Diaspora and Identity in South African Fiction 9781869143015, 9781869143459

South African identities, as they are represented in the contemporary South African novel, are not homogeneous, but frac

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Diaspora and Identity in South African Fiction
 9781869143015, 9781869143459

Table of contents :
Illustrations fall between pages 160 and 161
Introduction Diaspora and Identity in South African Fiction
Chapter 1 The Colonial Diaspora: Karel Schoeman, Another
Chapter 2 Portraits of Afrikaners: Elsa Joubert, Isobelle’s
Chapter 3 Black and White in Colour: Zoë Wicomb, David’s Story and Playing in the Light
Chapter 4 Mapping the Indian Diaspora: Aziz Hassim, The Lotus People and Revenge of Kali
Chapter 5 Picturing the African Diaspora: Patricia Schonstein Pinnock, Skyline
Chapter 6 A Nomad of the Middle World: Breyten Breytenbach, A Veil of Footsteps (Memoir of a Nomadic Fictional Character)
Chapter 7 Performing the African Diaspora: Zakes Mda, Sometimes There is a Void and Cion
Chapter 8 An Uneasy Guest: J.M. Coetzee, Boyhood, Youth, Slow Man and Summertime
Chapter 9 Double Negatives: Exile and Homecoming: IvanVladislavic, Double Negative and Michiel Heyns,Lost Ground
Chapter 10 Diasporic Politics of Home: Nadine Gordimer, None to Accompany Me, The Pickup and No Time Like the Present
Chapter 11 Embracing Chaos: Njabulo S. Ndebele, The Cry
of Winnie Mandela
Select Bibliography

Citation preview




Diaspora and Identity in South African Fiction

J.U. Jacobs


Published in 2016 by University of KwaZulu-Natal Press Private Bag X01 Scottsville, 3209 Pietermaritzburg South Africa Email: [email protected] Website: www.ukznpress.co.za © 2016 J.U. Jacobs

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from University of KwaZulu-Natal Press.

ISBN: 978 1 86914 301 5 e-ISBN: 978 1 86914 345 9

Managing editor: Sally Hines Editor: Alison Lockhart Typesetter: Patricia Comrie Indexer: Christopher Merrett Cover design: Marise Bauer, MDesign Every effort has been made to trace the copyright holder of the original photograph reproduced on the cover of this book.

Print administration by DJE Flexible Print Solutions, Cape Town


For Philip




Illustrations fall between pages 160 and 161 Acknowledgements ix Introduction Diaspora and Identity in South African Fiction 1 Chapter 1 The Colonial Diaspora: Karel Schoeman, Another Country 28 Chapter 2 Portraits of Afrikaners: Elsa Joubert, Isobelle’s Journey 49 Chapter 3 Black and White in Colour: Zoë Wicomb, David’s Story and Playing in the Light 73 Chapter 4 Mapping the Indian Diaspora: Aziz Hassim, The Lotus People and Revenge of Kali 98 Chapter 5 Picturing the African Diaspora: Patricia Schonstein Pinnock, Skyline 129 Chapter 6 A Nomad of the Middle World: Breyten Breytenbach, A Veil of Footsteps (Memoir of a Nomadic Fictional Character) 152 Chapter 7 Performing the African Diaspora: Zakes Mda, Sometimes There is a Void and Cion 179 Chapter 8 An Uneasy Guest: J.M. Coetzee, Boyhood, Youth, Slow Man and Summertime 205 Chapter 9 Double Negatives: Exile and Homecoming: Ivan Vladislavic, ´ Double Negative and Michiel Heyns, Lost Ground 237 vii

Chapter 10 Diasporic Politics of Home: Nadine Gordimer, None to Accompany Me, The Pickup and No Time Like the Present Chapter 11 Embracing Chaos: Njabulo S. Ndebele, The Cry of Winnie Mandela


Select Bibliography



Index 340



Some of the chapters in this book had their early beginnings in articles published in the journals The English Academy Review, English in Africa, English Studies (Turin), Current Writing and Tydskrif vir Nederlands en Afrikaans, and in chapters in SA Lit: Beyond 2000 (edited by Michael Chapman and Margaret Lenta), Ways of Writing (edited by David Bell and J.U. Jacobs) and Diasporas, Cultures of Mobilities, ‘Race’ (edited by Judith Misrahi-Barak and Claudine Raynaud). I am grateful to the editors for allowing me to revisit this material. I would also like to express my appreciation to the Glasgow Museums Collection (Figure 1 and Figure 2), Gallo Images (Figure 4) and the Museu Darder de Banyoles (Figure 5) for permission to reproduce their illustrations. My thanks are due to Alison Lockhart for her meticulous editing of the manuscript and to Sally Hines for having guided this book through production. I further owe debts of gratitude to the University of KwaZulu-Natal for continuing to make its facilities available for my research, to my colleagues in English Studies for their support and friendship, and to the members of the Barboure Book Club, diligent readers for the last 40 years.



