poem’s white radical anticolonialism emerges from a less visible antiracist feminism, an understanding that white privilege breaks a bond between insurgent women. As Gcina Mhlophe asserts from the black side in her poem ‘‘Say No,’’ restoring that bond is essential to any women’s insurgency (in the ongoing ‘‘gathering’’ of power that Margaret Randall calls for in her important book Gathering Rage): Say No, Black Woman Say No When they call your white sister a madam Say No (in Lockett 351) The psychic depth of de Kok’s poem (implied by a dream of cannibalism) and the mysterious intensity of the obscure figures in its depths (the friend, the strollers, the ferryman) enact her awareness of how necessary to her life and to the beauty of the world is the restoration of the bond among women, and how grievous the offense that broke it. The choric refrain of black political performance poetry in Mhlophe’s ‘‘Say No’’ well describes de Kok’s complementary white nay-saying imLocations of Feminism

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pulse in ‘‘Dolphin Eater,’’ and it also helps make visible the countermagic of women’s transgressive speech as the burden of both poems.The daughter’s contrary language, Miranda’s (un)speaking of Prospero’s discourse— a theme markedly developed in Canadian appropriations of The Tempest (Brydon 165–84)—sets in motion the poem’s dialectic of eating and speaking, its focus on the mouth as organ of speech and of ingestion.The speaker eats dolphin, she asks her friend never to tell, she screams in a nightmare, the dolphin remains in her mouth, she tricked the ferryman: both eating and utterance are abjected and end drowning in silence. But the act of enunciating the poem is a new speech act of the dolphin eater that breaks Prospero’s pragmatic rules. Like ‘‘Say No’’ (and de Kok’s ‘‘Woman in the Glass,’’ to be discussed later), the poem diagnoses and treats the symptom of oppression by the talking cure of feminist poetic language. In this way the speaking of the poem is contrasted with her implied speech as the wonderworking colonizer who abjectly ‘‘tricked’’ the original owners of land and resources; knowing there is no ‘‘saving’’ herself in the diegesis of the colonial plot, she undertakes the act of the poem as a transgression—a stepping outside—of that plot. This is to undertake a new language, unlearning the male trade languages of colonial economies (a trickster language that Prospero’s thaumaturgic poetry grandly mystifies and erases), as well as the abject female language of confession in which she begs her friend not to expose her to the Father’s law, never to tell. The poem’s feminist language claims its outsider status, its silence, as castaway ‘‘in the waves off the cliffs,’’ placing Miranda in The Tempest’s shipwreck, not in the safety of the Father’s island ‘‘home.’’ (Coetzee’s Foe—its concern with tongues, colonial power, and the gender of narrative—may also be in the background here, although ‘‘Dolphin Eater’’ may well have been written before Foe appeared.) Speaking on this margin, it acquires a transgressive power, working a magic of its own by shifting language toward rewriting Miranda’s abject body. It completes its rebellion against the language-giving Father by closing with the lost image of union with the implicitly female, maternal body of the dolphin. The breaking of solidarity chronicled in ‘‘Dolphin Eater’’ leads not only to shame, guilt, and danger but to loneliness, which is perhaps the unacknowledged deep structure—but also, once acknowledged, the condition of new possibility—of a divided and long-delayed South African feminism. The last landscape poem in the middle section of Familiar Ground, ‘‘This 148

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Thing We Learn from Others,’’ seems to comment on or follow ‘‘Dolphin Eater’’ because of its explicit formulation of loneliness: They say if your mother held you on her right side, head in the moist curve of her arm, you are lonely, and if she held you on her left, her breast breathing into your ear, you are lonely. (47) Read as sequel, these lines expand the image of riding in the lee of the dolphin’s fin, and it appears that loneliness (of apartheid space, of exile, of internal exile, of Dasein as such) is a consequence or trace of the body’s deepest place-memory, its cradling by the mother. This ‘‘place of the mother’’ is Kristeva’s famous image of the chora, prior to the Symbolic and the Law of the Father, the place of union—including eating—with a primordial female. If ‘‘Dolphin Eater’’ represented the loss of that union as a drowning of the guilty, isolated body, a being lost at sea like some female ancient mariner, the sequel poem ends with a restorative image of the shore from which the neap tide has briefly withdrawn—the shore as emblem of a precariously safe or neutral ground, where the almost equally primordial symbol of the fire draws people out of their isolation: Only, at neap tide, its moon just a glance over the wet uncovered miles of sand, the rocks white and black mica in the dark, and waves which had buried themselves at our feet, now trebling quietly far out there made us come close to the fire on the beach, made us think it possible to stay that way, scooping warm coals into the heart. (47–48) The receding waves and diminished moon replace the oneiric clarity of ‘‘Dolphin Eater’’ with a warm uterine or utopian darkness in which the heart can dream, taking the fire into itself in a collective ‘‘coming close.’’ De Locations of Feminism

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Kok’s landscape here is indeterminately South African or Canadian (again, possibly, the coastlines of colonialism in general), as is the race of her figures in the composition, left obscure in the chiaroscuro of the firelight; the accent is on what is ‘‘possible’’ in that return to an ancient hearth, what healing of the psychic and historical separations of the colonial. (The title, for instance, giving it a new bearing for white South Africans, may allude to the proverb Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu: ‘‘A person is a person because of other people.’’) The beach scene is perhaps typically a white middleclass one, but not necessarily (it may even evoke images of the black dispossessed of the Cape squatting on the sand flats); even details like the white and black mica and the ‘‘trebling’’ (in its musical as well as its numerical sense) of the waves hint at allegories of il piú nell’uno, a newly diverse sharing of the firelight, of the heart. ‘‘Dolphin Eater’’ is the stronger and more essential poem, interrupting the littoral dreams of much white settler poetry; but de Kok’s delicate, convincing work in ‘‘This Thing We Learn from Others’’ floods the other poem with new warmth and color. It rhymes with the lovely, disturbing landscape by David Goldblatt on the Ravan Press cover of Familiar Ground, in which a young black and a young white girl play on a mound of earth from a construction site—an image of something emerging on the margins of what is both unearthed and reconstructed and, as such, of the whole logic of de Kok’s feminist political aesthetic. Whatever ‘‘made us think it possible/to stay that way’’ is what her poetry holds out to a new feminist dynamic in the country. ‘‘This Relationship of Love, Which Is the Deconstructive Relationship’’ One plane of privacy in de Kok’s work—her love poetry—resists reconstruction in the macropolitical terms of its South African context. They are drily woman-centered poems, critical of male Eros, appropriately astringent; but they proceed according to a micropolitics where issues of power—power of men over women, of women over themselves—float free of structures larger than the couple, or than Foucault’s memorable wish to rewrite the proliferating taxonomic history of modern sexuality as ordinary ‘‘bodies and pleasures.’’ In a late essay he spoke approvingly of this free-floating conception of ‘‘The Subject and Power,’’ and he would undoubtedly see the love poetry of Familiar Ground as one point of resistance to the ‘‘biopower’’ of modernity. In this sense de Kok’s love poetry, like H. D.’s sequence of poems ‘‘Amaranth,’’ ‘‘Eros,’’ ‘‘Envy,’’ and ‘‘Eurydice’’ (Selected 150

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Poems 24–40), takes love to be ‘‘the deconstructive relationship,’’ as Gayatri Spivak calls it (Post-Colonial Critic 164). From Foucault’s point of view, a politics of ‘‘place’’ or location in the love poems (all in the second section, including its title poem ‘‘Where There Is Water’’) might or might not trace back connections between their concerns and South African politics: in them ‘‘place’’ may simply be woman’s place as subject and object in erotic life. This interpretive choice is reflected in the two different ways Familiar Ground has been anthologized by South African editors. In From South Africa: New Writing, Photographs and Art, edited by David Bunn and Jane Taylor and published in the United States, de Kok is represented by the four outstanding ‘‘political’’ poems in the book, ‘‘Our Sharpeville,’’ ‘‘Dolphin Eater,’’ ‘‘Al Wat Kind Is,’’ and ‘‘Small Passing’’; in the feminist anthology Breaking the Silence: A Century of South African Women’s Poetry, edited by Cecily Lockett and published in South Africa, the choice is ‘‘Small Passing,’’ ‘‘Women, Mourning,’’ and two of the love poems, ‘‘Woman, Leaning Away’’ and ‘‘Woman in the Glass.’’ Including or excluding the love poems seems to reflect an editorial emphasis on either the public or the private registers of feminist poetry, which raises the question of how the two registers are linked in Familiar Ground. If we approach the poems through the trope of place, it is noticeable how many of them coincide with arrival or leavetaking: I arrived in dark clothes after a long journey . . . round my waist your fingers wild ribbons greeting and leaving . . . I have done this before, going. You do it well too. Where there is water, or in sight of the sea, gypsies gather. (de Kok, ‘‘Where There Is Water’’ 31–32) Often, the lovers are seen as visitors, gypsies, mendicants, hitchhikers, passersby in train, street, window, or mirror; the transience offers no ground for place memory to persist in the poems, which in that sense are placeless, as though love were indeed another country. The pattern suggests some internal debate about the place of feminism itself, perhaps responding to the always pertinent question of how the personal is political, and countering any easy separation of private and public spheres. This is a particularly sharp question for South African feminist writing. Lockett’s Locations of Feminism

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essay prefacing Breaking the Silence mentions the difficulty feminism has had getting under way in South Africa because, she suggests, it came in mostly from the outside and emerged there less already linked to the antiracist, antiwar, and anticapitalist left than in Europe and the United States. This view may be debated (especially for black feminism rather than white, and for activist feminism rather than feminist writing), and it certainly does not hold true at all for de Kok’s ‘‘political’’ poetry, but it does have relevance to her more private work: The women’s movement, growing as it did in America out of the leftist atmosphere of the civil rights movement, never took root in quite the same way in South Africa. Nor has it yet had the same impact. But it is apparent in the writing of women poets that the ideas of the feminist revolution reached South Africa and were embraced by women. (Lockett, preface 31) The early South African feminist anthology LIP: From Southern AfricanWomen, edited by Susan Brown, Isabel Hofmeyr, and Susan Rosenberg, in which de Kok published under the name of Ingrid Fiske two poems that were later to appear in the first section of Familiar Ground, illustrates Lockett’s point. LIP registers much more the feminism of white everyday life than the place of Juliet Mitchell’s ‘‘longest revolution’’ in the mass democratic movement (or vice versa), though that is certainly included, as are black women writers such as Gcina Mhlophe. But then the slipperiness and difficulty of the problem of private and public is one of the ongoing conditions of feminist work everywhere, not only in South Africa. By the time she published Familiar Ground in 1988, de Kok was combining both kinds of poem in a single volume, and that in itself provides a context for the love poems of its second section, tying them to themes of the landscape poetry and indicating an engagement with all forms of power over women. Those poems in which the partner is identified (or strongly implied) as male, for instance, show a marked contestatory irony and veer close to impasse, missed connections, refusal and dismissal, fear and betrayal—the atmosphere of much of thewhitewriting in LIP (such as Melody Emmett’s ‘‘Mirrors,’’ Welma Odendaal’s ‘‘Bye Bye, Forget Me Not,’’ Jenny Roberts’s ‘‘We Sit at Table,’’ Dorothy Driver’s ‘‘An Old Poem, Left Behind,’’ and Louise Wright’s ‘‘Passion Play’’). In ‘‘Woman, Leaning Away,’’ not only is there a play with the presence of the absent by means of photography (like the bifocal vision of the landscape poems), the dynamic of power is also 152

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revealingly staged; the triangle first created between the female speaker, a male partner, and a photograph of his mother (‘‘She is leaning away from herself, / from the photograph, from us’’) then resolves itself into a dyadic power setup: Only afterwards lying beside him in the cool I realize this was a test to see if I too would lean away from him and the open window while I looked on the photograph of his silent mother. (34) The writing of the poem photographs all the players in this Oedipal network and reveals that ‘‘he’’ too, the tester, is by that very move ‘‘leaning away’’ himself. The speaker ends more bonded by her silent gaze to the silent mother, her bond with the partner loosened by this looking away. In fact, taken as a whole the poem is primarily an imaginary portrait of the mother; he was right to test her, she is affectively more interested in his mother. All this Lacanian triangulated interplay of positions, along angles of vision that are also trajectories of desire, works to undermine the power of his holding her gaze on him by directing it to his mother—who, the speaker imagines, he also longs to have look at him: He will give her anything . . . if she will turn just once to see him watching her the way one watches for a bird whose sound in the dense green promises shape just before it is silent again. (33) De Kok points here to a male desire, directed along the path of his looking but invested in the wish to be looked at, which tries to monopolize the female gaze. Figured as elusive, like a bird in the ‘‘dense’’ Canadian green, the gaze and desire of women instead leans and looks ‘‘away’’ from him, ‘‘towards something out there, / a tree or stone or color’’—or toward each other, if the fixed gaze of the photograph can be said to retain any agency. Apart from de Kok’s glance here at Gordimer’s 1984 story and collection entitled Something Out There—an extremely tough-minded and political collection—this outer-directed woman’s gaze constitutes a shift of power, Locations of Feminism

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subjectivity, and agency away from male desire and the constricted dyad of compulsory heterosexuality. The mother’s somewhat Virginia Woolf– like focus on ‘‘tree or stone or color’’ also enlists her, like the poet-speaker, for the female aesthetic gaze of photography, portraiture, and landscape, just as her audible hiddenness in the greenery enacts a female theatrics or choreography that slips in and out of performing gender in prescribed ways, on demand. (This female Ariel is a new figure in the Canadian landscapes of the book.) Supple, flexible, mobile, cool, ironic, de Kok’s vision of female Eros in this poem—subject and object of a female gaze—neatly rewrites the classic script of male love poetry. Her title catches the precise tangential angle or ‘‘lean’’ of her slipping away. Its claim to the homogeneous category ‘‘woman,’’ the essentialist signifier of seventies U.S. second-wave feminism before its deconstruction, from within the movement, by feminists of color like bell hooks, Gloria Anzaldua, and Trinh Minh-ha, and white critics like Elizabeth Spelman, Donna Haraway, and Judith Butler, continues in the strongest poem of this group, ‘‘Woman in the Glass.’’ The poem contests not so much the male gaze that it fixes and politicizes head-on, much more directly than ‘‘Woman, Leaning Away,’’ as female complicity in the sex-gender system it indicts. Two competing versions of the iconic ‘‘woman’’ collide in the poem’s final lines: Your woman: cousin, sister, twin. You want her burning, distant, dumb. I want to save, and tear, her tongue. (39) But the two images of ‘‘woman’’ (seen by the implied male ‘‘you’’ and the female ‘‘I’’) are mirror images, answering each other and both seen ‘‘in the glass’’; in the speaker’s version, ‘‘woman’’ is both seer and seen. The twinning is not only in his desire for a female twin, but in her awareness that the woman who is the object of his desire is also her twin, the woman summoned into being, interpellated, by that desire. The near-solipsism of this obsessive mirroring or doubling is definitively broken by the cry ‘‘I want’’ in the last line, and before that by the taking of a critical distance, the ‘‘raising’’ of consciousness, in the turning point lines, ‘‘I stand to the side and watch her, / widow-virgin, burn on your pyre.’’ In this somewhat problematic image of sati, it is not the widow who throws herself on the fire, but the speaker who consigns her nonfeminist twin—the one ‘‘who looks at you look at her/and the glass smokes over’’—to the flames. 154

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But the poem’s critique is immanent, not transcendent; its female eroticism as object of desire is derived, ironic, but real, perhaps especially in its indirect or fetishized form: photography again, ‘‘the one surrounded by photographers / printing her supple smile, her skin: / that woman.’’ (The ambiguity of ‘‘printing’’ produces a highly layered sensuality of touch in these lines, as the mirrors and windows throughout the poem densely layer the sensuality of direct looks.) What is mirrored or mimicked by the curve of the speaker’s political desire is the male erotic gaze at its most extravagant (‘‘bent over, offering her sex to you / like a globe of garlic’’), which it follows continuously through the poem up to the final break. This performative mimicry eventually drives the poem beyond derivative desire to a different seizing of subjectivity: ‘‘I want to save, and tear, her tongue.’’ Halfconcealed in the dialectics of this last line is a whole political aesthetic of writing itself. In moving from looking to saying de Kok shifts the ground of the power setup, showing how ‘‘woman’’ can write her way out of the feminized glass. Writing both saves and tears the power of speech: tearing (there is a suggestion of tears as well), by confession that tears things from deep within the feminized self—as in the confessed eroticism of the woman in the male glass; saving, by moving on to proper speech, speech in one’s own name and proper place.The confessed or torn-out self is then objectified and projected onto the funeral pyre to burn along with her male accomplice/creator. Ritualistic in its incantatory repetitions as well as in this borrowed Hindu fire, the poem participates in the triumphal magic of early U.S. and French radical feminism, its vivid sense of going back before Eve to find a different myth, its stunned realization of the immeasurable depth in patriarchal culture of what needed to be refound, reseen, rewritten, remade. At the same time, de Kok’s orientalizing use of sati as an extravagant image of female oppression disturbs the homogeneity of her category ‘‘woman,’’ revealing itsWestern content as culturally specific after all, in its phenomenology of train and street pickups, photography, ultraromanticism, introspection, individualist self-fashioning.When the ‘‘woman’’ to be magically ‘‘unstitched’’ by fire is seen as a Hindu woman,while the speaking and wanting new subject in the last lines remains ‘‘woman’’ unqualified (that is, unconsciously, the subject of modern Western feminism), the whole critique of female essentialism carried out in Spelman’s Inessential Woman and more radically by Haraway and Butler needs to be put in play. In this way ‘‘Woman in the Glass’’ is a kind of paradigm-poem of a certain stage of Locations of Feminism

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feminist thought—an extremely liberating one for its practitioners, even if, with hindsight, its limits are clear. Read in a South African context (which notably includes Indian women, their writing and political action), ‘‘Woman in the Glass’’ seems more concerned to break away from the ‘‘twinning’’ that binds whitewomen towhite male power than to establish links with, or ‘‘save,’’ Indian women as fellow victims of patriarchy. It is a poem intent on historical rupture with a maledefined whiteness, a white-defined femaleness. In that respect it reenters the dialectic of language. The abject ‘‘twin’’ is the silent one, the woman ‘‘who never says a word’’; ‘‘who holds you / whilst you call out the names of lost lovers’’; the woman ‘‘offering . . . [but] asking for nothing’’; the one ‘‘hiding’’; the woman ‘‘whose mouth drips wax’’; the woman ‘‘you want . . . dumb.’’ But in this series there is an anomalous metaphor: Nor am I the woman in the dark whose silence is the meteor in the sky of your conversation. (‘‘Woman in the Glass’’ 38) Here the woman’s refraining from language is a speaking silence, standing out in relief against the background murmur of male conversation. The meteor looks forward to the image of the woman burning in a fire, but reverses its static passivity, giving her instead a spectacular motion, speed, light, and force, and the dangerous aura of myth—there is a hint of Medusa in the tail of the meteor. In this metaphor the place of silence becomes the place of a dramatic outburst of speech, just as in the poem a syntax of the negative (‘‘I am not,’’ ‘‘I am not’’; ‘‘Nor am I,’’ ‘‘Nor am I’’) gives way to the transitional ‘‘I stand to the side’’ and then to the affirmative ‘‘I want.’’ The logic of metaphor and syntax enacts an emergence into female speech out of the breaking of male codes and definitions. The second section of de Kok’s ‘‘Words of Love’’ concentrates almost obsessively, and in terms that echo ‘‘Dolphin Eater,’’ on this same problematic of bound and unbound speech: Oh how we swallow, how then we carry in our pouches the words of our lovers as if they are our own. Our mouths are icing tubes and vases and we lipstick the words of love onto hall mirrors, onto ourselves, 156

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or have them implanted silicon deep in our pointed breasts. Knowing the thoughts of the beloved, having the same thoughts, or something close enough, like false teeth, caps, crowns, bridges, letting them rise out of our mouths into bubbles, into an adult comic strip: this is called love. Till the bubbles blow off the page, are spiked on thorntrees, collapse like Chinese lanterns, or we chew them like gum, the words of our lovers, gag, spit out at last a trickle of sounds more like our own: this is called betrayal. (‘‘Words of Love’’ 42–43) This passage suggests that women’s silence is an effect of being crammed full of others’ words; its originality is to apply that view to words of love. Bakhtin’s account of ideology formation (‘‘the ideological becoming of a human being’’) relies on just such a concept of how ‘‘another’s words’’ become an ‘‘authoritative word’’ at odds with one’s own ‘‘internally persuasive’’ words: ‘‘The authoritative word demands that we acknowledge it, that we make it our own; it binds us, quite independent of any power it might have to persuade us internally; we encounter it with its power already fused to it. . . . It is, so to speak, the word of the fathers’’ (342). De Kok presents the process of binding and unbinding her speech as a tremendous physical effort of swallowing, chewing, spitting out; again eating and speaking are fused. Her most sardonic love poem, ‘‘Words of Love’’ moves from male ideology as writing, the word love written with lipstick, drawn in the bubbles of comic strips, and then erased from the page (‘‘spiked on thorntrees,’’ in an image of Southern Africa’s sandveld), to female struggle for words as speech: ‘‘gag, spit out at last / a trickle of sounds / more like our own.’’ The power of the authoritative male word entails a feeling of betrayal when it is transmuted into this female speech.The Locations of Feminism

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passage reproduces in the laboring organs of speech the very ideological effect it names. It is hard not to hear in the line ‘‘this is called betrayal ’’ a conscious allusion to Adrienne Rich’s important white feminist antiracist essay (widely read in the United States and Canada), ‘‘Disloyal to Civilization: Feminism, Racism, Gynephobia’’ (1978),whose presence can also be felt in ‘‘Our Sharpeville,’’ ‘‘Dolphin Eater,’’ and ‘‘Woman in the Glass.’’ This intertextuality would be an instance of what Cecily Lockett pointed to, the origins of U.S. feminism in the civil rights left being imported into South African women’s writing for use in a context whose great differences (relations of white and black are relations of minority to majority in South Africa, the reverse in the United States) do not cancel a deep resemblance, born of a common white-settler segregationist culture. George M. Frederickson’s White Supremacy: A Comparative Study in American and South African History best develops that historical resemblance, but ignores women’s history except for their roles in sex and reproduction; his index has thirty-two entries under ‘‘working class’’ but none on women, who appear under such headings as ‘‘concubinage,’’ ‘‘sex, interracial,’’ ‘‘intermarriage,’’ and ‘‘race mixture’’; in chapter 3, ‘‘Race Mixture and the Color Line,’’ only six out of ninety references are to women historians. What Rich’s feminist revisionism reinserts in the record is the pivotal position of white women as subjects (not sexual objects or factors of reproduction) in white supremacy, and she asserts the historical agency of white women in that position, whether to uphold or to subvert racism. Clearly, de Kok has absorbed Rich’s argument and is reworking it in her own terms for South African feminism, as a necessary clearing of the ground for any eventual cross-race alliance, any cross-race political identifications among women. bell hooks’s illuminating critique of Rich’s essay in chapter 4 of Ain’t I a Woman: BlackWomen and Feminism, which pointed to thewide political gap (in women’s movements historicallyand in contemporary feminism) between white women’s separating themselves from white male supremacy and those same women’s overcoming their own racism toward black women and men, exposed Rich’s idealistic exaggeration of antiracism in women’s movements, but also allowed what Rich had asserted to stand out yet more clearly: white women’s secession (‘‘betrayal’’ or ‘‘disloyalty’’) from white supremacy is a necessary, though far from a sufficient, condition for a genuine feminist movement. hooks also addressed class divisions among women, often aligned with racial caste, as a needed extension of the intervention 158

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Rich had made. A South African analog of this debate is the black feminist Desiree Lewis’s sharp critique of the first South African conference on ‘‘Women and Gender,’’ held at the University of Natal in 1991, which recapitulates and applies the analysis begun by hooks to the elision of race or speaking for women of color in South African feminist theory (‘‘The Politics of Feminism in South Africa’’). De Kok’s use of Adrienne Rich’s paradigm, then, has to be seen in the context of interventions by black feminist theory in both countries, and clearly this too is part of an ongoing debate and political project within feminism transnationally. The Durban white feminist critic Margaret Daymond puts the issue for South African feminism this way: ‘‘What is finally at issue in conflicts such as these is whether a negotiated, rather than assumed, relationship of interests between women can be established’’ (introduction, South African Feminisms xx). ‘‘Our’’ in ‘‘Words of Love’’ refers de jure to all women, but, precisely because race is not problematized or theorized in the poem, a silent de facto restriction of reference to women in de Kok’s own (white) position does occur: the crucial point that hooks was the first to make so clearly. The poem can then be seen as a sort of renegotiation, through language, of white women’s position vis-à-vis white men, as her allusion to Rich suggests—but not as an end point: it must be followed by Daymond’s negotiation of interests between white women and women of color. As such, culture-bound though it is, its interest lies in its dissection of the very process of negotiating languages, its writing of female dealing with male discourse as an extraordinarily tactile orality. The female Eros submerged or deferred in these poems of feminist critique resurfaces warily in an autoerotic passage like the end of ‘‘Arrangement: A Poem for Myself ’’: I have to choose flowers that will live in this vase as if it is the earth and the death of flowers that cannot transform themselves, even when my hands are full of their sacrifice, is like air in my lungs. (46) Opposing semantic fields frame the shot/reverse-shot imagery: the living flowers, earth, hands, air, and lungs change places with the fixity of an arrangement of death in the sacrificial vase, in a dynamic opposition that Locations of Feminism

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feeds the sacrificed flowers and their perfume to the arranging, transforming hands and transformed breathing of the speaker. Flowers alive in the vase give up their body and breath for hers, into her hands and lungs. The passage may be close to dream (the poem begins ‘‘I recognize myself ’’), its hieratic ‘‘sculptor’’ of flowers recalling the dream-self in ‘‘Dream of a Trophy,’’ whose hands work at another ritual of transformation: I polish the dents in your dream body and see myself there, polishing. Your collarbone gleams like pewter. (37) Eros as an in-drawing of hands and breath connects the flower poem to the more infantine pleasures of the speaker’s ‘‘head in the moist curve’’ of the mother’s arm, ‘‘her breast breathing into your ear,’’ in the poem ‘‘This Thing We Learn from Others,’’ which follows next and concludes the second section of Familiar Ground. A similar, opaquely eroticized gesture ends that poem, in the passage already looked at as a ritual of postcolonial alliance: made us come close to the fire on the beach, made us think it possible to stay that way, scooping warm coals into the heart. (48) The erotic work of hand or arm that sounds a ground bass for these poems—scooping, curving, arranging, polishing—reappears in the poem with the easiest uprush of sexual feeling, again a poem where the ‘‘gypsy’’ lover is less insistently male, the title poem of the section, ‘‘Where There Is Water’’: round my waist your fingers wild ribbons greeting and leaving and within this nacreous love . . . . . . . and I moth willow quiet night hill over a shadowy city dream of drawing from a well a thicket of water (31) 160

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Like ‘‘the rain / that comes out of a tree’’ in the landscape poem ‘‘In the Rain Forest,’’ or the flowers in water of ‘‘Arrangement: A Poem for Myself,’’ this willow that draws its ‘‘thicket’’ of foliage from the well inscribes the erotic as an interpenetration or saturation of leaves and water, a set of correspondences across a membrane or barrier. Such (rare) figuration of the sexually full or saturated body seems to answer, from the Canadian pole of flight, the cry of de Kok’s first group of poems from South African aridity, racial separation, and gendered self-division. But between them lies the astringent ‘‘work of the negative,’’ poems of critique and painful self-consciousness. In the writing of ‘‘Dolphin Eater’’ and ‘‘Woman in the Glass,’’ as earlier in ‘‘Our Sharpeville,’’ public and private layers of feminist and antiracist ‘‘deconstructive love’’ (in Spivak’s phrase) begin to overlay and undermine the ‘‘authoritative word’’ of apartheid and male-erotic languages. De Kok’s Familiar Ground thus ripens toward the tentative, strategic moment of her homecoming. ‘‘This Long Torn Light’’ The eight poems of de Kok’s last section (named ‘‘Small Passing’’ from its culminating poem) return to a South African setting, a homecoming threaded through by the motif of children that dominates all but two ‘‘found poems’’ composed of newspaper reports. Familial in itself, the motif stretches across into the public realm through the politicization of children in the South African popular imagination since the media coverage of the June 1976 ‘‘Revolt of the Children’’ in Soweto. In the eighties it was confirmed by the prominence of children in urban movements and the huge numbers of quite young children killed by security forces and held in detention; between June 1986 and June 1987, the government admitted that a third of the political detainees were under eighteen (Russell 81). In de Kok’s poetry it is at least as much a case of a historical reseeing of children, black and white, in the landscape to which she returns from Canada. The image of the South African child as an enigma, a silent question somehow holding the key to the country’s future, seems inseparable from de Kok’s negotiation of voice and address in these poems of return. As a group the poems adopt the close-up vantage point of a woman, usually a mother, whose questioning of the social meaning of children’s lives necessarily involves her in questioning her own meaning; the domestic closeness of the woman-and-child dyad explodes under this historical Locations of Feminism

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questioning, and effects of alienation between child and woman speaker’s voice multiply. Returning to South Africa is returning to this question. The overall impression is that the reconnection or healing toward which the poems strive can come only through a reconstituting of both child’s and woman’s place. The fact that another motif, death, shadows woman and child in all these poems also suggests that they enact not simply elegy, but a kind of psychological passage (or ‘‘passing’’) from one state to another, one condition of children to another, one construction of female subjectivity to another. In de Kok’s work a traditional female concern with children’s welfare, and its traditional extension into antiwar and antiviolence politics, are transmuted into a more radical questioning of the whole patriarchal frame in which women’s relations to children are constituted. The predominance of black children in the poems widens the question to include a white woman’s critique of white supremacy, in which her revaluation of discarded or discounted children becomes a measure of a woman’s passing beyond the racial borders of empathy. Interestingly, this passage beyond ‘‘snow-blindness’’ entails a metaphoric movement deep into the interior of South Africa, to ‘‘the veld where I once played’’ of the book’s first section, ‘‘In a Hot Country,’’ a landscape of oppressive heat and light repeated here in the near sunstroke of ‘‘On Her Way Home’’ (‘‘In her head sun stroking her’’). But in the final poems this landscape becomes the very place of healing, a place that can, through the white woman speaker’s refiguring of the black child, produce the healing it demands: And this torn light, this long torn light will repair itself out of the filaments of children (‘‘Al Wat Kind Is’’ 60) Not the least of what is to be repaired by the design of Familiar Ground, perhaps, is the moral deficiency of the poet’s own childhood, ‘‘torn’’ away from black life as it was behind the grandmother’s and the father’s thick curtains. The dialectic of closeness and distance between woman and child begins in ‘‘Women, Mourning’’ on an elegiac note. The poem opens richly onto imagery of female alliance: ‘‘Around her, an apron of daughters ties a loose bow’’; ‘‘The middle two swim in currents around her / their fins brushing her sides’’; the speaker sees the mother and her sister touching 162

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fingers, ‘‘netting their girlhood / in the cat’s cradle they laced long ago’’; reed baskets hand-woven by women and ‘‘holding earth and water’’ become gifts to women visitors. But this circle of affinity, of women’s exchange, is broken: ‘‘For our friend is dying.’’ Fatally ill, the mother lies awake ‘‘at night in the pool of her daughters’ breathing,’’ apart from the circling female hands whose community held her at its center. The female children in ‘‘Women, Mourning’’ are seen in a lineage of women, about to be bereft of their mother, but they function more as ground to the figure of that mother, whose fate is to die apart, shut into the circle of her own bodiliness: widely awake, holding her own hands, to keep them from rising, to keep them from her face (52) What the mourning speaker recognizes in this poem (though she admits it only as an unasked question) is the limit beyond which community cannot go, even in the untroubled privacy of ‘‘the walled garden’’ of this female household. As the first poem to follow the section heading ‘‘Small Passing,’’ the mother’s impending death can seem small only in being private— and yet the private, here, has itself been grasped as an expanding circle of women’s communities, ‘‘walled’’ or private only in being female and hence not counting for much in a patriarchal public sphere. In reconceiving the domestic scene as a world of women rather than a refuge for men, de Kok has reseen the female child not as small or pitiful or winsome but as a powerful member of a lineage community. Separation, apartness, weakness is rather the condition—not to be repaired—of each dying generation as it leaves that garden. Yet the poem also has a strong undertone of refusal, impatience, and withdrawal from community: And the movement among these women is a mnemonic that makes us long for forgetfulness, for a plain where the only current is a thin wisp of cloud over its shadow. (51) The cloud in the rainless sky of the highveld is an image of the dying mother, leaving the ‘‘currents’’ of her daughters, alone except for her own shadowon the ground far below; but it is equallya thinning out of the image Locations of Feminism

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of mother-and-daughter, a refusal of the warm invitations in that charmed circle—because death will break it. Memory, the very stuff of women’s communities in the poem, is here the enemy to be resisted because it brings the pain of such breaks. Against the garden where the women of memory work and play, or their rich interiors of dark stone doorways, paintings, fruit, and knitting ‘‘like a weaver bird’s nest,’’ the harsh ‘‘plain’’ of forgetfulness seems attractive in its stoic bareness. Elegy balances on the edge of despair as the speaker’s gaze draws toward the single figure of the mother, dying amid ‘‘the movement among these women.’’ The poem underlines the enormity of a single death in the community that is its familiar ground, in sharp contradiction to the idea of any passing as a ‘‘small passing.’’ A similar pull toward confrontation with the landscape of death marks the second poem of return, ‘‘On HerWay Home.’’ Home, reached in the last line, is ‘‘their valley / shining with the ribbons of irrigated colour,’’ a home whose fertile beauty the woman speaker turns away from, falling silent as she approaches it. What draws her instead is another place on the way: when the road leans suddenly towards a grey outcrop of rock and shadow, a hill pockmarked by aloes, when the sky is dead clear, the sun dead centre (53) While she stops to walk here and is hypnotized, absorbed by the heat to the point of sunstroke, her boy children move away uphill, out of her circle of consciousness, ‘‘grey goats on another continent.’’ Nor do they notice that she stops singing when they enter ‘‘their’’ valley. Her mesmerized going to meet death in the shape of a sheep’s skull, her impulse to refuse the privilege or artifice of the garden in the wilderness (the settler’s utopia), is a mark of that ‘‘home’’ she really enters in returning to the country. Her children, bycontrast, are lost in innocent boys’ imaginings—fighting leopards on the hills—which themselves replay settler history as a brave male innocence. Mother and sons are pulled apart by this gender dissonance as well as by her adult knowingness about the specific history of the landscape— colonial land theft, apartheid land policy, capitalist land use—knowledge the literal landscape itself, in its ‘‘dead’’ clarity, does not yield up. Her way home to that history is a woman’s way, finding meaning on the margins of the road more than at road’s end. A different kind of small encounter, in which the returning woman’s gaze is returned on herself, meets her in ‘‘Road through Lesotho’’ (55). 164

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The child in this poem is black, a herdboy on his family’s farm near the road who trades in handmade clay oxen with the passing motorists. His gaze, his hands ‘‘curved and small,’’ reduce her to an object of his economic desire, the ‘‘other plans in his head.’’ ‘‘A toll gate into Africa’’—which incidentally defines Lesotho as something ‘‘South Africa’’ is not—the boy is no beggar: he claims the authority of trader and the power of rightful owner. His three clay oxen are the mimetic form of an old form of life, now also a tiny commodity in the new form of the tourist market; his trade goods are small, but not, probably, his plans, which undoubtedly derive from desires the new market creates. Again the returnee’s gaze is met by contradiction: here the herdboy, like the sun in ‘‘On Her Way Home,’’ looks opaquely back at her, at once clear and terribly distant; the speaker falls back before their gaze, their ‘‘waiting for us’’—judged, but, in the absence of some political agency, unable to judge, to intervene. There is a kind of vertigo or paralysis in these two poems of the road, which point to the powerlessness of knowledge without any opening on historical action. (‘‘To know and not to act is not to know,’’ as a Chinese epigraph in Gordimer’s Burger’s Daughter [213] has it.) Both poems involve the automobile, stopping on the road, entering a space and a temporality different from the desublimated logic of cars, roads, tolls, destinations, which define the land as a market and time as money. The result is an epistemological impasse, a political dead-end, in spite of the speaker’s white-dissident clarity about history and political economy. ‘‘Stones, Sky, Radio’’ (58), coming after the two ‘‘found poems’’ that reproduce the unintentional self-parody of apartheid official language, aggravates this impasse. Against the language of the state that misreads everything, this poem sets the unspeaking literal landscape that signifies nothing. Children appear in this village poem, playing with stones, but yield no more meaning to the speaker than their stones. (The stones here are conspicuously not the stones thrown in urban insurrection.) Metaphor has failed; ‘‘things are in the saddle, and ride mankind.’’ Observation bounces off this unreadable African scene, in a mood like that of Gordimer’s Maureen Smales. Is the speaker any closer to African life, in that case, than the town clerk and the lieutenant of the found poems? The poem also confirms the sense of disjuncture between adult and children. But its final point is about poetics: the objectivist, denotative poetics of the poem succeed only in reducing the figures in the landscape to things, like the sun and rock of the roadside scene, whereas ‘‘Road through Lesotho’’ at Locations of Feminism

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least offered interpretation, an imagined point of view in the herdboy. The image of the black child as unyielding, alienated consciousness looks like a reflection of the white observer’s own alienation, and its juxtaposition with the newspaper prose seems very pointed. Perhaps for this reason, the two concluding poems of the book return to a more interpretive, metaphorical, inward style, even for her most overt protest poem, ‘‘Al Wat Kind Is’’ (from a resident’s account of police action: ‘‘they took all that was child in the house’’). This poem steps fully into allegory, with its representation of the state as lethal metallic bird (‘‘lamvanger’’), like the political sculptures of Gavin Younge or late-1980s paintings like Tommy Motswai’s Citizen or Chabani Manganye’s The Battle: ‘‘Its metal wings corrode the streets, / it hatches pools of blood.’’ The opposed allegoryof the child moves from broken or spilled vegetative forms (melon, beans, seaweed) to an image of light, torn but self-repairing: And this torn light, this long torn light will repair itself out of the filaments of children, and all that is child will return to the house, will open the doors of the house. (60) De Kok’s poems of return culminate in this imagined future return to communityof children,once defined as enemies of the state.The old cabbalistic image of broken light as a representation of the fallenness of the world is crossed with an organic metaphor (‘‘filaments’’ being the crossover word) of the self-repairing wounded body. Political elegy, a tradition of both rage and transcendence, here emerges in something like the keyof Nelly Sachs’s poems ‘‘O der weinenden Kinder Nacht!’’ and ‘‘Schmetterling’’—‘‘mit dem heimwärts reifenden Licht [with the light ripening homewards]’’ (90), or Carolyn Forché’s ‘‘Ourselves or Nothing’’ (55–59). But the light is South African, picked up from the heavy sun of ‘‘On Her Way Home’’ and the early ‘‘Sun, Aloe, Rain’’; the depth at which de Kok works this light into her image of the child’s body in pain adds something important—as a South African poet should—to the twentieth-century tradition of women’s political elegy. The patriarchal frame in which women grieve for child casualties (a staple of media stereotype) is here bent strongly out of shape by the preceding figure of the black South African child as political agent: the figure of 166

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the stone-thrower. This perennial, scandalous image, infuriating to maleelder authority, links the elegy of intestines like spilled beans to the transcendence of light; it allows an irruption of antipatriarchal rage to gather in the poem, so that the woman speaker as white ally of the black child joins her rage to the child’s, her allegory to the child’s history: ‘‘in time the single stones / compact their weight and speed together.’’ Transcendent light then floods the poem with the sweetness of victory in battle, not the softness of contemplation. Concluding with the returning child opening the doors of the national house he and she now own—with the authority of their own ‘‘weight and speed’’ in historical action—the poem reconstitutes that house outside a patriarchal order altogether. Like the herdboy of ‘‘Road through Lesotho,’’ the returning child enters a new history with ‘‘other plans in his [and her] head.’’ Like the walled garden of ‘‘Women, Mourning,’’ the new house is missing its old patriarch. De Kok composes her antiracist protest poetry in a feminist key, reseeing the child as autonomous agency while still working in the tradition of female alliances with children. De Kok’s best-known poem, ‘‘Small Passing,’’ ends Familiar Ground on the inauspicious note of a stillbirth. But its late-1980s radicalism, the ‘‘work of the negative,’’ sets out to surmount the patriarchal prohibitions and inhibitions, the ‘‘do not’’ and ‘‘may not’’ of its opening passage, which forbid mourning for a single white child in the circumstances of the Emergency. As I said at the beginning of this chapter, the poem moves toward black women in ‘‘the place of mothers’’ for its resolution—an imagined future, like the return of the slaughtered child to the house, and like it open to the objection that the white imaginary is not freely to be peopled with pliable black personae. But this is the very objection that de Kok anticipates in her epigraph, in which the grieving white mother is berated by a ‘‘political’’ man.The poem goes on to claim a cross-racial women’s alliance in the teeth of all such objections by men (black or white), on the familiar ground of a shared suffering over the loss of children. Her broader historical sanction for this claim, chronicled in works such as Cherryl Walker’s Women and Resistance in South Africa, is South African women’s shared activism, which does not need exaggeration or idealization to stand as a political first principle; its grand monument is the fsaw (Federation of South African Women) antipass campaigns of the fifties, most notably on Women’s Day—August 9, 1956—at the Union Buildings in Pretoria. De Kok’s imaginary in ‘‘Small Passing,’’ then, is historically not Locations of Feminism

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white; it is cross-racially female. (Feminist political thought has seriously complicated thinking about race.) Her speaker’s subject-position is white, as is that of the woman addressed, but the poem’s whole ground is not. In acknowledging her whiteness but grounding her poetry in a cross-racial feminism within which she looks for her place as a white woman, de Kok is preparing, from her side, a passage to otherconditions for women’s subjectivity (forexample, racial identifications) than those provided byapartheid, liberal, socialist, or black nationalist patriarchy. That her point of departure for this passage is an event normatively seen as nonpolitical, private, woman’s business, ‘‘small,’’ only emphasizes how taking women’s experience seriously has very broad macropolitical consequences. (In the conditions of the fifties, Walker documents the ripple effect of fsaw feminist demands—e.g., for contraception—on the anc and the whole Congress movement.) In another way, the poem looks back to Ingrid Jonker’s 1963 ‘‘The Child Who Was Shot Dead by Soldiers in Nyanga,’’ a white woman’s elegy for black children which is also echoed in ‘‘Al Wat Kind Is.’’ Jonker, writing just after the high tide of women’s political action in the fsaw, is already moving toward de Kok’s position, although, before the Black Consciousness movement, without problematizing or referencing whiteness at all. Her magnificent closing line, however, refers to thewomen’s antipass campaign; her trope of the child’s passage is determinedly international; and she counts on the racial inclusiveness of ‘‘the hearts of mothers’’ as de Kok does: the child is present at all gatherings and law-giving the child peers through house windows and into the hearts of mothers the child who wanted just to play in the sun at Nyanga is everywhere The child grown to a man treks all over Africa the child grown to a giant travels through the whole world Without a pass (27) This is a great, a mythological, passing to match de Kok’s small one, the intertextuality of the poems emphasizing, along with the very different quality of the two poets, the affinities between their two generations of political women. To see how feminist impulses developed in eighties writing, however, 168