Diaspora and Identity in South African Fiction   1

Introduction Diaspora and Identity in South African Fiction

South African identities However well intentioned it may be, Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s widely adopted notion of the ‘rainbow nation’ is inadequate for providing the present-day South African imaginary with a symbol for its many ethnic and cultural groupings. The cultural analyst Neville Alexander points out that the symbol of the rainbow, comprising as it does a spectrum of essential identities, glosses over the contradictions that characterise post-apartheid South Africa and ‘the illusion of coherence and unity which it is intended to convey dissipates at the first touch of the bitter reality of racial, caste and class divisions’ (2002: 106). In contemporary South African fiction, divisions are shown not only to persist in the new democratic nation between different ethnic, social and cultural groupings, but also to exist within them. South African identities, as represented in the South African novel, are not homogeneous, but heterogeneous and usually conflicted. Edward Said’s argument that all post-imperial cultures are involved with one another and are all ‘hybrid, heterogeneous, extraordinarily differentiated, and unmonolithic’ (1994a: xxix) holds especially true for South Africa today: Afrikaner identity, ‘coloured’ South African identity, black South African identity, English South African identity, Indian South African identity – none can be regarded as rooted or pure, whatever essentialist claims members of these various ethnic and cultural communities might want to make. All South African identities, this book argues, are fractured and have arisen, directly or indirectly, from the experience of diasporic migration. Diaspora is a dominant theme in contemporary South African fiction; the diasporic subject is its most recognisable figure. 1


The South African experience supports Stuart Hall’s often-cited explanation that there are at least two different ways of thinking about cultural identity. The conventional approach regards identity ‘in terms of one, shared culture, a sort of collective “one true self  ”, hiding inside many other, more superficially or artificially imposed “selves” which people with a shared history and ancestry hold in common’ (2003: 234). For previously colonised cultures, unearthing such an essential identity has formed an important part of their imaginative self-rediscovery. In the South African case, the rise of white Afrikaner nationalism, in reaction against British imperialism during the first half of the twentieth century, was premised on the deliberate construction of a common and cohesive Afrikaner cultural identity. The rise, in turn, of a black African counter-nationalism in the second half of the century was likewise based on reclaiming and celebrating shared cultural values that had previously been suppressed. Njabulo S. Ndebele (1991) has famously argued that this cultural dialectic produced in South Africa in the 1970s and 1980s a literature of crude spectacle, of white apartheid villains and their black victims, which featured essentialised white and black identities and thus simply replicated the reductive, binary mind of the racist hegemony. In contrast to an essentialist and cohesive view of cultural identity, Hall says, there is another point of view that recognises that ‘what we really are’ is based not only on points of similarity, but also on ‘critical points of deep and significant difference’ (2003: 236) and on separate histories of rupture and discontinuity. From this perspective, cultural identity is neither a fixed origin to which we can return nor is it something transcendental within us; rather, cultural identities are ‘the unstable points of identification or suture, which are made, within the discourses of history and culture’ (237). Cultural identity is ‘not an essence, but a positioning’, Hall says; hence ‘there is always a politics of identity, a politics of position’. This second view of cultural identity, defined in terms of difference, rupture and discontinuity, has been taken up by a number of contemporary literary theorists who have proposed various tropes for interpreting a South African identity. All of them may be said to develop and refine, in the South African context, Homi K. Bhabha’s argument that hybrid postcolonial cultural identities are formed in the interstices, or liminal spaces, between cultural systems. In these ‘in-between’ spaces,

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which Bhabha calls the ‘Third Space’ (1994: 36–9), ‘complex figures of difference and identity, past and present, inside and outside, inclusion and exclusion’ (1) are produced through processes of negotiation and translation. Leon de Kock offers the metaphor of the ‘seam’ for understanding the ways in which identities that have been formed in South Africa across ‘schisms, barriers, and misperceptions’ (2004: 9) have been represented in writing. The seam, he says, is a ‘site of joining together that also bears the mark of the suture’ (11); as a site of both difference and convergence, it is the place where ‘the representational “translation” of difference’ (12) happens, the place ‘where difference and sameness are hitched together – where they are brought into self-awareness, denied, or displaced into third terms’. Because South Africa has so overwhelmingly been a place of dualisms – ‘civilized and savage, settler and indigene, White and Black, oppressed and privileged, rich and poor’ (18) – De Kock suggests that perhaps ‘to be a “South African” writer in the full sense requires imaginative inhabitation of the seam as a deep symbolic structure’. In a similar attempt to get beyond the binary lenses of colonialism and apartheid and their separatist discourses, and to respond to the challenges of the post-apartheid present, Sarah Nuttall proposes the notion of ‘entanglement’, ‘a condition of being twisted together or entwined, involved with’ (2009: 1), which she develops from critical discussions of historical, temporal, genetic and racial entanglement, as well as from ideas of the seam, complicity and the ‘entanglement of people and things’ (7). She suggests that entanglement ‘is a means by which to draw into our analyses those sites in which what was once thought of as separate – identities, spaces, histories – come together or find points of intersection in unexpected ways’ (11). The trope of entanglement indicates areas of mutuality and ambivalence and provides for a mode of understanding beyond the confrontation and resistance of the past. In his study of the intellectual and apartheid, Mark Sanders turns to the idea of ‘complicity’, which is, ‘etymologically, a foldedtogether-ness (com-plic-ity)’ (2002: 5). Complicity is a version of Nuttall’s ‘entanglement’. The question of complicity became unavoidable, Sanders says, after apartheid and especially in the light of the ‘vocabulary of complicity’ (2) in Volume 4 of the report of the Truth and Reconciliation


Commission, which considers the complicity of certain sectors of the state and civil society with the system of apartheid. Sanders argues that, along with the concepts of resistance and opposition, the notion of complicity allows for a positioning of the intellectual under apartheid in what he describes as an area of paradox, since both the dissenting supporters of apartheid and its avowed opponents were implicated in its thinking and practices. Sanders distinguishes between ‘an acting-incomplicity and a responsibility-in-complicity’ (11) and says that in this convergence of act and responsibility, complicity is thus at one with the basic folded-together-ness of being, of humanbeing, of self and other. Such foldedness is the condition of possibility of all particular affiliations, loyalties, and commitments. In the absence of an acknowledgement of complicity in a wider sense of foldedness with the other, whether welcomed or not, there would have been no opposition to apartheid. The history of the intellectual and apartheid – whether of support, accommodation, or resistance – can, in these terms, be deciphered, not by fixing on apartness alone, but by tracking interventions, marked by degrees of affirmation and disavowal, in a continuum of foldedness or responsibility-in-complicity. What makes apartheid exemplary for a study of the intellectual and complicity is the paradox that, while supporters disavowed or sought to limit foldedness with the other, opponents, though striving to minimize acting-incomplicity with the agents of apartheid and its policies, tended to acknowledge, affirm, and generalize responsibility-in-complicity (11–12).