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requires hearing the voices of black women poets on the same question of cross-racial alliances—not to fix poets in their racial identities, but to grasp the relation in their work among those identities, feminism, and the national struggle, June Jordan’s ‘‘what you do for justice, what you do for equality, what you do for freedom.’’ The poetry by women of color around the time of Familiar Ground that is most favorable to alliances with white women is, not surprisingly, in the explicitly political, declamatory tradition of the multiracial udf, which led the eighties mass movement while the anc was banned and, after some debate, followed the line of the Freedom Charter that ‘‘South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white.’’ Within this tradition, two poems with a real feminist bite by Gcina Mhlophe, ‘‘We Are at War’’ and ‘‘Say No,’’ focus on women in the immediate moment of the eighties; a group of poems by Alice Ntsongo, Susan Lamu, and Jumaimah Motaung in a 1987 issue of Staffrider celebrate Women’s Day with more stress on women’s history; and Nise Malange’s ‘‘Long Live Women’’ introduces class as a basis for women’s alliances. On the other hand, poetry that is neutral or hostile to allying with white women is marked by more distance from explicit political action and is more documentary, bearing on the dailiness of work and family. Nise Malange’s ‘‘Nightshift Mother’’ (in Lockett 341) and ‘‘I, the Unemployed’’ (in Sitas, Black Mamba 51–52, reprinted in Bunn and Taylor 294–95), Boitumelo Makhema’s ‘‘A Mother’s Cry’’ (in Lockett 233), and the Thula Baba collective’s ‘‘Domestic Workers’’ (Thula Baba 11, reprinted in Lockett 324), among many other poems of this type, leave open no obvious point of connection to white women and are set in the early stages of developing black feminist consciousness. The deep structural conflict between maid and madam haunts all multiracial women’s politics, as is clear in ‘‘Domestic Workers’’ and even clearer in the whole narrative of Thula Baba. That hierarchy is not radically altered by the fact that white women facilitators such as Jacklyn Cock and Elsa Joubert helped black women publish their stories of domesticwork or worked with them in the Advice Offices of Black Sash or at the rape crisis center, even though at the time of the udf maid might have joined madam (a few, vanguard madams among many conscientized maids) at the same rally. Unless in the high feeling of such a rally, whose passions flow into the Staffrider Women’s Day poems and Malange’s rally performances like ‘‘Today’’ (in Sitas, Black Mamba 56–57) and ‘‘Poem Dedicated to Brother Andries Raditsela’’ (55), how could that divide ever be bridged without abolishing the racialization of paid domestic work, or Locations of Feminism

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at least reforming its conditions through unionization and law? On the other hand, some white women have been active since the fifties in political work for these goals—and with other unions of black women workers— an effort that itself establishes a basis for shedding white privilege and overcoming the division.3 This sticking point in relations between black and white women has produced a voluminous prose literature in itself, many black women’s narratives of the eighties featuring it as prominently as prison among their formative experiences. Florence de Villiers, a biracial Cape Town woman who became the first general secretary of the National Domestic Workers Union at its founding in 1986, simplycalls it slavery (in Russell 175). Among the best of these narratives, and not untypical in its discernment and humor, is the ‘‘Women at Work’’ half of Sindiwe Magona’s Living, Loving, and Lying Awake at Night. Gcina Mhlophe, whose poems of the mid-1980s are strongly multiracial, herself wrote an extremely biting prose piece, ‘‘My Dear Madam,’’ in 1980. Perhaps the most speaking poem on the glaring inequalities between most black and white women’s home lives, dramatized by the black woman’s work in the white home, is Gladys Thomas’s 1972 ‘‘Leave Me Alone’’ (in Lockett 187) from the Black Consciousness period; Gloria Mtungwa’s ‘‘Militant Beauty’’ contrasts the beauty of the self-sacrificing black mother with the ‘‘distorted women’s lib’’ of childless career women (in Lockett 311); and Christine Qunta’s strong African nationalist/feminist poem ‘‘Song forYou’’ (in Lockett 337) begins in a similar rage at her mother’s having to scrub floors from the age of ten. The difference in question here is of course as much class as race, although class is race-determined under apartheid conditions.What is interesting is howan independent feminist viewof race and class begins to make itself heard in eighties writing. Without feminism, black nationalist politics tend to interpret class difference through race, and a strong Marxist intellectual influence and powerful trade unions have meant that the ancled mass movement tends to fuse class struggle with national liberation, whether in communist or radical-democratic style. Most women’s writing in this vein is affiliated rather clearly either with the minority tradition of black nationalism (in its Pan-Africanist or its Black Consciousness form) or with the majority Charterist tradition of nonracialism. GladysThomas’s work in Cry Rage!, for instance, should be read against a poem by Joyce Sikakane from the same period, ‘‘An Agony’’ (1968), which maintains its nonracial politics from an African point of view in the face of communalist 170

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arguments. In her 1974 volume Searching for Words, the Cape Town biracial poet Jennifer Davids, in the same period as Thomas, writes tributes both for a white woman poet (‘‘From Deep in [Bronze Head: Ingrid Jonker]’’) and ‘‘For Albert Luthuli,’’ the imprisoned African anc leader; in ‘‘A Possibility of Speaking’’ Davids goes on to explore the general conditions of possibility of speaking past mutual ignorance and particularism, in a strain of liberal interpersonal ethics very like Sikakane’s. In short, the issue raised by de Kok’s impulse in ‘‘Small Passing’’ not only has a long and on the whole hopeful history in South Africa, it is actively canvassed by radical women writers of the eighties—from varying racial and political points of view—as it was before them and as it continues to be, for example, in the lively journal of feminist debate Agenda (founded in 1990), in the numerous women’s conferences and workshops of the nineties, and in Daymond’s South African Feminisms, which began in a special 1990 issue of Current Writing. Specifically feminist solutions arrived at together by women of all the South African racial groups, led by the Black majority, are the logic of nineties political culture: a ‘‘negotiation,’’ in Daymond’s words, of the old differences and new ones emerging only now. De Kok’s poetry is a strong articulation in the eighties of one principle of this feminist logic. What she achieves in ‘‘Small Passing’’ in the form of white dramatic monologue is to rerepresent for Emergency feminist culture Jennifer Davids’s ‘‘possibility of [nonracial] speaking,’’ a multiracial dialogue that was actually increasing in variety and volume among women in and out of the movement as de Kok returned to the country. Her speaker’s intimate address to the grieving woman, though both are white, reproduces a particular kind of dialogue among women—support counseling—that was bringing women of different communities together at this time in new feminist projects, such as the shelters and hotlines of rape crisis in de Kok’s Cape Town, for example.Women’s speech in ‘‘Small Passing’’ is strategically placed in a context of women’s supportive networks, a context extended by a logic quite natural to feminism—though alien to apartheid—to include the imagined black mothers’ voices, which have the last word in the poem and the whole book. When these voices begin by saying to the bereaved person, ‘‘Come with us to the place of mothers,’’ both the invitation and the ‘‘place’’ have material analogues in the eighties praxis of women’s cross-racial organizing around rape, battering, reproductive freedom, child care, housing, and legal problems—some of it new and controversial, some of it extending back to these women’s mothers’ Locations of Feminism

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time. De Kok has imagined for her poem a speech that actually existed as the vehicle of feminist political community. In another strategic reversal, she gives to the domestic workers who speak thesewords of invitation and consolation the role of counselor rather than client. This not only revises the old race/class patron-client system in which white women with more access to training serve clients who are women of color, it also implies that white women materially need the support and counsel of black women. Such a reversal of the resource allocation logic of racial capitalism turns things on their heads to see them right way up. From a feminist point of view, women’s alliances led by the black majority are a material need of white women in South Africa, because they are necessary for the kind of mass movement that can cripple patriarchal law, custom, and ideology. The point is especially sharply made by de Kok’s imagining the maid counseling the madam—a risky, radical move in many ways, given the vexed history of this relationship. Her image of the white woman being given one of the black women’s babies to carry on her back, for instance, is a brilliantly concrete figure for a different kind of exchange among women, an exchange of words, gifts, touch, kin replacing cash for labor. But it is not a simply wishful transformation, as if by magic; the thought that the maid might be sometimes more capable and more humane than the madam has occurred to many a maid, such as Sindiwe Magona’s Atini, who reflects: ‘‘Yes, the white women chain themselves to black women by believing themselves so helpless’’ (Living, Loving 59). Before they speak, the poem accurately imagines domestic workers as less isolated from one another than the women they work for; as more politically engaged under conditions of illegality; as more experienced in survival and contradiction: On the pavements the nannies meet. These are legal gatherings. They talk about everything, about home, while the children play among them, their skins like litmus, their bonnets clean. (de Kok, ‘‘Small Passing’’ 62) The poem ‘‘Domestic Workers’’ in Thula Baba, a remarkable writers’ journal compiled with the editorial aid of their adult literacy teacher in Johannesburg and published the same year as Familiar Ground, expounds the conditions of life that de Kok draws on for her portrayal: 172

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We are women. We are mothers. Our bodies are strong from hard work. Our hearts are big from suffering . . . Our problem is that we live alone. Our problem is that we work alone. Our problem is that we suffer alone. But we find friendship if we meet together. And we find answers if we talk together. And we find strength if we work together. And we find hope if we stand together. (Thula Baba 11, reprinted in Lockett 324) (The harrowing experiences they encounter in Thula Baba, and the cruelty of some of their employers, make the last stanzas marvels of understatement.) The political experience and effectiveness of such women is suggested by the Domestic Workers Union, which was begun in Cape Town in 1977 by Florence de Villiers and Maggie Owies selling apples to raise funds and ten years later had a national membership of fifty thousand (Russell 169). These are the same women who resisted forced removals, made the townships ungovernable, staffed the civic associations, and during it all raised a political generation of heroic children. De Kok’s kind of acknowledgment of the mothers in ‘‘Small Passing’’ is allied to theirown narratives, which became such an eighties genre, in significantly reshaping their representation in South African writing. She has also chosen a feminist form and address: not the usual public male-rhetorical tribute to the mother of the struggle (which, in another context, the Iraqi feminist poet Nazik al-Mala’ika has unsparingly mocked in her poem ‘‘Jamila’’ [683]), but a moment of shared intimate speech (counsel, confidences, letters, diaries), like the tone of Gcina Mhlophe’s lovely address to her mother, ‘‘The Dancer’’ (in Lockett 352). Interestingly, de Kok’s verse line in the closing passages of ‘‘Small Passing’’ is also rhythmically close to the line of Thula Baba, though less given to the oral style of repetitive structure in that book or in Mhlophe’s and Malange’s performance style. Could de Kok be experimenting here with a modernist verse idiom that combines clusters of complex images with the more open, mnemonic rhythms of orality? In her reviewof Raising the Blinds: A Centuryof South African Women’s Stories, Isabel Hofmeyr notes the evolutionist error of supLocations of Feminism

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posing the oral always precedes the written (certainly in some Caribbean poetry, like Kamau Brathwaite’s Barabajan Poems, it goes the other way); and de Kok may well have been influenced on her return by the excitement of the new performance poetry. It is an idiom well chosen for these voices in her poem, along with the vernacular African sound of the phrase ‘‘the place of mothers.’’ The poem’s occasion, the stillbirth, is a link to the preceding poem about losing children, but also has indirect links to one of the flash points of feminist work in South Africa, reproductive freedom. Like Zoë Wicomb’s abortion story ‘‘You Can’t Get Lost in Cape Town,’’ ‘‘Small Passing’’ is an acerbic challenge to male misreadings of women’s reproductive experience; both the political and the medical men’s judgments about this stillbirth go badly astray. De Kok takes aim particularly at the confidence and authority with which these poor judgments are delivered; her speaker needs first to clear away male discourses of politics and medicine before deploying female discourses of healing. Behind this strategy lies a more radical questioning of the whole construction of reproductive life in the pro-natalist South Africa of illegal abortion, reluctant contraception, and male aversion to the whole topic. (The consequences of this ideology—not in African tradition but in the Johannesburg music industry—are central to Mhlophe’s play Have You Seen Zandile?, where her pregnant mother loses both her singing career and custody of her child.) Resistance to change as late as 1992 is indicated in an Agenda article by Amanda Gouws: the liberal Democratic Party discussion document on the status of women still had no mention of abortion; a woman editorialist in the Sunday Times argued that ‘‘abortion should not be dealt with as a women’s rights issue’’ (Gouws 13). ‘‘Small Passing’’ works with a different side of the issue, but is historically grounded in the actual reproductive rights and women’s health movement of the time. The return of the child who was lost ends ‘‘Small Passing’’ on the same note as ‘‘Al Wat Kind Is,’’ but in the larger design of Familiar Ground this return can be seen as a rewriting of the mother-child trope itself, a preoccupation de Kok shares with Wicomb, as was said at the beginning of this chapter. Returns are occasions for revision and renewal, the child returning in strength in both these poems (the mother is ‘‘armed’’ with the baby on her back in ‘‘Small Passing,’’ the baby slung where a rifle is carried, in a feminist, militant-pacifist reversal). And as the child so the mother, who in ‘‘Small Passing’’ is renewed by being taken into a community of 174

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women who are both a traditional company of mourners and a gathering of feminist rage. In ‘‘Al Wat Kind Is’’ the white speaker remains at the end in a posture of waiting, allied with the black resident of Victoria West whose children were taken; the return of the child to the house, though, signals a renewal of the allegorical household and all who live in it. This renewal is brought about by the language of light replacing the once necessary weapon of stones (like the baby replacing the rifle in ‘‘Small Passing’’). In both poems, the return of a necessary strength and vision to women is worked through the medium of the transformed child, and that is accomplished by women’s language: the private language of intimate consolation, the public language of women’s political elegy. De Kok proposes a conception of feminist poetry where women ‘‘return’’ from the work of the poem fortified by a renewal of women’s traditions, the many historical layers of women’s speaking together. In the country towhich she returns in the last section of Familiar Ground, such traditions are both securely bound into the history of racially united women’s political action, and newly available foran agenda more radically sweeping than anything the eighties mass movement had been able to imagine.

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chapter six

No Turning Back: Nise Malange and the Onset of Workers’ Culture

Another location of South African feminism is in the movement of black workers organized in trade unions since the mid-1970s and the onset of a workers’ culture—theater and performance poetry—associated with the black trade union movement, particularly in Natal in the eighties. Without adverting to women’s roles in it, Ari Sitas, one of its facilitators from his position in the University of Natal at Durban, describes the onset of a cultural movement within the union organizing: South Africa’s labor movement was praised this morning by Alfred Qabula [a leader among the worker poets] as a swaying, moving black forest of Africa.The cultural activists—to extend the metaphor—can be seen as that forest’s gwala-gwala birds (purple-crested loerie or knyona loerie birds), those beautiful, stark, primary-colored birds that fly from branch to branch inside the forests. . . . In the early 1970s, attempts were made to organize black workers into trade unions. Initially, there was a trickle of workers, who were pockmarked with worry, going to dingy little offices, pouring out their issues—and, without any warning, there was a flood. In 1973 the gen-

eral strikes in Durban created the impetus for modern, as it were, post1970s trade unionism. And this trade unionism was unique in two ways: firstly, it relied on a grassroots form of democracy and accountability; secondly, by the 1980s it became a trade unionism dissimilar and different from any other kind of trade unionism advanced capitalist countries have known. It was, to find a better word, like a poor people’s movement, or like a social movement, of a peculiar kind. Still, in these largerand larger gatherings that started developing,what was dormant, what was latent or undefeated or uncontrolled, starting exploding with carnival-like intensity. And from the smaller meetings to the bigger ones you started having the proliferation of cultural activities. . . . Everything—oral forms, dances, poetry, writing, all these items— were thrown into the melting pot to create a robust cultural contribution. And it was interesting, in another way, that some of the crucial initial cultural activists now became important labor leaders in Natal, and they swept cultural activity with them. They wanted their own cultural activists there in the forefront with them. So, throughout all that, a new tension developed, and this tension—which is a very delicate balancing act—has the following form: trade unions want cultural activity because it is a diversion in meetings,on the one hand,or because it functions as a union propaganda machine, on the other. At the same time, on the other side of this balancing act, you get these cultural activists— who all of a sudden found a space in which to express themselves— wanting to engage in cultural activity in its own right. And that tension, at the moment, is a creative one. (in Gibbons 99–100) The ‘‘tension’’ Sitas speaks of here in 1989, between a purely instrumentalist conception of workers’ culture and a more free-floating development of new forms, will reappear later in Nise Malange’s comments on the movement and adaptations she herself made within it. But Sitas’s excitement at this emergent black culture within a new type of grassroots social movement unionism is echoed in all the commentaries by sympathetic critics such as the poets Kelwyn Sole and Jeremy Cronin. Its dissonant relationship with the liberal wing of the conventional culture industry, however, became obvious in a controversy over worker poetry between Cronin and Lionel Abrahams; not surprisingly, the controversy was over the aesthetic values of worker poetry and its very status as art.1 The gwala-gwala birds did not fly easily from the forest to the editorial office of Purple Renoster. No Turning Back

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The invisibilizing of workers’ culture is even more a feature of the nineties (an otherwise radical observer, fully alive to the new cultural currents in the country, disconcerted me in 1993 by saying that the worker poetry I was so interested in was just ‘‘doggerel’’); its reassertion against the normalization of the culture industry is an important part of the argument in this book. The mutual relevance of feminist aesthetics and workers’ culture has to my knowledge hardly been discussed in South Africa, and yet the convergence of political feminism and radical black unionism is potentially the most transformative impulse in the making of radical-democratic culture in South Africa. Typically, however, the left analysis of the structural role of the unions and cosatu, as the main hope for a radical outcome of the transition, rarely refers to feminism within the workers’ ranks except as a secondary issue.2 The embattled position of women’s leadership in cosatu itself appears in Glenn Adler and Eddie Webster’s report of its Sixth Congress in September 1997, which resisted quotas for women in leadership—the women delegates as tokenism, the men (‘‘thunderous applause by the majority of male delegates’’) apparently for other reasons. (Adler and Webster make clear, however, that the cosatu leadership and some key member unions are actively struggling to achieve gender equality in the labor federation.) 3 Writing radical democracy in this setting therefore goes against the grain of deeply entrenched patriarchal patterns of culture, and the stakes of its success are correspondingly high. The feminist work of Nise Malange in the KwaZulu/Natal workers’ poetry and theater movement, and in the community arts education workshops of the Durban cwlp, offers a case study of these radical impulses as a grassroots transformative current running deep beneath the shift in the state from apartheid to postapartheid regimes, and not necessarily governed by their exigencies. With increasing literacies for women, Malange’s example will undoubtedly be seen as a founding moment, a crucial coming to voice of women in workers’ culture. ‘‘Disassemble, Reassemble, and Interpret’’ As we might expect from ‘‘Small Passing,’’ Ingrid de Kok was one of the many writers on the left who understood the long-term significance of the onset of workers’ culture and of such voices within it as Nise Malange’s. Speaking on a ‘‘Poetry and Society’’ panel at the 1987 Northwestern Uni178

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versity conference on new South African writing, de Kok first established the importance of workers’ culture before moving to her topic, ‘‘personal lyric,’’ which she said she was going to discuss not because I consider this form of literary production or this genre or this privileged group of imaginary readers to be a particularly significant force in the development of a national culture; there are other people here much more equipped than I am to address the meaning of the development of workers’ poetry in a country which must ultimately submit itself to working-class leadership. In some ways I think that is the poetry deserving the most attention. There are also others here who can talk about the poetry being read and sung at funerals and at cultural rallies throughout the country. I have performed at some of those but I do it very poorly, and I am only able really to talk about that smaller—historically rather beleaguered— object, the personal lyric. I am also obviously speaking within the context of my class, my color and my gender, and they all determine what I will say about the lyric. (in Gibbons 53) De Kok’s paper went on to make large claims for this ‘‘smaller object’’ of women’s lyric (the ‘‘small’’ takes on some irony from ‘‘Small Passing’’)— ‘‘to engage with prevailing forms of language’’; ‘‘to assert the importance of women’s experience ‘to seize speech’ ’’; ‘‘to disassemble, to reassemble and interpret, to reimagine, the self ’’ (61)—claims that I have tried to validate in my reading of Familiar Ground. But it is striking that before making her claims for what the few white women writing poems in English can do, de Kok first addresses that ‘‘poetry deserving the most attention,’’ the poetry of workers and political performance poetry. It is especially interesting that she does not see this kind of poetry in gender terms, perhaps because it is practiced by few women and those few not much recognized. ‘‘Where are the women?’’ as Boitumelo Mofokeng asked in a survey of ten years of the radical arts journal Staffrider. But if worker poetry is an exciting new form of the radical eighties, with much unique to South Africa and yet some things in common with workers’ literary movements elsewhere, like Workers’ Theater in Britain or the proletarian little magazines around Jack Conroy in the Depression United States, women’s intervention in this movement is even more extraordinary. As the testimony in Joyce Kgoali’s collection No Turning Back: Fighting for Gender Equality in the Unions makes clear, radical unionism is no exception to No Turning Back

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the patriarchal layering of South African society, even though in principle it offers a sustained opportunity for women’s most radical impulses to break through. The struggle to come to voice chronicled for the women organizers in No Turning Back in union meetings, rallies, negotiations (and in the marriages and relationships that so often complicate their political lives) is repeated in the union cultural work that produced the eighties theater and poetry so widely admired (the first volume of Natal workers’ poetry, Black Mamba Rising, won the Norwegian Literature Award in 1987). But if there is no turning back for Maggie Magubane, Dorothy Mokgalo, and Refiloe Ndzuta in their attempts to assert women’s leadership in cosatu, neither will there be for a writer like Nise Malange—whatever shifts in cultural strategy the transition to anc-led black majority rule has brought. Nise Malange is a practitioner—more significantly, a founding member—of the poetics of workers’ performance in verse and drama in South Africa, in the Natal region where it flourished in the eighties. But she receives only fleeting mention in an important article, ‘‘People’s Poetry in Natal,’’ by her own editor and collaborator in workers’ theater, Ari Sitas. Sitas gives her more attention as spokesperson for ‘‘the struggle of individual women to break out of their roles . . . to define their own identity,’’ and he cites her comment about the need to break from the tradition of women’s stories as a genre for child audiences (in de Kok and Press 97). Astrid von Kotze gives more substantial recognition to Malange’s theater work in her book Organise and Act (44–48, 54–59). But on the thrilling recording of Natal oral poetry, Celebrating Oral Tradition (which Malange coordinated), she is the only female voice on a forty-five-minute tape and is only heard ululating, not performing her own poetry. And in the five issues of the Natal cosaw journal Writers’ Notebook (published between 1989 and 1991), Malange is represented only by a single poem in a section entitled ‘‘Focus onWomen’’ (‘‘So Now the Leaders’’).This special issue of the journal appeared after the formation of a Natal Women’s Forum within cosaw, decided at the 1989 national general meeting. No Turning Back (‘‘Establishing Women’s Structures’’ 60–67) describes the great difficulty women had in cosatu in winning the first women’s forums in 1988, and that movement seems to have carried over into cosaw. The women’s demands at that meeting appeared in the Writers’ Notebook report: ‘‘They realised that it was always men who got up to read poetry at public gatherings and who took the initiative in cosaw. The women passed a resolution to work towards 50% representation on all committees 180

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and to form a Forum that would focus on encouraging women writers’’ (‘‘Women’s Forum Launched’’ 17). Boitumelo Mofokeng, a guest speaker from the Transvaal Women’s Forum, told the writers launching the Natal Women’s Forum: As women we have to ask ourselves what our role in the national struggle is, and who we are fighting in this triple oppression we experience as women. . . . I therefore urge you to be bold and speak about the social evils that destroy women. Let us write about our traditional customs that have negative effects on our lives; about the evils of child labour; of sexual abuse; and oppressive marriages. Let us speak for the domestic worker and the farm worker. Let us also write about our dreams and commitments. (17) In other words, the marginalization of women writers in the resistance movement was met with feminist mobilization. Part of that mobilization was an analysis of the problem. An introduction to the journal’s selection of work by women, ‘‘Let Women Be Heard’’ (attributed to Malange by Ari Sitas; in de Kok and Press 97), mentioning that ‘‘there is [a] lot of work from women in Natal which is not published,’’ traces the difficulties women face as writers not only to the general patriarchy, which Albie Sachs called the one truly cross-racial institution in South Africa, or to the broader structures of apartheid history (the subordination of women in agricultural and domestic labor, their separation from men by migrancy and consequent role as single parents, their exclusion from education and literacy), but to the traditional specialization of women’s verbal art in fictional stories (intsomi in Xhosa), often thought of as children’s tales: For a very long time women were like shadows who could only be heard during the night whispering the stories to their children or grandchildren. Their creative work was never recorded in writing or in tapes, it was recorded in the memories and passed from generation to generation. . . . In traditional culture women were only seen as objects who have to bring up the kids and be ululating whilst the praise poet is praising the Chief or Induna. Many women will remember the story telling (intsomi ) which was told during the night and in the dark. If they told the stories during the day, No Turning Back

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it was said that they will grow horns. As kids we were made to believe that. There was a very close relationship between the grandmother and the grandchildren, which was mainly because of the intsomi at night. Today women are involved in many activities and they write stories and poetry. But . . . there is still the tradition that women should write more children’s stories. (Malange, ‘‘Let Women Be Heard’’ 20) A separatewomen’s narrative tradition, usually fictional rather than historical like men’s narratives, taking place at night, in women’s gendered space (the households of middle-aged or older women), and often—but not always—linked to mothering, is also documented by social historians. In her study ‘‘We Spend Our Years as a Tale That Is Told’’: Oral Historical Narrative in a South African Chiefdom, Isabel Hofmeyr points out, however, that it was often missionaries and other early collectors and printers of women’s oral tales—not ‘‘tradition’’ itself—who ‘‘infantilized’’ such tales as exclusively didactic stories for children. She gives a much broader description of their formal range: For women, the staple genre was the nonwane/ntsomi, a story generally but misleadingly referred to as a ‘‘folktale,’’ a term that not only diminishes the craft of this tradition by its overtones of quaintness, but also implies that the genre dealt only in make-believe. In fact, the term nonwane/ntsomi did not only include imaginary stories; it could refer to non-fictional accounts touching on topics like local history and appropriate social conduct for girls and women that went under the rubric [in Sesotho] megkwa le melao, a complex phrase meaning law, duty, right, virtue, customary observance, order, justice, and so on. Riddling and proverbs also featured as part of the storytelling event as did songs, jokes, gossip and conversation. Storytelling sessions, then, comprised a fluid galaxyof forms and, for many, the term nonwane embraced a sense of the entire occasion, not merely its storytelling core. (28) With the colonial ‘‘invention of tradition’’ so obscuring the African past, it is not surprising that ‘‘Let Women Be Heard’’ still has to struggle against the stereotyping of women’s writing as a subgenre of ‘‘shadows’’ (in the West,women’s autobiographyoccupies a similarcategory, as indeed it does in South African black women’s print literature). Hofmeyr’s description also restores to the tradition the call-and-response heart of women’s verbal performance—essential in Malange’s work; and it includes in the female 182

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African tradition the immediacyof ethicopolitical motives (megkwa le melao, the business of the publicvoice),which also characterize Malange’s poetry. Some of this marginalization may be due to Malange’s own modesty, and some to the fact that she is a community arts teacher and worker organizer with an overwhelming schedule whose published output is small; there is also the fact that alongside a Zulu/Xhosa oral poetics of great linguistic creativity, her published poetry, though she speaks Xhosa and Zulu, is mainlyanglophone. But whatever the salience of these factors, it remains true that the gendering of workers’ poetry and political performance art is an observable fact and a political question, not to be reduced to ‘‘tradition.’’ In de Kok’s strong words, ‘‘South Africa is so deeply phallocentric, it seems to me, both in its present capitalistic and racist mode, and in the practices of its progressive opposition, that these dismissals need constant confronting’’ (in Gibbons 59). The 1990 special women’s issue of Writers’ Notebook is best read as a document of the ongoing gender struggle of the black working-class writers’ movement with itself (at the time, in Natal, the white people involved with this cultural form were not so much writers as facilitators, consultants, recorders, editors, publishers, commentators, critics). One curious, and moving, sign of the journal’s struggle with itself overa commitment towomen’s writing is the layout of the table of contents page, which reflects a kind of anxiety about priority: ‘‘Focus on Women’s Writing’’ is listed first in the contents but begins only on page 20; listed second is a ‘‘Tribute’’ to Alfred Temba Qabula, which actually begins on page 1. Behind the Natal documents lies a strong general commitment made by the anc leadership to cultural work, seen, for example, in the resolution taken at the 1987 casa (‘‘Culture in Another South Africa’’) conference in Amsterdam: ‘‘that women assert themselves in all areas of cultural activity.’’ The Writers’ Notebook preamble reprints this resolution, and Nise Malange, as ‘‘cosatu cultural organiser in Durban,’’ had been a delegate to the casa conference. Beneath the boilerplate prose of its resolutions, however, lay the hard issues of overcoming male cultural hegemony. Malange is cited by Paul Weinberg in the conference proceedings as observing that ‘‘women joined in organised culture reluctantly. The problem lay in the double-shift issue, which saw women at full pace at the workplace and then working at home. This left very little time for cultural activity’’ (in Campschreur and Divendal 67). Theoretical critique, strategic work No Turning Back

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in writers’ organizations, and the promotion of women’s writing ‘‘from below’’ through the workshops and publications of the Durban cwlp thus frame Malange’s own writing and performance in feminist praxis. After the Emergency her tactical focus shifted to the politics of violence and the need for women’s narratives of the Natal civil war; the publication of her cwlp workshop students’ writing on this topic in Umkhumulansika: The Destruction of the Pillars of the Home in 1992, especially the remarkable diary of Beauty Mahlaba, ‘‘Impilo Enzima (A Hard Life),’’ is a vivid demonstration of her success as a community arts teacher in overcoming the problems of the double shift. To read Malange’s poetry and political work by addressing its feminism is to ask how feminism reradicalizes—‘‘disassembles, reassembles and interprets’’—even the most radical political aesthetic. This approach to Malange asks how her majoritarian feminism locates itself in relation to female and male African traditions and to the politics of ethnicity and race in the black syndicalist movement of cosatu and in the South African setting as a whole. It also asks about the relation of Malange’s work to de Kok’s minoritarian claims for white feminist lyric: some of her poems seem to ‘‘indigenize’’ (to use Arjun Appadurai’s term again) international feminist poetics, and others raise the question of how new indigenous feminist art is internationalized, both through the antiapartheid movement and through the collaboration of white academics in South Africa and abroad. The emergence of someone like Nise Malange confirms a paradigm shift in both local and global frames: the movement away from globalizing the white Western subject of feminist cultural politics as the norm, a movement toward localizing that subject as simply one instance, and therefore a movement toward a genuinely global feminist theory and practice able to take into account every local instance, and developed not from any one position but collaboratively, through local differences linked in a global network. A new feminist International growing from below against the pressure of current world politics is not something every feminist has thought of or would necessarily agree with, but it does seem to be the logic of the exploded imperial subject and the rise of the ‘‘scattered hegemonies’’ of women in the formerly colonized world (see Grewal and Kaplan). If this is the best hope internally for feminist political transformation in black majority, multiracial South Africa, it is also the most important contribution South Africa is making to the developing global theory and practice 184

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of feminism. Whether any of this is possible in the long term without the reinvention of an alternative to globalized capitalism—an alternative that goes beyond the ‘‘historic compromise’’ (as EddieWebster used this phrase at the Columbia Institute of African Studies in November 1995) among capital, government, and labor under the new South African regime—is a question that will haunt all oppositional culture until it is answered in practice. Black Mamba Rising: A Feminism of the Township Landscape Malange’s path to an answer goes through what she calls in interviews the ‘‘grassroots structures’’ of workplace and community, as distinguished both from the official culture industry and education system and from larger political organizations as such (including—and this marks her position as among the most forward-looking and radical of eighties black feminisms—those she is affiliated with, such as the anc and cosatu). She has worked in three grassroots structures: the Durban worker performance groups that produced the plays and poems chronicled in Organise and Act and collected in Black Mamba Rising, Izinsingizi/Loud Hailer Lives, and issues of the cosaw Natal Journal; the Durban cwlp, where she runs writing workshops and which published collections like Umkhumulansika/The Destruction of the Pillars of the Home; and the Natal region of cosaw, of which she was vice president and which produced the cosaw Natal Journal. The significance of Malange’s reliance on structures such as these is that they provide the ‘‘lines of flight’’ (in Deleuze’s phrase, 67–115) toward rhizomatic social networks and therefore the possibility of a permanent critique from below. Malange is well aware of the feminist implications of this politics of the base, as she shows in her interventions in the debates over culture started by Albie Sachs’s 1990 paper ‘‘Preparing Ourselves for Freedom,’’ which were published in the collections discussed in chapter 2, Spring Is Rebellious (1990) and Exchanges (1991). As history moved past the radical eighties, Malange in these two pieces repositioned herself for the next stage, the ‘‘transition’’ that has lasted now for so long without definitively answering many of the urgent questions asked in this book about the cultural construction of radical democracy. In the Natal cosaw debate reprinted in Spring Is Rebellious, she argues with some irony (referring to Sachs’s call to broaden the subjects of writing beyond ‘‘the struggle’’) that writing love and Nature from her subjectNo Turning Back

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position would mean writing ‘‘about making love in fear of your house being fire-bombed; about nature as it is seen from a township landscape’’ (in de Kok and Press 86). In her Exchanges piece, and this with a very serious concern for ‘‘standards’’ as well, though the standards in question, again from her grassroots point of view, pertain to the truth-value of experiential writing from the townships, its effective distribution to ensure ‘‘that the voices of people are heard all over the country,’’ and its honest criticism for clarity and effectiveness (in D. Brown and van Dyk 42), she welcomes the Sachs paper because it has brought cultural debate into the grassroots structures, which need to incorporate theory—their own theory— into their work: ‘‘His paper raised a lot of concern, especially among grassroots structures, where people still need exposure to writing and to such debates. This was the first time a paper had been discussed at a grassroots level, and the first paper to affect grassroots structures’’ (42). Her localist orientation follows in the line of the Durban Workers Cultural Local (dwcl) 1985 manifesto, which proclaimed: ‘‘We cannot abdicate, hand over the responsibility of this world to others. There are too many intellectuals, teachers, politicians and bosses ever ready to ‘civilize’ us and reap all the harvest for themselves’’ (in Sitas, Black Mamba 60). The language of the dwcl statement implies not an equivalence of teachers and bosses, intellectuals and politicians, but a Foucauldian wariness of the hegemonic, disciplining quality of any cultural power exercised from the outside, and thus resembling the civilizing mission of colonialism not only in imposing a top-down normative culture but in alienating or foreclosing workers from their own creativity. The dwcl document went on to integrate workers’ creative or aesthetic power in the general struggling upward of a colonized and exploited people: Our union is . . . a movement of workers, a black mamba rising in anger disturbed by the exploiter from its ancient sleep. . . . Years and years of cheap labour have not numbed our senses, industrial chemicals have not poisoned the souls, our songs shall not be muffled. We are a movement which announces a real democracy in this land—where you and me can control for the first time our productive and creative power. (58–59) Similarly, Malange takes the opportunity of the Spring Is Rebellious debate to distance her political aesthetic from the pronouncements of the anc by taking a local line independent of Sachs’s universalizing, liberal humanist 186

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aesthetics. She also points to the ‘‘eye-opening’’ experience it had been in Natal when, on the occasion of Mandela’s Natal speech on February 25, 1990, the performers on the stage had been instructed to speak only of ‘‘peace’’ and to ‘‘change existing work so as not to offend any political organization’’ such as Inkatha (in D. Brown and van Dyk 41). Not only lovemaking and Nature, she implies, are to be seen critically and creatively ‘‘from the township landscape,’’ but all these larger questions of politics and aesthetics as well. Malange’s feminism comes from this same deliberate ‘‘choosing the margin as a space of radical openness,’’ in bell hooks’s words (Yearning 145); it is a feminism of the township landscape. As such, her work is a place to study the emergence of the black feminist interpretive horizon at the outer edge of two other perspectives: most central and constant, the horizon of the black struggle for full citizenship in a normalized Western democracy with apartheid abolished; and emerging just beyond that—the specific focus of Durban organized labor and its Cultural Local—the horizon of worker needs, worker politics, and worker culture. There is already not a perfect homology between the horizon of black majority democracy and that of worker autonomy: each destabilizes the other, calling old identities and certainties into question and summoning up the dangerous possibilities of new ones (including a Zulu ethnicity newly mobilized by Inkatha and dissenting from both).The agon between an anc national-democratic/black liberationist identity that might not (and in the event did not) break with the model of Western capitalist democracy, and the variety of more radical views (from the widespread belief in social democracy, the minority currents of the anticapitalist black nationalist azapo and the pac, and the influential reformist line of the sacp in its alliance with the anc, to the specter of new revolutionary versions hovering at the edge of the left wing of the sacp and arguably implicit in the syndicalism of the Durban workers, fosatu, and cosatu), is already a complicated dance of political forms of action and identification. This open dynamic of possibility structures Malange’s first group of poems, the four published in 1986 along with the work of Qabula and Hlatshwayo in Black Mamba Rising, ‘‘I, the Unemployed,’’ ‘‘First of May 1985,’’ ‘‘This Poem Is Dedicated to Brother Andries Raditsela,’’ and ‘‘Today.’’ The poems, like those of Qabula and Hlatshwayo that have figured much more than Malange’s work as the imbongi paradigm of Durban worker poetry, are all performance pieces delivered ‘‘in worker gatherings up to the formation of cosatu in November 1985’’ (Sitas, preface, No Turning Back

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Black Mamba iv). The significance of the cosatu date is that it marks the formal alignment of the Durban, and nationwide, upsurge of black unionism with the Charterist politics of the ANC—arguably, the crucial political alliance that won the 1992 breakthrough, a negotiated process of elite-pacting.The earlier grouping within which Malange’s dwcl worked, fosatu, was a union alliance that preferred to keep a friendly distance from formal ties to the anc, partly over the issue of worker autonomy. fosatu combined several white organizers from a radical university background with black shop-floorand general union leadership during a period when the anc had a less than effective infrastructure inside the country; as a new in-country initiative independent of the anc, it was not automatically convinced that it should be turned over to anc leadership until 1985, when it dissolved itself along with other national union groups into cosatu (Marx 194–201). The Black Mamba poems are therefore less identified with the politics of the cosatu-anc strategic alliance than they are with a different period (especially in Durban), in which black unions and union culture retained an open-ended sense of having their own momentum and their own interpretive horizon, more focused on the determinations of the workplace than the teleology of the state, more syndicalist than national-democratic. The ‘‘township landscape,’’ in other words, is already in the mid-1980s a complex terrain of criss-crossing political identities, and feminism emerges within that landscape as a situated identity of women who are already deeply identified as militantly black and militantly syndicalist. In Malange’s Black Mamba poems gender is blurred by the other two forms of identification with the struggle of black workers, principally fosatu-style black syndicalism; but already certain strains and cracks are produced in the poetry by Malange’s gender consciousness, behind which the feminist horizon will emerge in her next collection. It is significant that Malange’s first poem in Black Mamba evokes not the shop floor, site of primarily male union leadership and primarily maleidentified black national struggle, but the no-person’s-land of unemployment, the place of the worker without work though not without ties to the working class, without job consciousness though not without class consciousness. This unity of employed and unemployed is deeply appropriate for May Day, which began in the United States as a movement for the shorter workday with no loss in pay, a ‘‘transitional demand,’’ in Marxist terms, which radically challenges the employer’s control over the rate of exploitation at work but also moves beyond job consciousness, which 188

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normally drives conservative trade unionism, to a class consciousness that speaks to the needs of the unemployed by creating more jobs. Malange has shifted the terrain beyond shop-floor politics to classwide politics, an expansion of the scale of syndicalism and/or a sophisticated understanding of militant Marxism. Interestingly, this move to widen the syndicalist horizon also summons up the horizon of gender politics. ‘‘I, the Unemployed,’’ speaker of the poem, is never gender-identified, but because the poem is a performance piece (given at the 1985 May Day rally in a huge sports stadium), the speaker is notionally identified with the poem’s female author and performer. In the text this commonsense identification is partiallyconfirmed, partially occluded, so that gender signifiers are put in play with worker or class identities (normatively male, in South Africa as much as elsewhere) in a context of indeterminacy, raising the gender question, but subliminally, in the interstices of the poet’s militant class politics. The motives of the poem—a mortal hunger, invisibility and sorrow, rage, and freedom—mark it as a lament, like Qabula’s classic ‘‘Migrant’s Lament— A Song’’ in the same volume, with which poem it also shares the devastated rural setting of homelands migrancy: ‘‘I am waiting for the rain to come / And I cannot plough’’; ‘‘There is nothing growing here / And the animals have died’’ (51–52). Malange, however, fixes these motives not in Qabula’s male migrant who leaves wife and children in the Transkei homeland to look for work alone, but in the homeland scene itself, a scene not constructed around the rural woman without a male breadwinner (subject of a brilliant photo-essay by Paul Alberts, Rhodes: Some Women Photographed, in Bunn and Taylor 152–58), but around the rural worker without a job. This shift, of course, complicates the gender identity of the worker, and if Malange’s speaker is female, as the stage effect of her own gender, several textual images of motherhood, and the frequency of women’s being left behind by migrancy all suggest she is, it expands that identity beyond the normative male and thereby claims a class identity in her own right— implicitly, and as it were retrospectively, looking back from the urban May Day platform where Malange performs—for the woman of the poem. Her identification with the rural woman worker as unemployed is a feminist reconstruction of that familiar figure, a reseeing that perhaps derives from her outsider’s perspective on the rural scene: as a high school student, Malange herself was sent to the Transkei and the Ciskei homelands from her Cape Town home and brought her student movement politics and ways of seeing with her (von Kotze, Organise and Act 45–46).The poem brings female No Turning Back

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rural workers into the same semantic field, the same interpretive horizon, as the male workers who, pushed into urban migrancy, are the typical trade union subject. These gender subtexts are in fact constitutive of both Malange’s and Qabula’s poems, as a more detailed comparison makes clear. As Qabula’s first-person speaker moves into urban industry, for example, he encounters cyclical, structural unemployment himself: ‘‘I lost it / For I didn’t have a ‘special’ ’’; ‘‘The blackjacks arrived to arrest me / So again I lost my job’’ (14–15). But the terms of the urban struggle offer him the principal form of political action and identification that the whole volume celebrates: grassroots trade unionism. After a moving internal debate, carried by a refrain in the oral poetic style, with his religious predisposition to explain his fate as punishment for wrongdoing, Qabula moves his speaker out into the brightly lit foreground of syndicalist black Durban: Oh Creator forgive me If I had done wrong to you . . . . . . . . . . . . . So I joined the union to fight my boss For I realised: there was no other way Lord But to fight with the employer There was no other way Now go troublemaker go. (14–15) These lines were delivered in the chant of the Zulu praise-poem or imbongi style, with drumming and foot stamping, from the same Curries Fountain Stadium dais the year before Malange performed her unemployment poem there (Qabula’s performance is on the tape Celebrating Oral Tradition). It is striking how Qabula’s poem, for all its strongly inward elegiac quality, opens out onto the public stage of action in history, ending with a call to fight proudly under the despised banner of the ‘‘troublemaker.’’ His and Hlatshwayo’s resounding, triumphant praise-poems for fosatu and cosatu carry this assertive style much further, brilliantly adapting the often conservative imbongi tradition for new urban forms of militant calland-response community, bringing their mass audiences excitedly again and again to their feet in full-throated response. Malange’s poem, by contrast, remains shut claustrophobically in the homeland scene and in the inwardness of ‘‘invisible’’ or ‘‘buried’’ feeling that is a marker for female subjectivity in the poem. As Phyllis Chesler says, 190

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‘‘Men commit actions, women commit gestures’’ (48). She moves out far enough to give voice to appeals ‘‘To free / Freedom from the tree’’ (a reference to Christ, like Qabula’s to Job), naming ‘‘oppressors’’ and ‘‘white collars / In your chrome and brown arm-chairs’’ far from the rural scene as nevertheless principal actors in the drama of rural unemployment. But the poem resolves its pain less by referents of historical action than by a complex enunciation of subjectivity, a rhetorical strategy of image and address to which Qabula’s solution ‘‘Go troublemaker go,’’ or Hlatshwayo’s image of the Dunlop strikers as a ‘‘powerful black buffalo / Powerful with slippery body / The buffalo that pushed men / Into the forest’’ (27), are simply not available. What Malange’s persona substitutes for these male heroic tropes is Margaret Randall’s ‘‘gathering rage,’’ expressed as consciousness of lack and loss of power: ‘‘I’m here / Living under a / Black cloud / Here, living in thinning light’’; ‘‘All I hear now / Is the wind at night / . . . Spelling the agony of a death / I’m dying’’ (Malange, ‘‘I, the Unemployed’’ 51–52). Where Qabula ends with the militant’s ‘‘go,’’ the closing word of her lament is ‘‘dying.’’ In The Black Atlantic Paul Gilroy stresses the ‘‘turn towards death’’ as a profound trope in all the arts stemming from plantation slavery, and the point might be extended to the conditions of the South African homelands, which descend from the same master/slave dialectic as chattel slavery itself: ‘‘This turn towards death as a release from terror and bondage and a chance to find substantive freedom accords perfectly with Orlando Patterson’s celebrated notion of slavery as a state of ‘social death.’ It points to thevalue of seeing the consciousness of the slave as involving an extended act of mourning’’ (63). From this angle Malange’s unemployed speaker does not commit a gesture but a profound, prolonged act, the act of mourning; we might see the act of the poem as both prolonging and, especially in the conditions of its public political performance, transforming the act of mourning into the enactment of gathering rage, the poem’s articulation refusing melancholia in the very moment of recording it as a persistent collective memory. In light of its performance at a May Day rally, the poem confirms Sitas’s description of how (and why) ‘‘some of the crucial initial cultural activists now became important labor leaders in Natal, and they swept their cultural activity with them.They wanted their own cultural activists there in the forefront with them’’ (in Gibbons 100). Malange’s excitation of women’s collective memory in an assemblyof workers’ incipient power is an act of political leadership as well as a poetic act. To return to the trope of death: as the father in Qabula’s ‘‘Migrant’s LaNo Turning Back

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ment’’ also does, Malange’s speaker evokes at the heart of the poem the hunger and death of children (‘‘How slow their walk and the turning / Of their heads’’). But in Qabula this image is punctuated by the antithetical cycle of active job seeking and organizing on the part of the migrant father. In Malange it is unrelieved, an emblem and a reproach, not counterposed to adult action but confirmed by the worker-mother’s own ‘‘stomach / Filled with hatred and pain.’’ It contributes to the image of fixityand confinement in her poem. Mmakgabo Mapula Helen Sebidi’s 1988 painting of abandoned rural women, Mother of Africa (38), crowds women’s hands, bodies, and especially eyes (reddened, distorted, masklike) into a dense collage with animals, grain, and cloth (the women’s work); both the maddened gaze and the claustrophobia of Sebidi’s women illuminate theworld of Malange’s poem. In a comment on this painting Sebidi says, using the same Christocentric metaphor as Malange, ‘‘The woman is carrying the cross.’’ Both poem and painting may well reverberate beyond the particular context of the countryside to encompass all women workers whose freedom is nailed to the tree of their work and even more to their unemployment, that bitter paradox of the system of wage slavery. Female workers’ subjectivity suffers from a kind of malnutrition of the spirit in Malange’s images of hunger; and not far away, already implicit in her metaphor of invisibility from history and representation (‘‘The unemployed / I am here but invisible’’), is female madness, which haunts this poem as religious melancholia haunts Qabula’s: ‘‘I spit at the sun’’; ‘‘I behave like a lunatic / My kids are dying.’’ Of course, enunciation of the no-exit hell of the homelands for the women stuck in them is rescued from despair by its performance frame, the May Day rally; this doubleness of perspective enters the poem as a double voice of despair and defiance whose sign is the simultaneous pathos and accusation of freedom ‘‘nailed to a tree / To die.’’ But it works on the audience differently from male agitprop; presenting the solitary individual voice as the female subject, Malange brings forward into the male activist spotlight the principle that the personal is political. Her refraining from heroic imagery looks different from this angle, as a counterpoise to the often macho pose struck by the unionist as class warrior. The rural woman worker as warrior is in fact a scarier image even than Hlatshwayo’s black mamba or black buffalo: as the maddened figure of the unemployed, she takes on some of the quality of Medea, of Medusa, of Sebidi’s female mask-faces, of Toni Morrison’s Sethe. Morrison’s narrator says mysteriously at the end of Beloved that her 192

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tale ‘‘is not a story to pass on’’ (275), perhaps naming witnessing as a rhetorical paradox: it obliterates or closes the horror that it represents, partly by calling the spectator to action against it, partly by enclosing it in a text. Paul Gilroy has written at length on Morrison’s trope of telling and not telling ‘‘the slave sublime’’ and the way it negotiates mourning and melancholia (Black Atlantic, chapter 6). Carolyn Forché makes the same strong gesture of twentieth-century women’s elegy in her Central American poems, and Ingrid de Kok in her ‘‘place of mothers.’’ This secular gesture of Black Atlantic memory reappears in Malange’s Transkei lament, in the militant idiom of women’s entry onto the public stage under the sign of female subjectivity as a source of political critique and workers’ power. Her poem ‘‘First of May,’’ delivered at the same rally as ‘‘I, the Unemployed,’’ takes the floor with a marvelous literalism, offering at the heart of the poem an actual resolution for the rally to pass! That Malange feels poetry in a resolution proposed to a public meeting reveals at once the freshness, to her, of the idiom of public meetings and the immediacy of her sense of the uses of poetry to a passionate public life. Against the international history of May Day as a grand backdrop, her resolution proposes what was to happen four months later with the formation of cosatu: ‘‘All worker organisations must come together as one and fight the bosses’’ (in Sitas, Black Mamba 53). The immediate horizon here is worker autonomy, but Malange’s own immersion in the fosatu tradition of shop-floor democracy, tight organization, and focus on worker leadership and worker needs is about to yield to the pressure of the larger mass democratic movement for more union involvement in the direct battle with the apartheid state. In her mind it seems to be precisely the breadth and depth of worker demands over the whole of social life—the May Day tradition of social unionism, class consciousness rather than job consciousness—that provoke such a move: A cry was heard for eight hours of work, eight hours for Rest, eight hours For doing what you will (53) These lines open up the whole of civil society—not only the workplace— to syndicalist demands, and as such they reach further into the gendered space of those long hours supposedly of rest and freedom of action that are also the hours of women’s double shift. Like ‘‘I, the Unemployed,’’ this poem moves the horizon between workplace and community interpretive No Turning Back

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life, claiming black workers’ hegemony over both in the context of the nation and the world: ‘‘From America . . . / And now in Africa’’; ‘‘Today . . . in South Africa.’’ But the eight-hour day, as a demand affecting the whole twenty-four hours of a worker’s life, also turns out to be a crucial site for gender struggles among the working class over leisure time, implicit in the woman’s as well as the man’s ‘‘cry’’ for rest. (This cry arises in the poem directly after the line ‘‘An end to long hours and the abuse of children,’’ a line that refers historically to child labor in the workplace but, in the interpretive context of local feminism I am suggesting, could apply with equal force to the long hours of household work by female children, theirapprenticeship—at the expense of schooling—to gendered labor.) It is significant that Malange ends with a woman’s voice, the language of ‘‘cherishing,’’ the image of workers’ ‘‘faces of joy’’ rather than clenched fists. In this language she comes to ‘‘salute this day of the workers,’’ the oral patterning of the poem’s salute moving from the gender-unmarked grand scale of history (past and future) to a more intimate private tone. But a line such as ‘‘We want to see them cherished, with faces of joy,’’ which in a nonfeminist reading may seem to come from the female duty of cherishing, has a different sound when read as a woman worker’s claim to the right to be cherished herself. In these ways such a central international working-class trope as the shorter workday is being subtly transposed into a staging of feminist consciousness within the local black working class. Malange’s two other poems in Black Mamba Rising are funerary performances in which the voice of the (female) mourner is crossed with the militancy of the worker. In her tribute at the commemoration of Andries Raditsela, a Dunlop shop steward and fosatu leader in the Transvaal who died in detention, she begins with a posterlike surrealism reminiscent of the Mexican muralists so influential in South African resistance art like Sebidi’s: I have a few words to say—My mouth is a grave without Flowers My mouth is the empty coffin when the corpse is gone It is like a river without water But it has faith in your death. (‘‘Poem Dedicated’’ 55) The emptied mouth in its barrenness, like the ‘‘stomach / Filled with hatred and pain’’ of her hunger elegy, is eloquent of what should be its filling and sustaining theme. The imagery of mouths is especially prominent in 194

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Sebidi’s drawings and paintings of the late eighties, like Tears of Africa,Where Is My Home?, and The Mischief of theTownship. A woman’s body is figured as the blank space of abandonment in the very speech act of witness that enunciates a woman’s representational, political, full presence among Raditsela’s comrades: ‘‘Comrade, I did not come here . . . to / mourn / . . . I am here to condemn death in detention’’ (55). When her voice speaks the line ‘‘I would carry a bazooka and go straight for the murderers’’ against the qualifying ‘‘If I had strength enough,’’ the same gender paradoxes of empty presence and militant strengthlessness are put in play. The death of Raditsela, a male labor organizer killed by the state and here cradled in the mourning/militant voice of a comrade-pietà, has a similar paradoxical feeling tone, but here as in ‘‘I, the Unemployed’’ the paradox is not static; there is a turn, possibly reversible but committed, from death to challenge, from emptiness to strength, which transvalues gender polarization into a more flexible, egalitarian system of ‘‘doing gender.’’ Through such a transvaluation Malange begins to insert a feminist diacritical mark in her performance of worker poetry. Her performance of ‘‘Today’’ at the fosatu Culture Day the same year, 1985, is simultaneously an invocation and an exorcism, staging in the audience’s mind the entire array of spirits, good and bad, who surround them. Those who died in the struggle are named, invoked in an image of handholding intimacy: ‘‘Just that touch / Moving through all our bodies / Like a bloodstream’’ (56). But ‘‘those who died as oppressors’’ are a shudderingly baleful presence: ‘‘I can feel their cold breath / Brushing my shoulders’’; ‘‘They are looking closely / Into our eyes.’’ In between are kin and community who ‘‘died confused’’ about politics and are present as a regretful, lingering form of desire: ‘‘They want to put their arms around us and sing / ‘Hlanganani Basebenzi’ [Workers Unite]’’ (57). The poem ends with a gesture of exorcism, preserving the space and time of ‘‘today’’ for an audience expanded through Malange’s shamanistic performance to include their beloved dead. The gestural language of this dramatistic poem springs from touch—hands clasped, arms around shoulders—and moves into the realm of inclusion/exclusion marked by the boundaries of kinship. But its affinities are chosen rather than unbidden, and the agon of political choice (brothers may be oppressors) overrides the claims of kin with sterner imperatives. Again Malange’s public voice as a woman poet can be observed transposing the woman-identified realm of kinship into the terms of national politics—where her voice becomes politically repreNo Turning Back

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sentational and representative, speaking of and for Biko, Aggett, Shabalala, and Raditsela as well as ‘‘brothers and sisters / Mothers and fathers.’’ Her position in this poem as power figure, intermediary between the living and the dead, is not exclusively gender-marked in Nguni traditions, but the female sangoma would not traditionally take such a public role. ‘‘Today’’ in its very title brings the woman performance poet onto a new stage, marking her gender transgression with the force of the new. If this new female force is preeminently carried by performativity, it should not be overlooked how the narrative element of the poem is also engaged in reworking the politics of mourning and organizing in a gendered way—not only in the direction captured in Joe Hill’s inimitable stricture, ‘‘Don’t mourn for me: organize!’’ but in the direction of the organizing power of mourning itself. In Malange’s narrative of who else is present among the singing fosatu militants on their Culture Day, it is the ambiguity of the spirit-bodies, their coded touch and gaze from beyond the edge of their political fate—the confrontation between their political meaning and our mortality—that makes us catch our breath. Her performing voice presides over this narrative rite of stepping, ‘‘today,’’ afraid and unafraid, right up to death, looking it in the eye, braving its cold breath, while the song is kept ‘‘Moving through all our bodies / Like a bloodstream.’’ As the dwcl pamphlet (reprinted in Black Mamba Rising) announced that same year, this is an aesthetic of self-discovery, the disclosure of ‘‘our productive and creative power’’: ‘‘Brothers and sisters, we discovered each other, we discovered our strength, through necessity. . . . We united. We unionised each other.’’ Points 4 and 11 of the pamphlet draw the line between production and creation: A poet and a people’s leader from Angola described the miseries, the worries and torments of migrant workers in one of his poems; he also described their wholesale exploitation and poverty, but added . . . ‘‘and yet . . . and yet . . . they sing.’’ He could have been speaking about us in South Africa. Years and years of cheap labour have not numbed our senses, industrial chemicals have not poisoned the souls, our songs shall not be muffled.We are a movement which announces a real democracy in this land—where you and me can control for the first time our productive and creative power. That is why in Durban we formed within the unions a Workers’ Cultural Local. . . . So far, black workers have been feeding all their creativity into a 196

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culture machine to make profits for others. Worker creators are promised heaven on earth and hoards of gold—from penny-whistle bands to mbaqanga musicians, from soccer players to talented actors. After the promise comes the departure: they were taken from us, from their communities, to be chewed up in the machine’s teeth. Then comes the return: they are spat out—empty husks, hoboes for us to nurse them. This makes us say that it is time to begin controlling our own creativity: we must create space in our struggle—through our own songs, our own artwork, our own plays and dances. At the same time, in our struggle we must also fight against the cultural profit machines. (58–59) In ‘‘Today’’ Malange has enacted this discovery of creative sources and this determination to control them, the very rarity of her woman’s voice among worker performance poets underlining the point that she will lay hold of the deepest sources of working-class creativity as a woman, and as a woman learn to keep them intact for the movement of workers who have discovered each other. Mortality, in her poem, is the sign of this faith in an autonomous, collective, gendered imagination—the black mamba of Nguni story—with the strength to come to power. Izinsingizi: The ‘‘Stormhailing Birds’’ of Labor Feminism The story of Malange’s own arrival at this place of strength is given in her narrative poem ‘‘A Time of Madness,’’ the first of her selections in Izinsingizi: Loudhailer Lives (Evill and Kromberg, 1989), the second cwl publication of Natal poetry. Izinsingizi, according to the introduction, ‘‘aims to move on from where Black Mamba Rising left off, featuring the work of workers and others alike; people who talk richly of migrant and township life, who dissect the urbanity of housework, who provide images of culture in transition.’’ A cover note explains that the Zulu word izinsingizi (in English, the common ground hornbill) names birds whose loud deep notes are a sign of rainstorms: these poets, ‘‘the stormhailing birds,’’ both presage and produce storms. It seems to carry on Sitas’s image of the gwala-gwala forest bird, whose name ‘‘derives from its shrieks of horror at the approach of creatures that are to devour it . . . and now that shriek is developing in intensity as waves and waves of violence are descending on these cultural activists who are struggling to break through’’ (in Gibbons 100). (There is also presumably a pun on ‘‘loudhailer’’ as a term for the bullhorn or megaphone No Turning Back

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used at marches and rallies.) The publication was meant for dissemination in small workshops (Malange’s ‘‘grassroots structures’’) as well as to a broader audience. Its significance was that the worker-poets and other oral poets had managed to continue to hail mass audiences even during the successive states of emergency instituted by the apartheid state beginning on July 21, 1985. Malange’s work in Izinsingizi is deeply influenced by the Emergency, which is the subject of one poem, and also infuses the title of her autobiography, ‘‘A Time of Madness’’; in it she has read the drama of repression and resistance—which took the life of the youngest poet in the collection, Mlungisi Mkhize, who wrote the lines ‘‘So, give me a pen and paper / I will write / Verses in the midst of torture’’ (27)—back into the plot line of her life. The madness in question differs from the quiet rural epidemic of ‘‘I, the Unemployed’’; it begins with Sharpeville and the pac march on Parliament led by Philip Kgosana in Cape Town in 1960, the year Malange was ‘‘born under the cloud of insurrection’’ in the Cape. It is the madness of the Emergency (one was declared in Cape Town after the march, to use the army to break the strike of black workers), and its next appearance is the Soweto uprising of 1976, which involved Malange in student sympathy strikes first in the Transkei and then in Cape Town, where at Christmas vigilantes from the male migrant hostels attacked, followed by soldiers: ‘‘And we hurled petrol bombs / And they sliced with their pangas . . . And our parents were being killed coming from work’’ (17). Written in the late eighties when both troops and vigilantes were devastating townships all over the country and when Natal in particular was the scene of a civil war between Inkatha vigilantes, semiovertly allied with the police and army, and communities committed to the anc, ‘‘A Time of Madness’’ comments personally and somberly on the Emergency by tracing its roots to 1960 and 1976, earlier periods of massive state terror that defined herown childhood and her emergence as a militant student. But the poem is not a song of the struggle like the poems in Black Mamba Rising; it is a stocktaking, a grim personal realization: Because they have scarred our minds, We are mentally ill, We are the mad generation, Born in the eruption of madness, Raised when madness struck. (17) 198

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Carried back by the violence of the eighties to her own student days, when simple school boycotts could erupt instantly into confrontations with armored cars, when to a sixteen-year-old schoolgirl ‘‘the world spun crazy,’’ Malange here lets go the language of organized workers’ power altogether. She explores her own story as the intersection between this politics, the South African revolution from 1960 to 1988, from Sharpeville to Soweto to Durban, and her private life: her mother’s storytelling, her temporary identity as a Coloured girl in the Cape (‘‘my mother’s little ‘white angel’ . . . skinny, tall / Light-coloured’’), her delight in country life as a Xhosa girl in her father’s Transkei, the Cape Christmas when celebrations were banned by the township organizations. ‘‘Madness’’ is what holds the personal and the political together under one rubric, just as hunger does in ‘‘I, the Unemployed.’’ The scene shifts from workplace to community, where the organized workers (the students’ parents) are being killed coming from work by the unorganized migrant workers, in a crisis for working-class politics that violently disrupts the straight-ahead vision of Dunlop organizing or the fosatu cultural local. In this poem Malange looks into the face of political and personal disintegration. To cope with it her method is not a rising local collective consciousness noran international history but the bedrock of individual memory, judgment suspended, narrative taking over from performance, the dates and place names and catchcries falling into the chronicle with the vivid meaning such particulars have—unanalyzed, stuck in their original traumatic autonomy. Memory as a poetic implies the forgoing of the performance aesthetic of collective enactment; here reenactment brings no relief, no surge of new meanings, but rather an acknowledgment of what resists meaning in its mad, stubborn, concreteness: ‘‘We were packed into it with our pyjamas on / And we were carted out’’; ‘‘It started with the crying of cats’’; ‘‘And there was blood, too much blood.’’ (The method of this poem becomes one model Malange will teach in her writing classes at the Center for Culture and Working Life, resulting, for example, in Beauty Mahlaba’s prose diary ‘‘Impilo Enzima [A Hard Life].’’) One of the crises of the Emergency is this crisis of confidence in constructing political meanings, indeed of confidence in memory itself, the poem ending with the desire to forget, ‘‘Only to forget’’—or, if to remember, ‘‘Only to remember that the wounds must not open again.’’ This phrase echoes from the poem for Andries Raditsela: ‘‘Comrade, I did not come here to open a wound.’’ Commemoration—public and political or private and exploratory—has its No Turning Back

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perils, the underlying wound always waiting to be opened being in the last instance traumatic memory itself, the wound of unmeaning, the wound that of course ‘‘A Time of Madness’’ does open, for the poet herself and for ‘‘the mad generation’’ of the children of Soweto. The poem acknowledges the fact of a deep-seated woundedness in the very act of ‘‘trying to banish [it] from my memory.’’ In so doing, it challenges readers to confront their traumatized history by the interpretive work of reading; it may be in discussion groups like the cwl or a National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (numsa) or Commercial, Catering, and Allied Workers of South Africa (ccawusa) education workshop, particularly the workshops for the training of women unionists to move into the leadership. By resisting interpretation it provokes in the grassroots structures a collective effort to understand, using the method of Paolo Freire’s popular education or Zakes Mda’s Lesotho community theater, and so deepening resistance aesthetics beyond the reception of meaning to its production. At the same time the poem is a chronicle of militant resistance by black communities, an unbroken string of demonstrations, strikes, boycotts, and insurrections from the poet’s birth until now, expanding the range of the worker poets’ job consciousness in Black Mamba Rising to include parallel student movements and township organizing. Malange’s move back into her own memory is simultaneously a move away from any narrowness in the syndicalist ethos, mirroring the passage from fosatu to cosatu and the latter’s swift move to alliance with the anc and udf. In Lessons of Struggle: South African Internal Opposition, 1960–1990, Anthony Marx points out that the black trade unions, still divided between cosatu and the anti-Charterist nactu (National Council of Trade Unions), did not make the strategic move to cross-class Charterist antiapartheid mobilization easily or without political contention (194–226). Some of the issues involved are clear in the title of an article in Work in Progress (February 1987), ‘‘Anti-Apartheid Bosses Are Not Our Friends,’’ which criticized ‘‘the anc’s cordial discussions with the head of Anglo-American in 1987, at the same time that ten thousand ccawusa members were striking against one of Anglo’s retail chains’’ (in Marx 216). ccawusa in particular, founded by Emma Mashinini with 70 percent of its members women, had a strong anti-Charterist wing, and the internal political struggle becamevery heated (216–18). Malange’s own thinking on these questions has not been made public, though as early as the May Day 1985 poem she was calling for ‘‘no fosatu / No ccawusa—no gwu [General and Allied Workers Union], 200

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no food and canning—no / saawu [South African Allied Workers Union] no cusa. / All worker organisations must come together as one and fight the bosses’’ (in Sitas, Black Mamba 53). That call could be read as the cosatu line, but on the other hand it stresses worker unity for the workplace struggle against ‘‘bosses’’ rather than a broad alliance with churches, Anglo-American executives, and black chambers of commerce against apartheid, and is thus consistent with the earlier fosatu view of worker political autonomy that the Charterist leadership in cosatu soon began to criticize as ‘‘workerist’’ and ‘‘anti-political’’ (Marx 196). Whatever the detailed evolution of her thinking, Malange’s turn to autobiographical narrative in ‘‘A Time of Madness’’ coincides with her focus on the earlier community and school struggles of the late seventies, the arena where the udf would later flourish. Her self-portrait in this lifeworld might be read as a prehistory of the union activist/poet, with her wide experience of different black communities disrupted by the race classification and group areas law, her knowledge of the affinities and disjunctures of city and country, the paradoxes of black labor/white capital like her construction-worker father building skyscrapers in Cape Town while living with his family ‘‘as squatters in a shack,’’ her understanding of the structure of power linking school principals to homeland rulers to B. J. Vorster through the medium of thugs, police, and troops, and above all her induction into a culture of resistance: schoolgirls in pyjamas as revolutionaries facing tear gas, guns, and armored cars, the moment of personal choice in a boycott or a strike, terrifying vigilante attacks carried out by workers from the countryside ( people she knew) who had to be resisted with deadly force. From this angle her life was simply a preparation for class war in Durban, the exhilarating difference, which gives the tone to her performance poetry, being the organized fightback of unionized black workers massed in an industrial city, and the finding of her own place in this newly powerful resistance movement as the typical South African organic intellectual of the eighties: poet, union organizer (with the tgwu, Transport and General Workers Union), playmaker, feminist, fighter, teacher. Her experience of vigilante attacks as a teenager, for instance, flows directly into the 1986 dwcl play Qonda (Vigilantes), described in Astrid von Kotze’s study of the Natal workers’ theater movement, Organise and Act: The most exciting performance was to striking Clover workers a few weeks later. These workers were united in their struggle against their No Turning Back

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employer. But politically some belonged to cosatu while others were members of Inkatha. The performance was very tense. There were lots of discussions afterwards and participants felt that they had managed to ‘‘swing’’ some people over to their point of view. Qonda was politically gutsy.Unlike other worker plays it took violence to be a fact of life these days. And it addressed the township clashes directly. (75–76) The madness of the Christmas Day attack Malange helped fight off ten years earlier is here subjected to a kind of aesthetic and political control, organized into a play (idea and technique coming from a young Dunlop worker skilled in dance), the play then organizing politically divided workers into a Freirean forum to deal with their community ‘‘madness’’ as well as the strike in their factory. Similarly, Malange’s knowledge of migrancy from her journeys back and forth between Cape Town and the Transkei and Ciskei reemerges in the migrant plays she workshopped with Qabula for the dwcl, such as Why Lord, in which she played the abandoned wife who ends the play with the song ‘‘Why, Lord, do we have to suffer like this?’’ (in von Kotze 46–48). ‘‘A Time of Madness’’ does not construct her early life as such a prehistory, but it was in fact an apprenticeship to both politics and resistance aesthetics. The biographical sketch in Organise and Act reveals, for instance, that as a student she and her brother ‘‘started a small group of student-players. They moved through the streets and into community centres. They performed sketches about the 1976/7 rebellion and other community issues like the Transkei independence. . . . As Nise says, ‘We wanted to inform people about the boycott debates’ ’’ (46). This story does not fit into the sequence of trauma in the poem’s narrative, but it shows how she was even then gaining some personal and political control—through the agency of playmaking—over the ‘‘eruption of madness’’ after Soweto. Her student players’ going to the community, like the seventies practice of Black Consciousness theater and art groups, also displays a strategic sense of politics as that which needs to connect different arenas of struggle. Von Kotze’s account shows that Malange as theater practitioneralways drew the bodyof a play from the memories and writings of the workshop participants, which in itself guarantees a more strategic or connective effect between the different realms of workers’ experience, because memory is whole, not divided between workplace and residence, school and courthouse, city and country. The playmaking method most 202

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often associated in North America with the name of Augusto Boal and in Africa with the concept of theater fordevelopment (as in Christopher Kamlongera’s Theatre for Development in Africa, or Zakes Mda’s When People Play People),4 took on amazing life among the Durban workers; in Malange’s case one can see how it emerges from political traditions among black South African students as well as from the crucial cross-fertilization of ideas brought into popular movements by radical intellectuals such as Sitas and von Kotze.The poem ‘‘A Time of Madness,’’ however, presents not this analysis of itself, nor a performance script, but the kind of primary material the dwcl workshops would have solicited and used in making plays. It is a set of stories like those Malange was patiently to draw out from the Kwa Mashu women street cleaners she both organized into the tgwu and helped to develop The Kwa Mashu Street-Cleaners Play (von Kotze 54–59). Going back to the issue of a crisis in working-class politics represented in ‘‘A Time of Madness,’’ I think a reading of the poem as Malange’s text or memory of apprenticeship explains why it abandons the idiom of triumphal union power. An earlier state of mind is recalled in the poem under the stress of the Natal/KwaZulu township wars, against which the battles with factory owners and the resulting strength of the unions do not seem immediately effective: how can the black mamba rise against itself ? Indeed, once Inkatha—not very successfully—instituted in 1986 its own Natal union, United Workers of South Africa [uwusa], the community wars were brought directly into the union rank and file; the street cleaners, for example, were temporarily divided by the launch of uwusa, until the tgwu was able to reunite them. But finally the act of recall in the poem works at least to put the latest Emergency in historical perspective, implying that tactics of survival used before can be used again. This is one of the ways her poem belongs to the genre of women’s memoir in South Africa, particularly the prison memoir, earlierones like Ruth First’s 117 Days (1965) and Joyce Sikakane’s A Window on Soweto (1977), or later ones like Caesarina Kona Makhoere’s No Child’s Play (1988) and Emma Mashinini’s Strikes Have Followed Me All My Life (1989).5 Its conclusion adds something to Malange’s politics that she may well have learned more from her theater and teaching work than from the straight organizing she did in the same Gale Street union office: the importance of the subjective. The sense in this poem of listeners who form a group of women no doubt comes from Malange’s experience organizing such groups; we may imagine the implied scene resembling the frame of the Black Cape Town No Turning Back

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poet Mavis Smallberg’s ‘‘June’’ (1988), about a comrade telling her story of prison and torture to a women’s group: the silence broken By her shuddering sigh As she at last began to cry. We rocked and held and hugged her And slowly grew our song. The gloom dispelled within our hearts. Someone switched on the electric light. We blinked and sang the louder And echoes of the people’s song We sang Permeated through the air, Out into the Cape Flats night. (in Lockett 348) Smallberg’s scene is different from the rally or funeral as site of women’s performance, and its collectivity within a kind of shared privacy embodies a characteristic moment in women’s organizing within a ‘‘wider’’ struggle. Women workers’ history of the kind Malange gives in her poem is the history of the subject, her mind, memory, scars, struggle with hunger and madness, collective coming to voice. Though more written narrative than performance, its genre is also not far from Qabula’s performance poem ‘‘Migrant’s Lament,’’ a history of the male migrant’s internal struggle with guilt and despair. Both poems bring essential primary material, to be worked up for use, to the ongoing workshop which is the South African literature of radical democracy. The meaning of ‘‘A Time of Madness’’ is only complete when its retrospective glance is set beside a companion poem on the current madness of the eighties, Malange’s last poem in the Izinsingizi collection, ‘‘Isimo Esibucayi/State of Emergency’’ (the Zulu text is followed by her English translation). Here memory gives way to the mobile tactics of the oral poet going into battle, and Malange returns to a style more attuned to a live audience. She names the well-known details of the martial law restrictions in a sardonic tone that draws a scornful response (modifications of the translation are in brackets): Isikhathi sinqunyiwe akudlulwa mihlanu imizuzu yokuya emangcwabeni 204

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mihlanu eyokumba nokugciba mihlanu eyokubuyela ekhaya Umngcwabo usuphelele Isimo esibucayi Time [to die] is limited [stripped down], Five minutes [to get to] a funeral Five minutes to [dig and] bury you [Five minutes to return home] That’s your funeral [finished], State of Emergency. (in Evill and Kromberg 24) Using the incremental repetition structure of the oral poem, Malange delineates a pattern of regimentation and constriction (of time, of movement, of space, of expression, of graves for the dead and houses for the living), in which it becomes clear that the Emergency is merely a more intense degree of apartheid discipline itself rather than something different in kind; the ironic intoning at the end of every stanza of the phrase isimo esibucayi, ‘‘state of emergency,’’ implies that it’s simply the latest name the regime has given itself. Ubucayi is not a precise legal term like ‘‘emergency’’ in this English context, but a dangerous or delicate situation generally: what the state regards as dangerous for itself (and thus a social emergency, regarding itself as the social actor, the social subject) is for black people simply going about their lives, a new situation of danger and special care created by the martial-law state. Ubucayi negates the validity of a state emergency created by the people and retorts that it is the state that is creating new dangers for the people. In the Zulu text, government names cited in English come in for more explicit mockery at the end of the poem, as an official language the precise terms of whose epistemic violence—a set of misnomers, euphemisms, bureaucratic ruses—blur for their targets into the general Babel of power, which may be regarded historically as a single discourse.The State of Emergency is the shape or character (isimo) of apartheid itself, under its various guises, its more and less fascist phases, its manipulative reforms, its law and custom, its myth and ritual, all of it: Yi Group Areas, Squatters and Slums, New Labour Bill, Ukhetho lwamakhansela Uyozibonela . . . Yisimo esibucayi. No Turning Back

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It’s Group Areas, Squatters and Slums, New Labour Bill, election of councillors, You’ll see for yourself, It’s the State of Emergency. (23–25) In Zulu oral poetic style, as can be heard to great effect in the male voices on the tape Celebrating Oral Tradition/Bandlululondini! (for example, in Mvukuzane Ngubo’s rendition of the refrain word bandlululondini in the title poem), a penultimate vowel in the closing word is often prolonged beyond its normal double length for heroic or aggressive or satiric emphasis, and I think that Yisiimo esibucaayi would be so emphasized here, as a virtual declaration of war. These effects of turning the martial edge of Nguni poetics against English power discourse are of course deeply resonant, historically and emotionally, for her audience. The poem swells into its greatest emotional amplitude in the middle stanza, where the Black Consciousness repertoire of Malange’s student years can be heard (often the tone color of the best radical writing of the eighties): Kwenzenjani kanti ngubani ofelwe? NguHulumeni ngamasosha ngumbuzo phendula YiAfrik’emnyaka encidezelwe Asinamhlaba wokungcwaba Asinamhlaba wokuhlala Isimo esibucayi What’s happened, Who has died? It’s government, soldiers, it’s question reply It’s an oppressed black Africa We have no place [earth] for burial No place [earth, country] to live State of Emergency. (22–25) The English translation does not do justice to this stanza. In the oratorical style of the rhetorical question, what is asked here is Who has lost someone? Whose death has brought on this countrywide funeral which is the State of Emergency (presided over by those ‘‘priests,’’ the government and its soldiers)? Is it the government and the soldiers who have lost someone? ‘‘This is a question!’’ (ngumbuzo)—requiring an answer—and the answer to the command phendula (‘‘Reply!’’) is: It is an oppressed black Africa (who 206

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has lost someone). As in the preceding stanza, the real ‘‘emergency’’ is the people’s, not the government’s. Returning then to the constriction of space as the foundational metaphor of apartheid, Malange equates the small plot of ground for a grave with the small plots of township matchbox houses, or squatters’ shacklands, or the homelands themselves: for black people South Africa is a grave, and the whole people, the country, are the bereaved ones (ofelwe). Her use of iAfrika (Africa) as a synonym for black South Africans is a characteristic feature of ‘‘cultural identity from below’’ in South Africa, a marker that displaces while not denying the official ‘‘nonracial’’ politics of Charterism and New Nation thinking; welcoming the alliances that create nonracialism, it at the same time marks out not only the ethnonationalist discourse of Africanness, but more significantly an African internationalism—a solidarity with the rest of the continent and its history. Apartheid divided black South Africans not only from their white compatriots but perhaps more significantly from their black comrades in the rest of Africa. The issue here is whether to identify primarily as African or as South African. Although this may not be taken as an either/or dilemma, it does emphatically displace the official discourse of the South African ‘‘new nation’’ as the ultimate horizon for a democratic polity. This book argues that there is a contradiction between the established (almost unexamined) ideology of the nation or nation-state and the ideology of radical democracy, which is in essence a form of internationalism from below. The recent short film The Foreigner by Zola Maseko argues in its chilling parable of the murder of a West African fruitseller in a Johannesburg market for just such an understanding by black South Africans of their relations with other Africans, a timely and challenging intervention in the tide of antiforeignerchauvinism now running against African immigrants. Qabula, too, uses the language of ‘‘Africa’’ rather than South Africa in Izinsingisi, as in his dense parable ‘‘Amahlath’ Amnyama ase Afrika’’/‘‘The Black Forests of Africa’’ (Evill and Kromberg 5–6); and in Black Mamba Rising there are frequent Africanist references in his and Hlatshwayo’s work, including the title poem. In Malange’s hands the image of Africa evoked is a suffering land, certainly, oppressed because black in the logic of territorial colonialism and racial capitalism, and in this it catches up into a broader semantics the detailed narrative of pain found in ‘‘I, the Unemployed’’ and ‘‘A Time of Madness.’’ But the lines following turn the image subtly away from pure suffering, ‘‘We have no place for burial / No place to live,’’ stressing in Zulu No Turning Back

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that what is lacking is umhlaba, ‘‘earth’’ or ‘‘country’’—more resonant than ‘‘place’’ (indawo) because more intensely concrete about both makeshift graves and minuscule homesites, more linked to chthonic ancestral histories, and more politically evocative of the battles for land that were the heart of anticolonialism in Southern Africa and the loss of land that forced people into the urban spaces of apartheid. Asinamhlaba—we lack earth—is a powerful claim of people’s right to rise up and end the scandal of lacking the very earth on which to live and die. The ‘‘emergency’’ thus becomes, in the logic of resistance poetry, not a civil crisis the state is obliged to meet with martial law, but a crisis of the people that they are obliged, as ‘‘oppressed black Africa,’’ to meet with war on the state. There is no doubt that this is a war poem. Its reticence or flatness in printed English should not conceal the dialectical brilliance of its oral technique, as each line hammers home another intolerable constriction of life, down to the very denial of earth to be buried in and time for a funeral. The litany of emergencies that people’s lives have become can have only one closure: insurgency—an end to life that has been reduced to an emergency for the black, the oppressed, the African. You can see it for yourself, Malange ends, with a significant pause (Uyozibonela . . . ): we are in a state of emergency that must be transformed into emergent life, earth, Africa, blackness, freedom. Not only is this message given publicly in a woman’s voice, it is a profound answer to her more private question in ‘‘A Time of Madness’’ about what has happened, who has died, in her own interiorand community life. ‘‘Isimo Esibucayi’’ both recapitulates and redresses the trauma of its companion poem, and in showing that ‘‘madness’’ and ‘‘emergency’’ are psychically and politically reciprocal terms in South Africa, it speaks to the mystery of the place where public and private, memory and history, clash and merge. South African Feminism in the Global Cultural Economy Malange also has two explicitly feminist poems in Izinsingizi, which take their stand precisely at this junction of public and private. ‘‘Nightshift Mother’’ focuses on work and ‘‘Long Live Women’’ on politics, but both include the private worlds explored in ‘‘A Time of Madness,’’ and both, for the first time, apply the language of national liberation and labor struggles to women.These poems were anthologized by Cecily Lockett in Breaking the Silence: A Century of South African Women’s Poetry (1990), and I quote from the 208

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revised versions published there. The scene of ‘‘Nightshift Mother’’ is an office building that the speaker of the monologue cleans at night: And I work wandering on my knees through these deserted and desolate spaces the group of us lost in these vast buildings forgotten and neglected exploited as you sleep (342) But the night shift is only half the ‘‘double load’’ the speaker begins by announcing; as a single mother without day care, she spends the daylight hours looking after young children, and ‘‘sleep is a gone out memory.’’ Whatever the familial status of the night shift workers—‘‘unmarried mothers, widows, / elder women, migrants’’—they are ‘‘always mothers,’’ in an endless reproduction of mothering across kin and generation lines. The title manages to suggest, in light of this social fact, that mothering itself is an endless night shift (‘‘Hanging out Nappies by Moonlight,’’ as Sheila Rowbotham’s essay has it), on top of even the harshest and lowestpaid wage labor such as the night office-cleaners know. At work, for instance, mothering does not stop but persists in the enervating form of the speaker’s refrain word, ‘‘anxiety.’’ The disorienting reversal of public and private time that the night shift represents for men is thus transposed, for the women workers who are always mothers, into a timelessness in which theyare permanentlydisoriented, ‘‘exploited as you sleep.’’ Work thus has a different orientation in the life-world of proletarian women from the usual public/private division, a point normatively driven home by the frequency with which women’s wage work reproduces domestic labor—cleaning, for instance. A politics very much in the spirit of British feminism (Rowbotham, Michele Barrett and the Wages for Housework group) animates Malange’s ironic feminist nocturne. Its conclusion turns this double shift around in a sudden, brilliant call: We are cleaning and cleaning lift each other off our knees nd fight our exploitation (342) In the Izingsingizi version Malange wrote ‘‘lifting’’ and ‘‘fighting,’’ the switch to the imperative here making explicit the quick rush of feeling away from mere description, from a narrative to a performative style. Cleaning on No Turning Back

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one’s knees now simultaneously carries the force of women’s work and women’s social abjection, and the act of lifting a woman off her knees— an everyday act of helpfulness—simultaneously takes on the meanings of union organizing, Black revolt, and feminist standing up to fight. ‘‘Cleaning and cleaning’’ begins to mean two separate acts, as the cleaners, like the street cleaners of KwaMashu, organize to clean up the worst dirt and debris: their own exploitation. Malange thus turns around not only the iconic force of women’s stoop labor, but the lack of training that confines the women to this job and defines its low pay and status; the poem suggests, or enacts, the political training that women can gain from each other on the job—any job—a training that, as in this poem, goes far beyond job consciousness, understanding the job itself as an index of a more general division of labor in a racial patriarchy. Rising from her knees with the aid of a helping hand from others like herself (‘‘Slaves, other slaves will free you,’’ Brecht wrote in one of his most stirring marching songs), Malange’s monologuist comes closer than any other figure in her poetry to the hortatory mood of other women poets not so identified with working-class politics, like Gladys Thomas’s ‘‘Leave Me Alone’’ in Cry Rage (1972), Boitumelo Mofokeng, Ilva Mackay, and others in the Staffrider group, or Gcina Mhlophe’s ‘‘Say No.’’ In this company of black feminist poets, what distinguishes Malange’s poem is its insertion of a feminist hermeneutic into class politics (and vice versa), just as the cosatu Wits Women’s Forum did for practical organizing by compiling No Turning Back. ‘‘Nightshift Mother,’’ like ‘‘Long Live Women,’’ raises the question of the relation between local and global feminisms and feminist poetics. In its black South African English (‘‘my children left uncared,’’ ‘‘this ‘nightshift job’ which brings home pittance,’’ ‘‘and I feel worn’’), no less than in its new confidence in a rank-and-file labor movement, the poem voices a local black working-class feminism; its style and address, recalling the monologue of ‘‘I, the Unemployed,’’ also come from a local poetics of public performance in which the monologue is sprung loose from the Western confessional intimacy of personal lyric, like de Kok’s Familiar Ground. At the same time, Malange is part of at least three international movements— antiracism, labor, feminism—not only ideologically but organizationally and through personal connections.The collective that produced No Turning Back combining cosatu and Wits; the housing of the Durban cwlp in the University of Natal; and the appearance in South Africa of a forum for local and international feminist debate, Agenda: A Journal about Women and Gen210

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der, whose editorial collective has included Malange since 1993—all signal similar sets of powerful alliances. In ‘‘Nightshift Mother’’ the political and poetic ‘‘indigenizing’’ of these movements is seamless, yet the poem loses resonance if they are left out of the reading—if, for example, Malange’s office cleaner (very likely working for a multinational corporation) is not read as speaking alongside other sweated female labor in maquiladora or Pacific Rim factories, South Asian and African fields, the domestic labor offices of Gulf oil states, and all the other subsets of the modern world system whose effects on women are chronicled in work like Cynthia Enloe’s Bananas, Beaches, and Bases: Making Feminist Sense of International Politics. Malange’s night shift mother is fully herself in her local agency, her ‘‘cognitive mapping’’ of her situation, and also full of meaning metonymically in what Jameson has called the ‘‘geopolitical aesthetic,’’ the attempt by artists, when faced with a single example of ‘‘vivid miseries, which offer no problems of figuration’’ (like the scene of ‘‘Nightshift Mother’’), ‘‘to think it together with its deeper, but non-visual systemic cause—this, if it is possible, is what used to be called self-consciousness about the social totality’’ (Geopolitical Aesthetic 2).The somewhat cinematic spatial organization of the poem shows this reaching for systemic self-consciousness that extends the meanings of local facts: the spaces of the empty building, a shell, a mere container, suggest that the form and structure of the multinational corporation stand clear as the frame of economic life once the building is cleared of the daily traffic of commodities; and it contains—graphically—as its essential content, a group of black women on their knees. The night shift reversal of day and night also conveys the way global capitalism dominates time, the sleep/waking rhythms of its workers and also the time zones of the world: someone somewhere is always being ‘‘exploited as you sleep.’’ In its context, too, the image of women workers helping each other from their knees in an empty office (another moment of women’s inside/outside relationship to labor struggles) is not so inadequate to the anticapitalist task as it may seem, considering the effectiveness of local strikes and international divestment campaigns in disrupting the normal amity between many multinationals and the apartheid state. Close up, the poem’s ‘‘speaking bitterness’’ works for women (and some men, like those few who took part in the production of No Turning Back) as a local consciousness-raising group; at the same time, if we take account of its frame and context, it has quite a long geopolitical reach. ‘‘Long Live Women’’ has some of the same local/global reflexivity, apNo Turning Back

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pearing not only in the cwl publication Izinsingizi, but in Speak (a journal in Zulu and English for working-class women), Breaking the Silence, and, as an exhibit among other postcard-sized works, in South African Mail—Messages from Inside: Women Artists in Resistance, curated in Cape Town and New York in 1990 by Janet Goldner. Its firm base in labor feminism is clear from the outset: this is a tribute to all women who are tried, charged and sentenced for treason, to the working women who are robbed of their birthrights in the factories and outside, to the women who are busy ploughing on the farms, and to all the women of our land (in Lockett 340) But the dominant image is the women missing from factories and farms, women in detention or ‘‘brutally killed bycowards,’’ women like the mother shot in her house by police because she was ‘‘a politician like her son on Robben Island,’’ whose contribution to the South African Mail postcards was a drawing of the ferry to the island jail. The poem calls women to arms for the insurrectionary national battles of the late eighties, turning away from the pacifist sentiment of ‘‘A Time of Madness’’ but retaining that poem’s sense of trauma as a crisis of voice: ‘‘When I talk to women—words become stuck in my throat / Because I am woman’’; ‘‘Probably all the meetings and organisations will be silenced and my voice will not reach you.’’ This last line refers to the government clampdown on the udf organizations, which until February 1988 had functioned above ground, and to new attacks on union militants, drawn increasingly into the political wars after the bombing of cosatu’s Johannesburg headquarters in 1987 (Marx 211). But silencing has a special salience for South African women, seen in Sanna Naidoo’s cover drawing for Speak (also in the postcard exhibition), ‘‘Breaking the Silence’’: cramped with young children into four barred, kennelsized dollhouses open on one side, groups of women are drawn in different postures of entrapment and emergence, over the caption ‘‘women say our men must stop beating us’’ (in Goldner 11). Whether or not Naidoo knew Audre Lorde’s essay ‘‘The Transformation of Silence into 212

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Language and Action,’’ her drawing perfectly illustrates Lorde’s thesis and Malange’s poem. Malange’s reaction to the fear of silence is both an acknowledgment of how words stick in her throat and a defiance of coercion, which draws some of its language, as in her Black Mamba Rising poem ‘‘Today,’’ from the presence of political ancestors, among whom she now imagines herself in ‘‘Long Live Women’’: It does not matter You will continue to hear me, I will always be beside you and my memory will always be loyal to you And we will overcome this grey and bitter moment where our mothers and sisters are buried alive Let’s stand up and fight! I am talking to you women of our country . . . (in Lockett 341) Its narrative driven by the harsh sentences and summaryexecutions of martial law, ‘‘Long Live Women’’ is plunged into the tone of the other poems on the Emergency, and it returns to the performative mode of Black Mamba Rising with even more explicitness (‘‘I am talking to you women’’). A new element in that style is Malange’s naming of obstacles and weaknesses that hold women back from ‘‘language and action’’; her own words get stuck, and she argues against other patriarchal traditions: ‘‘Don’t cry, don’t cry women’’; ‘‘We cannot fold our arms and pray’’; ‘‘We cannot sit behind.’’ Compassion, piety, deference are all ethical choices made by women themselves under the pressure of various invented traditions, often within the ethic of care that Carol Gilligan and Joan Tronto have discussed; as such, they are not to be simply dismissed. As Gayatri Spivak writes concerning the fiction of Mahasweta Devi, ‘‘Internalized gendering perceived as ethical choice is the hardest roadblock for women the world over’’ (in Devi, translator’s preface xxviii). Malange’s performative solution to getting past these roadblocks is to invoke the ethic of caring as a political empathy among women themselves, the litany of women whose sacrifices call other women into the ranks. ‘‘Long Live’’ (an Englishing of the South African appropriation of the Latin American ‘‘Viva’’) catches this metaphorics of a continually replenished women’s march or continuous field of women’s action, a kind of verbal equivalent of the breathtaking photographic record (compiled by Omar Badsha, the Afrapix photographers, and others) of No Turning Back

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militant South African women that is such a strength of No Turning Back, among many other books. The performative logic is that of ‘‘Nightshift Mother’’: ‘‘lift each other off our knees / and fight,’’ a sequence that recognizes the strength of women’s ethical traditions as the foundation of a new political power, in the unions, in national liberation, and in the ‘‘domestic struggle.’’