It is this condition of paradoxical foldedness with the other that Nuttall describes in terms of mutuality and ambivalence. Ethnic, cultural or political identities in South Africa, whether defined with reference to seams, entanglements or complicities, are not fixed, but in a state of flux and subject to ongoing negotiation and positioning over divides – what Bhabha calls ‘borderline engagements of cultural difference’ (1994: 2). South African selves are constantly being stitched together, becoming entangled, being complicitous, becoming ever more complicated. The concept that Stephen Clingman uses to explain such identity-formation in his book The Grammar of Identity is ‘transitivity’. He situates his notion of a transitive grammar of identity in Noam Chomsky’s view of a universal grammar that is generative and

Diaspora and Identity in South African Fiction   5

argues for the kind of identity that is based on a syntax of the self, which, he says, in ‘its combinatory, unfolding possibilities . . . is a transitive syntax’ (2009: 16): like language, through recursion and combination, it navigates across boundaries, linking ‘syntax within the self to syntax beyond the self’ (21). Such an identity recognises boundaries that demarcate differences, but is also transitive in its engagement with and crossing of those boundaries. The transitive imagination, Clingman says, is premised on the paradoxical interdependence of navigation, ‘whether internal, external, or linking the two’ (21) and the boundary – as he expresses it: ‘Navigation occurs not despite but because of the boundary’. A transitive syntax of the self ‘does not override or negate difference within the self or in relation to others – indeed, it depends on it. But it does hold out the possibility of connection’ (15). According to Clingman, it is precisely this capacity for navigation across boundaries that provides the self with its transitive form: ‘Differences within the self or between the self and other selves are not overridden or transcended . . . Rather, they become the foundation of identity as a kind of meaning – but meaning considered always as navigation, exploration, transition’ (22). The transitive boundary should therefore be understood as the space of navigation, to which Clingman adds an important qualification: ‘Whether it concerns language, fiction, identity or location, navigation does not mean crossing or having crossed, but being in the space of crossing. It means being prepared to be in the space of crossing, in transition, in movement, in journey’ (24–5). This book’s study of diasporic identities in contemporary South African fiction develops the argument that diaspora is an ongoing process of displacement, migration and relocation, through which diasporic identities are created (to use Clingman’s formulation) ‘in the space of crossing, in transition, in movement, in journey’. Diasporic identities are not settled, but transitive, in the sense that they are continually being formed through navigation across physical and cultural boundaries between home countries and host countries, across difference. The diasporic subject does not overlook or transcend differences within the self or between the self and other selves, but constantly engages and implicates the self with the other – socially, culturally and linguistically – in a migratory trajectory that begins with displacement.


In an essay on diasporic identities and cultural hybridity, Roy Sommer reminds us of the original meaning of the term ‘diaspora’, which has become inflated in contemporary critical discourse to cover all kinds of expatriate and migrant experience: Traditionally, ‘diaspora’ refers to the dispersion of the Jews among the gentiles and their belief in an eventual return to the (lost) homeland. In current (multi)cultural theory, the term has been applied to all expatriate groups who chose, or were forced, to leave their native countries for a variety of reasons including indentured labour and the slave trade. In their new countries, these diasporic subjects form ethnic or cultural minorities while still retaining strong affiliations with their – and more often, their ancestors’ – homelands (2003: 159).

In addition to the archetypal pattern of dispersal from and belief in an eventual return to an original homeland, the Jewish diaspora also holds important lessons for thinking about cultural survival. In an essay on Jewish identity, Daniel Boyarin and Jonathan Boyarin suggest that diaspora is perhaps Judaism’s most important legacy. They argue that diaspora has provided the context for ‘a complex continuation of Jewish cultural creativity and identity at the same time that the same people participate fully in the common cultural life of their surroundings’ (2003: 108). What diasporic cultural identity teaches us is that ‘cultures are not preserved by being protected from “mixing” but probably can only continue to exist as a product of such mixing. Cultures, as well as identities, are constantly being remade.’ Diasporic identity, the Boyarins claim, is ‘a disaggregated identity’; Jewishness, for example, ‘disrupts the very categories of identity because it is not national, not genealogical, not religious, but all of these in dialectical tension with one another’ (109). For a paradigmatic fictional account of how diasporic identities, more closely based on the original model of the Jewish diaspora – expulsion of a people from their homeland, exile and a shared sense of loss – were formed during one crucial period in early nineteenth-century South African history, one can do no better than turn to Sol Plaatje’s landmark novel, Mhudi.