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chapter seven

Lines of Flight: Bessie Head, Arthur Nortje, and Dambudzo Marechera

Writing in her uneasily adopted Botswana, and in that sense standing to one side of South African literary history—neither in-country nor the typical ‘‘political’’ in European or North American exile—Bessie Head is nevertheless a figure to reckon with in any account of radical impulses in recent South African writing. Her fiction and mixed-genre prose were written mainly in the seventies and mostly before the watershed of the 1976 Soweto uprising that began the last embattled phase of apartheid. But as was already indicated in chapter 2 in relation to Ndebele and feminism, she has an important place in the tradition of writing radical democracy. Despite her absence from the scene of the eighties and the transition, there is much to be learned from the textual radicalism of her work, particularly its extension—as Ndebele was to call for—‘‘beyond protest’’ into some of the underlying questions about the text of power, the text of opposition, and that getting used to power that constitutes the text of radical popular democracy. If postcolonial Botswana, though less than Zimbabwe, in some ways prefigures postapartheid South Africa, Bessie Head’s location there, like Dambudzo Marechera’s and Tsitsi Dangarembga’s in Zimbabwe, can be said to look ahead to issues in the politics of culture only now coming to

the fore in her country of origin. Another aspect of her work, its rural scene (and again it is Ndebele who calls for more writing of the rural life), is also unusual for a South African writer, and looks beyond the urban focus that the white culture industry and the education system inevitably drew black writing toward, and which in some ways the impulse to democracy from below might want to question. In these ways Head’s work suggests links with the rural rediscovery of the ordinary in Malange’s poem ‘‘I, the Unemployed’’ or the rural scene of Ingrid de Kok’s homecoming poem ‘‘On Her Way Home,’’ as well as with Malange’s and de Kok’s exploration of female subjectivity and power. Rob Nixon’s chapter on Bessie Head in Homelands, Harlem, and Hollywood: South African Culture and the World Beyond makes persuasive claims for her relevance to current debates over the writing of identity and nation, ethnicity and gender (101–30). Head is also drawing attention from a new generation of black South African women critics such as Desiree Lewis and Sisi Maqagi, and Zoë Wicomb uses a poststructuralist rereading of Head’s novella Maru to show how the sexism in a udf public meeting needs to be critically read within and against a national liberation perspective (‘‘To Hear the Variety of Discourses,’’ in Daymond 53–54). In an essay already referred to, Margaret Daymond argues that Head and Miriam Tlali in their short stories engage in ‘‘inventing gendered traditions,’’ and that the results have not yet been reckoned with in South African cultural criticism: ‘‘These texts encourage us into new ways of reading, new recognitions of the nature of power. Judging from the debate originating with Ndebele and Sachs, what these stories offer has not yet had public recognition’’ (‘‘Inventing Gendered Traditions’’ 236). It appears that Bessie Head’s radical significance, for developing South African feminisms and for what they have to say about power and gender in the contradictory setting of a new nation still struggling with the depth of its democracy, is only beginning to be elaborated. A little-known body of writing now beginning to be published, her correspondence, reveals this radicalism in the feminist textuality of the letter itself, which Head has used to a far greater degree than any other recent writer in Africa, Es’kia Mphahlele being her closest rival in this regard.1 The letter is a form more associated with white women writers than with black, especially African, writers, but Head’s correspondence can profitably be read in both traditions of epistolarity. The beginnings of black writing in English in the late eighteenth century, the century of the letter 216

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and the epistolary novel as European women’s genres, make an interesting starting point linking both traditions. Like the eighteenth-century letter writers of African origin Philip Quaque, Ignatius Sancho, and Phillis Wheatley, Bessie Head self-consciously practiced the letter as a literary form. Her meticulously kept carbon copies now in the Khama III Memorial Museum in Serowe also suggest she had an eye, like Sancho and Wheatley, on their eventual publication, or at least on their use as a personal archive; Gillian Stead Eilersen’s recent biography makes full use of the letters for this purpose. No doubt another impulse behind Head’s voluminous correspondence was her isolation in Serowe, rural Botswana being a stark contrast to the Johannesburg and Cape Town of her journalist days and the international conferences (in the United States, Canada, Germany, Denmark, Nigeria, Australia) of her later celebrity years. Her correspondents were mostly from Britain and the United States, though they included several South African expatriates; some had met her as teachers in Patrick van Rensburg’s school or volunteers in the Serowe pottery, building, and gardening cooperatives that grew up around the school and that marked the spirit of her work, I believe, more than has been noticed—beyond becoming a healing theme in A Question of Power. A new correspondence often began with a letter from an enthusiastic reader of her work, and it may have been not only her isolation but her will to be read that made her develop fan mail into serious correspondence, a continuation of her books by other means. As with her black eighteenth-century forebears, the letter became for her an attestation or guarantee of her place in the literary itself, given her difficulties getting started as a writer in South Africa and the frequently frustrating and exasperated relationships she continued to have from Serowe with far-away agents and publishers. The literariness of her letters also has something to do with their origin—many of them—in talk about writing; they make up a running gloss on her work as it was evolving, as Randolph Vigne has noted in his volume of letters A Gesture of Belonging and Eilersen in her biography. Head’s letters, like those of any copious correspondent, are a miscellany of personal and business writing, and her series of letters to individual addressees (of which Vigne’s published selections are rich examples among many) are often a mixture of the two, while at the same time having a character or genre of their own drawn from the relationship with the addressee. From this miscellany a set of Head’s letters to black women writers—Michelle Cliff, Nikki Giovanni, Toni Morrison, and Alice Walker—make a particuLines of Flight

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larly interesting group; a close reading of these unpublished letters, which are quite different from the letters to Vigne in enacting the project of ‘‘inventing gendered traditions,’’ may begin to explore the radicalism of her practice of the letter. A Traffic with Ghosts: Bessie Head’s Letters to the Diaspora Your letters are the most beautiful and thick-with-thought letters I think I’ve ever received. —Alice Walker to Bessie Head, December 6, 1974 What happens when women resort to the epistolary not for an amorous but for a dissident discourse; when they no longer seek to retrieve a male lover unchanged but seek to change the exclusionary practices of a male-dominated culture; when the letter no longer finds its inscription in a repetitive structure of desire but in a unique opportunity to advocate social change? —Anne Herrmann, The Dialogic and Difference Es ist ja ein Verkehr mit Gespenstern und zwar nicht nur mit dem Gespenst des Adressaten, sondern auch mit dem eigenen Gespenst, das sich einem unter der Hand in dem Brief, den man schreibt, entwickelt. [(Letter writing) is truly a traffic with ghosts, and I don’t mean only with the ghost of the person addressed, but also with one’s own ghost, which emerges under one’s hand in the letter one writes.] —Franz Kafka, Briefe an Milena 2

The uncanniness of a writer’s letters, which Kafka stages as ‘‘a traffic with ghosts,’’ derives from the requirement of a signature, which both attests that this is the most personal and intimate writing one does—one’s real as opposed to fictive writing—and yet by that very fact puts into relief the constructedness or writtenness of the written self-which-writes, the ghostly self transported into the letter (as into the autobiography) by the writing hand. The uncanniness of the postal system, which Derrida stages in The Post Card: From Socrates to Freud and Beyond as an endless dissemination of messages that, though they position and are positioned by sender and receiver, may never arrive at a destination, redoubles the ghostliness of the scene of letter writing with the spectral letter itself as a wanderer between two worlds of meaning.When, as often in the case of Bessie Head, isolated from the literary world in rural Serowe, the writer has never met the person 218

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to whom she addresses the letter, and especially when, as in the letters I will be talking about, the addressee is another black woman writer on the other side of the Atlantic, the effects of ghostliness and doubling, mirror and echo, begin to multiply. Bessie Head’s letters to African American and Caribbean women writers weave her into a Black Atlantic ‘‘counterculture of modernity’’ (Gilroy, Black Atlantic 1) by way of a postal network, which is like a ghostly double of the public post that carried her other manuscripts and letters to the agents, publishers, critics, reviewers, professors, and conveners of conferences who make up the metropolitan culture industry. (Morrison and Walker as addressees are double ghosts, sending and receiving both editorial messages and ‘‘sister letters.’’) Delivered by the postman of the truth, Head’s fiction is disseminated in that colonizing, patriarchal culture industry as one of its commodities, the required figure of leading-Southern-Africanblack-woman-writer. Meanwhile, in another time, Bhabha’s ‘‘differential’’ time, a nonsynchronous, disjunctive temporality formed by turning their backs on public or published time, a few letters are carried directly back and forth between black women writers of center and periphery, setting up a network incommensurable, at odds, with a phallocentric public sphere: a relay in which the ghosts can speak together. The margin of the letter is what bell hooks writes about choosing the margin for, its epistemic power as the place of radical openness (Yearning 145–53); and there is a homology between the margin of the letter in the world of Letters and the social margin on which cooperative movements like those in Serowe, and other civil society radical initiatives like Malange’s and Qabula’s Durban community arts center, can develop an epistemologyas well as a praxis. From this point of view the letter (one might also think of Rosa Luxemburg’s letters) is a text of radical democracy. In terms of form, the typology of the letter drawn up by François Jost, which contrasts lettres-confidence (expressive, confiding letters, written to a confidant) and lettres-drame (letters meant to change a situation, written to an adversary), is useful to distinguish two sides, both very much in evidence, of Head’s correspondence (Jost 124, quoted in Altman, Epistolarity 22). Not all of Head’s lettres-drame are written to her publishers and agents, some of whom in fact became confidants; but the lettre-confidence is the genre of her correspondence with Cliff, Giovanni, Morrison, and Walker. Jost’s terms derive from his study of many European literatures and periods, but prominent among them are eighteenth-century epistolary novels, Lines of Flight

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in which the form of the European novel was being defined along with Enlightenment notions of polarized and gendered public and private spheres (Cook 22).This process was contested, however, in some of the many epistolary novels written by women—a genre Jost, writing in 1968, disparages in a particularly misogynistic passage (115–16). One instance is the letters of ‘‘female friendship’’ in Jane Austen’s Lady Susan, which Deborah Kaplan has read as ‘‘the terrain of women’s networks and of their power,’’ acquiring in the women’s letter form a sort of independence from narrative authority and partially disrupting, on the ground of a ‘‘women’s culture,’’ the patriarchal ‘‘gentry culture’’ in which they also participate (169, 175–76). A more radical challenge to the relegating of women’s letters to a subordinate private sphere was the ‘‘going public’’ of Marie-Jeanne Riccoboni’s heroine Fanni Butlerd, who publishes her love letters as a book to shame her seducer (Cook 43–44). But between Fanni Butlerd and Bessie Head much has changed in the politics of public and private, letter and book. If in 1757 the privacy and expressivity of the lettre-confidence confined Fanni Butlerd to the sphere of ‘‘exploitative, hierarchical private relations between men and women’’ (Cook 43), whereas a contracted for and published book gave her independence and autonomy, Head’s ‘‘going private’’ with the letter form signals a step forward, or a side step away, from a public literary culture she found extremely frustrating to a woman writer in her circumstances. But for all these shifts of rhetorical and political strategy, it remains true that the letters between Head and Cliff, Giovanni, Morrison, and Walker exist in some relation to a European tradition of women’s letters and epistolary novels and essays, both for their original writers and readers and for their eavesdropping later readers. Anne Herrmann, pointing to the way modern women writers like Virginia Woolf and Christa Wolf ‘‘simultaneously inscribe themselves in a feminine tradition of letter writing . . . and a masculine tradition of thewritten essay’’ (33), is typical of what contemporaryWestern feminist criticism has found in women’s letters: their disruptive effect on ideologies of the public/private dichotomy and on masculinist genres, their opening up of strategies of autonomyand opposition.3 Head’s letters (like The Color Purple, Walker’s Briefwechselroman in which Nettie writes from Africa to Celie) ask to be read in this tradition, while also displacing it from its European frame as women’s letters between Africa and the diaspora. The letters are a significant addition to her work as a whole, which has always been felt to be central to ‘‘naming an African women’s literary tradition’’ (Andrade 91). 220

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As they become known her letters will place Bessie Head in that literary history differently from her fiction. Arlene A. Elder’s review of the Vigne collection mentions, for one thing, the value of the letters ‘‘in giving us a counter image to that of Bessie Head, the tortured, helpless victim’’ (282). They are also a prolonged Kunstlerroman, an invaluable record of the postcolonial African writer at work. The letters between African and African diaspora women form a circuit that does not altogether overlap with European epistolarity. The contrast Robert Stewart makes for Caribbean studies between ‘‘metropolarity’’ and ‘‘polyunity’’—between ‘‘the historical lines that link the fortunes of the Caribbean to the capitals of the northern powers’’ and ‘‘what links all internal aspects of the Caribbean . . . the distinct human process that Edouard Glissant calls antillanité’’ (2)—is close to the distinction drawn here between Head’s letters to Heinemann (or to Randolph Vigne in London, fellow expatriate though he was) and those to Michelle Cliff. ‘‘Polyunity’’ borne by letters is a useful description of how Head, Cliff, Giovanni, Morrison, and Walker forged in their correspondence the links of a postcolonial feminist intertextuality, a kind of women’s ‘‘nation language’’ (Brathwaite, History of the Voice 42), a ‘‘natural, free, open, cross-cultural poetics’’ (Glissant 132), against the grain of a ‘‘metropolar’’ culture industry which at that point (mid-1970s to early 1980s) separated out such women’s texts as African, Caribbean, and North American. (What might be called a crisis of the genre occurs in the correspondence between Head and Morrison, when the lettre-confidence to a writer wavers toward the lettre-drame to an editor, and polyunity veers toward metropolarity again.) It follows that such letters should also be read in the tradition of earlier correspondence by African and diasporic writers. This is a sparsely inhabited but interesting landscape. The earliest African and diasporic writing in English in the eighteenth century, not surprisingly, has epistolary roots, for example, the letters of Ignatius Sancho, Julius Soubise, and the Sierra Leone black settlers (Edwards and Dabydeen); Phillis Wheatley’s letters (Wheatley 162–87); and those of Elizabeth Hart Thwaites in Antigua (Ferguson 104–14). All three converge on the ‘‘dissident discourse’’ of antislavery; Wheatley and Hart Thwaites also left letters to female friends and coworkers. The nineteenth century continues this tradition in the genre of slaves’ letters to masters (e.g., Frederick Douglass’s famous 1848 letter to his, and Harriet Jacobs’s trickster letters to hers), and in Harriet Jacobs’s letters to her white abolitionist/feminist comrade Amy Post (H. Jacobs Lines of Flight

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227–51). Two notable later collections of African letters are by other South Africans, Olive Schreiner and Es’kia Mphahlele. Arthur Nortje, the South African exile poet who, like Head, was biracial, wrote letters of an uncensored experimentalism and mordancy that recall hers in their construction of a ghost/self quite different from the voice of their published work. Sancho, Wheatley, Hart Thwaites, Jacobs, Mphahlele, and Nortje make a fascinating set of precursors.4 Françoise Lionnet argues for the logic of linking such writing across time and space, being careful to bypass the culturalist/essentialist approach that tends to naivelyassume that a common ground necessarily exists among these various fictions [the authors are Gayl Jones, Bessie Head, and Myriam Warner-Vieyra] simply because their authors share some common ‘‘African’’ origin— which theyall do,of course. But . . . the similarities of theme in theworks of Jones, Head, and Warner-Vieyra are not just the consequence of their shared ‘‘Africanness,’’ but of a performative intertextuality which is the function of the ideology and cultural matrix that generates the work. (‘‘Geographies of Pain’’ 136) ‘‘Performative intertextuality,’’ though Lionnet uses it here more broadly, is an especially illuminating phrase for the letter in particular. In On the Line, Deleuze develops a political psychology of such ‘‘lines’’ or connections. There are the ‘‘rigidly segmented’’ or ‘‘molar lines’’ that ‘‘carve up’’ a life into the segments of family, school, work, as in Head’s separating from her husband, moving to Botswana, and becoming a published writer.There are the ‘‘more supple’’ or ‘‘molecular’’ lines that cross ‘‘thresholds,’’ as when she shifts her writing from psychological fiction in one period to social history in another. And there are the ‘‘lines of flight’’ ‘‘carrying us away, through our segments but also across our thresholds, toward an unknown destination, neither foreseeable nor pre-existent’’ (69–71), which well describes the phenomenology of the letter, at least the kind of risky, venturesome letter Head (and before her Sancho, Jacobs, Douglass, and Nortje) often wrote. The shift from metropolarity to polyunity (in Caribbean or Black Atlantic culture) would amount to nothing less than a Deleuzian line of flight; it is not a question of simply reversing the dominance of metropolarity, but of displacing the opposition itself, and Deleuze’s flexible, interactive metaphors are one way of thinking such a displacement. Brathwaite’s great poem of antillanité in homage to Nicolas Guillen, ‘‘Word 222

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Making Man,’’ is just such a line of flight around the arc of the Antilles, displacing by language-crossing the segmented polarities of metropolitan Spanishes and Englishes. The letters between Head and her confidants participate in a similar larger ‘‘flight,’’ though looked at up close they are perhaps better seen as the crossing of a ‘‘threshold,’’ a ‘‘supple line’’ at odds with but still involved with the segmented lines of power in the global cultural economy. The letters to Morrison, again, differ from those to the other three diaspora women in their crossing of the ‘‘supple line’’ with the return of a ‘‘segmented’’ one. The line of flight gives a privacy to these letters, which in one way makes them possible as a writing of ‘‘radical openness’’; but in another way, when that privacy yields to the many readings they now will get as documents in the archive, many other lines of flight still carry them out of the literarycritical post office, in a vast web of freely associated listening—a listening such as my new-immigrant students in New York might give them (within what a Dominicana student of Anzaldúa called ‘‘the anxiety of the mestiza’’) 5—that would be faithful to the letters by the uses we make of them against our complicity with the segmented lines of power. Standing in the Serowe post office where these letters were sent and received and sometimes written (she wrote to Alice Walker: ‘‘I dashed off a hasty note to you at the post office’’ [kmm 76 bhp, 9/28/74]),6 where Elizabeth in A Question of Power and Bessie Head in life exploded in paranoid rage and put up posters slandering one of Botswana’s Big Men, I felt the uncanniness of the ‘‘return inquiry’’ in which the critic as postal inspector traced back the literature to the letters, the letters to their sender, thewriter to her ground.7 Linda Susan Beard’s moving philosophical-theological essay on Head works through the narrative voices in her fiction, stressing the need to listen, not always apparent in Head criticism (582–84). Beard also interviewed her viva voce in Gaborone in 1982, making her an ideal reader of the letters; but the epistolary voice is not exactly the fictional or autobiographical voice, and it is heard from a different place. Hearing that voice when the letter ‘‘goes public,’’ as in Vigne’s book or in citations here or in Eilersen’s biography, positions us as ‘‘external readers’’ in relation to the letter’s addressee, who becomes an ‘‘internal reader’’ (Altman, Epistolarity 89), an actor in what we as story listeners construct as a narrative. Another sort of inquiry may be possible that will see our differently sited readings of these letters, along with their original production, as part of the work of decolonization. On that work, Barbara Harlow quotes the MoLines of Flight

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roccan critic Abdelkebir Khatibi: ‘‘No, we have not yet reached that decolonization of thought which would be, over and above a reversal of that power, the affirmation of a difference, and free and absolute subversion of the spirit.There is there something like a void, a silent interval between the fact of colonization and that of decolonization’’ (Khatibi 47–48, quoted in Harlow xxii). In this chapter I would like to repost some of Bessie Head’s letters into that ghostly interval between colonization and decolonization. The letter is in Deleuze’s terms a nomadic text, and may help us break through the rhetoric of our public literary culture along a black feminist line of flight.The potential of the letter is the power of a performative writing that defers interpretation, that slips the yoke of ‘‘theory,’’ that changes the political frame of culture. Michelle Cliff: Claiming an Identity They Taught Me to Despise Dear Michelle Cliff: I have read your book—Claiming an Identity They Taught Me to Despise—with great pleasure. It reminds me so strongly of the writing of Lorraine Hansberry. There is the same quiet, pretty pacing of thought and feeling, a precision of language that makes meaning utterly and absolutely clear and the same talent for the small poignant statement that lives in the memory forever. I enjoyed much more than that in your work—the bird’s eye view of the history of mankind or womenkind, life seen as small, compressed, vivid short stories. If there is a troubled undertone in the writing and a preoccupation with the dark times black people have lived through (a sense of having been destroyed in some essential way by contact with white people), that very clarity of language and meaning suggests a control over all experience, an intellectual control that leaves one with a sense of peace, not alarm. I have observed that people who torture and trouble life in a wide radius around them, do so because they cannot come face to face either with their own errors or the errors of history. I think that is the basic magnificence of your own book, that your life depends on coming face to face with your own self. The book has a very apt title. I do not dispute that identity has been reclaimed. (kmm 313 bhp, 10/13/81) Responding to Cliff ’s gift of her book, which repaid the debt of her reading of Head’s work, this letter recirculates a thematics of writing as clarity, compression, control, and coming face to face, which implicitly the 224

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two writers, both biracial women from colonized cultures, share, as a writing of disarticulation and rearticulation of colonized identities. Colonized women’s writing as the reclaiming of clarity takes as its definitional other in this passage the troubled undertone, the dark times, the destruction, the alarm, the torture and trouble, the errors of self and history, that it overwrites. As Head had done with her character Margaret in Maru, coming face to face with the intracolonial racialism that, in Botswana, targeted her and her son as South Africans of mixed ancestry by aligning them with the despised ‘‘Masarwa’’ (‘‘San’’ or ‘‘Bushmen’’ people; the terminology is vexed), so Cliff in her book of essays disarticulated the intracolonial colorism of Jamaica: ‘‘Under this system of colorism—the system which prevailed in my childhood in Jamaica, and which has carried over to the present—rarely will dark and light people comingle. Rarely will theyachieve between themselves an intimacy informed with identity’’ (‘‘If I Could Write This’’ 78). The drama of identity put in place by colonial and traditional systems of difference is re- or overwritten in Maru and Cliff ’s essays as a reclaiming of clarity, by facing down the most intimate pain of colonialism—the hurt exchanged between the colonized. Head’s perhaps surprising reference to Lorraine Hansberry (widening the circuit of sister letters) makes sense here in terms of the drama of intimate family pain in A Raisin in the Sun (which includes Beneatha’s possible ‘‘line of flight’’ from the Chicago South Side to Nigeria), and indeed in terms of Adrienne Kennedy’s pain-drenched, antiOedipal extensions of that drama in a play partly about reverse migration to Africa, Funnyhouse of a Negro. The passage from Head’s letter to Cliff, then, restages the cultural work of decolonization they had both done in books (and that each had read in the other’s work) as a letter, a traffic between ghosts.The space of the letter and its itinerary in the post is the only space, across the transatlantic geography in which traffic between the United States and Botswana is a traffic of tourists, capitalist investors, aid and development technicians, diplomats, and the official intellectuals of cultural exchange, in which Head and Cliff can comingle with an intimacy informed by mestiza identity. What does the exchange of letters add to the exchange of books between Cliff and Head? What would have been superseded or lost if letters had ever been replaced by a coming face to face of the two writing women, as might have but did not happen in a reading tour or a conference? What is lost in this citation of the letters, or in their full publication, as Cliff has speculated in an interview with Judith Raiskin that she might want to do (Cliff, ‘‘Art of History’’ Lines of Flight

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60)? What is the letter on this live circuit of women before it becomes the dead letter of scholarship, of public reading, of interpretation? The uniqueness of the letter that needs to be defined, lying as it does between published book and face-to-face meeting, is not simply the place of a supposed private sphere or an alternative women’s network, but the place of a certain writing, a specific textual form that disseminates the writer and her writing in a certain way, exchanging writers’ signed selves as a transaction of intimacies informed by the decolonizing woman’s signature.The letter rewrites in its own hand what had belonged to the public effects of the author’s signature, and so the letter, as Derrida puts it, is ‘‘not a genre but all genres, literature itself ’’ (48)—in another hand, an Other’s hand. If the letter that might never arrive literalizes the dissemination of all literature between writing hand and reading eye, a writer’s letters as a material text radically displace or defer the readings of all her other writing. Facing like mirrors across the Atlantic, the letters concerning the rewriting of a gender-liberated mestiza identity that cross between Michelle Cliff and Bessie Head are less communications than invocations, of echoing decolonized selves that come to be only under the letter-writing hand. Theircall across the borders that divide colonized space, in a text concealed under the national postage stamp and conveyed between the spaces of national power by the international postal service, is a nationallyand transnationally covert text rather than simply private.The oppressed covertly recognize in the text of the letter that their desire for liberation is the desire of the other.When Head writes, thanking Cliff for the dedication of Abeng, ‘‘It astonishes me to have my work loved like that’’ (kmm 313 bhp, 5/20/83); when Cliff writes that Head’s phrase for the character Clare in Abeng, ‘‘a tomboy in lace’’ (taken from a Sinatra song), ‘‘is indeed what she is, and what I am also’’ (kmm 313 bhp, 5/19/84); when the two writers imagine that they look alike and promise to send pictures (kmm 313 bhp, 5/7/84, 5/19/84); and when the silence of her mental distress falls on what has been after all a brief correspondence quite late in Head’s life, these acts of writing have connected not authors but the selves invented by the dialogic of the letter. Nikki Giovanni: Comrade of Socrates Dear Nikki: . . . That Thursday 27th, I didn’t know really what to expect and then, walking towards me was a fairly ordinary-looking girl, 226

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the sort of girl who might have been my relative in South Africa. . . . I have often been at the mercy of crazy, vicious sorts of people. What they try to do is makeyou crazy like them but within that situation something will happen, someone will always be sane, I used to get unexpected sympathy, pull out and walk away. When your beautiful letter came it was like that one sane person. . . . At that time I used to read your letter over and over again. It was all I really had to slowly pull me back to sanity. . . . I don’t know how such things happen. They are like small lights that insistently turn up in the darkness. There is quite a lot of ‘‘the girl who skipped Double-Dutch’’ in the Elizabeth of power and I know in my own heart that that is half the appeal of the book to those who care because your letter helped me regain my own personality. . . . I hope you will like the power book in parts as a lot of the time you did hold my hand. (kmm 75 bhp, 10/5/73) Head describes her meeting with Nikki Giovanni in Gaborone in its connection to letter writing as a kind of sequel to the talisman letter from Giovanni that helped Head through the mental breakdown of 1971, which she chronicled in Elizabeth of A Question of Power, who ‘‘is exactly me in nightmares and real life’’ (kmm 75 bhp, 10/5/73). In the beginning was the letter, and the letter established a relation, so that Giovanni walking toward her on a Gaborone street ‘‘might have been my relative in South Africa.’’ The Serowe archive does not contain the letter from Giovanni, but it is clear how it functioned and at what level of interiority its addressee listened to it. These letters set up a parallel kinship line of writing, replacing Head’s tortured multiracial lineage (divided, even destroyed, by apartheid lawand custom) with look-alikes, relatives, sisters,who are African American, African Caribbean women writers.8 The pleasures of recognition, the writing of a likeness, underlie all Head’s letterexchanges with Cliff,Walker, Morrison, and Giovanni; for her, letter writing has the magic of a substitute kinship, even of a parallel world of writing. She wrote to Cliff: ‘‘Gloria [Gloria Joseph, who also met Head in Gaborone] is like that too, as though the world of writing can triumph over a terrible environment like southern Africa’’ (kmm 313 bhp, 10/13/81). That was said of their books, their public writing, but it is the particular magic of the letter that allows writing to triumph. As the long journal-letter to Giovanni continues, it is the structure of address to a relative, within the effect of a ‘‘traffic between ghosts,’’ that Lines of Flight

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redescribes Head’s village life as a writer’s triumph over a terrible environment: Comrade of Socrates—isn’t that a wonderful title? I don’t know how familiar you are with the poetry of W. H. Auden but I have on my mind a quote from one of his poems—‘‘these things I have loved . . .’’ It has a wistful sadness about it that suits my mood. I thought I’d make a listing of all the things I’ve loved here. I’ve spent hours collecting together my birds, my pathways, my sunsets. It was painful solitary work and no one ever cared about it but I, The small boys of the village with their home-made wire cars, On windy nights thevast land mass outside mydoor simulates the ocean —there is a dark roar in the dark night . . . My home at night with its candle light, the hours I spent at the gate watching the candle light through the yellow glow of the curtains, the long solitary hours of thought . . . All these small joys were all I had everyday,with nothing beyond them— they were acquired bit by bit, like my furniture and favourite books which are read over and over again. It makes one ask: Why do we live? It all gets lost and taken away. (kmm 75 bhp, 10/7/73) But the troubled undertone Head remarked in Cliff ’s work also shadows this letter world of the collector of treasures, and the ‘‘slight differences’’ 9 with Giovanni she mentioned in the same letter eventually broke out into a family fight, the correspondence terminated in 1975 by one of the enraged, abusive letters (kmm 75 bhp, 9/25/75) Head used sadly often to end things. Her signature to these ritual letters of outrage, hurt, and insult (this one is signed not ‘‘Bessie’’ but ‘‘Bessie Head,’’ underlined, the signature of the author) gives another turn to the uncanny invocation of ‘‘one’s own ghost’’ that letters make. Letters can always not arrive, ‘‘get lost’’ for lack of the anticipated response the letter form always demands, not be sent, or be sent to strike the addressee from the list of comrades of Socrates— the teleology of the letter self-destructing.

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Alice Walker: On the Edge Dear Alice Walker: I read . . . and what I am in love with, immediately, is that free, wayward sympathy that looks anywhere and straight-away falls in love with people’s hidden magic and pain. It is of course my own technique, but alone I cannot always decide if I am doing the right thing. To see someone else doing the same thing, simply speeds me up a bit along the road I have been travelling and helps me to solidify my own conclusions about life. I cannot help seeing things in bits and bits just now and not as one great revelation and due to this one offers out ones homage to the goodness of life in bits and bits too.The vast over-all pictures are shatteringly horrible, like South Africa and I can only guess, America too, but within this is the helplessness of individuals or alternatively their stature and greatness and this quiet appeal that comes to one is only on the edge, in the byways and unexpected moments, like a secret only very alert eyes can capture. Your writing dwells on that edge. The effect it had on me was . . . ‘‘Yes I am right,’’ I thought. ‘‘I can cut through everything and find God anywhere. Further on from this I can grant to people a freedom they will never encounter in any social order they can think up for themselves.’’ At this point I of course went and lay down prostrate on the floor. I am just tired of all the efforts I made on my own, the uncertainty and doubt of working in solitude, the drain of offering a certain kind of love that never seems to be returned and the relief at finding someone else with that kind of love too. . . . (kmm 76 bhp, 10/24/74) Dear Bessie: Your letters are the most beautiful and thick-withthought letters I think I’ve ever received. I have read the first one about seven times, and each time I’m delighted because there is more revealed of thoughts I can use. (Which is what I’ve always found in your work: ideas, feelings, I recognized at once as a kind of ‘‘other half ’’ to some of my own, and I’ve found a usefulness, a source of real help, that I can never find in most contemporary writing). I’m terribly glad you like my work. I would have been hurt I think if you hadn’t. I wanted you to know it, at least, since I’ve known yours for so long and it has meant so much to me. In fact, from one of your letters I took the quotation about ‘‘allowing people a freedom they’d never be able to have under any social system they could think up for themselves.’’ I put it on my bulletin Lines of Flight

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board, over my desk, and I also gave it to one of my friends as a birthday present. Ideas make the best gifts, I think. (kmm 76 bhp, 12/6/74) This exchange of letters could be seen as an exchange of acts of reading, the circuit book writing/book reading,which first connectsWalkerand Head, decisively transformed by what the new circuit letter writing/letter reading introduces. In the first place, Head’s letter signals awareness of a shared marginality as the writer’s privileged observation post (‘‘on the edge, in the byways and unexpected moments, like a secret only very alert eyes can capture’’). She turns the metaphor of the edge from border to blade (‘‘I can cut through everything’’), the self emerging under her hand a more powerful writer from her reorientation toward Walker, and seeking a response from her addressee that would confirm her in that power. Walker’s letter, with its tale of culling Head’s utopian sentence about textual and historical freedom and ‘‘publishing’’ it all around her workspace, is exactly this sort of confirming response. Both passages turn crucially on the trope of recognition, not so much a reader’s recognition of the experience represented in the text as a writer’s recognition of the passion and technique of writing. What they each recognize is the writing self and the scene of writing, not the author-function of the public signature, but the anxieties of the craft worker in her workshop, subject to doubt, loss of nerve, desire, and hurt. Walker names another gift of the letter, ‘‘usefulness’’: the letter is a use-value, a performative writing, writing as a labor process rather than its product for the literary market. Finally, the letter has a dynamic affect, full of promise (and therefore threat), hope (and so fear as well), emulation (and with it, rivalry). The exchange of letters is a traffic between performative selves who come to be in the act of performance (in linked acts of performance), and so bear the features of another, transitory, doubtful realm, which may be why Kafka imagined it as the domain of ghosts.10 Toni Morrison: If Delight Were All That Was Needed Head’s brief correspondence with Toni Morrison is an interesting variation on these lettres-confidence. In January 1976, when she was looking for an American publisher for Serowe: The Village of the Rain-Wind and the collection of short stories that was eventually to be entitled The Collector of Treasures, Head wrote to Morrison in the latter’s capacity as an editor at Ran230

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dom House.These books marked the turn to social history her writing was taking, and like all such crossing of thresholds it left her in an anxious state (‘‘This is a rather desperate probe in the dark’’). The tone of her letter is businesslike but straightforward about her need for ‘‘a sympathetic American editor’’ with whom she would be ‘‘communicating . . . rather than writing into the air.’’ She presumably had in mind someone like Nikki Giovanni or Alice Walker, the latter still actively in correspondence with her after working with her as an editor at Ms. on her story ‘‘Witchcraft.’’ Both relationships had begun with an exchange of acts of reading, and Head’s letter follows the same path to inaugurate with Morrison both a professional and ‘‘a more human relationship’’: We are acquainted with each other in a very indirect way. Once Susan Stanwood of McCall’s (now defunct) sent you a book of mine and you sent her back a note of appreciation, which she sent on to me (I enclose the letter). Then Nikki Giovanni sent me your book, Sula, and I sent her a note of appreciation (I enclose my letter). (kmm 42 bhp, 1/5/76) This overture is guarded, but other passages in the letter allow glimpses of a more desperate appeal: ‘‘I haven’t such a mess as I am a resourceful sort of person but, in attempting to resolve all the tangle of my affairs, I find myself alone and it’s a case of where do I go from here?’’ Morrison’s professionally encouraging reply keeps strictly to business in the body of the letter: ‘‘I was very pleased to hear from you and want to say right off that I am extremely interested in reading the two works you described.’’ But her postscript responds to the undertone, if less warmly than Head might have hoped and less confidingly than Walker and Cliff: ‘‘p.s. We must talk about Sula one day. Although I have no affection for that kind of woman, I tried hard to present her honestly and sympathetically’’ (kmm 42 bhp, 1/21/76). For Morrison, talking about their work—it is hers rather than Head’s she mentions—is an intermediate stage of intimacy, outside the formal text of the writer-editor connection (‘‘I will need to know, of course, the details of the rights held in England’’): writer to writer, but not a lettre-confidence. Head apparently proceeded cautiously after this response, simply sending her manuscripts. Morrison replied in June: You must forgive my inordinate delay in writing to you about the materials you were kind enough to send to me: Botswana Village Tales and Lines of Flight

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Serowe, Village of the Rain-Wind. I’ve been teaching at Yale this year and the semester just closed. I’ve read everything you sent and found it quite wonderful. And I wish my delight were all that was needed, but it isn’t. Lovely as they are, neither can be successfully marketed by the adult trade department here. (I’ve discussed them with several people.) We are heavily departmentalized . . . into editors of children’s books, young adult books, school books, college, paperback mass-market, paperback Vintage, trade paper and adult—with only the latter two crossing over. I give you those tedious details because both of the mss. you sent should be handled here by school book or young adult book departments—where I believe they would do extremely well.The obvious argument that ‘‘adults’’ find just as much enjoyment from ‘‘young adult’’ books has been carried on for generations to no avail. There is a line of demarcation which management believes is clear. . . . I am very disappointed in not being able to handle the work myself. What I am eager to receive from you is a novel. If ever you have something like that to show, please let me know. I would consider it an honor to be your American publisher. (kmm 42 bhp, 6/8/76) The correspondence ends with Head’s reply to the mixed news in this letter. She writes a formal thanks for Morrison’s ‘‘kind suggestions concerning further placement of my work with the children’s department,’’ other letters at this time showing that she was both appalled at the suggestion and also understanding of Morrison’s constraints within the marketing strategies of a large U.S. publisher. One paragraph in the letter, however, stands as a sign of a relationship forgone, regretted; she felt she knew Morrison through her work and that Morrison would have known her too, and that this might have been the basis for a real exchange as well as a working relationship. She announces here, in fact, that she is not prepared to work with an editor with whom she cannot have a relationship of this kind of ‘‘knowing’’: I am a little fearful just right now of placing my work with an editor completely unknown to me. I have a number of complications attached to my work that could only be solved by a more personal relationship with an editor. It is these complications which worry me so much, so that I am not in haste to be accepted for publication. (kmm 42 bhp, 6/18/76) 232

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She then asks Morrison to transfer the manuscripts to Jean Highland at Bantam. The standoff between Head and Morrison marks the site of a clash between the ethos of the letter and the laws of the culture industry. The metropolitan marketing strategy of Random House processed Head’s manuscript—even through so sympathetic an editor as Toni Morrison— according to its own laws and wanted to send her to the children’s department! In 1976, postcoloniality did not constitute a market niche, and transgressive genres like Serowe: Village of the Rain-Wind were also troublesome. Morrison’s impatience with this decision is obvious in her embarrassment over the management’s lines of demarcation and her wish for an unambiguous ‘‘novel’’ so that Head could slip through the sales department’s lines. But finally shewrites from within her role at Random House, and that rules out the correspondence she might have had with Head. On her side, Head may well have misread Morrison’s formality, her characteristic dignified, public tone, which allows a hint of intimacy (‘‘we must talk . . . one day’’), but actually values the formality and dignity with which one serious writer should treat another. Those familiar with Morrison’s public gravitas, her elevated, magisterial cadence, can hear the warmth of praise and response in her phrases—‘‘quite wonderful,’’ ‘‘lovely as they are,’’ ‘‘my delight’’—as she would sound them, but in print Head could be forgiven for hearing merely politeness. Because Morrison wrote to her as an editor, at a time when her relations with agents and publishers—always stormy— were at a spectacularly low point, Head seems to have heard only the voice of the marketing apparatus that Morrison herself was, in this case, impatiently at odds with. So the occasion passed, absorbed firmly into the segmented ‘‘lines of demarcation’’ of the Random House management. From another point of view, the wavering rise of one voice, one tone, against another in these Head-Morrison letters is exactly what Kafka means by the ghost that emerges under one’s hand in the letter one writes. Head is loath to show Morrison the vulnerable, needy self with its highs and lows that is her normal epistolary voice, probably because she hoped A Question of Power would already have acquainted Morrison with that self. With her experience of finding ‘‘someone else with that kind of love’’ in her coreaders Alice Walker and Nikki Giovanni (Michelle Cliff ’s letters came later), she must have hoped Morrison would confirm and answer her in the same vein. But her addressee responds instead to an idea of Head’s public persona, the businesslike, dignified, self-contained self that an author, a person of Lines of Flight

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substance and property, is supposed to be. Two views of a writer’s place in the literary are at odds here, a contest worked out in the textuality of the letter. We might wonder in passing why Morrison did not respond to Head’s appeal between the lines.What was at stake? Could she have read and liked A Question of Power and the other novels and not have known how romantically yearning and questing, how fragile a person theirauthor was? It would be foolish to underestimate Morrison’s insight into such a writer as Bessie Head. More likely it is the exigencies of the editor’s position that summon up to her letter-writing hand the professional voice that, given the fact that on the segmented line the sales manager has power over the editor and the editor over the writer, simply froze Head in her tracks. She herself fails to summon up for Morrison the persistent, subtle fragrance that breathes in so manyof her best, freest letters.That ghost was not to be, that letter never to arrive. The Letter As ‘‘Ordinary Sign’’ Anarchist-feminist thought might describe the way letters transform or transgress the public organization of writing and reading—when they do, and the Head-Morrison correspondence is there to show when and why they do not—as an act of free association among women, or as the admixture of feminist play in capitalist work, or as the disruption of patriarchal, capitalist, colonizing command and control over black women’s texts. Deleuze would figure it as a nomadic ‘‘line of flight,’’ a paradoxically powerful withdrawal into private association from the ‘‘segmented lines’’ of the miscalled public sphere of culture, by whose (recent, vacillating) laws the presence and worth of black women writers on a world scale are a mark of a new ‘‘cycle of freedom’’ and the legitimation of black women’s voices. And perhaps it is so. Morrison’s letters to Head seem to ally her with that realist politics of working with and within the culture industry as a black woman writer, with energy and dignity and effect. But the tone of the other letters marks an absence in the complicity black women writers are now invited to enjoy with the public sphere of the world cultural order— marks it, and fills it with a desire for what Khatibi called ‘‘the affirmation of a difference.’’ It is that difference affirmed in Head’s going to lie down on the floor 234

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in the relief at finding in her ghost and her writing sister’s ghost ‘‘someone else with that kind of love’’; it is the difference Walker celebrates as ‘‘beautiful and thick-with-thought’’ and passes on as a gift (the circuit of women’s playful free association being the circuit of the gift); it is the difference of the letter. The letter reconstitutes marginality as the site of an enunciation addressed beyond the mediation of cultural bureaucracy to other producers of culture. The marginality of the letter is its freedom, its resistant disarticulation of the culture industry and its copious, riotous rearticulation of black women writers’ difference from their representations, including their own published texts.The letter’s rawness, its utopian heat, its schizoanalytic sharpness make of it a feminist form of anarchosyndicalist production of the text. Bessie Head, who was deeply formed by anarchosyndicalism in the local social action of the volunteer brigades and village cooperative movement in Serowe, has found in her letters not only a marginal parallel to her published fiction, not only a private space of friendship in her desperate loneliness, but a writing of difference that leaps ahead of actual social development, a text she posts like music into the ‘‘silent interval between the fact of colonization and the fact of decolonization’’ that we inhabit at the present time, and nowhere more fatefully than in postelection South Africa. Thinking about the meaning of these letters for the politics of culture, I agreewith Ketu Katrak’s early-1980s argument fora Marxist-feminist reading of Bessie Head, noting that the terms Katrak employs suggest the syndicalist rather than the Leninist tradition of Marxism (or is it the dialectic between the two?): This is the crux of Head’s philosophical/political vision—to liberate the personal lives of individual women, which is crucial in any attempt to build a more just sociopolitical system. Head recognizes the equal significance of sexual and social politics and strives to work from the foundation of the homefront, outward into the community. (‘‘From Pauline to Dikeledi’’ 34) Whether Head would or should have gone further than the radicalism of the ngo, given a wider political experience than her few years as a young adult in South Africa and among the refugees of Francistown, Botswana, and her mature years working with Patrick Van Rensburg for community development in Serowe, I cannot say; but labeling her apolitical has always Lines of Flight

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seemed bizarrely wrong.11 Linda Beard speaks of her voice as ‘‘prophetic’’ (581), with something of the political resonance Cornel West has given the term. In any case, the politics of ‘‘the homefront’’ are indeed where Head’s commitments are to be found, in her fiction most strikingly perhaps in ‘‘The Collector of Treasures,’’ but everywhere in the letters as well. The letter is a text of the homefront. Beard, in the same vein, links Head to the political aesthetic of Njabulo Ndebele’s Rediscovery of the Ordinary (578), and Margaret Daymond has argued that Ndebele’s theory is actually indebted to Head and Miriam Tlali even though he has not recognized it (‘‘Sources and Resources’’ 14); I have tried to develop this argument about Ndebele, Head, and feminist theory in the opening chapter, and Rob Nixon also elaborates on their connections (Homelands 118–19). What Beard says of the process of this politics of the ordinary seems to me definitive: ‘‘Head also employs ordinary signs—the weeding of gardens and detailed analyses of irrigation schemes—to rewrite the history of psychic colonization, and to unwrite the same history’’ (579). The letter in her hands is just such an ordinary sign. As the farm or pottery cooperative stands, almost foolishly, on the margins of capitalist agriculture and industry, but still keeps whole our radical ‘‘memories of the future’’ (Gabriel 60) of human labor, so the letters Head wrote by candlelight in her small concrete house on a hillside in the sandveld are an anarchist-feminist intervention, with an unimaginably long memory and a revolutionary future, in the production of culture in Southern Africa. Arthur Nortje: Color, the Letter, and Literary Language A brief look at the letters of an earlier Coloured writer in exile, the poet Arthur Nortje, offers a clarifying footnote to Head’s use of the letter and also a bridge between Head and the discussion to follow of the Zimbabwean writer Dambudzo Marechera. Nortje was a poet of considerable power, and the loss to his generation when he died very young in England in 1970 was enormous. Here I discuss not his poetry in the collection Dead Roots but rather some issues of Coloured identity and literary language that emerge from his unpublished letters; as with Head, it is the letter itself that I believe disposes Nortje to a traffic with other ghosts and other voices than those of his poetry. And the letters rather than the poems also connect Nortje with Marechera, this time in their impulse to decolonize the literary 236

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languages of the African South. To judge from the eighteen pages of his letters to R. G. Leitch in the files of the National English Literary Museum (nelm) in Grahamstown, Nortje’s use of the letter form is defined by his marginality as exile and as Kleurling (Coloured). On these double margins the letter (like his diary, the three short volumes of which are also in the nelm archive) becomes for Nortje the place of experiment with literary voice—his epistolary voice strikingly different from the somewhat grim, intent voice of his poetry, in its exuberant wordplay with English and Cape Coloured Afrikaans (‘‘Kaaps’’), its undergraduate-revue style of obscene puns and outrageous excess, its play with names and naming, its satirical edge often near or over the edge, an almost hysterical holding onto some articulate connection to what otherwise enrages and deranges: Boeijong-Katjiepiering: Sieg Heil! Hie tel ek soema ’n stukkene bolpooin’ op omte skrywe vi’ U soe ’n lekkah hoeka-Allah leddah, pre-prandially. [Sieg Heil! Here I pick up a broken ballpoint pen to write you a nice letter blessed by Allah, preprandially.] Scene: the B.C. sun is glorious, I’m suiping [sipping/drinking] (back) a jug or crock of Smirnoff vodka mit low-cal orange, ice blocks (tiekie vi’ vyf, spook [five cents for five, ghost]). . . . Nenou so gou assie vodka doodgeslaan is ennie briefie is op sy way gat Attie Klong Patat soema sy twie-pond wors unfrock merre magnificen’ gastronomic maraton. [As soon as the vodka has taken effect, the letter is on its way, and Attie Klong Patat will just expose his two-pound sausage (penis) with a magnificent appetite.] Ek lies hiessa ’n stukkie nouriedag. [I read this piece the other day.] ‘‘America goes to its slave quarters forculture.’’ The contention being that the wasp overlord soaks up the ethnic ethos of his minorities within his anti-egalitarian and . . . ultimately oligarchic spectrum . . . Now, assuming that, mutatis mutandis, the same insidious American-type melting-pot exists in Canada, it would spell out a revealing fact: that as a cultural minority of one I, K. Artur Patat, am fighting a rearguard action of universal significance to the furtherance of Deadrightnesse in Hope. (nelm File 538/10, 5/31/69) The lively prose of Nortje’s letters is perhaps partly a defense against the panic of exile and a self-destructiveness that led to his death (possibly selfinflicted) at twenty-nine. It is a style reminiscent of Dambudzo Marechera, Lines of Flight

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who followed Nortje at Oxford a few years later and also died young after heavy indulgence in drink and drugs. But Marechera allowed this style, which he described as ‘‘panga duels with language,’’ into his published work, whereas for Nortje the voice in his letters is not admitted into his verse; it is kept a marginal voice, possibly an emergent one (if the evident interest in narrative his diary shows is any indication), but for the moment submerged in the privacy of the letter. The self that comes to be under Nortje’s letter-writing hand is so like the rebellious ‘‘street’’ voice Marechera uses in public print that one wonders why Nortje felt he had to keep it private. The metropolar education circuit that recruited Nortje and Marechera pushed Marechera into a public rebellion (he was sent down from Oxford and wrote satirical sketches of tutorials that made him feel his position as tolerated outsider). Nortje describes to his friend Leitch similar embattled moments with his ‘‘oh-so-English tutor’’: ‘‘While we were doing the 18th Century he embarrassed me heavily and often: his favourite period and the one I know least about’’ (nelm File 538/7, 2/10/67). Might this voice have come out for use in Nortje’s verse, or developed from the diary into prose narrative, if he had lived longer? Or is it that Marechera benefited from the rebellious black London culture of the seventies, whereas Nortje remained in his published writing a man of the British mid-1960s? Nortje’s interest in the Black Panther Party during his Canada sojourn suggests an affinity that might have led him in the seventies to a profound shift in style and attitude: Superb excerpt in Ramparts on the life of Huey Newton and the Black Panther Party, with an intro. by Eldridge Cleaver (Soul on Ice)—an Acid Aside to Ronald Reagan Daai Kaffir vloekie [?] Guv’nor se moer (quote) so wa [?] ‘‘fuck my feathered arse, Polyanna’’ . . . Daai burkies raak serious met hulle Magnums .357s and other assorted firepower—they get the money at first selling 20 cent copies of Mao’s Thoughts at the snob campus gates . . . Makes one gloriously for a moment dream of a maantjie-type set-up like this back south of the Capricorn. (nelm File 538/8, 1968) It is possible that his investment of identity (greater than Marechera’s) in ‘‘English,’’ the English of the education system—as an English teacher before he left South Africa and later in Canada, and as a graduate student in England—inhibited the development of a literary voice he kept, like generations of European women before him, for letter and diary. His first letter 238

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to Leitch from Elsies River (a ‘‘Coloured’’ community in Cape Town) shows his self-fashioning in English at the age of twenty-one: ‘‘Frankly, I’d like to keep in touch with you for two (or possibly more!) reasons. Firstly, you are a career man in English language, which is fine as far as I am concerned, since English is the medium of expression which I have chosen to express my views’’ (nelm File 538/6, 1962). Zoë Wicomb has spoken in an interview of consciously fashioning an English for educational and writing purposes, and of regretting not knowing about the experiments with ‘‘Kaaps’’ as a literary language at the time she wrote You Can’t Get Lost in Cape Town: It’s the way in which people I know speak—a mixture of English and Afrikaans; in fact there’s far more code switching than I have represented. I wrote the book before I was aware of the reclaiming of ‘‘Kaaps,’’ of the local variety of Afrikaans as a literary language. Had I known, I would have been bolder; mine is a fairly gingerly use of Afrikaans. (in Hunter and MacKenzie 85–86) Her story ‘‘Bowl Like Hole’’ shows the psychosocial dynamic of English and Afrikaans (a variant of Marechera’s ‘‘panga duels with language’’ in colonial Rhodesia) in Coloured students. Wicomb also remarks in the Hunter interview on the inhibiting effect on her writing of university study in England. Hercase seems parallel to Nortje’s, and from this point of viewof the politics of decolonizing language, the Nortje letters are a fascinating document of ‘‘reclaiming an identity they taught me to despise,’’ in Michelle Cliff ’s phrase. The play with Afrikaans, in particular, gives his later letters to Leitch a distinctive South African character and locates him in the biracial speech community there; it is the generalized voice of literary English that Nortje publishes verse in, whereas the intimate voice of his roots in Port Elizabeth and Elsies River—‘‘dead roots,’’ to use the title of his volume of poetry— remains publicly silent. The play with self-naming in the letters (from the plain ‘‘Arthur’’ signed to the first letters, he is transformed into Artur Patat, Attie Klong Patat, Attie SuperJew Swartsuit, Jood MacPhail, Satterthwaite MacArthur, and Bhai Atta) also experiments with identities and voices that metropolar migration suppressed. The letter is thus for Nortje the only place to carry on a more risky exploration of forgone paths of hybridity and marginality that a later postcolonial writing would take up as a major theme. The glimpse of a writing forgone in Nortje (except in letter and diary), and (so far) in Wicomb, reminds one how much has silently Lines of Flight

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disappeared into Khatibi’s ‘‘silent interval’’ between colonization and decolonization. This silenced writing echoes the lines of flight in the text of political graffiti, which preoccupies Nortje in his brilliant parable of radical-democratic writing ‘‘At Landsdowne Bridge’’: After the whoosh of doors slid shut At Landsdowne Bridge I swim in echoes. Who fouled the wall O people? free the detainees someone wrote there. Black letters large as life stare you Hard by day in the black face; Above the kikuye grass to the sandflats Goes the boorish clang-clang of railways. Darkness neutralizes the request Till dawn falls golden and sweet, Though a sudden truck by night Cornering, holds it in spidery light. (Dead Roots 12) Nearly thirty years later a volume of poetry published by the Landsdowne Local of cosaw took its title Under Landsdowne Bridge from Nortje’s poem, writing him back into the grassroots tradition of ‘‘storming the castles’’ he thought he, restricted to ‘‘defin[ing] the happening,’’ had lost by exile (‘‘Native’s Letter,’’ Dead Roots 118).The ‘‘spidery light’’ of his private writing adds an important note to that tradition, as the politics of literary language emerge more freely in a democratic culture. Against the Democracy Police: Contradictions of Nation Language in Dambudzo Marechera’s House of Hunger If democracy is an extension of political/legal power (usually very limited by the fiction of representation) to those unused to it, then cultural production—writing, in this case, with all the attendant problems of how writing may be ‘‘popular culture’’ or even democratic—figures as a place where people get used to having power. Does democracy give me a feeling of nationness I didn’t really have? Does it restore my right to use my own language fully and freely? Dambudzo Marechera wrote his way through the democratic transition in Zimbabwe as one of those, unused to power, for whom affirmative answers to these questions were important optative 240

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assertions. Yet on neither of them did his views gibe with those of the official democracy, or the democracy of officials, a regime of truth that, when immigration officers prevented him from leaving the Harare airport for Britain, made itself the proximate cause of his early death. Democracy, in this sense, killed him. His first novel, The House of Hunger, is already written against the democracy police, although his later writing is much more trenchant and direct (if also more familiar) in its critique. The House of Hunger, written in England while the ‘‘bush war’’ still raged at home, is an early work of witness to the tragic farce of official democratic nationalism, a cry from the anarchist heart of democratic mobilization, in which the risky taking of power over identity, language, and sexuality from the usual practitioners of biopower produces a vivid rehearsal, not of some grand narrative of liberation, but of the gritty micropolitics of getting used to having power. The novel is a representation of the questions of power elided by the notion—heartbreaking belief or useful fiction—of democracy as representation. Its bracing, painful skepticism and insistence on the hard questions seem salutary in the South African interregnum (which rhymes with a rhetoric of democracy as salvation everywhere in the global political economy). The novel asks, in the voices of Marechera’s bleak township childhood and fervid colonial education (those two houses of hunger), ‘‘Whom does democracy free?’’ Pursuing this question through Marechera’s struggles with the language of fiction in Zimbabwe, I argue that the problematic of language in his work refigures the subject of the new democratic nation as multiple, shifting, conflictual, and above all uncompromising. The usefulness of Marechera is that a complicitous reading of his fiction, one that abandons the pieties that accompany the export of Westminster democracy throughout the South of the world as the political form most compatible with international capitalism, can aid the effort that is also underway precisely to avoid the stultification of democratic impulses, and to give them free rein to transform those late-capitalist cities and that country/city opposition where Marechera lived his turbulent refusal of the world as it was. Although citations of Zimbabwe as a precedent for developments in majority-ruled South Africa used to be common in the social sciences, I want to suggest that the case of Marechera might have a similar interest for cultural politics in the new South Africa. Should democratic culture be defined within the horizon of the nation? Or is black South African culture better seen as participating in Paul Gilroy’s ‘‘Black Atlantic’’ world than as Lines of Flight

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a resource for local nation building? The exile of so many South African writers, and the difficulty of their reintegration (Zoë Wicomb is one recent instance), raise the question of what national borders mean any more to literature, and even of what the nation itself means to writers who are formed more by a hybridizing postmodernism than by the resurgence of nationalism. A skeptical examination of the concept-metaphor ‘‘nation’’— and even more of the grisly practice of nationalist politics in the Balkans— might even reveal that democratic culture is slipping into an adversarial relation with the nation. It is conceivable in the regime of transnational capital that democracy itself may depend more on a progressive cosmopolitanism (or whatever name should be given the inchoate successor of an older left internationalism) than on any commitment to nationally bounded cultures. Marechera is a figure to the point of all these debates, and his highlighting language as the site of struggle offers a way into what he might contribute to them, for the new insurgent culture-in-the-making in South Africa and elsewhere in the global cultural economy. Nation and language are always closely connected in the commonsense idea of what a nation is, and it is interesting to ask why this apparently obvious connection feels so natural and strong. Benedict Anderson points out in Imagined Communities that the conception of language involved is ‘‘a private-property language’’; he cites Herder: ‘‘Each people . . . has . . . its own language’’ (Anderson 66; my translation). Yet to the extent that this is ever true on closer inspection, it is the product of intensive work to construct such a unifying, uniform, exclusive language—or to deconstruct one. In the Balkans, mid-nineteenth-century philologists laboriously constructed a Serbo-Croatian standard or literary language, which now is being just as laboriously pulled apart into the Serbian, the Croatian, the Bosnian languages that suit, in Herder’s conception of things, a new division of national property. The Afrikaans so carefully constructed as the instrument of Dutch-descended settlers claiming a new national property in their white Africanness passes to new owners in black Afrikaans literature, as Hein Willemse argues, or the tsotsitaal of popular urban culture (music, political slogans, theater, a film such as Mapantsula). Not only are the apparently natural languages of national property artificial constructions, historical amalgams; many languages are multinational, and many nations are multilingual, like Marechera’s Zimbabwe, with its Shona, Ndebele, and English. To argue, as people commonly do about many African nation-states, that the nation of Zimbabwe is a cre242

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ation of colonial ‘‘accidental’’ border making and not of the ‘‘true’’ configuration of peoples and languages is to fall into Herder’s assumption that there is something natural or true about a group’s private property in ‘‘its’’ language; and, more dangerously, that the true or natural state of Zimbabwe would be the micronationalism of Shona and Ndebele separatism (with English floating ambiguously in both as a commercial or educational metalanguage). Shattering this delusion of natural Volkish languages determining true nations is necessary to uphold the very idea of a multilingual Zimbabwean nation-state, as the history of the difficult achievement of Shona-Ndebele unity makes clear. Although both language and nation, in the still popular conception deriving from nineteenth-century Europe, seem to have or to require natural limits, the truth is that both nations and languages shift their limits constantly in response to the demands of economic and political interaction among human groups.The natural connection among nation, language, people, and their proper borders must, in fact, be constructed by scholars and experts according to these demands and ‘‘imagined’’ by the population through a network of socializing agencies such as the media and education. But then, what is the basis on which the power of a naturalized linguistic nationalism, or the nationalist theory and practice of language policy, rests? There is first of all its psychological grounding in the intimate link between one’s first language and one’s deepest sense of self or identity: to be at home is to be in the speech community of one’s first language; to be abroad is to hear the clear language of home suddenly sound out in the stream of foreign speech. To be oneself in a second or third language is onerous psychological and intellectual work.The sense of a natural border lying between languages is reinforced by the difficulty of linguistic border crossing, a sense reinforced by reliance on translation, which itself marks the line of the border and institutionalizes it; the bilingual text on facing pages is an icon of division, even or especially for those who move with some real comprehension between the two pages. Closely related is the illusion of antiquity or primordialness that everyone has about one’s first language, the authentic language, the language of real people, almost the only language. Because it is a structure one is born into, language is bound to feel primordial; because it is the tool unconsciously used every waking moment to interpret the world, it is bound to feel authentic and natural. These facts about our formation as subjects in a language explain why nationalism derives such a powerful appeal from Lines of Flight

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linking itself to a nation-language. Herder’s homology convinces not by its historical accuracy about either nations or languages but by its immediate appeal to our subjective experience of language acquisition and daily use. It requires a study of linguistics and history to supersede these overlearned false impressions—an argument, as always, for the necessity of such study as a measure of political public health, if we are not to be forever thevictims of common sense. As soon as we begin looking at the question historically, we see the disjuncture between our subjective experience of language and its diachronic reality. Anderson, again, has shown how the evolution of vernacular print literatures and languages of power around urban centers was a precondition for the appearance of modern nations; it is no figment of nationalist rhetoric that the history of nations and languages are closely allied, though not at all in the essentialist way nationalism would have it. Linguistic nationalism also has a basis in the political ideology of modern racism as the primary way of imagining human variation. Language is such an easy external signifier of sameness and difference that, coupled with the sense of its intimate connection to our deepest selves, it becomes almost inevitably one of the carriers of what Anthony Appiah calls ‘‘intrinsic racism’’ (14): the belief that there are ontological, value-laden differences between human groups. Language chauvinism, in turn, leads to the exclusion and stigmatization of certain languages as an instrument of the oppression of the groups who speak them, whether by invading their territory or by submerging them as an internal exploited class. The reflex of language chauvinism is the appeal to excluded groups to rise, and raise their languages with them: to come to power, one must come to voice. Kamau Brathwaite’s extended essay History of the Voice: Nation Language in Anglophone Caribbean Poetry is one compelling version of this antinationalist nationalism, like Ngugi’s and Ndebele’s well-known arguments against the literary and educational hegemony of English over African languages. The Shona-based English style of Chenjerai Hove’s novel Bones, its poetic interior monologue a rich weave of proverb and metaphor deeply interfused with popular rural life, resembles Brathwaite’s approach to a democratizing of literary language. Gabriel Okara’s Ijaw-inflected English in The Voice is an earlier model Hove may have had in mind, like, very probably, Twain’s American English or Synge’s Irish English,which lie somewhere in the background of the modern African and Caribbean transformations of literary English. (As will be seen, Marechera rejects this path of insurgent linguistic nationalism, whether creolized as in Brathwaite and Glissant, 244

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or based in an idiomatic poetics as in Okara and Hove, in the name of a wider—a diasporic—demos.) Implicitly, the claim that the new nation calls up a new nation language becomes the claim that nation language is democratic; that, in the terms with which I began this chapter, nation language is part of the process by which the democratic subject gets used to power. Marechera’s radical antinationalism challenges that claim. It might seem as if the only countertradition to a linguistic nationalism so well entrenched in popular opinion, and even in progressive political movements, is a purely intellectualist one. Anderson comes close to this view when he urges more empathy for people’s national feelings on ‘‘progressive, cosmopolitan intellectuals’’ (129) who, he argues, more ideological than anthropological, are responsible for the orthodox dismissal of nationalism in left and liberal political theory. But he ignores the practical multilingualism of migrants, of city dwellers, of colonized peoples; and the internationalism of social change movements is not to be dismissed either, though Anderson’s opening and closing emphasis on the triumph of nationalism in the old communist states has a force only strengthened by the past ten years. The tradition of linguistic antinationalism is nevertheless part of the historical record, among intellectuals, among radical workers, and among migrants. It is worth invoking this minority tradition not only because there is some danger of its fading altogether from popular view, with the danger that nationalist thinking might become thoroughly renaturalized; more pointedly, it seems likely that this question will be more and more debated by writers in such places as the Caribbean and Southern Africa, so that the clash between nationalism and internationalism over language policy is far from over. However that may be, Dambudzo Marechera lies unmistakably in the countertradition of antinationalism, his work strongly—even urgently— disconnecting language from nationness. A remarkable passage from a ‘‘self-interview’’ published after his death by his editor Flora Veit-Wild reveals the deep roots of Marechera’s political aesthetic of language in his lived childhood experience of colonized multilingualism, the violent, Manichaean opposition between Shona and English: Did you ever think of writing in Shona? It never occurred to me. Shona was part of the ghetto daemon I was trying to escape. Shona had been placed within the context of a degraded, mindwrenching experience Lines of Flight

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from which apparently the only escape was into the English language and education. . . . I was therefore a keen accomplice and student in my own mental colonisation. At the same time of course there was the unease, the shock of being suddenly struck by stuttering [at age eleven, after his father’s violent death], of being deserted by the very medium I was to use in all my art. This perhaps is the undergrowth of my experimental use of English, standing it on its head, brutalising it into a more malleable shape for my own purposes. For a black writer the language is very racist; you have to have harrowing fights and hair-raising panga duals [sic] with the language before you can make it do all that you want it to do. It is so for the feminists. English is very male. Hence feminist writers also adopt the same tactics. . . . For me this is the impossible, the exciting, the voluptuous blackening image that commits me totally to writing. (Dambudzo Marechera 7) The ‘‘mindwrenching experience’’ Marechera refers to here is not only generally the demonic life imposed on the black residents of Rusape location, not only the family trauma of his father’s violent death, their eviction from ghetto housing, his mother’s loss of her nanny’s job, the hunger of her nine children (Marechera, aged eleven, was away in his first year at St. Augustine’s boarding school in Penhalonga): all this might well be enough to prompt his frank desire to escape, but the trauma was actually worked out in the realm of language itself. This was also the moment when (after an earlier attraction to the idea of becoming a writer, playing with friends at writing up the day’s events on a typewriter modeled out of mud in a play ‘‘office’’ constructed of tin and cardboard), discovering Ngugi’s Weep Not, Child, he also discovered that Africans had written novels. At this moment the demon of the ghetto reached out and seized him in his colonial school: Where would the fees come from? What did it mean that father was dead? What did it mean not to have a home? It was the beginning of my physical and mental insecurity—I began to stammer horribly. It was terrible. Even speech, language, was deserting me. I stammered hideously for three years. Agony. You know in class the teacher asks something, my hands shoot up, I stand, everyone is looking, I just stammer away, stuttering, nobody understands, the answer is locked inside me. Finally, the teacher in pity asks me to sit down. I was learning to distrust language, a distrust necessary for a writer, especially one writing in a foreign language. (7) 246

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In the conflict between home language and school language, the loss of his home produces an agonizing loss, in school (‘‘Stuttering, trembling, ejaculating / At the edge of the ruthless dream’’—Mindblast 81), of his school language. Marechera’s self-consciousness about the meaning of this event— his distrust of any language that seems given, unproblematic—can hardly be expected to have foreseen the unsurprising, brutal effect in his published writing precisely of a ‘‘locked inside’’ quality, an inability to finish work, an agitation about genre, his typical form (self-described as ‘‘the stream-of-consciousness novel’’) a more or less continuous tape of pure écriture allergic to closure of any sort. Marechera wrote the colonial stammer deeply into the texture of all his work, which might even be said to be about the simultaneous loss and failure of a language as necessary as food. The ‘‘house of hunger’’ of his first novel, so reminiscent of Richard Wright’s use of the same trope, refers first to his family house, second to the colonial school, but at its deepest level to the house of language itself, from which Marechera, the colonial boy rebellious against every set of house rules, was always threatened with eviction. His image of ‘‘harrowing fights and hair-raising panga duels with the language’’ is of course an image of struggling with the stammer, carried over into the reference to disarticulating and rearticulating the colonizer’s language. Marechera’s stammer, like Caliban’s curse, is no mere metaphor of decolonization, but a lived, ‘‘mindwrenching’’ physical pain. The question of how much Marechera’s line of flight into English did in fact make him ‘‘a keen accomplice and student in [his] own mental colonisation’’—with the implicit judgment in that unsparing phrase that the cure, or the right path, would have been writing in Shona—is complicated by his remark in another interview about the necessity for African writers of openness to the ‘‘experience of other people’s literatures’’: I have had a totally British education and studied very much by reading English literature. From then on I broadened into European literature, through translations, Russian literature, American literature, Japanese, Chinese literature, New Zealand literature, even South African literature, and discovered that there is no contradiction . . . what we call African literature will be the poorer if we ignore the influences from other countries. (Cemetery of Mind 212) The explicit claim here is that a cosmopolitan openness to all languages and cultures has nothing to do with ‘‘mental colonisation’’ but with the Lines of Flight

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needs of writers. It is a claim that the African writer as a democratic subject gets used to power by asserting his or her need for access to international literary codes; that what is democratic in this sphere of cultural practice is cosmopolitanism, not nationalism. In a lecture in Harare near the end of his life Marechera linked an international literary culture to Bakhtin’s tradition of carnivalesque narrative, a category of narrative whose unifying factor is a ‘‘carnival’’ attitude to the world. This category includes writers from different backgrounds. They range from Aristophanes, Lucian and Apuleius (the first African novelist, perhaps) to Dostoevsky by way of Rabelais and Dean Swift. I add John Fowles and Günther Grass, and the Nigerian, Wole Soyinka, in The Interpreters. . . . The hero can travel anywhere in this world and beyond. . . . Odd vantage points offer changes of scale. Heaven and hell are close and may be visited. Madness, dreams and daydreams, abnormal states of mind and all kinds of erratic inclinations are explored. . . . Genres are mixed. Stories, speeches, dramatic sketches, poetryand parody exist side by side. (quoted in Veit-Wild 18) Marechera can be seen working toward his international carnival in the scene of conflict between two high school boys in The House of Hunger (61–63): Edmund, with the literary cosmopolitanism of the author, and Stephen, who espouses Pan-Africanism, get into a fist fight, an index of the struggle that underlies Marechera’s clear taking of a position later. It is notable that linguistic and literary internationalism, for him, is never a simple colonial assimilation; in spite of accusing himself of ‘‘complicity,’’ Marechera was always fiercely race conscious and Africa-centered (as in his reference to Apuleius and his inclusion of Soyinka in the carnival mode). The ‘‘harrowing fights’’ not only with English but with the whole official hegemony of English Literature are traced in his own case in the Oxford scenes of The Black Insider, where he sounds more like the Pan-Africanist Stephen than the cosmopolitan Edmund. And of course Marechera in England was the glaring opposite of the genteel évolué, his life, after his expulsion from Oxford and a precarious tenure as writer in residence at Sheffield, spent in homelessness, in a series of squats, in the antiracist marches and uprisings of the late seventies and early eighties (‘‘Let the minutes unleash / The bullets Brixton wishes / Barbed wire is the ivy on my walls’’ [‘‘Smash, Grab, Run,’’ Cemetery of Mind 31]), in jail, in bars . . . a kind of repetition-compulsion that plunged him into the same levels of depriva248

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tion and self-abandon The House of Hunger describes in the Rusape of his childhood. His hostility to the publishing and literary establishment in Britain is best expressed by his response to receiving the Guardian Fiction Prize for The House of Hunger, disrupting the ceremony by hurling ‘‘expensive china at the crystal chandeliers and the heads of his liberal patrons’’ (VeitWild 11). If this is complicitous assimilation it is a peculiar variety! In fact, Marechera’s affiliations with London cosmopolitanism had the character of the multiracial democracy of street and squat, black diaspora vernacular culture, and antiracist dissidence—exactly the milieu that gave birth to Paul Gilroy’s version of black cosmopolitanism in ‘‘There Ain’t No Black in the Union Jack’’ and more extensively in the thesis of The Black Atlantic. Marechera and many other African writers (including a hugely disproportionate number of black South Africans) fit so perfectly into Gilroy’s thesis it must have been only lack of space that prevented him from writing more on the African side of his Atlantic. Partially contradictory to this choice of black-centered populism over particularist African nation language is another element of Marechera’s position on the language of African literature: his uncompromising ideology of ‘‘individualism,’’ a term he takes at face value without unpacking its function as, in E. M. Forster’s phrase, ‘‘an island of money,’’ a screen for class position and privilege.Unapologetic about advancing individualist claims—in which language choice and use continue the private property line of Herder but restrict it to a Lockean sense of freedom as possessive individualism, property in oneself—Marechera is nevertheless nervous about some of their implied denials of collectivities in which he felt profound belonging. A counternationalism that rests squarely on petit bourgeois individualism is fatally isolating, even self-destructive (at the limit, to which he characteristically pushed it) for a writer like Marechera, who refused the security of tenure in the literary/academic establishment that is its usual material base. His sense of isolation emerges sometimes in the defiant image of the doppelgänger: ‘‘I think I am the doppelgänger whom, until I appeared, African literature had not had yet. And in this sense I would question anyone calling me an African writer. Either you are a writer or you are not. If you are a writer for a specific nation or a specific race, then fuck you’’ (Dambudzo Marechera 3). In this mood his models are Charles Bukowski and Sylvia Plath, or fellow exiles like the South African Arthur Nortje, who also died very young plagued by alcohol and drugs and for whom Plath was also a significant reference. It was one thing to feel like Lines of Flight

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this in London, but back in Harare Marechera felt it with a sharper edge. As he described it in a journal: A lot had been said about how I was alienated from my environment, from my Africanness . . . What the hell! I felt no group sense and no group context with all those around me, London or Harare. There was just this terrifying sense of having missed the bus of human motion. . . . Here in Harare the things held against me would have been totally invisible to a Londoner. My unconventional dress and dreadlocks would not have raised an eyebrow. . . . I was on my way to the Hararean mazes of skid row. I was not going to be what the whites and the blacks expected of me. I would give my all simply to books and the writing of books. . . . I am what I am not because I am an African or whatever but because it is the basic nature of a maker of descriptions, a writer. . . . The unquieting thing was there was no such tradition in Harare as the one I was living, that of the Bohemian fulltime writer. . . . ‘‘I was wrong, man. England is not the only bitch,’’ said Linton Kwesi Johnson in the Babylon Cleaner. (Mindblast 120–25) The Zimbabwean writer Musaemura Zimunya describes a Marechera at the furthest remove from these sad, angry passages. Zimunya writes in his tribute after Marechera’s death that at the University of Rhodesia (where Marechera was also expelled, after putting on a one-man demonstration against racism by marching alone with a placard from the university into town), ‘‘Marechera also had a great sense of national commitment. He belonged to a generation of student fighters and never saw himself as someone apart from them [the milieu depicted in Black Sunlight]. . . . In those days, he had something which England was to take from him’’ (in Marechera, Dambudzo Marechera 15). But his English experience was not necessarily to be construed as loss of national commitment, above all not as loss of the nervy edge of Marechera’s engagement with the old racism, the new majority rule, democratic practice and its discontents, and emergent popular culture in Zimbabwe. On the contrary, he sought and found in England, in the London Paul Gilroy has chronicled, the political, musical, literary expressive culture of the black Atlantic diaspora, a wider horizon than the collectivity of nationalism or ethnic absolutism. His scathing comment on postindependence Harare is not mere narcissistic egoism, but the indispensable taking of an independent critical position, enabled in large part 250

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by the experience of radical black dissidence in London: ‘‘Here there is all this nationalism, this glorification of the state, this ‘respect’ foreducation, this bowed attitude towards the notion of society. We are in the nineteenth century and know and like it’’ (Mindblast 157). In this, one of his sharpest passages of antinationalist critique, there can be heard the voice of a new democratic subject who will have none of the ‘‘nineteenth-century’’ trappings of state worship relished by official democracy. The most acute part of this critique, as of the earlier passage about his enlisting in English schooling to escape from ‘‘the ghetto daemon,’’ is its zeroing in on the issue of complicity. The new democratic subject writes itself in opposition to what it ‘‘knows and likes,’’ knowing what it knows and likes and not liking it.This is the figure of a split subject, not the sovereign subject of the nineteenth century, one for whom the really intractable question of power runs through subjectivity, not between subject and nation-state. The complication of Marechera’s path to a literary language, in which opposition to Zimbabwean official nationalism is combined with a rejection of metropolitan hegemony, can be understood dialectically as the impossibility of transcending a historical contradiction between complicity with colonial culture and the ascendancy of African nationalism. Acknowledging the dangers in refusing both (and outside a Marxist or proletarian internationalist tradition in any case fading from the scene, at the same time as its ossified phrases filled the air in official Harare), Marechera painfully lived out the tension between them. He comes closest to a solution in the eloquent passage about decolonizing the settlers’ English by fighting duels with it, as feminist writers must with what Stein called ‘‘patriarchal poetry’’ (was Marechera thinking of Cixous in this passage?). But this path estranges the ‘‘reading classes’’ in Zimbabwe. Zimunya, for example, claims Marechera for a Zimbabwean national literature (‘‘For the first time in our history, people had a viewof what a writercould be, something which more developed countries are traditionally used to’’ [in Dambudzo Marechera 16]); he also led the fight against the banning of Black Sunlight (Caute 102). But he explicitly condemns the language and style of The House of Hunger on nationalist and Pan-Africanist grounds: ‘‘In Marechera, Zimbabwean literature achieves confirmation of birth.Unfortunately, the vision is preponderantly private and indulgent. . . . The artist . . . succumbs to the European temptation in a most slatternly exhibition. But, perhaps, the naiveté and the narcissism will wither and the African become less European’’ (Those Lines of Flight

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Years of Drought and Hunger chapter 5).The novelist Charles Mungoshi, more sympathetic (and thinking more in democratic-populist than in nationalist terms), nevertheless commented in the same vein: ‘‘Dambudzo, I felt you were not communicating to the people. I still thought a lot about the people, you know’’ (in Dambudzo Marechera 14). These comments are accurate. In Marechera’s own words: ‘‘I don’t know that the writer can offer the emerging nation anything.’’ He goes on, in the article ‘‘Escape from the House of Hunger’’ published in South magazine: But I think there must always be a healthy tension between a writer and his nation. Writing can always turn into cheap propaganda. As long as he is serious, the writer must be free to criticise or write about anything in society which he feels is going against the grain of the nation’s aspirations. . . . As soon as one talks about a writer’s role in society, before you know where you are, you are already into censorship . . . governments in Africa tend to automatically suspect a writer of not being loyal.The idea that a writer should always be positive, that’s always being crammed down one’s throat. (in Dambudzo Marechera 19) Frequently citing Ayi Kwei Armah as an example, Marechera conceived of a healthy criticism that was too corrosive, too much part of the difficult, nonnaturalist ‘‘literature of disillusionment’’ (like Sony Labou Tansi’s work) for Zimunya’s taste, still less the regime’s toleration. (According to Robert Fraser, Zimbabwean immigration officials, offended by Marechera’s farewell lecture at the university, refused to let him board a plane for London; he died soon after in ‘‘the Hararean mazes of skid row’’ [in Dambudzo Marechera 15]). And even when his satire is in simpler language it hardly recommends itself to the official democracy. ‘‘I have no ear for slogans,’’ his late poem ‘‘There’s a Dissident in the Election Soup’’ begins; ‘‘You may as well shut up your arse’’ (Cemetery of Mind 183). Or, in ‘‘Parliament’’: ‘‘Always the guards / At the horned gates / To the people’s forum’’ (Cemetery of Mind 106). The Povo (combat veteran from the revolution) in Alfie’s monologue from The Toilet tells this tale: You say you’re hungry, and the shef [bureaucrat] peers over his three chins down at you and says Comrade, you’re the backbone of the revolution as if your life’s ambition is to be as thin and lean as a mosquito’s backbone. And you try to say ‘‘Shef, I don’t want to be the backbone, I want to be the big belly of the struggle against neo-colonialism like the 252

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one you got there underneath that Castro beard.’’ And before you even finish what you are saying he’s got the cio and the police and you are being marched at gunpoint to the interrogation barracks. (Mindblast 38) There is a convergence between Marechera’s two offenses against the new state class of Zimbabwe; he distances himself from them as much in his populist satire as in his more difficult works. As against loyalty to the nationalist regime of truth, he stakes his position in an alliance with the Povo at home and, abroad, the anarchosyndicalist, black-centered ‘‘unruly protest’’ of ‘‘fighting Brixton,’’ a black internationalism he invokes in a sensuous and witty parody of David Diop’s Hammer Blows in the long poem ‘‘Throne of Bayonets’’: Black lassitude in fits and starts Lashes out its beautiful fist: Workers of the World Ignite! (Cemetery of Mind 47) My argument thus far has rested on Marechera’s writing as a whole, and I turn now to look briefly at how his wrestling with the politics and aesthetics of literary language is worked out in his first novel, The House of Hunger, written retrospectively in England about his life as a child at home in Rusape and a schoolboy in Penhalonga. I take up language as a thematic in the narrative, the boy’s experience of language in colonial Rhodesia, and also language as narrative voice, the style of the writing itself. Marechera’s experience of conflict between home and school languages under colonial rule is exemplary in its violence and underscores the fact that language is ontology, not just epistemology: we have our very being in language. Early scenes in The House of Hunger (13–17), for example, refract language issues through the boy’s being beaten by his parents. He is slapped by his mother for unconsciously speaking English to her, and punched hard by his father, losing his front teeth, for having torn up his English notebooks in response to his mother’s rage. Punished for learning and for not learning English, he is the victim at once of anti-Shona colonial education (the value of English as meritocratic currency) and of his Shonaspeaking parents’ anti-English nationalism. This scene stands at the gateway of Marechera’s work, the physical and psychological trauma driving him forward past his parents’ ambivalence toward a search for some third way between colonial antinationalism and nationalist anticolonialism, a cosmopolitan or individualist stylization and hybridization of languages, Lines of Flight

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an escape from the languages of hunger into a world of books and cities where language might exist as free democratic play. The passage of poetic prose a little later in the novel (20–25), which mixes the narrator’s own writing into a play of allusions to Othello, Blake’s ‘‘Tyger,’’ and Yeats’s ‘‘Byzantium,’’ writes such a negotiation of literary language as the deep structure of colonization and decolonization of the mind. This interior text of the narrator’s struggle with language is flatly contrasted in the same scene at the bar with the single rebel word ‘‘Zimbabwe’’ on Julia’s t-shirt, her breasts, ‘‘weapons’’ to the narrator’s gaze (‘‘I was staring at the legend on her breast and thinking about black heroes’’), complicating the simple text of male nationalism. It is again just such a Manichaean splitting of language that emerges in the boy’s hallucination (32–38), which looks like a classic first schizophrenic episode in his late teens, of two voices battling over him in Shona and English, a ‘‘duel’’ then echoed in a thunderstorm and a fight with his double, Harry. Marechera’s stuttering could also be seen as a physical attack by his own voice, an attack that takes the form of doubling his speech. The point is driven home by the images of stitching cloth (or skin) and ripping it apart that crowd this section of the novel. I have already mentioned the fight between Edmund and Stephen over Pan-Africanism as a canon of literary texts (61–65). All this fighting, mostly male, is directly linked to a certain dominant voice heard in The House of Hunger, the blustering, loud, bullying male voice: the narrator’s father and brother, the priest, Stephen, Harry, Jet, the racist heckler, and not least the narrator himself. The only dissent from this male style of language comes in the quiet-spoken students’ talk—the band of literary-political dissidents, exemplified by Philip and Richter—and of course in the inwardness, the locked-in quality, of the narrator’s stammering. Loud male voices precede and accompany blows, stitching together injuries of the voice and of the body. It is interesting that the soft-spoken Edmund, the ‘‘nonpolitical’’ literary student who is forced by Stephen to fight at school, is the one who joins the armed struggle in the countryside, showing up later as a dead guerrilla in a news photograph. The bullying recital of Africanist names by Stephen just before he beats up Edmund (Nkrumah, Kaunda, Ngugi, Mphahlele—71) is perhaps pointedly contrasted with Philip’s quieter roll call in the preceding scene of black diaspora writers (Césaire, Senghor, Baldwin, Brathwaite—63). This coding of nonviolent voice with black 254

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internationalism suggests the way Marechera’s search for an escape route was going. The issues explored in Marechera’s narrative style in this first novel are very closely related to his concern with language as a thematic. The rejection of language as mere instrumentality, as transparent tool of narrateand-describe, is very clear: the novel values the nonrealist, fragmented, nonpopulist style of modernism—for Marechera, an African as well as a European modernism, his typical citations running from Joyce, Eliot, and Kafka to Okigbo, Soyinka, and Armah. Bakhtin’s stress on polyphonic voices, Barthes’s on text rather than work, underlie Marechera’s free-form writing in The House of Hunger. Monologue and interior monologue, the voice in performance, as end rather than means, predominate over narration or dialogue, just as montage is preferred to chronology. Marechera’s penchant for metaphor values expressivity over communication. His metaphor is structural, not illustrative; the tropes of house, hunger, blood, stains, stitches, fights construct the text of his argument. Metaphor is also a transgressive language in this book, an expression of the ‘‘panga duels’’ being fought. The harsh, alienating language of the body, for instance—the grotesque body, the abject body—reads like a counterblow against Marechera’s history of beatings and scars. In these ways The House of Hunger lays out the terrain of contest on which Marechera pits against one another the hallucinatory antagonists of colonialism. Refusing a programmatic nationalist literary language, he nevertheless writes into his earliest work the document of barbarism we expect to find when the empire writes back. Refusing closure equally in a kind of metropolitan, ironic individualism (the ‘‘mandarin’’ stance Rob Nixon has sketched out for such writers as V. S. Naipaul), Marechera nevertheless lays claim to the full freedoms of expression the liberal metropolis is supposed to guarantee. In my view, he never found in a fully achieved form the third way he sought between these impossible antagonists, colonialism and nationalism; he is, as Brecht says, ‘‘one of our casualties,’’ a monument to the pain of the contradiction he traveled through from ‘‘the jacaranda illusions of Harare’’ to the ‘‘punk poem’’ of dispossessed London. David Caute’s memoir of Marechera, in spite of its sympathy, is a vivid portrait of his friend’s outrageously self-destructive, antisocial and antisocialist, sexist, egotistical life. Why take Marechera into account at all in thinking about nation, language, and democracy? I would like to separate Lines of Flight

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his writerly wrestling with language and its lessons for a difficult transitional moment from his self-marginalizing life. But how credible can that be? And I do not think the rubric ‘‘anarchist’’ is a way of joining the life to the work; Caute calls him indubitably a ‘‘radical,’’ but his anarchism, if that is what it is, is an anarchism of the right. Nor, in my opinion, though it is tempting to try, can Marechera be made into an anarchosyndicalist alternative to state socialism, or connected in that way by Deleuzean lines of flight to impulses in feminist and queer theory. He remains stubbornly ‘‘the doppelgänger, whom, until I appeared, African literature had not had yet.’’ But as the doppelgänger of democracy in Southern Africa, Marechera may find his uneasy place in the debate, a ragged champion of the antinomian writer as a figure of freedom.