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Sol Plaatje, Mhudi Any study of diasporic dislocation in contemporary South African fiction needs to acknowledge Sol Plaatje’s Mhudi, the first novel in English by a black South African. Written in 1917, but only published in 1930 by Lovedale Press, Mhudi has, since its rediscovery in the 1970s, in Annalisa Oboe’s words, ‘gained the status of a canonical founding text in South African literature and post-apartheid culture’ (2008: 24). Oboe’s claim echoes Michael Green’s conclusion that ‘Mhudi has not just come from the margins to be central in South African literatature, it has become foundational to the very concept of the South African nation’ (2006: 41). Plaatje’s novel famously has as one of its stated objects ‘to interpret to the reading public one phase of “the back of the Native mind” ’ (Plaatje 2005: xi). I would suggest that through the experiences of the eponymous Barolong woman Mhudi and her husband Ra-Thaga, and their encounters with the Matabele as well as with the Voortrekkers in the 1830s, Plaatje presents the coming together of different migrant peoples in the heart of southern Africa and provides an understanding of South African history within a framework of ongoing diasporic dispersion. Plaatje himself was a Barolong, a nation or tribe whose ancestors had, according to tradition, migrated southwards from the Great Lakes region in Central Africa at the beginning of the fifteenth century (Couzens 1975: 7–9). Plaatje’s own journeys took him not only throughout South Africa, but also abroad: first in 1914 when he was a member of the South African Native National Congress (later the African National Congress or ANC) deputation to London to appeal to the British government against the Natives Land Act of 1913. He stayed there until 1917. His second trip was in 1919 when he left South Africa to travel in England, Canada and the United States for four years. Oboe argues that Plaatje’s travels abroad led to his drawing ‘a revised cultural cartography’ (2008: 22) of the relationships between Europe, Africa and North America; ‘the triangulation of his movements physically’, she says, ‘sketches a network of inextricable relationships on the Atlantic map, which is essentially aimed at demarginalizing South Africa by connecting it to transatlantic flows’. She maintains that ‘Plaatje’s travels, as well as his writings, in fact offer a paradigm for the investigation of the zones of interaction, dependence, and distance between Africa and the Atlantic world’.


Following Oboe, I would argue even more strongly that Mhudi, which accompanied Plaatje in manuscript form on his North American journey, is a seminal South African diasporic text. In his introduction to the Quagga Press edition of Mhudi, with woodcuts by Cecil Skotnes – the first volume in the African Fiction Library series – Tim Couzens recognises the novel’s great theme of human migration in southern Africa in the nineteenth century and Plaatje’s fictional correction of the customary emphasis in the past on European colonial migration: To Plaatje the Great Trek was not the central event in South African history, but merely another episode in the movement of South African tribes. For Plaatje correctly perceived that the tremendous upheaval and scattering of the tribes as a result of the Mfecane – the uniting of the many clans into the great Zulu military state – was, in many ways, a more important historical event (1975: 6).

Oboe views Plaatje’s depiction of the dislocation of peoples in southern Africa in the nineteenth century in an even wider diasporic context; in Mhudi, she says, Plaatje was moving towards an understanding of the social upheavals and dispersals in southern Africa in terms of the larger African diaspora and towards a conceptualisation of the events in the subcontinent in relation to the Atlantic world: To see nineteenth-century South Africa as a palimpsestic or stratified crossroads of black and white cultures, ethnic groupings, economies, and stories – conflicting or interacting on the vast southern tip of the continent – means for Plaatje to imagine a history which is at the same time more complex and less definitive than most historians and novelists at the beginning of the twentieth century would allow. In that history he singles out moments of contact between tribe and tribe, people and people – a choice which requires a shift of focus from the relatively easy singling out of binary oppositions (which is a typical colonial formula), to the individuation of chiasmatic intersections where alliances are more meaningful than conflicts and wars. In the novel the chronotope of the crossroads becomes a spatial and temporal empowering metaphor for (trans)national cultural, historical, and political change, which has the power to criticize the all-pervasive imperial thrust operating both in literature and society (Oboe 2008: 27–8).

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Mhudi and Ra-Thaga are introduced into Plaatje’s narrative as separate survivors of the destruction of Kunana, the capital city of the Barolong, and the Matabele’s slaughter of its inhabitants in 1830. The narrative explains that the Matabele were originally a branch of the Zulu nation who, under their leader Mzilikazi, had broken away from the rule of Shaka and migrated westwards: Sweeping through the northern areas of Port Natal, they advanced along both banks of the Vaal River, driving terror into man and beast with whom they came in contact. They continued their march very much like a swarm of locusts; scattering the Swazis, terrifying the Basuto and the Bapedi on their outposts, they drove them back to the mountains at the point of the assegai; and, trekking through the heart of the Transvaal, they eventually invaded Bechuanaland where they reduced the Natives to submission (Plaatje 2005: 4).

Together with the legendary savagery of the Matabele, Kunana has entered the collective memory of the Barolong as their lost home, an edenic domain where they once led a patriarchally organised, peaceful existence, growing their native corn, breeding cattle and hunting in the midst of natural abundance. It was also a life, Plaatje notes, conducted in ignorance of various migrations into and out of Africa at the time: by the Dutch colonisers to the south in the Cape, by the whites who had arrived in Monomotapa (Portuguese East Africa) and by ‘their oversea kinsmen who were making history on the plantations and harbours of Virginia and Mississippi at that time’ (2). When Mhudi and Ra-Thaga afterwards share their respective experiences of the sacking of Kunana, they realise that ‘the halcyon days’ (14) are gone forever and that, in the words of Ra-Thaga, ‘the Barolong are an exterminated people . . . wiped out. Their fire is extinguished, their city flattened and their name blotted off the face of the earth’ (15). The few survivors of the massacre are ‘scattered in all directions’ (28) and they themselves are destined for a life of wandering in the wilderness. It is not difficult here to recognise the archetypal diaspora of the Jews behind Plaatje’s fictional account of the scattering of the Barolong. After a short stay at Mamuse among the Korannas with their alien language ‘full of clicks’ (56), Mhudi and Ra-Thaga eventually find refuge