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epilogue

Post-Apartheid Narratives: The House Gun and Fools

There is a sad sentence near the start of Graham Pechey’s important essay, ‘‘Post-Apartheid Narratives’’: ‘‘The stronger sense of ‘postcolonial’ emerges when we consider this seeming paradox: that it takes anticolonial struggles to produce neocolonial conditions’’ (153). I cited this passage in the introduction because looking for something in such struggles—some political and aesthetic logic—that opposes such an outcome is what animates this book. I hope to have shown that a radicaldemocratic logic of this sort can indeed be found. By way of epilogue, I want to examine two recent postapartheid narratives from different locations in South African culture: a novel by Nadine Gordimer that, though indefatigably local like all her work because of its commitment against the normalization of a neocolonial outcome, falls immediately into the circuit of international high culture; and a film from a new company, Natives at Large, which, though also moving immediately into the circuit of European and U.S. film festivals, derives from a local Black theatrical tradition as well as from its director Ramadan Suleman’s experience in London and Paris schools of filmmaking. These two texts are profoundly at home with each other, I believe, in their common South Africanness, and equally in their being made for export in the global cultural economy. I would not say

they have the same political or aesthetic project by any means. But as an index of what the continued logic of a radical art against normalization demands, including the internal struggle against the normalization of fiction and film codes, they are apt instances. Gordimer’s House Gun: The Wages of Whiteness Gordimer’s latest novel is an exercise in white conscientization, in paying back the wages of whiteness.1 In this way it is a step beyond the somewhat wishful though profoundly radical impulse to nonracialism in the eighties social movements, because it admits the necessity of a consciously antiracist movement to construct a radical democracy in South Africa. But Gordimerdoes not sound these themes as she might in an essay; in fact, her essays decisively reject a direct political stance in fiction.2 Moving from the public to the private sphere to produce a new kind of active antiracist writing, The House Gun is subtlydirected at changing white people’s understanding of their/ourown microracism and stimulating a desire on their/our part to intervene in ending the macroracism still constitutive of South Africa, as it is of the United States, Britain, France, and Germany, to go no further. This makes the novel sound schematic, but in the reading the genre of the crime story and the unremitting inwardness of the principal narrator, Harald Lindgard, mitigate the didactic effect. Gordimer takes the South African furor over violence and crime since 1994 and displaces it: instead of crimes by the black and poor, shading into primitive accumulation by gang capitalists (as in Russia and Serbia) carrying out their own version of affirmative action and black entrepreneurship, in the foreground of the plot there is a bourgeois murder in which a young white architect, Harald Lindgard’s son Duncan, kills one of his friends with a gun. This brings white-identifying readers into the circle of violence, not as victims, vengeance seekers, or moral and legal theorists, but as perpetrators and affectional accomplices. It brings them face to face with a staple of white South African life, the house gun, which is now seen in a new light, turning the suburban outrage over violent crime back on itself without invoking a politically more overt—but also more easily distanced—image of white gunplay, such as a farmer shooting the child of his black tenants.The novel seems so pointedly directed to white readers (black readers being surely more sharply aware of the novel’s ironies about racialized crime) that I suspect Gordimer is tacitly accepting a division of labor in the new cultural 258

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economy, writing a footnote to the ‘‘literature of apartheid,’’ in Ndebele’s sense of what white writing in South Africa has been until now. Duncan’s crime of passion, and its punishment (Gordimer’s epigraph from Amos Oz: ‘‘the crime is the punishment’’), are mostly narrated through his parents, Harald and Claudia, usually Harald. Politically, the family resembles Maureen and Bam Smales in July’s People: none of the Lindgards had done anything to end apartheid, though they opposed it in principle and are committed to the new situation. If the criminal and the crime are white, the masterly lawyer, in another reversal, is black; Hamilton Motsamai works with the parents to get their son off with a light sentence on psychological grounds. The legal plot draws readers into the sea change in the parents’ attitudes to violence—not so much their moral feelings about it as their struggle for empathy with the violent son and their complicity in trying to ‘‘get him off.’’ As white readers watch this plot unfold, however, they are drawn (again like Maureen and Bam) into the process of conscientization about theirown subject-position, because it becomes much harder for comfortable white readers to bracket off the authors of violent crimes as Other: they could as easily be their own sons.3 This very process occurs to Claudia and Harald in the first scene, when their alarm at an unexpected messenger come from Duncan automatically takes the form of ‘‘a car crash, a street mugging, a violent break-in at the cottage,’’ only to reverse itself and freeze at the word ‘‘murder,’’ the word ‘‘arrest,’’ used of their son: ‘‘Everything comes to a stop. What can be understood is a car crash, a street mugging, a violent break-in’’ (4–5). The novel seeks to go below the protective ideological surface of common sense to reach a different understanding, beginning from that moment when everything in the old way of thinking comes to a stop. To bring this conjunction home, there is a brief parallel plot to the murdercase,when the father attends sessions of the Constitutional Court hearing on ending the death penalty in accord with the new constitution—an outcome the lawyer and parents count on in the defense of the son. Here another shibboleth with racist undertones in the mouths of white people (though many black people also support the reimposition of the death penalty) is subjected to the same kind of reversal. The ‘‘house gun’’ as a staple of white culture is also forcefully brought into the spotlight, rather than the guns of hijackers and taxi-war entrepreneurs and drug dealers, and the implied issue of gun control as a policy priority is again turned back upon white readers’ own habits. The novel, in other words, seems designed to address what Roelf Post-Apartheid Narratives

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Meyer, a leader with Bantubonke Holomisa of the newly formed centrist party the United Democratic Movement, calls the enormous gulf between white and black perceptions of crime, as witnessed in both parliamentary exchanges and small-group discussions he has organized.4 Interestingly, the same axis of reader identification produces a consciousness-raising process on the issue of gay life and gay rights: the easiest entry point for homophobic readers into these issues is identification with the straight parents of a gay or bisexual adult child, and that is precisely what the novel offers. The necessity of such understanding of gay cultural politics is a new thing in Gordimer. But gay love and jealousy and despair are also the trigger—along with straight forms of the same passions—of the son’s act of murder, and as such are brought right into the novel’s center. What connects racial and sexual politics is the politics of recognition, of acknowledgment and inclusion, through the figure of Khulu, a black journalist who forms part of the gay male household the son also belongs to, though the son’s gay identification is fleeting. Because Khulu, along with the black lawyer, becomes the parents’ main ally and emotional support in saving the son, black inclusion in white life— intimate social life and professional life—is made an integral reflex in the private sphere of the anc-led normalization of public life, both a social necessity and an enormous emotional expansion for the newly vulnerable Lindgards, an otherwise comfortable white couple. So, although overt politics disappears from the plot, even more so than in the transitional None to Accompany Me and dramatically so compared to My Son’s Story, A Sport of Nature, July’s People, and Burger’s Daughter, the new novel still recapitulates the political themes of the new South African order to progressive effect. But we can also identify the politics of the novel with the politics of the anc as it changes in the course of exercising power, this time to much less progressive effect. The anc’s drift to the right, from the strongly redistributive public sector orientation of the rdp (Reconstruction and Development Programme) to the orthodox neoliberalism of gear, is echoed in the novel by Gordimer’s strong acceptance of a figure like the father Harald Lindgard, a high-ranking executive in the insurance business, and her equally strong enjoyment of the figure of the lawyer Motsamai, a thoroughly entrepreneurial ‘‘African Renaissance’’ professional with a perfectly clear conscience and no evident political or social consciousness. The mother is a doctor in private practice who also works at a public clinic pro bono (because of this she has the most alert social aware260

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ness of the group), but even she is far removed from the public interest law practice of the heroine of None to Accompany Me. There is an even stronger contrast between the two businessmen, Harald Lindgard in this novel and Mehring in The Conservationist. Where Mehring’s love of the land (deeply approved by the whole texture of Gordimer’s writing) is not enough to exorcize his capitalist ethics in public and private dealings, all Lindgard need do is work in his company on private sector low-cost housing loans (part of the rdp) and he is drawn completely into the novel’s circle of sympathy. It is as if this novel has pushed Gordimer’s previous cast of politically active characters off the stage altogether. Its design must therefore be, given the strong ethicopolitical intervention it continues to make in the debates over violence, crime, integration, affirmative action, and homosexuality, to accept a certain ‘‘normalization’’ on the plane of fiction—a return to the private sphere—which corresponds to the normalization in politics carried out by the anc. Gordimer may be becoming identified with the rightward drift of the anc, just as in the period of Burger’s Daughter she was identified with its drift to the left. Of course, this is only one novel. But its direction is suggestive, and unmistakable. Even so, there is a strongly paradoxical effect from the ingenious antiracist impulses in the plot combining with perfect tolerance of characters who in previous novels would have been seen as irrelevant in their political quietism. This paradox is not accidental but structural, both in the politics of anc rule and in the workings of Gordimer’s critical-realist fiction. The drama of inclusion/exclusion around violent crime and the adversarial language of law is interestingly transposed at a key moment late in the novel into other terms, through which inclusion and exclusion depend on the circulation of private language and on acts of translation. A translation from Zulu into English draws together a newly significant circle of central figures in the drama (an inner circle that even excludes the lawyer Hamilton Motsamai): Duncan, Khulu, Harald, and Claudia. During the lunch break that interrupts the judge’s summing up in Duncan’s trial, Claudia and Harald are visiting him in his cell, where Claudia precipitates the exchange: —Khulu sends his greetings—a message. You have it, Harald?— Harald has written, at Khulu’s dictation,on a page torn from the back of the notebook: ungeke udliwe umzwangedwa sisekhona. He gives the piece of paper to Duncan. Post-Apartheid Narratives

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—Do you understand?— —The gist. I’ve picked up a bit of Zulu from him.— —What does it mean? You know he’s been with us nearly all the time.— He doesn’t answer his mother at once, not because he is unsure of the translation but because what it is, is hard to speak out in this hour, between the three of them. —Something like, you will never be alone because we are alone without you.— It’s been said for them, the parents, there is nothing more to be said. They clung to the rest of their precious time with their son, talking of a surface made of matters meaningless to all three, which could at least hold above sheer fall. (249–50) Khulu’s greeting is, literally, ‘‘You are never eaten by sorrow, we are still here.’’ Duncan’s beautiful translation is quite a transformation of the literal sense, an echo, not a copy, as Veit Erlmann says of ethnography itself (Nightsong xv–xvii). Both ethnography and translation, which Benjamin calls in ‘‘The Task of the Translator’’ a ‘‘provisional way of coming to terms with the foreignness of languages’’ (Illuminations 75, quoted in Erlmann xvii), resemble the coming to terms with difference that is Gordimer’s political touchstone in the novel. In one way this scene pulls back into the private sphere even further than the framing plot, but it also raises the question of whether such a move is necessarily a ‘‘normalization’’ of the bourgeois novel, or something new. If the scene layers parable and fable over its novelistic surface, then language—sinuously caught between speech and writing, parole and langue—is serving as a metonym for new sets of social relations and modeling a remembered future. The passage in no way blinks the difficulties, and its solutions are subtle. Khulu’s Zulu sentence offers his sustained and sustaining presence (sisekhona: we are still here) as both bond and consolation, recalling Ndebele’s character Zamani in Fools, who says of the Boer, ‘‘I had crushed him with the sheer force of my presence’’ (276). But Khulu reverses Zamani’s meaning. ‘‘Presence’’ can therefore be either consolation or confrontation, depending on the performative aspect of its statement; a political ambivalence remains locked in the metaphor even as it asserts the sheer fact of historical relatedness and black persistence through three and a half centuries of European coercive presence in South Africa. Duncan’s transla262

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tion, his coming to terms with Khulu’s reminder of copresence, pushes it into the moving and elegant double negative ‘‘alone without you,’’ which goes further than the literal sisekhona toward asserting the commitment of Khulu’s friendship and his sadness. How does Duncan get to this translation? He must be translating the tone and context of Khulu’s text, putting into it the scene of friendship in the house, the courtroom, and the jail, literalizing presence as this presence, here, now, there, then, filling it with their history. The text of the translation is performative: if Khulu is still present (sisekhona) after the murder, all during the trial, after the verdict, during Duncan’s prison term (as he is), then he must be ‘‘alone without you’’; he has performed that other feeling of aloneness by his very presence. The other phrase, ungeke udliwe umzwangedwa (‘‘never were you eaten by sorrow’’) is also echoed rather than copied in Duncan’s version, ‘‘you will never be alone.’’ Apart from the optative change of tense to the future, the English ‘‘alone’’ becomes a pivoting term describing a feeling common to both Khulu and Duncan, whereas the Zulu attributes sorrow, personal and private grief to Duncan and presence to Khulu. Duncan has come to terms with the distinction by overriding it: sameness replaces difference as the achievement of friendship, the asymmetrical Zulu flowing into the zeugma of the English sentence. His translation is an interpretation and a claim, capping Khulu’s gesture with a more intense response. The context sets up wider ripples of meaning in this act of translation. Khulu’s reference to eating (ukudliwa: to be eaten) catches Duncan in the lunch break, when he is refusing or unable to eat, and is indeed being eaten instead by many emotions well summed up in umzwangedwa. Duncan turns this into a single emotion: loneliness, isolation—not only an index of his own ‘‘correction’’ of Khulu’s reading of his grief, but yet another performative aspect of his translation, as it becomes a gesture on his part, in his turn, toward his parents. Khulu has said it to him, he will say it to his parents, thus associating them with Khulu in Khulu’s own words. All four of them are bound together, first by Khulu’s words, then by Duncan’s; and Harald and Claudia are meant to be consoled by Duncan’s sisekhona even as they offer it on their part to him. This ritual of repetition and exchange is what ‘‘could at least hold above sheer fall,’’ what allows them to talk ‘‘a surface’’ because ‘‘there is nothing more to be said.’’ Copresence between the black and the white, the free and the jailed, the guilty and the innocent ‘‘circulates like a gift,’’ as Trinh Minh-ha says a story moves between teller and listener in an oral culture (Woman, Native, Other 2). This fabulous Post-Apartheid Narratives

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or transcendent effect of the token—a bit of writing on a scrap of paper— recalls a similar utopian moment at the end of Burger’s Daughter, when it is a hand-drawn postcard from Rosa’s jail cell that celebrates the unity in copresence of her and her political sisters Marisa, Clare, ‘‘and an Indian associate of them all’’ (356). Writing as associative work, the doubling and redoubling that is the negotiation of difference among these four people, is emphasized by the joint production of the sentence, Khulu dictating the words while Harald writes them down. As a nonspeaker of Zulu, Harald is here in the position of writing a culture he cannot translate, acting as scribe and messenger of a fateful message he cannot read himself. He is in the position of the uncomprehending student, included in the hermeneutic circle but not as an active interpreter, rather like Sergeant Whitebeard in the second version of Maponya’s Gangsters, when Masechaba declaims an entire long poem at him in isiXhosa and then refuses to translate. But the exclusion of Harald from Zulu is turned into a reversal of Whitebeard’s exclusion from Xhosa: in the novel, it becomes an invitation to Harald to trust the uncomprehended words as words of friendship. The act of writing in Zulu includes Harald in the language while marking his exclusion from it, a paradox of all negotiations of the dialectic of difference. Finally, thewords arewritten on a page torn from Duncan’s private notebook by Harald, who has been reading it against his principle of respect for privacy, and Duncan may be presumed to recognize the paper although he doesn’t comment on it. This notebook has been written by Duncan but not to or for Harald; yet up to this scene with the torn-out page it has become Harald’s hermeneutic key to decoding his son’s act and indeed his life. The notebook, which Harald has to ‘‘translate’’ for himself because it was neveraddressed to him or ‘‘meant’’ for him, is a stolen text or purloined letter which, as elaborated by Harald in several interior monologues, yields much of the novel’s explicit thematic commentary. Yet it is in another way a text meant for him and it is a message sent by Duncan, because the practice of literary reading that the notebook chronicles and that Harald uses to read the passages Duncan quotes from Dostoevsky and Mann is now the main thing left that father and son have in common. This bond as readers is emphasized by Duncan’s constant request to his father for books, without bothering to specify which titles; Harald can be expected to know what his son reads and likes, for he is a known and practiced reader of his son. The public bond and exchange of books between them masks the deeper 264

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private bond and exchange of meanings through the notebook, where the son writes himself and the father reads the son. Introducing the father’s gaze into the son’s notebook is an uncanny reversal of the mainspring of My Son’s Story, where the son—unknown to the father—writes the father’s life as an unsuspected observer. The secrecy of the son’s writing in the earlier book and the father’s reading in this one unite as a signifier of what separates them: the father’s infidelity in Sonny’s case, the son’s committing murder in Duncan’s. (Secrecy is also a feature of the detective story, a genre both novels work with in different ways.) The secret writing and reading are what can negotiate that near fatal separation, establishing an engagement with what Gayatri Spivak in a very different context calls ‘‘ethical singularity’’ (translator’s preface, in Devi xxiii–ix). Like Spivak, Gordimer may feel that ‘‘most political movements fail in the long run because of the absence of this engagement’’ (xxv)—a highly debatable proposition, especially from the viewpoint of activists in such movements, and one strongly controverted by Burger’s Daughter. But it would be one way of seeing her shift in her last two novels away from the terrain of the political as such, while yet assiduously reinscribing it in the familiar humanist terms of the critical-realist novel, for which ‘‘ethical engagement’’ (stripped of its particular gloss in this Spivak passage) is not a bad definition. Certainly, Spivak’s highlighting of secrecy in her discussion of Mahasweta Devi’s ‘‘Douloti the Bountiful’’ is extremely suggestive for this pattern in Gordimer: ‘‘Ethical singularity’’ is neither ‘‘mass contact’’ nor engagement with ‘‘the common sense of the people.’’ We all know that when we engage profoundly with one person, the responses come from both sides: this is responsibility and accountability. We also know that in such engagements we want to reveal and reveal, concealing nothing. This we call the ‘‘secret,’’ not something that one wants to conceal, but something that one wants to reveal. In this sense the effort of ‘‘ethical singularity’’ may be called a ‘‘secret encounter.’’ (xxv) Notebooks and diaries proverbially hold the secret that one wants to reveal, and the revelation given Duncan by Harald’s use of a page from his notebook for Khulu’s message is indeed total: I have been reading you, Duncan, I know you as you have secretly written yourself, as the self that is the secret you long to reveal to me. Duncan’s deliberate silence in the scene perhaps leaves in doubt whether he has read Harald’s unconscious Post-Apartheid Narratives

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revelation of his secret, the father’s secret that he longs to reveal to the son. But if he has read it, silence might well be the best-negotiated response from his side of their responsibility and accountability. His translation of Khulu’s words is also in that sense a translation of his father’s gesture in using the page: not sadness but aloneness is the worst, and the notebook stands for a copresence that translates that aloneness into a shared secret, the secrecyof an act of reading and writing.This is perhaps the deepest performative aspect of Duncan’s act of translation: Khulu’s writing stands for the writing—in the notebook, in the book in general—that unites Harald and Duncan across the gulf of murder and beyond other forms of filiation and affiliation. Writing and reading are their performance of engagement with ethical singularity, the sisekhona that binds these two more profoundly than any other combination among the four people in the novel’s circle. As such, it is their enabling consolation as the novel moves toward its singular conclusion: ‘‘The murderer has not been murdered.’’ Whether at the same time the performative metaphysics of writing and reading move this novel out again into the new, untried terrain of social relations in South Africa, where impulses such as Gordimer’s toward a more radical understanding of democracy are to be grounded, it is hard to say. It is no doubt a question asked rather than answered in The House Gun; all that is certain is that in Gordimer’s mind an answer cannot be separated from ‘‘writing and being.’’ 5 For her writing is a political signature and always evokes the next book. Gordimer’s work can never be grasped in a single book, in spite of her strenuous topicality; her writing is a continuous, flowing écriture, one of the great engagements of twentieth-century politics in fiction.What her scene of translation, negotiation, and secret engagement conveys is finally Gordimer’s judgment of the whole extraordinary period in South African history her work has wrestled with. Spivak again: ‘‘There is no victory, but only victories that are also warnings’’ (translator’s preface, in Devi xxv). Like the famous scene in Athol Fugard’s My Children! My Africa! where a teacher holds a dictionary in one hand and a stone in the other and asks a student to choose, Gordimer here balances the house gun against the book: the victory of the gun is a warning to return to the book. Male Feminism in the Fools Screenplay Trying to keep visible the continuities that cross the sometimes exaggerated dividing line of 1994, I have suggested that The House Gun is a post266

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apartheid rewriting of the long struggle with the politics of whiteness in Gordimer’s work. A second recent text of postapartheid culture, the 1997 film Fools, is also a fascinating study of continuity and rupture in the break with apartheid, based as it is on Njabulo Ndebele’s 1983 prize-winning novella of the same name. Because my argument has stressed the pivotal role of feminism in South African emergent radical democracy, I take the fiction-into-film process in the 1997 screenplay of Fools, written by Bhekizizwe Peterson and Ramadan Suleman for the film, which Suleman directed, as an occasion for measuring the progress of feminism in postapartheid narratives. Conversations with Peterson and Suleman, as well as the evidence of the film itself, reveal the consciousness in their filmmaking of an effort to reconstruct conceptions of masculinity and the gendered division of labor. It is not coincidental that the same revisionary process in black male texts can be seen at work in Maponya’s later versions of Gangsters, and that Peterson and Suleman’s early work was also in grassroots black theater, at the Afrika Cultural Centre discussed in chapter 1 and at the DhlomoTheatre in Newtown,which theycofounded (Worsdale).The name of the Fools production company, Natives at Large (a name that Suleman says provoked some consternation in the Johannesburg film industry), carries the ring of this grassroots matrix that produced the filmmakers (including their important collaborator Benjy Francis and the painter Clifford Charles) and reasserts the autonomy of black enunciation that I analyzed in chapter 2 as an essential principle in Ndebele’s theory of South African emergent culture. The significance of a feminist influence in the film Fools is that it is, in the tradition of Gibson Kente’s 1976 How Long? and Thomas Mogotlane’s screenwriting and starring role in the 1988 Mapantsula (directed by Oliver Schmitz), the first black-produced feature film made in South Africa after apartheid.6 It is based on the novella that gave its name to the collection that won Ndebele the Noma Award for African fiction in 1984, and that marked a shift in Ndebele’s work from his Black Consciousness poetry of the seventies; the book preceded the essays in literary criticism and theory collected in 1991 as Rediscoveryof the Ordinary: Essays on South African Literature and Culture, discussed at length in chapter 2. Fools is like those essays in looking away from a protest aesthetic of spectacle and confrontation toward a no less political but more inward-looking process Ndebele described in one of the essays, ‘‘Redefining Relevance,’’ as ‘‘the search for new ways of thinking, ways of perception, that will help to break down the closed epistemologiPost-Apartheid Narratives

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cal structure of South African oppression’’ (Rediscovery of the Ordinary 65). In Fools this search encompasses struggles, questions, and tensions within black community and personal life that have only a general or last-instance connection to the structure of racial capitalism—the moral degeneration and psychic ruin of a middle-aged teacher, Zamani (the teller of the tale), who has raped a high school girl, Mimi, whom he had taught earlier in elementary school; and the traumatic rites of passage of his double, Zani, Mimi’s brother, a student activist just out of a Swazi boarding school and bent on the immediate political transformation of his township, Charterston (his Charterston and Swaziland life echoing that of Ndebele himself, whose father was also a schoolmaster). Possibilities for redemption and transformation, based on a Christian concept of forgiveness suggested by the brief mention of an eccentric named ‘‘Forgive Me’’ who cries his name through the township, are mediated through the confrontation of Zamani and Zani. Ndebele’s challenge in the tale is to free the reader’s imagination of all this from the ‘‘laws of perception’’ that govern apartheid life, which presumably in this case would simply defer the melodrama to the brutalizing effects of that system, and moral transformation to its abolition. But, like Gordimer’s House Gun, his is a crime story in which the apartheid state is not concerned, a melodrama of private life in which the crime is the punishment; and like Gordimer’s, his moment of transcendence has to be produced out of a new freedom in the ‘‘social imagination of the oppressed’’ themselves, not out of macropolitical ruptures with the past. The novella is set back in 1966, just before the Black Consciousness Movement officially began at the 1967 National Union of South African Students [nusas] conference in Grahamstown. The two male characters are bound into a classic triangle by the figure of Mimi, who thus potentially begins an altogether different narrative line, expanded by the presence in the novella of powerful women like her and Zani’s sister Busi and Zamani’s wife, Nosipho.The film will fix strategically on this possibility of a shift to women’s narrative beginning from Mimi, and expand it to include not only Busi, her mother, and Nosipho, but also Zani’s lover Ntozakhe. Both Zamani’s and Zani’s stories are quite disturbing to the new ‘‘social imagination’’ Ndebele is positioning his readers to cultivate, lacking until the end the heroic figures and Manichaean political crises of the rich South African tradition of militant writing, and even, in Zani’s more foolish moments, such as his political harangue of a dangerous tsotsi, parodying that 268

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tradition. But Ndebele’s memorable ending does suggest resolutions of various kinds, and the climactic scene is in fact a version, or subversion, of the protest plot he names ‘‘spectacular’’ in, for example, La Guma’s fiction. In this scene the teacher Zamani has a wonderful Gandhian or Tolstoyan moment of bizarre resistance,withstanding a severewhipping from an Afrikaner man on Dingane’s Day by bursting disconcertingly into prolonged laughter: The blows stopped; and I knew I had crushed him. I had crushed him with the sheer force of my presence. I was here, and would be here to the end of time: a perpetual symbol of his failure to have a world without me. And he walked away to his car, a man without a shadow. The sun couldn’t see him. . . . There he went: a member of a people whose sole gift to the world has been the perfection of hate. And because there was nothing much more in them, they will forever destroy, consuming us and themselves in a great fire. But the people of the north will come down and settle the land again, as they have done for thousands of years. (276) The ‘‘folly’’ of Zamani’s sheer persistence under the whip—the irony that his richly deserved punishment for rape is so undeserved at this man’s hand—is a transformation of the folly of the title, defined by Zani after the whipping scene in the last of his many Socratic dialogues with Zamani: You did not help me. Everybody. They preferred to sleep in their safety. But I ran too. And the wind that blew against my face as I ran sounded like the very sound of shame. The sound of victims laughing at victims. Feeding on their victimness, until it becomes an obscenevirtue. Is there ever an excuse for ignorance? And when victims spit upon victims, should they not be called fools? Fools of darkness? (278) In choosing such a story for their screenplay, Peterson and Suleman have chosen a text with a good deal of introspective prose and intellectual debate, as well as characters designed as studies in deep ambivalence, Brechtian problem pieces offered to the patient, trenchant analysis of a critical readership. The challenge of making such a narrative dramatic and cinematic is considerable, and the screenplay can be seen making enormous changes in Ndebele’s story to accomplish it, at the same time expanding the women’s narrative. A change of a different sort needs mention here, the film’s updating the period of the action from 1966 to a time at least Post-Apartheid Narratives

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twenty years later. Perhaps 1966 seemed too remote, a time of a political lull too hard (and very expensive) to film convincingly, unless that somehow became the point of the film—and it is not really the point of the novella. But one effect of the updating is to make Zani, the pre–Black Consciousness student, seem a political ‘‘fool,’’ naïve to an extent impossible to imagine in the late eighties, whereas in Ndebele he is a quite typical example, a touching and moving example, of the student reinvention of radical politics that produced late-sixties Black Consciousness. On the other hand, the new roles for women do reflect a later political consciousness, as though Ndebele’s women had somehow traveled through the whole thirty years of conscientization since 1966. Peterson suggests that this and all the central issues treated in the novella should be set in a more ‘‘immediate’’ period because they are still very much with us after 1994 (private communication). This choice of period for the film is interesting from the other end as well: there is no hint of the transition or the anc regime in the screenplay, which thus avoids any direct theorizing or evaluation of the transition.7 Another important change is the role of Forgive Me, picked up from a brief reference in Ntozakhe’s letter to Zani and given much wider meaning in the film. A homeless neighborhood eccentric, and also an image of the most deeply marginalized existences (those least touched by the first reforming years of the new regime), Forgive Me is guilty of some by now obscure crime of rape or incest, and feels compelled to atone constantly in public. He now actually begins the film, in a dawn scene among rocks and aloes on a hilltop overlooking Charterston, displacing Ndebele’s and even the 1996 screenplay’s first scenes, which use the main characters. From that point on his appearances punctuate the film, sometimes as an offscreen voice, sometimes as a significant onlooker, and sometimes brought into direct relation to Zamani in scenes like the one in the middle of the film where Zamani, in a moment of bad conscience, gazes out from his house at Forgive Me’s flickering campfire and antic intoning of the chant ‘‘Baxolele Baba!’’ (‘‘Father forgive them’’). The effect of Forgive Me’s new role is also to dilute the original focus on the male plot of Zani and Zamani, who recede somewhat into the general texture of township life out of which Forgive Me rises like a portent. He becomes a nonnaturalistic suturing device in the film, a kind of madman-beggar-prophet figure like those of Buñuel, Gerima, Sembene, Nuruddin Farah, and Toni Morrison (particularly the magnificent Kebebe of Gerima’s Harvest: 3000 Years), and haunts the entire 270

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film. He becomes the official or chief Fool, an anti-Jester who stands for the forgiveness of fools, by fools, and for fools which animates the film even more than the novella. Although the filmmakers had to forgo the rich literariness, the twisting and turning narrative voice, of the novella, they have found a cinematic equivalent in this obsessive raisonneur. He also acts as framing device, moralizing history. If the novella and the film both stage the story against the historical screen memory of Dingane’s Day (an apartheid public holiday celebrating the Boer victory over the Zulu forces under Dingane at Blood River, December 16, 1838), Forgive Me rises in the film as an accusatory counterimage to the triumphant trekkers, challenging their view of history and performing his own contrary public rite of commemoration of a crime, against the official ceremony seen on television in two scenes in the film and against the picnic the caricatured school principal Meneer feels obliged to stage in the Black community as an absurd sign of patriotism in the Boer republic. Zani’s principled but badly organized opposition to this picnic thus associates him with the film’s Forgive Me; and it is during the picnic, with Forgive Me’s voice on the sound track, that first Zamani and then the silent crowd reenacts Blood River, overturning the Boer victory not by counterviolence but by the truth-force of laughter and silence—a kind of moral suasion not unlike Forgive Me’s mockery of modernity and rationality for what they exclude: himself. The film’s subtle balancing of one public ritual against the other invests with more meaning the confrontation in the final scene between Zamani and the Boer with the whip, and even more—a scene added in the film—the confrontation between the defeated Boer, whip trailing on the ground, and the circle of peoplewho silently surround him.The point is not quite as symmetrical as a balance between war and peace, violation and forgiveness (truth and reconciliation?), but Forgive Me matched against Dingane’s Day starts up a semantic circuit of crime, punishment, redress, and forgiveness that speaks directly to these complex issues of the postapartheid nineties, as well as echoing the crimes, punishments, redress, and forgiveness occurring between men and women in the domestic plot. Turning to that plot in the film, I would like to discuss in some detail two emblematic mirror scenes, the very early scene of lovemaking with Zani and Ntozakhe on the train and the rape scene with Mimi and Zamani. These scenes mirror each other as well as the whole thematics of the film, the train scene more equal in force to the rape scene as it is filmed, more Post-Apartheid Narratives

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like a ‘‘doubling’’ of that scene than it is in the novella; together the scenes compose two rival versions of heterosexual masculinity from the point of view of the male doubles (already closely linked by their names) Zani and Zamani.The first scene is quite different in the novella, the 1996 screenplay, and the finished film, and each version is instructive about the way gender politics is evolving in South African oppositional culture. Of course, the male comradeship in feminism that the novella and even more the film attempt, though, as bell hooks argues, an essential part of a successful movement, is always somewhat problematic, as the contributors to Alice Jardine and Paul Smith’s Men in Feminism demonstrate at sometimes discouraging length. But even its awkward presence is better than its more usual absence, on the way to ending the cruel paradox that the South African feminist historian Helen Bradford starkly articulates: ‘‘Democracy in a patriarchal, capitalist society is a contradiction in terms’’ (‘‘ ‘You Call That Democratic?’ ’’ 28–30). In the novella the train scene is subdued into the background of a moment of reconciliation between Zani and Zamani; it comes halfway into the story, and Zani is in the middle of a long disquisition on work and love, eventually mentioning his first time making love: ‘‘And it had to happen in a train. A swaying train. For the first time in my life. The indignity of it all. The sin of it all. In the swaying darkness of a train. Why didn’t she refuse? Tell me. Yet she was so near to me. Never had I been so aware of another person. But how can I continue to love her? What will happen to all my dreams if they are to be lost in bringing up a child? And what will be the meaning of the matriculation exams I have just written? And then the meaninglessness of bringing up a child in all the meaningless life around you. My mother, my sisters, my uncle! What will their efforts have been for? ‘‘And then I behaved like a fool at the station. Why didn’t I just see in her the obstacle she might become? Will she forgive me? Yet how can I continue to love her? Aren’t there higher things in life than marriage?’’ How I envied him! He was new, so fascinatingly tormented by his first real joy! He seemed as helpless as he was the first time I saw him and the girl was waving to him. What could I tell him? (207) The passage subordinates lovemaking to Zani’s anxious self-regard, in a typical bit of male narcissism that relegates the whole matter of ‘‘love’’ to 272

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a private sphere of women and children in conflict with all his dreams of the male-coded public sphere. But it resembles Zamani’s rape and abandonment of Mimi in its guilt and worry, its clear intention to abandon Ntozakhe, its wondering about forgiveness. At this point in the tale the two men are enmeshed in a complicated drama of attraction and repulsion, and Zani is choosing the rapist teacher as his sexual confidant—a typical folly, which nevertheless carries the impulse of affiliative speech that works to save both these fools in the end, when they do find something to tell each other. But clearly it is not a major scene in Ndebele’s design. Startlingly, Peterson and Suleman choose this bare fragment of a scene, ‘‘in the swaying darkness of a train,’’ to open their film (after the prologue with Forgive Me on his hilltop): 1. int. train—night—[zani & ntozakhe] A young, dark faced, 18 year old boy, zani, is standing half naked in a dimly lit 2nd class train compartment. zani’s face is taut with nervousness as he hesitantly looks at a dark, young and softly beautiful girl, ntozakhe. ntozakhe is half-seated and topless, she stretches her right arm towards zani, a gentle smile playing on her face. zani tenderly engulfs her hand in his but his body suddenly stiffens as ntozakhe tries to draw him towards her. zani remains momentarily rooted to the floor, his head and breathing rushing towards dizziness. Blackness and silence engulf his consciousness as we see surreal images of a white chicken running in different directions in an enclosure. It soundlessly squawks and screams. zani suddenly opens his eyes and is confronted with ntozakhe’s puzzled expression. He heaves and sighs as if about to run and just as suddenly he is awkwardly on top of her, smothering her with his bigger frame. zani is kneeling on his knees, while ntozakhe is closely attached to zani’s body. They are both fully naked. . . . The train’s locomotive engine grows louder and louder. zani’s mouth is wide open. He heaves, and heaves, and heaves. The locomotive’s axle is turning at maximum speed . . . followed by the intermittent ejection of steam. (Peterson and Suleman 2) The screenplay keeps the characterization of a hesitant Zani, but from the point of view of the novella the scene is not only dramatized, emphasized, Post-Apartheid Narratives

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made erotic and almost wordless, it is completely decontextualized from the Zani/Zamani dynamic central to the tale. The cinematic language exchanges Zani’s student longwindedness for the screen images of blackness and silence, the ‘‘surreal’’ chicken, full nudity, sexual athleticism, the locomotive’s wheels and steam. The effect is to celebrate the ambivalence of a ‘‘first time’’ as the film’s point of departure. More upbeat than Zamani’s rape, certainly; but in fact this scene is cleverly overdetermined by the motif of love’s ambivalence (from a male viewpoint) that appears in all the couples of the plot, not only Zani and Ntozakhe, whom the film gives much more screen time to than did the novella, but most painfully Zamani and Mimi, and almost as painfully Zamani and Nosipho, not to speak of the platonic relationship of Nosipho and the young Zani. Also, as the ‘‘first time,’’ in this first scene of the first black feature film after apartheid, the scene spectacularly announces the new black images’ claim to the terrain of the erotic black body, and the ‘‘glamour,’’ to use Toni Cade Bambara’s word about Julie Dash’s Daughters of the Dust, of a black sexual film iconography—breaking with any and all old puritanisms of State, Church, or Custom (though not with heteronormative ones). In many ways this surprising opening sets the tone for the freedom with which the film adapts Ndebele’s text. But it is just as clearly faithful to Ndebele’s deeper questioning of sexual life, as part of a ‘‘rediscovery of the ordinary.’’ Both novella and 1996 screenplay construct masculinity as confusedly desirous rather than phallocratic, ‘‘overwhelmed,’’ as Zamani says later in the novella scene, by ‘‘the self-assurance of her womanhood’’ (Ndebele, Fools 210); women are present in the male-identified erotics of the scenes as power rather than desire. In the screenplay, after Ntozakhe asks him ‘‘Whydidn’t you tell me it’s your first time?’’, Zani’s ‘‘eyes seem to avoid those of ntozakhe. He walks out of the compartment. A sudden and complete darkness engulfs the compartment as zani closes the door behind him’’ (Peterson and Suleman 3). Here the gaze at Zani as he leaves the compartment is presumably Ntozakhe’s gaze offscreen, an ironicwomanly gaze that may well mesh with the ironies of the camera throughout the scene: the ejection of steam? the image of the chicken? And in fact that image is transposed here from another scene in the novella, the rape scene itself. In the finished film the train scene keeps its priority, opening the main plot, but is filmed quite differently from the earlier screenplay. The 274

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erotics of nudity are strong but more elliptical, only upper bodies and caresses of heads and shoulders being filmed (both actors are very beautiful, full of the ‘‘glamour’’ these images need); the hesitation and awkwardness of Zani are gone along with the image of the chicken; Ntozakhe does not ask about the first time, and Zani does not avoid her eyes or leave the compartment.Their lovemaking establishes them as comfortable, affectionate lovers, the opposite of Zamani and Nosipho’s strained relations. What has changed is the whole narrative of love.The new Ntozakhe and the new Zani have an egalitarian, smoothly working relationship from the start, and that continues, with Ntozakhe getting much more screen time. In the event, the film decided on making Zani less alone, more affiliated with women, and this pulls him away somewhat from the intensity of the homosocial or Oedipal bond with Zamani and from the emblematic ‘‘folly’’ of the title. He appears from the very beginning less allegorical and ‘‘typical’’ (in the Lukácsian sense) than Ndebele’s ephebe, the sexual politics less one-sided and melodramatic. That cannot be said about the rape scene. In the novella it is told as a flashback in Zamani’s interior monologue, about a third of the way into the story: I’m talking to her, but I do not understand my words, for words have yielded more vividly to endless years of seeing. There is no end to years. There is no end to them. For they are as old as the world which is ageless. And my years are nothing, for they are part of the years of the world. Human years: so meaningless. They are a chain of visions to which the mind can only give a transitory meaning. What is the meaning of years and years of water? Vast expanses of water? The beauty of steam hovering endlessly over the water? And the fresh perfume of sorghum fields? See. Floating on the water, thousands of acorns, corn seeds, wheat and barley, eyeballs winking endlessly like the ever changing patterns on the surface of the water, and the rain of sour milk pelting the water with thick curds. I want to come into the water, but I can’t. I am trapped behind thin screens of ice. I must break it down. I heave! And I heave! And there is a deafening scream of squawking geese. The pain of heaving! The frightening screams! And the ice cracks with the tearing sound of mutilation. And I break through with such a convulsion. And I’m in the water. It is so richly viscous. So thick. Like the sweetness of honey. And the acorns, and the corn seeds, wheat and barley sprout into living Post-Apartheid Narratives

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things. And I swim through eyes which look at me with enchantment and revulsion. It is cold. It is cold. I know. Because I’m naked. And the door is open. And the darkness inside the house pours outside. And in the street is the fading cry of a woman. (Ndebele, Fools 194–95) A disturbing scene, with what Toni Morrison called the ‘‘male ‘glamour’ of shame’’ in rape that she worked so hard to avoid in the rape of Pecola in The Bluest Eye (afterword 215). The politics of rape in Ndebele’s scene is of course highly complex as well as revoltingly simple. But I think Ndebele’s primary point is to center the story on a character no one can fail to despise and also to understand, like Morrison’s Cholly—‘‘victims who spit on victims,’’ indeed. The rape scene is the ground zero of the novella, the point from which a narrative of ascent most surprisingly begins, as it fails to do with Cholly. Zamani’s flashback occurs right after he has seen Mimi again, with the son she had as a result of the rape. His act of recall is an act of self-punishment, of recognition. Much of the novella recommends the necessity of this kind of recognition as opposed to the political kind—of ethical rediscovery, ‘‘ethical singularity,’’ in the whirlwind of a politicized life. This time the screenplay barely departs at all from the novella (although Zamani’s flashback comes at the gate to Mimi and Zani’s house before he has seen Mimi again), nor the finished film from the screenplay: They both stand up at the same time. mimi moves towards the teacher. She offers the chicken to the teacher with both hands. The room goes darker. A huge cloud of smoke engulfs the room. The teacher’s hands do not take the chicken. But they go past the proffering hands to rest on two small shoulders. The chicken squawks. The teacher squeezes the warm shoulders, harder and harder. teacher zamani is talking to mimi, but his words are unclear. The chicken squawks again. There’s the tearing apart of cloth. mimi screams. And her piercing scream fills the room. She is violently lashing at the teacher trying to free herself. The teacher tightens his grip around mimi. A struggle goes on for some time. The teacher slowly heaves, and heaves. His mouth is wide open and there’s joy in his eyes and they slowly give way to fear. He heaves harder, struggling, seemingly out of breath. mimi’s small hands grip tightly around the teacher’s neck. And there is a deafening scream of squawking geese. 276

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The door is open. teacher zamani is naked. The darkness inside the house pours outside. In the background, we hear the fading cry of a woman. (Peterson and Suleman 50) The scene ends with Mimi’s sister Busi breaking all of Zamani’s windows. In this passage, and as filmed, the images are focused on the upper body and face of the struggling pair, with a lot of the violence conveyed not by the image track but in the elaborate sound editing and the play with smoke and darkening light. Zamani’s violence is answered essentially on the sound track as well, by Busi’s insults offscreen and the sound of shattering windows. The image of blood splashing gaudily on Zamani’s weeping face is also a displacement of the violence of the rapist to his own face; another such condensation and displacement is his wringing of the chicken’s neck, after Mimi’s hands have been at his throat in the struggle. Gone with the disturbing lyricism of Zamani’s narrative monologue is the ‘‘glamour’’ and voyeurism of the scene in the novella: it is almost documentary in the film, reticent, knowing. In this case the transfer to film language works powerfully by following, not disrupting, Ndebele’s external scene, while giving up any attempt to represent the images of the monologue (except for the sound effect of squawking geese). Instead of the images of seeds and water, the perfume of sorghum fields, and the metaphysics of time, the film substitutes the single image of blood on Zamani’s face (in Ndebele he does kill the chicken, but not with this brilliant splashing image). The gender and sexual politics of rape take a rather abrupt turn in the filmed version, away from the last vestiges of the ideologyof rape as a kind of misplaced, self-confounding, male sexual rapture (still present, I think, in Morrison’s scene in The Bluest Eye), and toward a conception of rape as pure violence, the intense simplicity of blood. The film responds to the widespread conscientization around rape, including an almost ritualized gang rape, as a frequent crime in nineties South Africa. Suleman mentioned in response to questions at the NewYork screening of Fools that the film was also meant to make theviewers question the leniency of Zamani’s punishment under an improvised urban version of customary law; in fact he is not punished at all, the council of clan elders simply rebuking him stiffly, with beautiful metaphorical language and lots of contempt, but in effect with a too ready forgiveness and a willingness to send him right back to the classroom. This patriarchal mood is strongly Post-Apartheid Narratives

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contrasted with Busi’s rage on screen against the same old men, taunting them sexually as they leave Mimi’s house obviously decided to mete out no real punishment for the rape. The influence of feminism in these two scenes is matched by a general shift in the film’s narrative line. Ndebele’s is a classical ‘‘Oedipal narrative’’ in Teresa de Lauretis’s sense, with male protagonists locked in a homosocial drama of their own, and female helpers and opponents. The film does not abandon that structure, but drastically alters its texture, filling out the women’s stories until they begin to pull away from the drive of the Oedipal narrative. This is accomplished in various ways, but a pattern is clearly designed. It is not especially Mimi’s role (as in a feminist text) that is made more central; she is not often on screen, and never as the pointof-view character; instead of a son already a few years old, which gives her an undeniable status in the novella (from the narrator Zamani’s point of view, and no doubt that of many readers), in the film she has a miscarriage. But this allows an added scene of women’s networking, and draws in Zamani’s wife, Nosipho, who is a nurse. Interestingly, in the novella it is Zamani who asks Nosipho’s help for Zani’s stab wound, but she refuses to become Zamani’s helper in making his peace with Mimi’s family. In the film it is Busi, Mimi’s sister, who appeals to Nosipho for help with the miscarriage, and she goes at once. The divergence from the text here adds a whole dramatic scene played entirely by women, makes Mimi the focus rather than Zamani, and expands the role of Nosipho as an authoritative, independent actor. Nosipho appears in other scenes where she is absent in the novella, although her great scene, the dialogue with Zani where she makes a brilliant political critique of her own profession, is cut, like many of the Socratic dialogues (too intellectualist?). Certainly, the film works much more with theatricality, ensemble playing, and comedy than with Ndebele’s philosophic turn of phrase and ambiguity, making the text far less literary, but by the same token—in the men’s talk in the Stoneyard shebeen or the women’s stokvel—drawing on the local black theater idioms that Peterson and Suleman know well. Zani’s lover Ntozakhe is also more present than in the novella, where her most extended appearance (a crucial passage thematically) comes in the form of a long letter to Zani. In the film she is almost always by Zani’s side, making them a more conventional couple (in a shopping scene, for example) but reducing Zani’s role as center of attention. As Nosipho and Ntozakhe advance, Zamani and Zani recede; the effect is a more populated stage and 278

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a more comic, populist style. Suleman has described in conversation how the first private screenings to almost all-black audiences in South Africa drew delighted responses of recognition at almost every point, confounding the filmmakers’ fears that the style of the film might be too complex for mass audiences.This ready recognition undoubtedlycomes partly from the marvelous care with setting and decor, but I would ascribe it mainly to the theatrical virtuosity of the acting and directing of Fools. If the drive against the normalization of male narrative and ideology in the film is to have its best effect, it will be that style, drawn from the long practice of local black theater but refined by Suleman’s ten-year apprenticeship in Paris to classic African directors like Med Hondo and Souleymane Cissé, that will carry it deep into the spectators’ consciousness. The male feminist politics and textuality of the film, and its ensemble style, both derive from practices of grassroots democratic art making, and it is there that one may hope for the most profound writing of South African radical democracy in the future.

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notes Introduction: Normalization or Radical Democracy 1 2

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I find Pechey’s essay deeply instructive about the whole frame of postapartheid culture, but I do not mean to imply that he agrees with the way I extend his argument here. This hostile view of gear, widespread on the South African left, expressed in forceful terms by the anc’s principal strategic allies—the trade union federation cosatu and the South African Communist Party—and set out in detail in Hein Marais’s persuasive book South Africa: Limits to Change, is also argued in several articles in the influential Canadian left journal Southern Africa Report, such as Carolyn Bassett’s ‘‘Is gear Illegal?’’: ‘‘Many critics of the government’s Growth, Employment and Redistribution economic restructuring strategy, gear, argue that it threatens the social and economicwell-being of the poor majority’’ (24). David Pottie and John S. Saul have also discussed the concept of normalization as the underlying ideology of electoral democracy since 1994; see their ‘‘ ‘Normalization’?: The South African Election’’ (12–16). In chapter 3 there is a longer discussion of the views of Pillay and Adler and Webster; here it should be noted that the later anc adoption of the neoliberal gear policy made it more difficult for ‘‘radical reformists’’ like Adler and Webster to continue to accept a version of economic democracy scaled down to such an extent. For work on the restructuring of academic labor, the defunding of public universities, academic joblessness, the exploitation of teaching fellows and adjuncts, the exclusion of students of color, the degradation of critical and liberal studies by instrumentalism and a marketing orientation, and the rise of a managerial class at the expense of faculty autonomy, see Martin; Bérubé; Bérubé and Nelson; Readings; Slaughter and Leslie; and Rhoades. In a special issue of the online journal Workplace: A Journal of Academic Labor, I have drawn some connections between U.S. and South African universities based on a symposium at the University of Natal-Durban, with a commentary of my own and another by the historian Chris Lowe; see Global Workplace: An Activist Forum, www.workplace-gsc.com (with a link via ‘‘Back Issues’’ to Workplace 1.2, December 1998, in which Global Workplace appears). Situating this book in the context of political struggles in the university may seem gratuitous, but on the contrary, I believe it is one concrete solution to the problem of the location of metropolitan scholarship in the postcolonial world, one path to solidarity and away from appropriation. The metropolitan university is not outside the reach of the forces that constrain radical possibility in the periphery, and both may be sites of struggle in the same general movement.

1. Radical Democracy and the Electoral Sublime 1

Gayatri Spivak’s discussion of this concept in several works of Marx (‘‘Can the Subaltern Speak?’’ 275–79) is especially relevant here, because she uses the concepts to move beyond Foucault and Deleuze toward a new grasp of political subjectivity and agency.

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Brink’s compilation can be read as a small archive of South African writers’ political subjectivity on this day of monumental representation of the new nation. A number of papers at the important international conference on democracy called by the History Workshop at the University of the Witwatersrand in July 1994 comment on the very recent election process and results from different disciplinary points of view, and I read them as a line of freshly coined interpretation running parallel to the literary intellectuals’ accounts in Brink. (Brink also published an interesting sequel the next year, returning to the same writers for the most part: 27 April: One Year Later * Een Jaar Later.) The papers include Eve Bertelsen’s ‘‘Selling Change: Advertisements for the 1994 South African Election’’; Susan Booysen’s ‘‘Democracy, Liberation and the Vote in South Africa’s First Democratic Election: The Matla Trust Voter Education Survey’’; Sobhuza Dlamini’s ‘‘KwaZulu-Natal Elections: Results and Future Prospects’’; and Noor Nieftagodien’s ‘‘Coloureds and South Africa’s First Democratic Elections.’’ Renan’s ‘‘What Is a Nation?’’ is cited from Homi K. Bhabha’s 1990 collection Nation and Narration, a book that has much influenced my comments here, especially after I taught it in a seminar at Queens College, the City University of New York, to students from the bewildering variety of national origins and national narratives typical of Queens. Another of Renan’s remarks applicable here is that ‘‘a nation’s existence . . . is a daily plebiscite’’ (19).

2. Njabulo Ndebele and Radical-Democratic Culture 1

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Although the Western culture industry does well by leading antiregime White writers like Brink, Breytenbach, Coetzee, and Gordimer, it is generally only restricted circles of activists and scholars—readers of Sechaba, Research in African Literatures, or the Journal of Southern African Studies—who are familiar with new black South African writing. The relaunching of Wole Soyinka’s journal Transition under the editorship of Appiah and Gates opened up South African political culture to a wider audience, issues 51 and 52 (1991) carrying articles by Adam Ashforth, Dennis Brutus, Neville Choonoo, Stephen Clingman, Anne McClintock, Rob Nixon, and Lewis Nkosi. Bunn and Taylor compiled a good selection of new writing and art in From South Africa (1987)—vol. 69 of TriQuarterly (Spring/Summer 1987)—and Gibbons edited the accompanying symposium at Northwestern as Writers from South Africa (1989). There are now a number of recent studies and collections of essays, suggesting a continued interest in South African emergent culture since the change of regime: see Attridge and Jolly; Boehmer, Chrisman, and Parker; Daymond, South African Feminisms; de Lange; Fletcher; Pechey, ‘‘Post-Apartheid Narratives’’; and Wade. Discussion of Ndebele’s theoretical views is to be found in Gardner, ‘‘A Poem about Revolution’’; Maughan-Brown, ‘‘Anthology as Reliquary’’; Shava; Sole, ‘‘Democratising Culture’’; and Vaughan.The TriQuarterly symposium has responses by Bunn, M. Kunene, Nixon, Sitas, and Willemse (Gibbons 33–36, 98–114). The painter Gerard Sekoto has offered a particularly moving tribute to Ndebele (11). For the context of other actors, other scripts, see the collections edited by Bunn and Taylor; Campschreur and Divendal; Daymond; and Gibbons; and the magazines Staffrider and Agenda.

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Certainly, reading Ndebele’s essays in the late eighties together (not one by one) and in New York (not South Africa), as I did, I was most struck by the opening they created for rethinking power and gender in South Africa. The version of this part of chapter 2 which I then published in diacritics (Spring 1992) was meant to bring news of this South African thinking to a U.S. scholarly audience wider than African Studies specialists. On ‘‘race,’’ state, and nation in South Africa I have been guided by the works cited of Ashforth; Biko; Bozzoli; D. Davis and Fine; Fatton; Greenberg; A. Sachs; Walker; and Wolpe; on gender by Bozzoli, the articles in South African Feminisms—especially Daymond, Lewis, Lockett, Maqagi,Wicomb, and the black women writers’ workshop; the Gibbons collection: de Kok, McClintock, Roberts, and Taylor; Malange; Mofokeng; Ngcobo; and Walker. Studies of the political and cultural transition in South Africa that have influenced me include the work of Adler and Webster; Bertelsen; Bradford; Cronin; Daymond; A. Desai and Habib; Gevisser; Gouws; Habib; Lodge; Makhene; Marais; Morphet; Pechey; Peterson; Pillay; Purkey; A. Sachs; Siers; Sitas; Sole; Steadman; Steinberg; Wicomb; and of course Ndebele’s ongoing commentaries. Jeyifo, in ‘‘The Nature of Things,’’ uses as working concepts the notion of a Western ‘‘Africanism’’ and an African ‘‘Nationalism’’ as competing critical discourses; Miller (especially part 1) and Mudimbe, in The Idea of Africa, have made historical studies of the genealogy of ‘‘Africanism.’’ Rather than a disciplinary Africanism, Ndebele is more likely to face an American mistake about the ‘‘anachronism’’ of South Africa, as Nixon deftly defines it in his discussion of problems of transmission between the two countries in Gibbons (105–8). Amin, Bhabha, Spivak, and Trinh, among others, put Western interpretation on guard against various Eurocentric failures of insight. Biko develops one, between Black Power as minority discourse and Black Consciousness as majority culture (118–19). And the difference between the labor movements is stark. The position of feminisms is different: in South Africa, for example, a white feminist adopts the ‘‘womanist’’ view of some U.S. and African black feminists, and is promptly controverted by two women of color from two opposed viewpoints (Lockett, Maqagi, and Wicomb in Daymond, South African Feminisms). The best single source of South African feminist literary theory is M. J. Daymond, ed., South African Feminisms: Writing,Theory, and Criticism, 1990–1994. Earlier, Bozzoli, in ‘‘Marxism, Feminism, and South African Studies,’’ rethinks Marxist analysis of Southern Africa through feminism, and McClintock, in ‘‘ ‘No longer in a Future Heaven,’ ’’ gives a lucid outline of feminist issues with the nationalisms active in the region. South African echoes of the general struggle among feminism, nationalism, and Marxism in African cultural theory are to be found in Mofokeng; Ngcobo; Tlali; and others; some male responses (pro-feminist in Ndebele’s case) are in Petersen (181–85, 203–4). The link between Ndebele’s theory and Black women writers was first broached by Margaret Daymond in her paper on Head and Tlali at the Yale conference on African Letters, April 1990, and since published as ‘‘Inventing Gendered Traditions: The Short Stories of Bessie Head and Miriam Tlali’’ (South African Feminisms 223–39). Daymond persuasively criticizes an earlier version of my argument in diacritics (O’Brien, ‘‘Literature’’ 77–79) for

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granting too much to Ndebele’s pro-feminism because he never acknowledges his debt to feminist thought, pointing out his responsibility as a theorist ‘‘to state his position and allegiances’’ (227). ‘‘Beyond ‘Protest’: New Directions in South African Literature’’ (1986), was revised and published as ‘‘Redefining Relevance’’ in the Cape Town journal Pretexts in 1989, and reprinted along with the two 1984 essays as the first three pieces in Ndebele’s book Rediscovery of the Ordinary: Essays on South African Literature and Culture (1991), to which my citations refer. These are the essays that have drawn most attention and on which Ndebele’s reputation for decisive interventions in theoretical debate are based; they are also the part of his work most invoked in later discussion, for example, in the debate over Albie Sachs’s ‘‘Preparing Ourselves for Freedom,’’ to the spirit of which Ndebele is often affiliated. In ‘‘Storytelling and Politics in Fiction,’’ Vaughan makes a careful analysis of Ndebele’s use of Benjamin in relation to Turkish and Soviet storytelling, raising questions of class and historicity that it is true Ndebele passes over in his drive to the main point. Vaughan suggests a Marxist uneasiness with the liberal humanist element in Ndebele’s thinking that recurs in later criticism of Sachs and Ndebele taken together (e.g., Sole, ‘‘Democratising Culture’’ 13–15); part of my intention here is to develop a Marxist and feminist reading of Ndebele that saves him from a simple identification with liberal ideology. However that may be, Ndebele’s deployment of the African storyteller in urban settings is in touch with the most exciting kinds of new black oral art in poetry and theater, which thus seems to have followed the aesthetic of ‘‘Turkish Tales.’’ Sitas (‘‘People’s Poetry’’) and Sole (‘‘Oral Performance’’) develop the saliency of oral performance in eighties political poetry, though both would probably regard that work as very different politically from the print literature Ndebele praises in ‘‘The Rediscovery of the Ordinary.’’ Mzamane (‘‘Uses of Traditional Oral Forms’’) earlier found structural uses of orality in a wide range of black South African print literature. Santu Mofokeng’s beautiful photo-essay ‘‘Train Churches’’ in Bunn and Taylor (352–62) illustrates a similar commuter train cultural form. See bell hooks, ‘‘Men: Comrades in Struggle,’’ Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center (Boston: South End, 1987): 67–81; ‘‘Feminist Focus on Men: A Comment,’’ Talking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black (Boston: South End, 1989): 127–33; ‘‘Representations: Feminism and Black Masculinity’’ and ‘‘Black Women and Men: Partnership in the 1990s,’’ Yearning: Race, Gender, and Cultural Politics (Boston: South End, 1990):65–77, 203–14; ‘‘Reconstructing Black Masculinity,’’ Black Looks: Race and Representation (Boston: South End, 1992): 87–113; and with Cornel West, Breaking Bread: Insurgent Black Intellectual Life. I am not overlooking the difficulties in transferring hooks’s thinking to a South African context, but on the other hand, I have experienced while lecturing on her work in South Africa its fruitful reception by several black and white intellectuals there. Here I differ with Michael Vaughan,who, in the excellent article already referred to, reads this passage as Ndebele’s critique of the white researchers ‘‘who are necessarily Eurocentric in their conceptual orientation, and who research African experience of apartheid from a vantage point outside that experience’’ (‘‘Storytelling and Politics in Fiction’’ 187). Ndebele, it should be noted, never uses the word ‘‘Eurocentric.’’ And Vaughan

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maximizes the outsideness of such researchers, where Ndebele’s comments remain open to readjusting this inside/outside border in intellectual (and political) work. I find it interesting that Ndebele refers to an earlier essay by Vaughan in this very same passage (‘‘Turkish Tales,’’ Rediscovery of the Ordinary 20), and not to castigate Vaughan as Eurocentric—this is, rather, Vaughan’s own characterization of his position—but to build on Vaughan’s point and argue for the ‘‘plac[ing] in and develop[ing] from’’ a radicaldemocratic tradition that definitely includes critics such as Vaughan. I may be wrong, but that seems to me better attuned to Ndebele’s general thinking and his characteristically careful phrasing here. A radical repositioning all around: that is the invigorating vision of Ndebele’s reading of race in a radical-democratic cultural insurgency. Cf. Hoyt Fuller on the black writer/white critic dynamic during the sixties Black Arts Movement: ‘‘Within the past few years, for example, Chicago’s white critics have given the backs of their hands to worthy works by black playwrights, part of their criticism directly attributable to their ignorance of the intricacies of black style’’ (1815). This is not an easily dismissed essentialism, as in the same measured essay Fuller cites one white critic, George Frazier, precisely for ‘‘getting’’ certain nuances of style as diverse as baseball, jazz, fiction, and politics.

3. Against Normalization: Cultural Identity from Below 1

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See, e.g., Howard Winant’s review of The Black Atlantic, with the hopes it raises that ‘‘a proto-theory, or an opening, or a leitmotif of potentially emancipatory politics will emerge’’ (8). I disagree with the general argument in this bold, thoughtful article—that both Sachs and Ndebele present cultural theories of the transition incoherent because of an amalgam of liberal formalist and ‘‘revisionist’’ (neo-Marxist) positions, whereas what is needed is ‘‘post structuralist thinking . . . [as] it confronts the conditions of oppression in South Africa’’ (Morphet, ‘‘Cultural Imagination’’ 144).The parti pris for poststructuralism and the reading out of Marxism are too peremptory, and I think there is a serious misreading of Ndebele’s position in ‘‘Redefining Relevance’’ that pushes it into black nationalist opposition to South African Marxism as simply a Eurocentric continuation of white cultural hegemony. It is also hard to see whether the argument against Sachs is being made from the right or the left of the anc: on the whole, it seems to be from the right, but that is perhaps because Morphet’s conception of poststructuralism adopts its more recognizably conservative elements, such as a metaphysical fixation on openness. But the framing of the argument in three ‘‘phases’’ or ‘‘settlements’’ from 1950 to 1990, a liberal/formalist settlement, a revisionist settlement, and the still unsettled settlement the nineties would bring, is cogent. I am pushing his term ‘‘settlement’’—‘‘a relatively stable, relatively durable [cultural] formulation’’ (133)—more toward its political meaning (as in a labor contract negotiation, for example), to show a certain coincidence of political and cultural trends during this watershed moment. Ari Sitas’s comments on the conservative ‘‘reception committee’’ that greeted Albie Sachs’s paper ‘‘Preparing Ourselves for Freedom’’ in 1990 well describe this tendency to claim the arguments of Ndebele and Sachs (made from within the struggle) for the existing assumptions of the culture industry:

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It has pleased many mandarins who craft sharp lines, who have been affronted by the crackle and din outside the imperial hotel on defiance day. Sitting there . . . they felt rightfully irritated by slogans about ‘‘people’s culture,’’ or about literature being a weapon. . . . Since a fighter of significant intellectual standing like Sachs lent his voice to the discontent against all this rhetoric, the academy started breathing once more, at ease with itself; at ease with its forms and boundaries. If only the boundaries of depth and letters could be shifted somewhat so that a few black voices could join such white guards of standards, so much the better. But in the meantime . . . For me this reception committee is the least interesting. (in de Kok and Press 91) 4

I quote from a slightly edited version published in a 1994 collection edited by Carol Beckey, The Subversive Imagination. This piece was first given as a paper at the Weekly Mail Book Week, 6 September 1992, and published in that form in Staffrider. Many of the alterations for the Routledge collection are harder hitting, less tactful toward the sensibilities of white literary people who were presumably a large part of his audience at the Book Week. But the argument already hit hard enough in its local version in Staffrider: Indeed the best of it [white writing; the later version added names here: Coetzee, Gordimer, Brink, Paton] represents the achievements of the era of apartheid. The fact that it stood in moral opposition to that era does not affect that objective reality. It owes its achievements to the special legitimising opportunities as well as to the agonies of the conscience that nurtured its growth. This reality represents both the limitations of that literature as well as its lasting relevance. (24)

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Neil Lazarus would agree with Ndebele’s assessment. In ‘‘Modernism and Modernity: T. W. Adorno and Contemporary White South African Literature’’ he describes it as ‘‘an obsessional literature, haunted and introspective, urgent and compulsive. It tracks relentlessly and more or less pitilessly over the ever more restricted terrain to which, by virtue of its situation, it is condemned’’ (131). Ari Sitas similarly defines this literature as caught in a colonial time warp; it has described nicely the reality, the anxiety, of looking at the ‘‘other’’ across the fence. . . . That is all very well, and it is beautifully written a lot of the time. I think it’s going to be seen as a marginal literature which had very interesting things to say because of its social isolation. But to go back to it, to construct the lineage of a Great South African Tradition out of it, isn’t feasible. One can talk about a marginal sensibility. . . . But it’s alsoverydifficult because manyof the better English writers have to change their lives before their sensibilities change. It’s not a voluntary thing, that they can decide to move out of their lives and be somebody else in order to see differently. (in D. Brown and van Wyk 66–67) Sitas speaks from the position of a white academic whose life shifted to working (from an academic base in the University of Natal at Durban, however) as a facilitator of black worker theaterand poetry in Natal (hewas the editorof the first volume of worker poetry, Black Mamba Rising). Sitas is not unaware of the contradictions of his own position and

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was later, as an academic sociologist practicing both sociology and solidarity, to reflect, in a worried polemic with postmodernism, on its peculiarities (‘‘Exploiting Phumelele Nene: Postmodernism, Intellectual Work and Ordinary Lives’’). Although his agreement with Ndebele about the historical meaning of white writing does not go as far as saying it has oppressed other literatures, his sense of the need to build a cultural identity from ‘‘below’’ this Great South African Tradition, and of the structural transformation that will have to be worked for along with the production of texts, is very close to Ndebele’s. David Maughan-Brown points out in an article on La Guma and exile how strikingly La Guma foreshadowed the exile Sachs’s paper, with its sense that ‘‘normal’’ art would be one of the spoils of victory and take over then from the lesser forms of resistance culture. Here is a passage from La Guma’s ‘‘The Conditions of Culture in South Africa’’ (1971): As long as racism and oppression last in Southern Africa, culture will take this form [i.e., ‘‘the songs, the writings and poetry, the militant literature of resistance’’].When the oppressed have freed themselves from the shackles of economic, social and political limitations, flowers will bloom anew in an environment of happiness in a life lived in dignity (quoted in Maughan-Brown, ‘‘Adjusting’’ 34).

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Perhaps exile distanced La Guma and Sachs from the texture of ‘‘the ugliness, the grief ’’ (Sitas) of resistance writing, and also stimulated in them a certain utopianism about the moment of victory. In an early essay, ‘‘Black Literature and Performance,’’ Kelwyn Sole does outline this possibility, not of course for Ndebele in particular, but for his whole generation of Black Consciousness intellectuals from that class. Sole’s general argument is that ‘‘Black Consciousness seems to have begun as, and up to now largely remained, an ideology particularly attractive to the radical black petty bourgeoisie’’ (55); that the ‘‘plea for more privileged blacks to unite with their lower class brethren (and then take on a leadership role in the fight for freedom) is a petty bourgeois conception of the course liberation should take’’ (70); that, later, a ‘‘class faction’’ emerged within the left of Black Consciousness, but that both tendencies remained within a ‘‘populist’’ rather than a class politics (63–65); and that the emergence of worker plays and performance represents a different force altogether that will need to be counted in any new ‘‘national culture’’ (67–74).This schema does illuminate Ndebele’s position in broad general terms, including, perhaps, his general sympathy—but not close identification and personal commitment—with the cosatu cultural locals; cosaw, though with much overlap in Natal, is a different, ‘‘populist’’ rather than ‘‘workerist,’’ project. The evolution of cosaw in the transition was also, with a decrease in overseas ngo funding, away from grassroots regional branches and toward centralized offices and a focus on publishing. ‘‘But Ndebele and other cosaw office-bearers [in February 1994] did not seem unduly upset at such reduced circumstances. Rather, it seemed like these might be a blessing in disguise. With its viable and innovative publishing wing, the organisation faces the new era as a leaner, more streamlined [less grassroots] organisation’’ (Waal, ‘‘cosaw Starts a New Chapter’’ 42). Cf. Adler and Webster, ‘‘Challenging Transition Theory: The Labour Movement, Radical Reform, and Transition to Democracy in South Africa’’:

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From all appearances, South Africa seems to be a textbook case of democratization, as understood by leading contributors to transition theory.These theorists argue that the transition from authoritarianism to democracy can only be brought about as a result of negotiations, of pacts between the reformers in the ruling regime and the moderates in the opposition.The political implication of this alliance between the reformers and the moderates is that prodemocratic forces must be prudent; they must be prepared to offer concessions in exchange for democracy. The corollary is that the democracy that results from this process is inevitably conservative, economically and socially. (1) They cite the following representative passage from Adam Przeworski, Democracy and the Market: Political and Economic Reforms in Eastern Europe and Latin America: Reformers face a strategic choice of remaining in an authoritarian alliance with Hardliners, or seeking a democratic alliance with Moderates. Moderates, in turn, can seek all-out destruction of the political forces organized under the authoritarian regime by allying with Radicals, or they can seek an accommodation by negotiating with Reformers. (Przeworski 69, quoted in Adler and Webster, ‘‘Challenging Transition Theory’’ 12)

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Although they recognize the empirical power of this insight, Adler and Webster criticize its pessimistic view of what they call ‘‘a limited, or shrunken notion of democracy’’ (what some call ‘‘thin’’ or ‘‘formal’’ or ‘‘procedural’’ as opposed to ‘‘deep’’ democracy), in favor of ‘‘an actor-based theory of transition that does not represent movements as passive, but recognizes [their] central role . . . it is thus possible to recast transition theory without its elite orientation, and in so doing to open up possibilities for a more progressive transition than Przeworski’s formulation’’ (13–14). This leads to a counterview of the outcome, ‘‘something of a triangular relationship . . . between Reformers in the state on the one hand, and Moderates and Radicals in the prodemocracy movement on the other’’ (16). Webster developed this view further at a 1995 seminar at Columbia University, seeing the same triple alliance after the 1994 election as one between the new state (reformers plus moderates), business (mostly reformers), and labor (the radicals). The view is attractive, but, as Adler and Webster’s paper acknowledges, depends on the ability of cosatu to retain its quality of ‘‘social movement unionism’’ rather than lapse into the corporatist or business unionism that is the dominant model elsewhere. In this uncertain outcome, the fate of radical labor seems to me parallel to the fate of radical cultural theory; Enzensberger’s question applies equally to both. Adam Habib, ‘‘The Transition to Democracy in South Africa: Developing a Dynamic Model,’’ is a thorough academic analysis of the theoretical debates about transition, including a more structuralist (but not ‘‘inevitabilist’’) critique of Adler and Webster’s ‘‘genetic model’’ based on historical actors. The creation of fosaco was ‘‘aimed at bringing cultural organisations together at grassroots level’’ (Badsha, ‘‘Reconstructive Surgery for SA Arts’’ 2). Omar Badsha said in the same article that in the absence of a popular campaign to put pressure on the (still National Party) government, ‘‘the interests of especially black artists in urban and rural

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areas will be marginalised and the arts remain the preserve of a minority’’ (2). Ndebele was the keynote speaker at the launch of fosaco (as at so many similar events during these years). But three years later Badsha writes a letter to the Weekly Mail (18 August 1995) calling fora national arts forum to bring grassroots groups more centrally into arts policy and blames the National Arts Coalition (with Ndebele as president) for blocking such a forum. Badsha’s letter concludes by pointing out that ‘‘the divisions within the arts are clear manifestations of class, racial and other divisions’’ (42), the implication being that Ndebele’s nac is a new class establishment no longer so friendly to grassroots culture or so distinguishable from the arts as ‘‘the preserve of a minority.’’ I am not so foolhardy (as an outsider) as to draw clear conclusions on what such conflicting positions mean, but they are testimony to the stresses and strains, particularly the class conflicts, of the new cultural settlement and to the ambiguities of taking positions in ‘‘day-to-day politics,’’ as Ndebele has energeticallydone since his return to South Africa; the theoretical essays of Rediscovery of the Ordinary were, on the other hand, written and often delivered as papers abroad. His interview about the Sachs paper in Exchanges (D. Brown and van Dyk 49–57), and other respondents to Sachs who work through Ndebele’s ideas, situate him in that debate; the reviews of Rediscovery of the Ordinary also form part of this discussion even when they precede the Sachs paper. Tony Morphet’s ‘‘cultural settlement’’ piece in Spring Is Rebellious and two articles by Kelwyn Sole, ‘‘Democratising Culture’’ and ‘‘The Role of the Writer in a Time of Transition,’’ discuss Ndebele and Sachs together at greatest length, but there are briefer references by Ingrid de Kok, Gerrit Olivier, Nise Malange, Gareth Cornwell, Frank Meintjies, and Lionel Abrahams in Spring Is Rebellious and Exchanges. The principal reviews of Rediscovery of the Ordinary I have seen, apart from Graham Pechey’s important introduction to the Manchester edition, are by Tony Morphet (‘‘Ordinary— Modern—Post-Modern’’) and Shaun de Waal, and an earlier, briefer version of my chapter 2 (on the eighties essays before they were collected) appeared in 1992 in diacritics. ‘‘Beyond ‘Protest’ ’’ was given as a paper at a 1986 African Writers Conference in Stockholm and published in the conference proceedings in 1988 (Petersen); a lightly edited version was retitled ‘‘Redefining Relevance’’ for publication in the Cape Town academic journal Pretexts in 1989 and included under that title in Rediscovery of the Ordinary (the text I cite here). As an anc officer in exile and a writer interested in cultural matters, Sachs would presumably have read or heard of Ndebele’s ‘‘Turkish Tales’’ and ‘‘Rediscovery of the Ordinary’’ essays—and especially something as thought-provoking as ‘‘Beyond ‘Protest’ ’’/‘‘Redefining Relevance’’—beforewriting his 1989 paper, although as he is not a literary scholar he might also not have come across the essay in its publication in academic literary volumes.The in-house political seminar style of ‘‘Preparing Ourselves for Freedom’’ does not accord with a citation of Ndebele, but I am assuming Sachs probably knew the essay. Gerrit Olivier points to and cites this essay in his response (in de Kok and Press 48), and the crucial use in ‘‘Redefining Relevance’’ and ‘‘Preparing Ourselves for Freedom’’ of the term ‘‘imagination’’ is the starting point of Morphet’s critique of Sachs and Ndebele both (in de Kok and Press 131). The general connections between Ndebele and Sachs’s ‘‘very much diluted version’’ —including crucial differences—are shrewdly canvassed, and the concept of ‘‘imagina-

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tion’’ further commented on (‘‘confirming perhaps a certain indebtedness to Ndebele that we might in any case have suspected’’) in relation to Castoriadis, Benedict Anderson, Clifford, and Ricoeur, by Graham Pechey in his introduction to the Manchester edition of Ndebele’s book. Pechey’s claim that Ndebele’s concept of culture ‘‘is far broader and . . . more ‘materialist’ than Sachs’s’’ is particularly illuminating, and I would cite it as evidence for my argument that during the transition Ndebele is looking for far more than an anc-sponsored normalization and thin democracy: ‘‘Culture’’ for him [Ndebele] means, quite simply, the ineluctably symbolic dimension of the ‘‘infrastructure’’; its purviewas a category runs all theway from the composition of stories to the messages given off by the built environment. For Ndebele the whole complex life-world of the oppressed is under new and more subtle (because seductively technocratic) forms of systemic threat, glittering scenarios of incorporation which face all of those implicated in the diverse practices of culture—architects and planners no less than poets and performers—with new and more testing demands. (Pechey, introduction 5)

4. Staging Whiteness: Beckett, Havel, Maponya 1

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See Kwame Anthony Appiah’s discussion of ‘‘The Postcolonial and the Postmodern’’ in his In My Father’s House: Africa in the Philosophy of Culture. On ‘‘post,’’ see also Geoffrey Bennington, ‘‘Postal Politics and the Institution of the Nation.’’ Maponya’s Gangsters, as revised for the New York production, is an instance of male repositioning in response to feminism within a decolonizing cultural politics, but this is more the exception than the rule. The fiction of Achmat Dangor and Mongane Serote are, arguably, other South African examples, and Martin Orkin points to the significance of Mbongeni Ngema’s Sarafina!, which focuses on women protagonists (teacher and student) in its account of the 1976 uprisings (Drama and the South African State 232– 33). For the struggles of feminism against patriarchy within liberation movements, see Helie-Lucas; hooks; Katrak; Margaret Randall; and McClintock. In South Africa feminism has put the politics of the nation (the ‘‘new nation’’) under intense scrutiny, as in Zoë Wicomb’s ‘‘To Hear the Variety of Discourses,’’ and more generally in Margaret Daymond’s collection South African Feminisms. Maponya crucially revised Gangsters between its Johannesburg and its New York productions, and even more drastically in the decade between its first publication in the South African anthology Woza Afrika! (1986) and its appearance in a collection of his plays, Doing Plays for a Change (1995). This chapter discusses both versions in detail as well as the logic of revision. This is an extension of Fredric Jameson’s argument in ‘‘Modernism and Imperialism’’ that the modernist text is colonial. In ‘‘Notes on the ‘Postcolonial’ ’’ Ella Shohat has criticized the depoliticizing use of ‘‘postcolonial,’’ but I mean here to keep the term’s political valence as a contestatory and optative term, implying not merely after but above and beyond (neo)colonialism. See also Bennington, ‘‘Postal Politics’’ (122). See Bowen, ‘‘Writing Caliban: Anti-Colonial Appropriations of The Tempest,’’ and Nixon, ‘‘Caribbean and African Appropriations of The Tempest.’’

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In the premiere at the 1982 Avignon festival, the Havel connection to Beckett’s Protagonist (P) was made clearer by other tributes to Havel on the program, from Arthur Miller, Pinter, and Stoppard. P’s dress also suggests the image of a prison inmate, and the unplayed play, the ending of which is rehearsed in Catastrophe, may well be ‘‘about’’ P as a victim of imprisonment, interrogation, or torture. But whereas in Beckett all this is contained by the structuring metaphor of state-as-stage, the set in both Havel and Maponya is a metonymic prison cell, the state as prison. ‘‘Gender is the repeated stylization of the body’’ (Butler 33). The issue of plagiarism prompts two reflections here. First, it is a case of allusion and appropriation rather than plagiarism stricto sensu, because Beckett’s play had just been performed and published in several Western theaters (including in Britain and NewYork, where Gangsters played) and the borrowings could hardly escape the attention of anyone who had seen or read Catastrophe. There is clearly no attempt to conceal indebtedness, though the clumsiness of a bald acknowledgment is avoided. Second, the thoughtful dissection of the power/knowledge relationships between texts and authors in Marilyn Randall’s ‘‘Appropriate(d) Discourse: Plagiarism and Decolonization’’ suggests that a literalist and heavy-handed wielding of plagiarism claims as a repressiveweapon against decolonizing texts is simply ‘‘a strategy of institutional self-validation’’ (525). The relationship between Gangsters and Catastrophe is an absorbing case of the issues Randall discusses. See hooks, Yearning: Race, Gender, and Cultural Politics; A. Brink, A Dry White Season; Coetzee, Waiting for the Barbarians; and Gordimer, Burger’s Daughter. The South African theater practitioner and scholar Bhekizizwe Peterson does not agree that Maponya was the first black South African playwright to use white actors in white roles; Peterson cites his own and others’ practice before Gangsters (personal communication). Gilroy, ‘‘There Ain’t No Black in the Union Jack’’ (39). Gilroy suggests that this inclusive definition of ‘‘black’’ in Britain was being lost, but in South Africa it continued into the era of the United Democratic Front and beyond. Paul Gilroy’s careful distinction between older, reductive forms of class analysis of race and the necessary new analysis of the ‘‘formation’’ of both class and race as historically open categories I take as exemplary of this last position (‘‘There Ain’t No Black in the Union Jack’’ 20–40). Mongane Serote, writing in 1989 as a former Black Consciousness member who (like Ndebele, though in a much more formal organizational sense) became a cultural spokesperson for the nonracial anc, suggests that this deepening of Black Consciousness also derived from learning more of the history of resistance struggles, a history of which the young adherents of Black Consciousness had been deprived during the repressive sixties. See ‘‘Culture, Literature and Liberation’’ in his On the Horizon (22–26). In Drama and the South African State (221–26) Martin Orkin points out the influence of Black theology on the theater of Ngema and Mtwa. For Caravaggio’s Deposition, see Bonsanti (46–50). See Sitas, Black Mamba Rising, with selections in Bunn and Taylor (273–304); von Kotze,

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Organise and Act; Qabula, Cruel Beyond Belief; Oliphant; and Malange, Celebrating Oral Tradition/Bandlululondini! The anonymous reader for Duke University Press gives this account of the NewYork casting change: ‘‘The New York producers of the festival of South African resistance theatre which introduced Gangsters and several other plays to American audiences were aghast when they realized that not one of the plays had a prominent female role. Pressure was placed on Maponya to recast his hero as a woman.’’ My argument that the change shows Maponya repositioning in response to feminism needs to be qualified in this light: he apparently was responding to a direct feminist challenge. But he did make the change, and in the final version of the play, published in South Africa in 1995, he retains and expands it. See Katrak’s ‘‘Indian Nationalism, Gandhian ‘Satyagraha,’ and Representations of Female Sexuality’’ for a critique of Gandhi’s use of the woman as sacrificial figure in the Satyagraha movement, with its mixed results for Indian feminism. See Lewis, ‘‘The Politics of Feminism in South Africa,’’ for a critical review of the first conference on women and gender in Southern Africa, held at the University of Natal in 1991. The transformed praise-poem has been analyzed by Sitas; Duncan Brown; Sole; and others. One example, Ngubo’s ‘‘Bandlululondini!’’ (‘‘You, apartheid, you!’’), is discussed below. I am grateful for the help of my language teacher, Dr. Lynette Hlongwane of the Columbia African Studies Program, with all translations in this chapter, but she is not responsible for any infelicities in the final versions. I have not been able to trace this phrase of Marechera’s, which is used as an epigraph in the recent South African short film by Zola Maseko, The Foreigner—a powerful and very Marecheran meditation on what the Chinese used to call ‘‘contradictions among the people.’’

5. Locations of Feminism: Ingrid de Kok’s Familiar Ground 1

Kamau Brathwaite, Barabajan Poems 316:

Stark /Sister Stark, Caliban’s sister, is myown imagination’s invention and although I have been thinking of her for some time now . . . she did not walk clearly away from me until the October evening 1991 at nyu when I spoke of Paule Marshall’s then new book, Daughters and recognized Stark in what Marshall was doing—the first time that the Plantation has a black woman w/ firm feet, sensitive/aggressive breasts and a space & plan if not always a room of her own She begins in James Carnegie’s Mary (Wages Paid ) and now makes her way in & through the wonderful efflorescence of stark writing since Mary Prince since Mary Seacole since Walker since Morrison since Brodber since Kincaid since Condé since Warner since Carolivia Heron since Cynthia James/ to name only a few w/ Stark appear other daughters of the dust (indeed, many of them appear symbolically in Julie Dash/s 1992 Gullah/Geechee film Daughters of the Dust)

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See McClintock, ‘‘ ‘No Longer in a Future Heaven’: Women and Nationalism in South Africa.’’ Work relevant to this issue includes Cock; Joubert; Magona, Living, Loving, and Lying Awake at Night; Bishop, ‘‘The Black Sash: White Women Confront Apartheid’’ (in Russell 213–26); Mayne; and Thula Baba: Stories of Black DomesticWorkers from a Literacy Class. Women trade unionists’ narratives are collected in Kgoali et al. and in Barrett et al. See also Emma Mashinini’s autobiography, Strikes Have Followed Me All My Life; Malange, ‘‘Women Workers and the Struggle for Cultural Transformations’’; Bozzoli and Nkotsoe, Women of Phokeng; Marks, Not Either an Experimental Doll: The Separate Worlds of Three South African Women; Mhlophe, ‘‘My Dear Madam’’; Qunta, Women in Southern Africa; Bradford, ‘‘ ‘You Call That Democratic?’ Struggles over Abortion in South Africa’’; Elsabe Brink; Susan Brown et al.; and Sikakane.

6. No Turning Back: Nise Malange and the Onset of Workers’ Culture 1

The debate over worker poetry can be sampled in the following: Cronin, ‘‘Poetry: An Elitist Pastime Finds Mass Roots’’ (a review of the first worker poetry collection, Black Mamba Rising, in 1987), and ‘‘ ‘Even under the Rine of Terror’ ’’; Sole, ‘‘NewWords Rising’’ and ‘‘Oral Performance and Social Struggle in Contemporary Black South African Literature’’; Lionel Abrahams, ‘‘Poetry Is Difficult’’ (a response to Cronin’s review); and Asvat, ‘‘Reply to Jeremy Cronin’’ (complaining of the slogans in worker poetry). Another dimension of inserting this poetry in the literary circuit is recounted by Duncan Brown and Bruno van Dyk in the introduction to Exchanges: Michael Chapman’s suggestion, in his article ‘‘Writing in a State of Emergency’’ . . . that within the political climate of the late 1980s worker literature might be a more appropriate response to events than the modes conventionally utilized by South African writers (Gordimer, Coetzee, Fugard) prompted Stephen Watson (Southern African Review of Books, December 1988–January 1989, pp. 22–3) to call upon him to resign his professorship and take up an active role in the struggle! (ix)

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Excellent longer accounts of this poetry are Duncan Brown, ‘‘South African Oral Performance Poetry of the 1980s’’ and Sitas, ‘‘People’s Poetry in Natal.’’ Belinda Bozzoli, in her pioneering article ‘‘Marxism, Feminism, and South African Studies,’’ pointed out the staggering consequences for social explanation in Southern Africa of not integrating a feminist framework into the analysis. Nevertheless, its historical absence from the South African left is clear in Allison Drew’s South Africa’s Radical Tradition: A Documentary History, and that absence continues in such radical-reform accounts of the transition as Adlerand Webster, ‘‘ChallengingTransitionTheory’’; Cronin, ‘‘The Boat, the Tap, and the Leipzig Way’’ and ‘‘Sell-Out, or the Culminating Moment?’’; to Make Sense of the Transition’’ (1994); Pillay; Davis and Fine; and Habib. Bill Freund’s Insiders and Outsiders: The Indian Working Class of Durban 1910–1990 is more cognizant of Bozzoli’s perspectives in his chapter ‘‘The Working Class of the Apartheid Era,’’ which makes use of interviews with women trade union organizers and the sociologist Fatima Meer’s studies, Factory and Family: The Divided Lives of South Africa’s Women Workers and (with

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others) Black-Woman-Worker. The beginnings of integrating feminism and social movement unionism in a single perspective are to be found in such studies as Meer’s and Freund’s and in the testimonies of trade union women in various collections: Kgoali et al.; Barrett et al.; Lipman; and Russell.The autobiographies of Ellen Kuzwayo, Sindiwe Magona, Caesarina Makhoere, and Emma Mashinini are another resource for linking feminist perspectives to radical-democratic ones, as are feminist social histories like Bozzoli and Nkotsoe’s Women of Phokeng and Hofmeyr’s ‘‘We Spend Our Years as a Tale That Is Told.’’ This research (by no means an exhaustive list) is the necessary background for an understanding of Nise Malange’s work in workers’ poetry and theater and in arts education in black workers’ communities. ‘‘Which Way Labour? cosatu’s 6th Congress’’: The September Commission’s [named for Connie September, second vice president of cosatu]—and the Cosatu secretariat’s—most serious defeat was a rejection of their proposals to introduce a quota system for advancing women into leadership positions in the federation. The position was strongly endorsed by the National Education Health and Allied Workers’ Union and the Chemical Workers Industrial Union. Opposition to the resolution was led by women delegates—many of whom spoke for the first and only time in the Congress on this issue—who rejected the proposal as tokenism.Their positions were met with thunderous applause by the majority of male delegates, who had little to offer other than stale commitments to the same education and training programmes for women which have previously had little impact. It was clear that a vote on the issuewould have meant a repudiation of keyaffiliates, the September Report and the secretariat. A compromise was reached—brokered by the National Union of Mineworkers—that committed the federation to setting and monitoring the implementation of ‘‘measurable targets.’’ (Adler and Webster 32)

4

Apart from Kamlongera, Mda, and the work of David Kerr and Ross Kidd, there is a strong discussion of ‘‘theater for development’’ in Africa in a special issue of Research in African Literatures, 22.3 (Fall 1991). The issue includes an introduction and bibliography by Gaurav Desai, an article on women’s participation in popular theater in Tanzania by Penina Muhando Mlama, an extremely trenchant and well-informed Marxist critique from David Kerr of some of the naïve optimism about theater for development, and an article by Ian Steadman, ‘‘Theater beyond Apartheid,’’ which interestingly upholds this type of theater, and the workshop process of playmaking so entrenched by decades of resistance theater in South Africa, as the best hope for a theater of radical democracy after apartheid: For many South African theater practitioners, the act of playmaking is an end in itself, the raison d’être of theater. . . . For audiences in theater buildings, in trade union halls, and in communities devastated by apartheid, this potential of theater has not been exhausted. Theater for social development, theater in which communities rehearse their own liberation, has still not yet found firm footing in South African soil . . . [but] can become an educationally empowering process in South African cultural life. (89)

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See Johan Jacobs’s work on prison memoir: ‘‘Narrating the Island’’; ‘‘Confession, Interrogation and Self-Interrogation in the New South African Prison Writing’’; and ‘‘The Discourses of Detention.’’ Makhoere is also discussed in Gititi, ‘‘Self and Society in Testimonial Literature: Caesarina Kona Makhoere’s No Child’s Play: In Prison under Apartheid.’’ The question of how to read the genre of memoir or life writing, including shifts in the ‘‘I’’ from Western to postcolonial writing, is discussed in a special issue of Current Writing 3 (1991); Margaret Daymond’s essay there, ‘‘On Retaining and on Recognising Changes in the Genre ‘Autobiography’ ’’ (31–41), is extended in her study of Sindiwe Magona: ‘‘Class in the Discourses of Sindiwe Magona’s Autobiography and Fiction.’’