at Thaba Nchu in the land of the Basotho where another Barolong clan had settled, as well as some other fugitives from Kunana who had obtained asylum there under Chief Moroka. It is at the Barolong settlement of Thaba Nchu that the third, and most extensively treated, cross-cultural encounter takes place when a party of Dutch emigrants from the Cape Colony, under Sarel Cilliers, arrive, escaping from English colonial oppression in the Cape and ‘travelling with their families in hooded wagons and driving with their caravan their wealth of livestock into the hinterland in search of some unoccupied territory to colonise and to worship God in peace’ (70). A terrified Barolong fugitive reports how he has seen a ‘milk-white house filled with a load of blood-red devils, some hairy in the face, some smooth, some big, some small – devils in a moving white house crawling in this direction with all the sheep and cattle and livestock from Hades’ (76), but Ra-Thaga explains to Mhudi that these are white people who have ‘come out of the sea – away beyond where the clouds do end’ (73). Shortly afterwards, when the Matabele attack the Boers and loot their livestock, these trekkers also find refuge at Thaba Nchu among the Barolong under Chief Moroka. The ensuing cross-cultural discourse in the narrative between the Barolong and the Boers hinges on Ra-Thaga’s admiration for the young Boer De Villiers and the close bond that develops between them, despite Mhudi’s reservations about the Boers’ cruelty and racism. Ra-Thaga and De Villiers learn the rudiments of each other’s language; Barolong customs and social justice are contrasted to the Boers’ heartless treatment of their black servants and we are told how the cultures mutually impact on one another here where their respective migratory journeys intersect and overlap: ‘The stay of the Boers at Moroka’s Hoek largely influenced the Barolong mode of living’ (115). The eventual defeat of the Matabele by the combined Barolong, Griqua and Boer forces under Cilliers and Hendrik Potgieter, together with large numbers of Bakwena, Bakhatla and Bahurutshe, gives further impetus to the narrative of ongoing dispersal in Mhudi and Plaatje concludes his novel by describing three different diasporic trajectories. First, the vanquished Matabele decide to migrate further northwards and, as their stronghold Inzwinyani burns to the ground, they begin their exodus:

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Few of the people knew where they were going, and fewer still could estimate the length of the journey before them, and what they would encounter on the road; everybody had but one impulse, namely, to hurry forward, as fast as their burdens of babies and other impedimenta would allow, to safety in the unknown north (151).

In Chapter 20, titled ‘The Exodus’, Mzilikazi exhorts his people: ‘Let us direct our toes to the north, for there is a refuge there . . . the land of plenty, in a far country that is good for raising corn and the grazing of cattle’ (180) and in due course he leads them across the Limpopo River to settle in what is today Zimbabwe, where they establish a new capital at Gu-Bulawayo. Second, the Boers, firm in their belief that they are ‘God’s chosen people’ (189), continue on their trek northwards to find a promised land. And finally, the narrative ends with Mhudi and Ra-Thaga travelling south back to Thaba Nchu in the ox wagon – ‘a valuable “house on wheels” ’ (192) – that was a gift to Mhudi from De Villiers as a token of their friendship. In future, Ra-Thaga thinks to himself, they will be ‘transported from one end of the country to the other, like White people, in their own wagon’ (192–3). In the emblematic conclusion to the novel, the diasporic journey of Mhudi and Ra-Thaga has brought them through their contact with the Boers to the threshold of the modern world; as it is formulated in the narrative: ‘Gone were the days of their primitive tramping over long distances with loads on their heads. For them the days of the pack-ox had passed, never to return again’ (193). Echoing at the end of the narrative, however, is Mzilikazi’s prophetic warning about the whites with whom the Barolong have allied themselves: ‘When the Kiwas [whites] rob them of their cattle, their children and their lands, they will weep their eyes out of the sockets and get left with only their empty throats to squeal in vain for mercy’ (179). The trope of the crossroads that Oboe emphasises deserves to be considered more fully here. In the course of Plaatje’s narrative, the main sets of fugitive characters, including the aggressors-turned-fugitives and fugitives-turned-aggressors – Barolong, Matabele and Boer – inhabit sites of cross-cultural exchange, mainly among the host Basotho. As the narrative unfolds, the three main cultural groups all come to redefine


themselves as displaced people: at the end, in the case of the Matabele, seeking a permanent place to settle north of the Limpopo where they might recover their destroyed nationhood or, in the case of the Boers, trekking further northwards across the Vaal River and also across the Drakensberg in the east to establish their divinely ordained Boer homeland or, in the case of Mhudi and Ra-Thaga, travelling back not to Bechuanaland, but to Thaba Nchu to try to make a home for themselves among their fellow Barolong who are living in the land of the Basotho. What these diasporic refugees all share is the knowledge of a past home that is lost forever; in the words of the African proverb that Ra-Thaga quotes to the young Boer woman, Hannetjie, when they part at the end: ‘There’s always a return to the ruins, only to the womb there is no return’ (191). From this point on, the identity of each of these groups will be heavily influenced by their experience of homelessness, together with their dream of recovering a home. Displacement is their common lot and will inform their sense of themselves in the future as belonging to a cultural or an ethnic community or to a nation. Diaspora, Plaatje’s novel shows, was the crucible for the formation of modern South African identities, which continue to be shaped in the tension between, on the one hand, the dream of home with its associations of belonging and of ethnic and cultural cohesion and, on the other hand, the reality of division, engagement and entanglement with the other, and constant navigation across difference. Diasporic subjects in contemporary South African fiction In the chapters to follow it is argued that the legacy of diasporic dislocation has endured in South African fiction from the chronotope of Plaatje’s novel to the present day. The displaced subject features prominently in the works of many contemporary South African novelists, all of whom present their protagonists’ exiled state against the backdrop of diaspora. The range of diasporic figures encountered in these novels serves as a measure of how the concept of diaspora may be expanded, while still retaining its valency. Karel Schoeman’s novel, Another Country (1991), offers a minutely observed social history of the settlement of the Free State capital of Bloemfontein by Dutch, German and English immigrants in the second half of the nineteenth century and depicts their condition of exile from

Diaspora and Identity in South African Fiction   13

Europe in terms of displacement and transplantation. These colonial settlers live in Africa with divided loyalties, in a state of tension arising from having a foot in both worlds. The degree of adaptation to the new country differs from person to person: for some it offers an agreeable home, while others perceive their life there as a continuous state of exile. For the settlers’ children, the first-generation citizens of the new country, their deterritorialisation is complex in that, on the one hand, the Europe of their parents is a remote reality, while, on the other hand, they have themselves not yet become part of Africa. Schoeman’s diasporic narrative has two contrasted cultural trajectories: Bloemfontein provides a historical stage for the colonial drama of the degeneration and dying of European customs and values while new, creolised cultural forms are emerging. The narrative of Elsa Joubert’s novel Isobelle’s Journey (2002) traces the history of an extended Afrikaner family over four generations from 1894 to 1994, against the background of the origins, rise and fall of Afrikaner nationalism from before the Anglo-Boer War to the advent of democracy in South Africa. In this fictional history of the cultural descendants of the Boers in Plaatje’s Mhudi, the motif of Afrikaners as a migrant and deeply divided people is constantly foregrounded and the narrative begins and concludes with displaced Afrikaners embarking on secondary and even tertiary out-migrations. The novel shows how contemporary Afrikaner identities have been formed out of the tensions between adherents and opponents of an exclusionary nationalism. At the end, while an elderly Afrikaner laments the fact that in the new democratic state his people have forever lost their exclusive homeland, together with their political dominance, Joubert’s narrative also foresees the birth of a child whose name will symbolise the diasporic legacy of the Afrikaner and who will be raised in South Africa. In her short stories, and especially her novels David’s Story (2000) and Playing in the Light (2006), Zoë Wicomb has repeatedly engaged with the conundrum of a ‘coloured’ South African identity, its ambiguities and dilemmas, in the context of apartheid with its essentialised racial classifications, as well as in the aftermath of apartheid with its language of multiculturalism and creolisation. Forced under apartheid into an uneasy self-definition according to the racialised categories of black and white, many people of mixed heritage allowed themselves to be co-opted


by an exclusionary white nationalism or identified themselves with an oppositional black nationalism, while nevertheless remaining marginal to both groups. The politics of South African ‘coloured identity’ in Wicomb’s novels reveals a tension between acceptance of the complex diasporic discourse of colouredness, with all its historical discontinuities and fissures, and the desire for a more cohesive sense of cultural identity, drawn from some collective narrative of the past. In David’s Story the narrative considers the possibility of an essential cultural identity as an alternative to the unstable coloured one with reference to the history of the Griqua ‘nation’ in the nineteenth century. And in Playing in the Light the alternative to colouredness is examined in relation to those people under apartheid who were light enough to pass for white and ‘crossed over’, reinventing themselves as white South Africans. Wicomb’s work reveals how, for the diasporic coloured subject, any essential cultural identity, whether claimed in terms of blackness, whiteness or colouredness, operates as a strategic fiction. Like Joubert’s Isobelle’s Journey, Aziz Hassim’s two novels, The Lotus People (2002) and its companion work, Revenge of Kali (2009), also chart the history of a diasporic community in South Africa over four generations. The Lotus People tells the story of the descendants of merchant immigrants from Gujarat from 1882 to 1986, while Revenge of Kali features the lives of indentured Indian labourers and their offspring in Durban from the mid-1860s to the early 1960s. The Indian diaspora in South Africa is Hassim’s overarching theme and, as with Joubert’s Afrikaners, any notion of a collective consciousness or essential identity is shown to have been complicated from the outset – in the Indian case by differences of class, religion, language and caste, by the very different conditions under which free merchants and indentured caneworkers immigrated to Natal and by the later material fortunes and political affiliations of their descendants. Hassim’s narratives map in detail the symbolic heart of the Indian community in central Durban and trace the various indicators of cultural adaptation and change in the new country. To show how the social and cultural divisions among Indian South Africans endured in the politically divided country, Hassim pursues the parallel legacies of the businessman and the gangster in Indian society and also reveals the dark underside of the Indian diaspora – the exploitation of Indians by their own people.