7. Lines of Flight: Bessie Head, Arthur Nortje, Dambudzo Marechera 1

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RandolphVigne has published his correspondencewith Head as A Gesture of Belonging, but there are two thousand other letters in the Bessie Head Papers at the Khama III Memorial Museum in Serowe, Botswana. Gillian Stead Eilersen made the letters the basis of her biography of Head, and believes Head had organized them to write an autobiography which she died before beginning. I read the entire Head correspondence in Serowe— one of the most pleasurable experiences of pure reading I have ever enjoyed—and a selected letters would be of great interest. A selection of Mphahlele’s letters has been edited by N. Chabani Manganyi. There is a very interesting short batch of letters and a diary by Arthur Nortje in the National English Literary Museum in Grahamstown. Quoted and translated by Altman, Epistolarity; translation modified. I can only gesture to the rich feminist scholarship on epistolarity, a fraction of which is cited here, and which decisively altered what had been a formalist critical tradition. Altman, Benstock, and Herrmann have bibliographies, and Favret’s Romantic Correspondence: Women, Politics, and the Fiction of Letters is also of great interest. Anne Herrmann’s Bakhtinian study has been the most useful for thinking about Head’s letters, and I am grateful to my colleague William S. Wilson (an epistolary novelist himself ) for calling it to my attention. Both Altman and C. Williams explore some of the divergences from the European epistolary that are to be found in Graffigny’s Lettres d’une Péruvienne and Walker’s The Color Purple, respectively (in Goldsmith 172–202, 273–85). I cannot pursue the lineage of the African letter further here except to emphasize that there is such a lineage and that Head has an important place in it. I am grateful to Wendy Tavarez for this comment, and to the other Queens College students in a course on ‘‘Nationalisms and Sexualities’’ for their lived insight into these questions. Judith Raiskin’s Snow on the Cane Fields: Women’s Writing and Creole Subjectivity is a brilliant reading of the anxiety of the mestiza. Citations from letters in the Bessie Head Papers in the archive of the Khama III Memorial Museum in Serowe are in the form ‘‘kmm [file number] bhp’’ followed by the date (the same rubric as is used in Eilersen’s biography). In Carte postale Derrida makes use of Husserl’s concept of Rückfrage (‘‘return inquiry’’), as Ulmer shows (47). Feminist work like that of Herrmann, Cook, and Altman has sufficiently shown the philosophical weight of women’s letters—including the ‘‘weight of the reader’’ (Altman, Epistolarity 87–115)—but it is still interesting to apply to Bessie

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Head what Ulmer says of Derrida: ‘‘Derrida’s [Head’s] experimentation with the letter puts into practice an interest [s]he has had for some time in the letter as a philosophical genre—the letter is of interest in this regard because of its marginal status in the discourse of knowledge, and the undecidability of its statements due to the informality and autobiographical component of the form’’ (41). Spivak’s essay on Carte postale, which in some ways responds to Ulmer’s, points out emphatically that the ‘‘marginal status’’ referred to in this passage is the status of ‘‘woman’’ as (epistolary) writer, and that for her the significance of Carte postale (which ‘‘can be called, in the American sense, ‘feminist’ ’’) is its orientation to ‘‘the place of ‘woman’ in the development of Derrida’s own vocabulary’’ (‘‘Love Me’’ 21). It could be added that Head’s marginality in all the senses of the term is not only enacted but overcome by ‘‘the letter as a philosophical genre’’; bell hooks’s choosing of the margin was not necessarily to remain marginalized, as the subtitle of her Feminist Theory implies, moving ‘‘from margin to center.’’ The dialectic of margin and (new, insurgent) center is the dialectic between the anarchosyndicalist roots of radical practice and its often-felt need to establish a new social(ist) center, a dialectic at the heart of all forms of radical democracy. In an unpublished paper, Helen Cooper has made the illuminating suggestion that Head’s attraction to the figures of Khama III and his grandson Seretse Khama may be Head’s wayof healing hercolonial birth history, transforming its psychicviolence into a political narrative of her family romance. . . . The narrative Head constructs about her parents is warm and loving; a narrative transformed into an account of British respect for the great black man, Khama, who meets ‘‘the gentle and subtle nature’’ of white change and progress. Their ‘‘marriage’’ constructs a family romance where ‘‘It all belongs.’’ (9)

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Arlene Elder is similarly interested in Head’s relation to Randolph Vigne, whom she addresses three times as ‘‘My Angel Papa’’ (Elder 283). The intentionality of the letter educes ‘‘one’s own ghost, which emerges under one’s hand in the letter one writes.’’ Interestingly, one of them concerned letter writing itself: ‘‘Yes, I’d certainly like a correspondence with Margaret Walker. I am not at all like you and a very good letter writer. Everytime I write you I feel I am writing to a big hole. The letter just gets lost. I deeply resent those scrawled post cards but that’s because I’m a good letter writer. And it’s not vanity. I know I am’’ (kmm bhp, 1/4/74). The correspondence between Head and Walker, file 76 in the Bessie Head Papers, consists of twenty-seven letters (fifteen from Head and twelve fromWalker), a total of thirtysix pages. Head’s story ‘‘Witchcraft’’ was published in Ms. magazine while Walker was an editor, so some business letters were exchanged as well as more personal ones. I have no space here to describe the rich record compressed into these letters, except to say that they engage both writers fully and warmly; my brief citation is meant only to illustrate some formal and political features of a very moving correspondence of great value to both writers. Gillian Stead Eilersen’s biography (45–49) briefly discusses Head’s experience as a young journalist in Johannesburg with the Pan-Africanist Congress, with its leader Robert Sobukwe, whom she revered with her typical hero worship of certain male fig-

Notes to Chapter Seven

ures, and with the thought of George Padmore. Head was sufficiently involved (as a pac fundraiser) to be arrested in 1960 and charged with furthering the aims of a banned organization; the charges were dropped during the trial. Eilersen notes that in a letter to Vigne Head said, ‘‘I was a state witness in 1960 in a case in which a letter had been found in my possession’’ (in Vigne 51), and she believes Head won her freedom from prison by giving evidence against the pac. Court records are missing for Head’s case. Eilersen suggestively quotes a later comment that ‘‘when faced with danger or secret activity I tremble violently’’; Head also told Sobukwe in a 1972 letter that she tried to commit suicide not long after her farewell to him at Orlando police station. This episode suggests that Head’s attraction to politics and revulsion from it were of equal intensity, commitment mixed with doubt, shame, and despair—a typical experience in Dosteyevskian South Africa, and the opposite of an ‘‘apolitical’’ attitude.

Epilogue: Post-Apartheid Narratives: The House Gun and Fools 1

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In Roediger’s The Wages of Whiteness the phrase, originating in a passage by W. E. B. Du Bois, is used to refer to a compensatory psychological ‘‘wage’’ or social privilege or economic payoff that white workers in racist societies receive merely for being white, a mechanism that divides them from workers of color, to everyone’s disadvantage in the long run. In another sense, which Gordimer’s novel addresses, the reform of racist societies, or the construction of antiracist trade unionism and social movements, demands from white people a payback, a ‘‘relinquishing’’ (to use the Faulknerian concept by which Ike McCaslin in The Bear secedes from slave property) of those wages of whiteness. Gordimer might in fact disagree with reading this novel in such direct political terms as ‘‘antiracist writing’’ or ‘‘white conscientization.’’ My reading makes more of a homology between her political action and her (political) fiction than she would probably grant. Of course, I am arguing from the effect of the novel rather than its intention. In the passage on Gordimer’s use of translation I hope to have opened perspectives on her fiction that are more than narrowly instrumental in the sense of its immediate political effects on readers. Still, somewhat against the grain of her own views on the politics of literature, I think that if ever there was someone described by Achebe’s phrase ‘‘the novelist as teacher’’ (in the sense in which he meant it), it would be Gordimer. ‘‘Conscientization’’ or antiracist political work among white communities has a history in South Africa, discussed in passing by Mamphela Ramphele as an issue in the early days of Black Consciousness (62) and at length in Lazerson’s Against the Tide: Whites in the Struggle against Apartheid. Analogous efforts were made in the U.S. civil rights movement in the South, for instance by a team of white Southern volunteers working along the Mississippi coast towns in the Freedom Summer of 1964. To place The House Gun in this genealogy is to mark its percipience about postapartheid culture, not any crude didacticism. In fact, part of Gordimer’s writing in this vein is a self-reflexive examination of the codes of bourgeois fiction—in this case, both crime story and domestic drama— in their complicity with white solipsism or ‘‘snow-blindness.’’ Holomisa and Meyer, at a seminar of the South Africa Reading Group, New York Law School, January 26, 1998. Writing and Being is the title of Gordimer’s 1994 Norton lectures at Harvard, where, in

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readings of Amos Oz, Chinua Achebe, and others, she works out some of the implications of the question raised here. Tony Morphet’s critical review (‘‘The Prying Game’’) uncovers ‘‘a perplexing current of contradiction running beneath the argument’’ in the lectures, but in my view, that contradiction between one or another version of realism and one or another version of formalism is impossible to transcend except by a further forward movement of writing (and being). This is the historicizing view that Gordimer herself takes in the lectures but that Morphet’s review finds ‘‘sad’’ in its consequences for her writing after Burger’s Daughter and problematic in itself. Fools was screened at festivals and distributed in Europe in 1997; it won the Silver Leopard award for direction at Locarno and enjoyed a run of more than nine months in Paris after its release in September 1997 (Worsdale). The film had its U.S. premiere at the African Film Festival at the Walter Reade Theater in Lincoln Center in April 1998, and its South African premiere in Johannesburg in May 1998. The filmmakers kindly made available to me a study copy of their 1996 screenplay (somewhat altered in the film), and I have benefited from conversations with them, though of course they are not responsible for my interpretation of the film. In the literature on South African film, I have been most influenced by Keyan Tomaselli’s books and articles (especially ‘‘Popular Communication in South Africa: Mapantsula and Its Context of Struggle’’), by the Schmitz and Mogotlane screenplay for Mapantsula, and by Beittel’s, Maingard’s, and Nixon’s comments on Mapantsula. Jacqueline Maingard’s remarks on the ‘‘black male perspective’’ and its effects in Mapantsula (‘‘New South African Cinema’’ 238–39) are especially pertinent here, as the male feminism in Fools must have included reflections on these issues in Mapantsula—as well as in Gangsters, whose author, Maponya, is Peterson’s academic colleague at the University of the Witwatersrand. I must also thank the students in Queens College classes on the Black Atlantic, African cinema, world studies, and literature and politics, where Mapantsula has elicited very interesting responses. The one possible exception to this pretransition periodization is a cheeky parody by a railway station peanut vendor of a Zionist church hymn sung on the platform, ‘‘We will follow Jesus wherever he goes.’’ Stung by the Zionists’ failure to buy peanuts, the vendor chants: ‘‘We will follow Mandela wherever he goes’’—a highly ambiguous line (either asserting secular discipleship to Mandela in opposition to the Zionist disciples, or poking fun at such discipleship to Mandela), just possible perhaps in the late eighties but more typical of a less reverent late nineties.

Notes to Epilogue

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The AWA Collection: Winners and Runners-Up of a Poetry and Prose Competition Run by the African Writers’ Association. Johannesburg: Skotaville, 1989. Baard, Frances. ‘‘A Mother Will Hold the Knife on the Sharp End.’’ Barrett et al. 119–23. Badsha, Omar. ‘‘Eight Photographs.’’ Bunn and Taylor 169–76. . Letter. Weekly Mail [Johannesburg] 18 Aug. 1995: 42. . ‘‘Reconstructive Surgery for SA Arts.’’ Star [Johannesburg] 14 Oct. 1992: 2. Bakhtin, Mikhail. The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1981. Bambara, Toni Cade. Deep Sightings and Rescue Missions: Fiction, Essays, and Conversations. Ed. Toni Morrison. New York: Pantheon, 1996. Barnett, Ursula A. A Vision of Order: A Study of Black South African Literature in English (1914–1980). Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1983. Barrett, Jane et al., eds. Vukani Makhosikazi: South African Women Speak. London: CIIR, 1985. Barrios Herrero, Olga. ‘‘The Black Theater Movement in the United States and in South Africa: A Comparative Approach.’’ Diss., UCLA, 1991. Bassett, Carolyn. ‘‘Is gear Illegal?’’ Southern Africa Report 14.1 (Dec. 1998): 24–26. Beard, Linda Susan. ‘‘Bessie Head’s Syncretic Fictions: The Reconceptualization of Power and the Recovery of the Ordinary.’’ Modern Fiction Studies 37 (1991): 575–89. Beckett, Samuel. Ohio Impromptu, Catastrophe, and What Where. New York: Grove, 1984. Beckey, Carol, ed. The Subversive Imagination. New York: Routledge, 1994.

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index Abjection, 123, 148, 210, 255 Abrahams, Lionel, 177 Achebe, Chinua, 50 Address: to black readers, 44–46, 50 Adler, G., and Webster, E., 5, 91–92, 178, 287 n.8 Aesthetics, 230; black, 41, 44–50, 104; of the dispossessed, 123; feminist, 52, 150, 210; liberal humanist, 61, 96; of liberation, 79, 84, 101; of the ‘‘ordinary,’’ 52, 58; political, 50, 104, 155; postmodern, 124; of protest, 100, 124; of recognition, 44, 230; of the ‘‘spectacular,’’ 58, 269. See also Culture Afrapix, 39, 213–14 African National Congress (anc), 70, 171, 186, 198, 270; and capitalism, 4, 30, 78; and class, 170; and community arts, 26; and cosatu, 61, 82–83, 188, 200; and culture, 90–91, 183; and feminism, 30, 168–69, 185; and gear, 9, 260; and Gordimer, 260–61; and neoliberalism, 260; and nonracialism, 51, 61, 117; and Sachs, 84, 97–100; and sacp, 61, 65; and the state, 87, 160–61; and united front, 81, 98. See also Transition to democracy Afrika Cultural Center, 25, 34–35, 267 Afrika, T., 20–22 Agenda, 171, 210–11 Al-Mala’ika, N., 51–52, 173 Alberts, Paul, 189 Altman, J., 223 Anarchism, 141, 256; anarchist feminism, 234–36; anarchosyndicalism, 38, 98, 235–36, 253, 256 Anderson, Benedict, 11, 63, 96, 102, 242–45 Anzaldúa, Gloria, 154 Appadurai, Arjun, 41–42, 103, 105, 184 Appiah, Kwame Anthony, 71, 244

Ariel (The Tempest), 154 Armah, A., 252 Arnott, J., 94 Art: as a weapon, 27, 29, 79, 83, 127, 131; as resistance, 13, 27 Assimilation, 93, 98 azapo, 187 Badsha, Omar, 58–59, 90–92, 213–14, 288 n.9 Bakhtin, Mikhail, 43, 73, 77, 255 Bambara, Toni Cade, 274 Base: politics of the, 8, 98, 185. See also Anarchism; Community arts centers; Culture and Working Life Project (cwlp) Beard, Linda, 223, 236 Beckett, Samuel, 105–10 Benjamin, B., 52 Bertelsen, Eve, 13, 101–2 Bhabha, Homi, 41–43, 219 Biko, Steve, 13, 69, 87, 115, 118, 125, 127–28, 196 Biopower, 106, 150, 241 Black Consciousness Movement, 26, 105, 117, 168; aesthetic of, 46, 60, 61; and cultural work, 70, 120; and Fools screenplay, 268–70; and Malange, 206; and Maponya, 103, 118, 127; and nationalism, 170; and Ndebele, 40–42, 60, 73, 89, 100– 101; and 1976 trial, 127–28; and poetry, 131; and ‘‘race,’’ 44–45, 71, 119; and sexism, 57; and student radicalism, 89; and theater, 7, 116, 202; and the transition, 77; and white theory, 67 Black Atlantic, 7, 72, 191, 193, 219, 241–42 Black Sash, 169 Boal, A., 27, 34, 203 Bozzoli, Belinda, 30, 293 n.2 Bradford, Helen, 272

Brathwaite, Kamau, 71, 136, 174, 221–23, 244–45, 292 n.1 Brecht, Bertolt, 103, 255 Brink, André, 2, 10, 12, 115 Brown, Duncan, and Bruno van Dyk, 72, 84 Cabral, A., 56, 77 Caliban (The Tempest), 134, 136, 138, 247. See also Ariel; Miranda; Prospero; Sycorax; Stark Call-and-response forms, 25, 182, 190 Capitalism: and colonialism, 54; global, 11, 39, 183, 208–14, 241–42; and modernization, 30, 78; racial, 4, 64, 78, 207, 268; Western, 2. See also Imperialism; Nationalism Caute, David, 255 Centrism, 82–83, 93, 98–100 Césaire, A., 36, 77 Chapman, Michael, 37, 67, 82 Charles, C., 25, 34–35 Charterism, 61, 170, 188, 200, 207 Child: trope of, 139, 161–69, 174–75, 192 Christianity, 118, 192 Citashe, I. W. W., 34 City University of New York (cuny), 8, 62 Civil society, 92, 97, 107. See also Community arts centers Class: and ethnicity, 51; and gender, 51; and nation, 13, 63; and power, 51; and race, 63, 77, 91; and subjectivity, 120; and the transition, 91. See also Marxism Cliff, Michelle, 217, 224–26 Cock, Jacklyn, 169 Coetzee, J. M., 2, 47, 80, 115, 146–48 Colonialism, 110, 113–14, 118; anti-, 3; internal, 38, 109, 113; and labor process, 54; neo-, 3; and schooling, 247, 253–54; settler, 42, 142, 158; territorial, 114, 207. See also Decolonization; Postcoloniality Commitment to theory, 38–43, 66 Communism, 170; and nationalism, 63, 245; and race, 63. See also Marxism Community, 22–23, 235; black, 70–71;

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Index

‘‘imagined,’’ 11–12, 63, 96; of women, 163–64, 171–72; working-class, 100 Community arts centers, 22–35, 55, 219 Conscientization, 27, 120, 258, 270, 277, 297 n.3 Congress of South African Trade Unions (cosatu), 9, 17, 22, 26, 57–60, 82–83, 87, 118, 120, 178, 180, 183–85, 190, 193, 200–201, 210 Congress of South African Writers (cosaw), 37, 39, 70, 74, 81, 86–88, 95, 180, 185, 240 Cooper, Helen, 296 n.8 Cooperatives 217, 219 Cosmopolitanism, 242, 248–49, 253 Couzens, Tim, 47–49 Cronin, Jeremy, 5, 37, 81, 177 Cross-race alliances: feminist, 38, 158, 167–69, 171–72; of intellectuals, 64–68, 181 Culture: autonomy of, 79; black, 44–50; and black autonomy, 64, 67, 70–71; and cultural identity from below, 85–92, 134, 207; and cultural rights of workers, 26, 28; and cultural ‘‘settlement,’’ 70, 77–79, 83–84; and culture industry, 80, 177–78, 185, 219, 233, 249; emergent, 36, 38, 40, 44–50, 55, 67, 70–71, 77, 86, 89, 97–102, 250; and feminism, 70; and heterogenization, 105; new national, 41; and politics, 79, 92, 98; and race, 77; residual, 97, 114–115; rural vs. urban 35, 54, 65, 191, 216; and the transition, 76– 102, 124. See also Aesthetics; Transition to democracy Culture and Working Life Project (cwlp), 10, 22–34, 98–102, 130, 178, 199 Dangarembga, T., 214–15 Dangor, Achmar, 2, 12, 21, 56 Dash, Julie, 274 Davids, Jennifer, 137, 171 Daymond, M. J., 24, 37–38, 60, 93–95, 122, 134, 159, 171, 216, 236

Decolonization, 71, 105,116, 118, 223–24; and languages, 236–37, 247–48, 251, 254; and the stage, 104, 110, 113. See also Colonialism; Postcoloniality Deconstruction 118–20. See also Derrida, Jacques; Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty de Jesus, Carolina Maria, 31 de Kok, Ingrid, 2, 133–75; and cultural revolution, 81; and feminism, 7; Spring Is Rebellious, 37, 84, 95; and worker’s culture, 178–79, 183, 193 de Lauretis, T., 106, 278 Deleuze, Gilles, 185, 256. See also Lines of flight Democracy: and capitalism, 78, 187; ‘‘deep,’’ 79, 91, 93; economic, 2; formal, 92; parliamentary, 2; participatory, 10, 92; representative, 10–22; social, 7, 187. See also Radical democracy; Transition to democracy Denis, C., 110 de Reuck, J., 94 Derrida, Jacques, 218–19, 295 n.7 Devi, Mahasweta, 50, 213, 265 de Waal, Shaun, 100 Dialogics, 124, 226 Diaspora, African, 218–36; Black Atlantic, 250. See also Internationalism Diawara, Manthia, 71 Difference, 54, 73, 112, 147, 170–71, 224– 25, 234–35, 264. See also Feminism; Gay politics; Gender; Race Differential histories, 42, 47, 114, 219 Diop, D., 113, 253 Domestic struggle, 30, 54–55; and the double shift, 209. See also Feminism; Marxism Douglass, Frederick, 221 Driver, Dorothy, 37, 93–94, 152 Drum, 66–67 Du Bois, W. E. B., 77 Durban Workers Cultural Local, 186, 188, 196, 201–3

Eilersen, Gillian, 217 Election (1994), 10–22, 91. See also Transition to democracy Elegy, 115, 132, 162, 164, 166, 175, 190, 193. See also Mourning Elite pacting, 84, 90–91, 100. See also African National Congress (anc); Radical reform; Transition to democracy Ellison, Ralph, 48, 63, 69 Emergency, state of, 82, 124, 132, 139, 146, 171, 184, 198–200, 204–8, 213 Enloe, Cynthia, 211 Enzensberger, H. M., 76–78, 85 Essentialism, 120, 122; anti-, 20, 120, 155, 244. See also Black Consciousness Movement; Feminism Ethic of care, 213 Ethical singularity 265–66, 276 Ethnicity: and gender, 111; and nation, 13, 112–13 Exile, 7, 242 Fanon, Frantz, 39, 45, 76–78, 86–87, 117 Farah, Nuruddin, 15, 270 Fatton, R., 46 Federation of South African Trade Unions (fosatu), 22, 187–88, 190, 193, 195, 199–201 Federation of South African Women (fsaw), 167–68 Feminism, 6; and aesthetics,2, 52; black, 60, 64, 70, 77, 138; and class, 93; crossrace, 38, 93, 138–40; and the debate over Sachs’s ‘‘Preparing Ourselves for Freedom,’’ 93–95; and democracy, 59; and ecofeminism, 144; global, 140, 184, 208– 14; labor, 185–97, 197–208, 208–14; and literary criticism, 37; male, 35, 266–79; and Marxism, 54; and nationalism, 30, 54; and normalization, 95; revolutionary, 59; and socialism, 30; theory of, 50–61; and the transition, 84; and universities, 93; Western, 122, 155; white, 60, 64, 123. See also Culture; Gender

Index

327

Forché, Carolyn, 193 Foucault, Michel, 68–70, 73, 102, 106, 111–12, 150, 186 Francis, B., 25, 34–35 Frederickson, George, 42, 158 Freedom Charter, 169 Freire, P., 27, 68, 200, 202 Fugard, Athol, 103, 116, 266 Gabriel, T., 99 Gates, Henry Louis, Jr., 71 Gay politics, 39, 95–96, 112, 260. See also Homosociality; Normalization; Radical democracy Gender, 105–7, 114, 141; absence of in debate, 38; accountability, 111–12; and black intellectuals, 72, 104; and class, 54–55, 58–59; and compulsory heterosexuality, 154; and internalized gendering, 213; and labor process, 54; and masculinity, 112, 274; and nation, 54; and politics, 108; and power, 51; rethinking of, 104, 109; and theater, 128. See also Feminism; Gay politics Gerima, Haile, 270 Gevisser, Mark, 91, 95–96 Gilroy, Paul, 7, 63, 72, 77, 191, 193, 219, 241–42, 249–50 Giovanni, Nikki, 217, 226–28 Glissant, Edouard, 221, 244 Global cultural economy, 8, 39, 41, 47, 104, 114, 134, 208–14, 223, 241–42, 257 Globalization from below, 8, 77–78 Goldblatt, D., 150 Gordimer, Nadine: and the debate over Sachs’s ‘‘Preparing Ourselves for Freedom,’’ 37, 84; and the election of 1994, 11, 15–18; and feminism, 138, 144, 153, 165; and gay politics, 260; and The House Gun 1, 258–66; and Maponya, 124–26; and Mtshali, 44–47; and Ndebele, 80; and politics in fiction, 297 n.2; and whiteness, 115. See also Normalization; Radical democracy

328

Index

Gouws, Amanda, 174 Gramsci, Antonio, 56, 68, 77, 92 Growth, Employment, and Redistribution (gear), 4, 9, 281 n.2 Guerilla cinema, 27 Gwiji, Votelwa, 25, 29–30, 32–34 Hall, S., 72, 77 Hambidge, J., 95 Hart-Thwaites, E., 221 Havel, Vaclav, 52, 103–32 Head, Bessie, 3, 30, 52–55, 133, 215–36 Hegemony: cultural, 79, 99–100; Englishlanguage, 69, 73–74, 206; white, 81 Herrmann, Anne, 218–20 Hlatshwayo, M. S., 27, 57–58, 120, 187, 192, 207 Hofmeyr, Isabel, 37, 152, 173, 182 Homosociality, 106, 111, 119, 275, 278. See also Gay politics; Gender hooks, bell, 51, 57, 70–72, 108, 115, 122, 147, 154, 158, 187, 219, 272, 282 n.13. See also Repositioning Horn, Peter, 16, 80–81 Hove, Chenjerai, 244 Hughes, L., 48 Humanism: liberal, 37–38, 61, 65, 79, 83, 96, 109, 186; radical, 100 Hybridity, 42, 239, 242 Imagination: cultural, 96–97; social, 40, 96–97 Imbongi, 58, 187 Imperialism: linguistic, 113; present phase of, 6; U.S., 43 Indigenization, 184, 211 Inkatha, 9, 26, 31, 58, 117, 187, 198, 202–3 Instrumentalism, 77–78, 177 Intellectuals: black, 61–75; dilemma of, 68–75; feminist, 60, 70; oppositional, 77–78; organic, 27, 65, 78, 201; public, 61–75; white, 65–67. See also Marxism; Universities Internationalism: African, 207; against

apartheid, 36; and Biko, 77; black, 72, 253–55; cross-race, 72–73; and culture, 77; feminist, 94, 184, 210–11; against global capitalism, 73, 184, 242; and language, 245; and Marxism, 251; and particularism, 72–73, 77; and radical democracy, 207. See also Global cultural economy; Nationalism; World system Intsomi, 181–82 Jacobs, Harriet, 221–22 Jameson, Fredric, 211 Jeyifo, Biodun, 41–42 Job consciousness, 188, 193, 200, 210 Jonker, Ingrid, 168, 171 Jordan, June, 169 Jost, François, 219–20 Joubert, Elsa, 169 Kafka, Franz, 218–19 Katrak, Ketu, 235 Kavanagh, Robert Mshengu, 116 Kemal, Y., 53, 65 Kente, G., 103, 267 Kgoali, Joyce, 179 Kgosana, P., 198 Khatibi, Abdelkebir, 224, 240 Kristeva, Julia, 149 Krouse, Matthew, 95 Kunene, M., 12, 19 Lacan, Jacques, 107, 153 Laclau, Ernesto, and Chantal Mouffe, 7, 37– 38. See also Marxism; Radical democracy Lazarus, Neil, 286 n.5 Letter: as genre, 218–40 Lewis, Desiree, 37, 77, 93–94, 159, 216 Lines of flight, 107, 185, 215–56. See also Deleuze, Gilles Lionnet, Françoise, 222 Lockett, Cecily, 37, 93–94, 151–52, 158 Lodge, Tom, 9, 100 Mackay, Ilva, 122 Madness, 198–201

Magona, Sindiwe, 170, 172 Mahlaba, B., 31–32, 184, 199 Maid/madam relationship, 172 Malange, Nise, 176–214; and Black Consciousness, 120; and the cwlp, 22–34, 98; and the debate over Sachs’s ‘‘Preparing Ourselves for Freedom,’’ 37, 93, 98; and feminism, 2, 60, 77, 133, 144, 169, 173; and neocolonialism 6. See also Internationalism; Performativity; Trade unions; Transition to democracy Manaka, M., 103 Mandela, Nelson, 6 Manganye, C., 166 Maponya, Maishe, 6, 7, 57, 103–32, 133, 264. See also Black Consciousness Movement; Repositioning Maqagi, Sisi, 59–60, 64, 94, 216 Marechera, Dambudzo, 2, 6, 56–57, 73, 136, 214, 240–56 Marginality, 110, 133, 150, 230, 235–36, 239; and ethnicity, 113, 138; and exile, 7, 237 Market Theater, 103 Marx, Karl, 12. See also Representation Marxism, 51, 58, 64, 74, 92; and black intellectuals, 68–69, 71, 170; and colonialism, 54; and humanism, 100; and internationalism, 63, 251; and language, 73; and literary criticism, 37, 71; Marxistfeminism, 235; and nationalism, 72; post-Marxism 7, 42; and race, 63. See also Congress of South African Trade Unions (cosatu); South African Communist Party (sacp); Trade unions; Transition to democracy Mashinini, Emma, 200 Mass Democratic Movement, 1, 47, 61. See also United Democratic Front (udf) Maughan-Brown, David, 66–67, 287 n.6 Mbuli, Mzwakhe, 12, 19 McClintock, Anne, 51 McKay, Claude, 35, 210 Mda, Zakes, 26–27, 200, 203 Menchú, Rigoberta, 31–32, 51, 113

Index

329

Mestiza, 223, 225–26 Mhlophe, Gcina, 19–20, 60, 147, 152, 169–70, 173–74, 210 Migrancy, 55, 181, 189–90, 202, 204, 207, 245. See also Feminism; Internationalism; Nationalism Miranda (The Tempest), 148 Mitchell, Juliet, 152 Modisane, B., 66, 116 Mofokeng, Boitumelo, 179, 181, 210 Mogotlane, T., 267 Morphet, Tony, 37–38, 69–71, 96, 100, 285 n.2, 297 n.5. See also Culture; Ndebele, Njabulo; Poststructuralism; Sachs, Albie; Transition to democracy Morrison, Toni, 14, 43, 118, 192, 217, 230– 34, 270, 276 Motswai, T., 166 Mourning: and melancholia, 191–93, 195, 196. See also Elegy Mphahlele, Ezekiel, 66, 84, 216 Mtshali, Oswald Mbuyiseni, 44–46 Mtungwa, Gloria, 170 Mtwa, Percy, 103, 119 Mungoshi, C., 252 Mzamane, Mbulelo, 46, 67 Naidoo, S., 52, 60, 212 Nation: and democracy, 241; and feminist critique, 94–95; and language, 242–45; ‘‘new nation,’’ 11, 71, 95, 116, 207; and power, 51, 121; as uncriticized concept, 60–61, 63, 207 Nation-language, 221, 240–56. See also Brathwaite, Kamau National Domestic Workers Union, 170, 173 Nationalism: African American, 117; anti-, 244–45; anticolonialist, 7, 253; antiracist, 7; black, 71–73, 104, 187; ethnic, 51, 117, 207; and feminism, 30. See also Black Consciousness Movement; Capitalism; Internationalism Ndebele, Njabulo: and the anc, 69, 117; and and Black Consciousness, 38, 40, 73; and

330

Index

cosaw, 37, 70, 74; and ‘‘cultural identity from below,’’ 7, 78–102; and debate over Sachs’s ‘‘Preparing Ourselves for Freedom,’’ 37, 69, 84, 92–102, 289 n.11; and feminism, 38, 50–61, 58, 146; and Fools screenplay, 266–79; Bessie Head, 30, 52–55; and Marxism, 38, 51, 68–69, 73–74, 77; and poststructuralism, 69– 70; and radical democracy, 36–75; and reform and revolution, 38, 97, 100–101; and trade unions, 74; and universities, 100; and workers’ art, 27–28, 52. See also Normalization Negotiation: feminist, 84–85, 93–95, 159; versus insurrection, 101; of difference, 264; political, 86 Neto, A., 43 Ngcobo, Lauretta, 30, 77 Ngema, Mbongeni, 103, 119 Ngubo, Gladman M., 129–30, 206 Ngugi wa Thiong’o, 71, 74 Nixon, Rob, 216, 236, 255 Njeje, Marjorie, 29–30 Nkosi, L., 66, 84, 116 Nonracialism, 39, 71, 116, 170 Normalization: of capitalism, 1–2, 6, 77– 78; of culture, 3, 35, 79, 84, 92–102, 111, 132, 178; of electoral democracy, 281 n.2; and feminist critique, 95; of fiction, 261–62; and gay politics, 96; of nationalist ideology, 4; of neocolonialism, 257; of patriarchy, 94; political, 86, 260; of Western models, 101; of whiteness, 81–82, 104. See also Radical democracy; Transition to democracy Nortje, N., 136, 236–40; and Marechera, Dambudzo, 236–38 Oedipal narrative, 106, 278 Okara, Gabriel, 244 Olivier, G., 95, 102 Pan African Congress (pac), 19, 51, 187, 198; and Bessie Head, 296 n.11

Pan Africanism, 117, 170, 254 Particularism, 71–73, 249 Patel, Essop, 34–35, 47–49 Patriarchy: racial, 138, 140, 210 Patterson, O., 191 Pechey, Graham, 3, 80, 96–97, 101, 125, 257, 289 n.11 Performativity: aesthetic of, 35, 199; and letter, 230; and poetry, 104, 120, 124, 127, 131–32, 147, 173–4, 179, 196, 209, 213; and translation, 263, 266. See also Aesthetics; Workers’ culture Peterson, B., 25–26, 34–35, 57, 131, 266–79 Phakathi, Nicholas, 23–24 Pillay, Devan, 4–5, 91–92 Plaatje, S., 64 Place memory, 142–44, 151 Poetics 165, 180 Poland, M., 14–15 Post-apartheid: black writing, 80; narratives, 3, 125; regime, 6, 31, 78; settlement, 3; transformation, 101. See also Transition to democracy Postcoloniality, 3, 8, 94, 104, 110, 160, 233, 239. See also Colonialism; Decolonization Poststructuralism, 7, 8, 38, 47 Press, Karen, 37 Private/public, 151–53, 161, 163, 175, 193– 95, 208, 209, 220, 234, 258–61, 268 Prospero (The Tempest), 134, 138, 148 Protest literature, 3, 27, 60, 64, 68–69, 81, 101, 104, 167 Przeworski, A., 90 Qabula, Alfred Tenba, 25, 27, 34, 57–58, 98, 176, 183, 187, 189, 191–92, 202, 207

theory, 66; and black intellectuals, 74; and black liberation, 66, 170; and eighties culture, 2–3; and feminism, 6, 134, 178; and grassroots communities, 22–35, 73; and internationalism, 207; and Laclau and Mouffe, 7, 37; and the letter, 219; and literary criticism, 37; and neocolonialism, 3–4, 257; and nonracialism, 66; and the transition, 78–102; and workers’ culture, 22–34, 178, 185, 197. See also Normalization; Reform and revolution; Transition to democracy Raiskin, Judith, 136, 225 Randall, Marilyn, 6, 30, 107, 147, 191 Reconstruction and Development Programme (rdp), 260 Reddy, Jayapraga, 81–82 Reform and revolution, 30, 38, 59, 80, 97, 100–101, 120, 123, 236. See also Normalization; Radical democracy Regimes of truth, 41, 69, 135, 138, 241, 253. See also Culture; Transition to democracy Renan, Ernest, 14 Repositioning: male, in response to feminism, 35, 56–57, 121, 290 n.2, 292 n.16; ‘‘new nation,’’ 116; white, in response to Black Consciousness, 46–48, 51; white women, in response to black feminism, 60; women of color within feminism, 60. See also Regimes of truth Representation, 12, 104, 107, 115, 121, 281 n.1. See also Marx, Karl; Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty Retamar, R., 113 Rich, Adrienne, 41, 108, 133, 146, 158 Riggs, Marlon, 108

Race, 50–51, 105–6, 114–15, 117; and class, 77; foundationless, 119; and politics, 108 Racism: anti-, 6, 61–63, 210, 248, 258; and multiracialism, 61–63; nonracialism, 6, 61–63, 66–67, 207, 258 Radical reform: in the transition, 5, 90–92 Radical democracy: and black cultural

Sachs, Albie, 12, 16–17, 21, 181, 186; and debate over ‘‘Preparing Ourselves for Freedom,’’ 37, 69, 83–85, 92–102, 185; and Njabulo Ndebele, 84, 92–102; and whiteness, 81–82. See also African National Congress (anc); Culture; Election (1994); Humanism; Normalization

Index

331

Sachs, Nelly, 166 Sancho, Ignatius, 217 Sartre, Jean Paul, 141 Scarry, E., 128 Schmitz, Oliver, 267 Sebidi, M. Helen, 192–94 Sepamla, S., 46 Serote, Mongane Wally, 2, 43, 48–49, 56, 91, 146, 291 n.13. See also African National Congress (anc); Black Consciousness Movement Shadow: trope of, 106, 110, 123 Shezi, Mthuli, 103, 118 Shona, 245–47 Siers, Rushdy, 101 Sikakane, Joyce, 170 Silber, G., 16 Simon, Barney, 103 Sitas, Ari: and cultural revolution, 81, 191, 197; and the CWLP, 25, 27; and the debate over Sachs’s ‘‘Preparing Ourselves for Freedom,’’ 37, 285 n.3; and worker theater, 180, 203. See also Community arts centers; Malange, Nise; Qabula, Alfred Tenba; Workers’ culture Site of enunciation, 38, 42, 49–50, 60, 71, 104, 107, 122, 191, 267. See also Address; Aesthetics; Black Consciousness Movement Slavery, 110, 114, 191 Smallberg, Mavis, 204 Socialism, 256; and feminism, 30 Sole, Kelwyn, 37, 77, 100, 177, 287 n.7. See also Intellectuals; Marxism; Ndebele, Njabulo Solidarity: African, 207; cross-race, of intellectuals, 65–67; feminist, 122; new global forms of, 8, 21; U.S.-South African, 8, 41–43. See also Internationalism South African Communist Party (sacp), 61, 70, 78, 187. See also Marxism Soweto uprising (1976), 161, 215 Speak, 39, 212 Spelman, Elizabeth, 43, 134, 154

332

Index

Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty, 41, 50, 151, 161, 213, 265. See also Deconstruction; Ethical Singularity; Representation Staffrider, 46, 66, 70, 73, 82, 122, 169, 179 Stark (The Tempest), 126, 292 n.1. See also Caliban State, 30–31, 50–51, 78–79, 87, 92, 105– 6, 111, 120, 126, 208, 211, 251. See also Gramsci, Antonio; Marxism; Normalization; Radical democracy; Transition to democracy Steadman, Ian, 125, 294 n.4 Steinberg, Carol, 93, 121 Stewart, Robert, 221 Strikes, 6, 27, 42, 54–55, 60, 176–77, 198, 200–201, 211. See also Congress of South African Trade Unions (cosatu); Federation of South African Trade Unions (fosatu); Trade unions Subjectivity, 192, 251; black, 45, 71, 122– 23; of cultural subjects, 97–100; and enunciation, 108; and nation, 251; revolutionary, 120; and women, 122–23, 155, 158, 192. See also Black Consciousness Movement; Feminism; Marxism Sublime, electoral, 12–13 Suleman, Ramadan, 1, 35, 57, 131, 266–79 Sycorax (The Tempest), 134, 136, 138 Theater for development, 26–27. See also Mda, Zakes Themba, C., 66 Thomas, Gladys, 170, 210 Thula Baba collective, 169, 172–73 Tlali, Miriam, 46 Trade unions, 2, 7; black women in, 185– 214, 294 n.3; and community struggles, 54–55, 170; and culture, 25–28, 70, 176–77, 190. See also Congress of South African Trade Unions (cosatu); Culture and Working Life Project (cwlp); Federation of South African Trade Unions (fosatu); Malange, Nise; Sitas, Ari; Strikes; Workers’ culture

Transformation: political, 2, 6, 80, 92, 101; of universities, 88 Transition to democracy, 1, 2, 4, 6, 77–102, 124, 185, 197, 270; in Zimbabwe, 240–41. See also African National Congress (anc); Feminism; Gay politics; Marxism; Normalization; Radical democracy; Ndebele, Njabulo; Sachs, Albie Translation, 261–66 Trickster, 69, 148, 221 Trinh T. Minh-ha, 41–42, 154 Truth and Reconciliation Commission, 129, 271 United Democratic Front (udf), 6, 61, 118, 169, 200–201, 216. See also Mass Democratic Movement Universities: black, 65–66, 68, 70–71, 86– 89; and feminism, 93; as site of struggle, 8, 66–68, 88, 281 n.4; and trade unions, 210; transformation of, 80, 88; white, 65–66, 89. See also City University of New York (cuny); Intellectuals van Rensburg, P., 217, 235. See also Anarchism van Wyk, Chris, 84 Vaughan, Michael, 37, 282 nn.11, 14 Vigne, Randolph, 217, 221 Voice: and autonomy of black writing, 42– 50, 121; of black poetry, 44–46, 117, 132; and feminism, 122, 139, 171, 208; and letter, 233, 238. See also Address; Aesthetics; Site of enunciation von Kotze, Astrid, 25–27, 180, 203

142–44; renunciation of, 72–73, 146; and shame, 141; and white antiracism, 62, 72–73; and white solipsism, 108–9, 114, 123; and white supremacy, 104, 108, 116– 20, 158; and white writing, 80–83, 110. See also Feminism; Intellectuals; Racism Wicomb, Zoë, 2, 60, 77, 93–95, 134–40, 174, 216 Willemse, Hein, 242 Williams, Raymond, 55–56, 59 Wolpe, Harold, 54 Women’s Day (1956), 60, 122, 167, 169 Workers: black women, 208–11; miners, 141; rural, 189, 192; urban black, 89; and workerism, 55, 201. See also Congress of South African Trade Unions (cosatu); Federation of South African Trade Unions (fosatu); Trade unions Workers’ culture: 176–214; anarchosyndicalism in, 38; autonomy of, 26, 89–90; and organizing, 26–28; worker poetry, 2, 27, 52, 84, 129, 177, 179, 185–214, 293 n.1; worker theater, 2, 27, 52, 84, 201–3. See also Culture and Working Life Project (cwlp); Durban Workers Cultural Local; Hlatshwayo, M. S.; Internationalism; Malange, Nise; Marxism; Normalization; Qabula, Alfred Tenba; Sitas, Ari; Radical democracy; Transition to democracy; von Kotze, Astrid World system: modern capitalist, 3, 8, 114–15, 208–14. See also Global cultural economy; Internationalism Wright, Richard, 63, 247 Xhosa, 15, 126, 128, 181, 183, 199

Walker, Alice, 217, 223, 229–30 Walker, Cherryl, 54, 167 Watson, S., 12, 19, 84 West, Candace, 67–75, 87, 122 Wheatley, Phillis, 217 Whiteness, 2, 47–48, 102–32, 141, 297 n.1; gendered, 47, 139, 155; mythologies of,

Younge, Gavin, 81, 166 Zimunya, Musaemura, 250–52 Zulu, 183, 187, 190, 197, 204–5, 207–8, 261–64

Index

333

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data O’Brien, Anthony. Against normalization : writing radical democracy in South Africa / Anthony O’Brien. p. cm. — (Post-contemporary interventions) Includes bibliographical references and index. isbn 0–8223–2552–7 (cloth : alk. paper) isbn 0–8223–2571–3 (pbk. : alk. paper) 1. South African literature (English)—History and criticism.

2. Politics and literature—South Africa—

History—20th century. 3. Radicalism—South Africa— History—20th century. 4. Democracy—South Africa— History—20th century. 5. South Africa—Politics and government—1994–

6. Radicalism in literature.

7. Democracy in literature. I. Title. II. Series. pr9359.6 .o27 2001 820.9'358'0968—dc21 00–048433