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Patricia Schonstein Pinnock’s novel Skyline (2000) engages with the figure of the diasporic African in South Africa. It depicts members of an African community in central Cape Town, illegal immigrants and refugees from other, troubled African states, who occupy a run-down apartment block, the eponymous Skyline. Some of them are economic migrants, others are survivors of various wars; all of them have their own, separate stories to tell, which, the narrator says, ‘they don’t recite easily’ (11). Schonstein Pinnock conveys the cultural displacement, heterogeneity and syncretism of the present-day African diasporic experience by means of a fictional work that provides one of the most self-reflexive and wide-ranging examples of ekphrasis – the incorporation of works of art into literature – in contemporary South African fiction. Most of the forty chapters in the novel, in which the main diasporic narratives unfold, provide a fictional blending of painterly image and text to express what it means individually and collectively to live in the African diaspora and to depict its overlapping histories of conflict and dislocation. Few South African writers have returned so compulsively to themselves as the products of diasporic dispersion as Breyten Breytenbach, whose book, A Veil of Footsteps (Memoir of a Nomadic Fictional Character) (2008), offers a complex discourse on the migrant condition and on migrant writing. In a combination of autobiography and travel narrative, fiction and metafiction, philosophical reflection and poetry, Breytenbach maps the physical and metaphysical dimensions of his own exilic state – always in relation to what he calls his South African ‘heartland’ (139) and its ethnic and cultural legacy. He describes himself as a nomad and wanderer, ‘a bird blown from one region to the next’ (101), in a text that foregrounds compulsive journeying, points of arrival and departure and nodes of temporary locatedness, and elaborates on notions of belonging everywhere and nowhere and home and homelessness. As a trope for diasporic consciousness, Breytenbach invents a Middle World, whose inhabitants, like himself, are not international in the usual sense, but inter-national, living in the inbetween, existing in the margins and, by definition, peripheral. Zakes Mda, who divides his time between the United States and South Africa, describes himself as ‘a migrant worker’ (2011: 207) in his autobiography, Sometimes There is a Void, in which he presents his life


in South Africa in terms of exile. In his novel, Cion (2007), he engages with the African diaspora from the perspective of African American culture in a historical narrative that deals with slavery in the United States in the nineteenth century, as well as a contemporary narrative that provides a thinly fictionalised reflection on African American and Native American, and also South African, culture and the politics of identity. The African, African American and South African cultural worlds are mediated through the reappearance in Cion of the (meta)fictional Toloki, Mda’s professional mourner from his first novel, Ways of Dying (1995), who has now migrated into the fictional world of Cion. Toloki’s narrative probes in detail the consequences of the nineteenth-century commercial enterprise of slave breeding in North America and foregrounds the complex ethnic identities formed by intermarriage between fugitive African slaves, Native Americans and also Irish immigrants. As in Mda’s earlier works, artistic performance is the most important trope that he employs in Cion in order to examine creolisation in relation to cultural continuity and discontinuity, as well as artistic change and innovation, in the African diaspora. In J.M. Coetzee’s second fictional memoir, Youth (2002), which deals with the decision of his young protagonist, John Coetzee, to leave South Africa for England around the time of the Sharpeville massacre, he introduces the theme of his own early emigration and his ambivalent South African filiation and subsequent English affiliation. In Slow Man (2005), the first novel he published after his much later emigration to Australia, set in Adelaide where he now lives, he again foregrounds the theme of migration. The protagonist and other main characters in Slow Man are immigrants and the novel concerns itself with issues of Australian national identity, language affiliation and cultural continuity and discontinuity. Through his novelist-persona of Elizabeth Costello, Coetzee offers a definition of the migrant identity that resonates with Breytenbach’s notion of himself as ‘a bird blown from one region to the next’; as Costello puts it: in contrast to those whom she calls ‘chthonic, the ones who stand with their feet planted in their native earth’, there are ‘the butterflies, creatures of light and air, temporary residents, alighting here, alighting there’ (Coetzee 2005: 198). In Summertime (2009), the third volume of his fictionalised autobiography (or autobiographical fiction), published as a trilogy in

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Scenes from Provincial Life (2011), Coetzee creates an elaborate narrative construct, at the centre of which, like Breytenbach, he places himself as diasporic biographical subject and fictionally teases out his dislocations, attachments to and detachments from his South African homeland and its cultures. In this metafictional hall of mirrors built around different inand out-migrations and in which five informants both reflect and reflect on the migrant subject at its centre, a friend and former colleague claims that he and Coetzee had a colonial identity in common, his explanation recalling Elizabeth Costello’s definition of the migrant person: ‘Whatever the opposite is of native or rooted, that was what we felt ourselves to be. We thought of ourselves as sojourners, temporary residents, and to that extent without a home, without a homeland’ (Coetzee 2009: 210). The definitions of the migrant subject by Breytenbach and Coetzee are further echoed by Neville, the white South African photographer´ novel, Double Negative (2011), when protagonist of Ivan Vladislavic’s he explains the difficulty of returning to post-apartheid South Africa after having exiled himself to London for a decade and of having been rooted in the history and culture of neither the homeland from which he had distanced himself nor England where he had remained an outsider. Just as he had consciously to learn the physical and social map of London, he now has to relearn the cultural topography of the newly democratic society from which he is estranged. ‘How I envy people who float around the world,’ he says, ‘resting their roots lightly on whatever soil they happen to be hovering above, dividing their time, and then dividing it again, until it’s so thin they can see through it. The global citizens. Epiphytes’ (145). He concludes that his own life story lacks coherence and continuity; instead, it is constructed out of scraps and images – and in this respect, it resembles that of the biographical subject ‘John Coetzee’ in Summertime: like John’s, Neville’s story is ‘full of holes’ (197). Similarly, Peter Jacobs, the freelance writer-protagonist of Michiel Heyns’s novel, Lost Ground (2011), comes to the conclusion that his personal history is doubly negative when, after having lived in London for twenty years, he returns to his home village in the Little Karoo, which he had left as a youth, in order to escape military conscription. Like Coetzee’s Summertime, Heyns’s narrative is framed by a writing project: Jacobs has come back ostensibly to write a ‘human interest’ piece


about a local murder within a larger contemplation of race relations in South Africa. Using the conventional structure of a murder mystery, Heyns shows his protagonist re-engaging with his past and in particular with a bosom friend from school and learning the diasporic truth that ‘somebody who emigrates becomes a foreigner in two countries’ (237). As he grows increasingly involved in the dramatic events he has come to report on, Jacobs begins to perceive his life in London as being as unreal as the world of his youth and himself as being as insubstantial a figure in exile as he had been in South Africa. Few South African writers have so consistently and so directly concerned themselves with the diasporic politics of home as Nadine Gordimer. Exile from home, abroad as well as in prison in South Africa, and homecoming from exile have been enduring themes in the novels and short stories in which she has traced the rise and fall of the apartheid state. Having conducted her reader in A Sport of Nature (1987) into the conflicted terrain of political exile in Africa, Eastern Europe and the United States, and in None to Accompany Me (1994) into a conflicted South African homecoming after 1990, in her fiction after 1994 Gordimer examines contemporary, migrant South African identity in the context of global migration in narratives that present two diametrically opposed diasporic trajectories. In The Pickup (2001) she describes, on the one hand, the present-day emigration of middle-class, white South Africans, themselves of European immigrant descent, to locations such as Australia or the United States. On the other hand, a global perspective on diasporic dislocation and relocation in the novel is provided by the character Abdu, who belongs to the larger Johannesburg community of illegal migrants from elsewhere in Africa, living with the constant threat of being deported. It is at the intersection of these two diasporic trajectories that the protagonist, Julie Summers, begins her own exilic journey from South Africa towards an unexpected homecoming at the end of the novel. Gordimer’s last novel, No Time Like the Present (2012), might be read as a companion piece to The Pickup. No Time Like the Present is Gordimer’s most exhaustive fictional reflection on the immigrant origins of all South Africans and on the diasporic dream – in contrast to the reality – of home and homecoming, both domestic and national, in South Africa today. In a comprehensive engagement with life in the young democracy

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she confronts the betrayal of the South African dream of freedom by its ANC government. Her protagonists, a mixed-race couple who are former freedom fighters, relocate to what used to be a predominantly Afrikaner suburb in Johannesburg, where, like many of their comrades, they establish a home for themselves and their children, only to find themselves unhomed in the larger society that they had fought to achieve. The tensions between the practical wisdom of emigrating to Australia, and so becoming part of the South African diaspora, and the ethnic and cultural claims of their home country occupy the larger part of Gordimer’s 421-page narrative. Njabulo S. Ndebele’s novel, The Cry of Winnie Mandela (2003), provides a major contribution and innovation to the fictional discourse on home and dislocation in South Africa. Ndebele begins with what he calls ‘one of the most momentous social transformations in world history’ (5), brought about by the large-scale male labour migrations to the gold and diamond mines and factories of South Africa, in the course of which ‘an entire subcontinent witnessed massive human movement that still continues to this day’. Ndebele suggests that the essential South African experience is the ‘shared experience of homelessness’ (68) and he asks, with reference to the millions of victims of forced removals under apartheid, whether a country in which so many people have been displaced can ever be thought of as home. Rootlessness, he maintains, is the condition of black South African life. At a metadiscursive level Ndebele’s novel is in many ways comparable to Coetzee’s Summertime, not only in the way it fictionalises its biographical subject, but also for the elaborate diasporic narrative framework that it constructs around that subject. Ndebele presents four fictional case studies to bear out his idiosyncratic diasporic thesis that the lives of black South African women have been overdetermined by the impact of their husbands’ migrant lives and that, like Homer’s Penelope, they have been defined in terms of waiting faithfully for the return of their menfolk. Ndebele develops, through an elaborate dialogic engagement by the four fictional descendants of Penelope with the emblematic figure of the ultimate South African waiting woman, Winnie Mandela, a way of understanding this famous figure who defines herself in the narrative not in terms of any kind of coherence, but in terms of disruption and chaos. Ndebele’s novel suggests that Winnie Mandela, the ‘Mother of the Nation’ with


her paradoxical combination of heroic activism and criminality, is the ultimate product and emblem of the South African diaspora. A number of questions inevitably arise from the different representations of migrant identity in these novels and especially the question of whether the term ‘diaspora’ is capacious enough for all the many kinds of migrant experience tagged as ‘diasporic’ here. Can it accommodate the various settler communities in Schoeman’s Another Country? How useful is it to understand the contemporary identity politics of coloured people in South Africa in Wicomb’s works in terms of their diasporic origins? Are the Australian immigrant protagonists in Coetzee’s Slow Man entitled at all to be included in the category of diaspora? Does the current wave of emigration of the descendants of colonial settlers from South Africa, featured in Joubert’s Isobelle’s Journey, Gordimer’s The Pickup and Breytenbach’s A Veil of Footsteps, amount to a secondary diasporic dispersal or out-migration? More specifically, ´ are they, together with the white emigrant protagonists in Vladislavic’s Double Negative and Heyns’s Lost Ground, to be seen as constituting an extension of the colonial diaspora or are they to be included in the notion of a present-day (South) African diaspora? For that matter, are the Indian emigrants from South Africa in Hassim’s The Lotus People to be regarded as representing a secondary stage of the Indian diaspora or as also forming part of the present-day (South) African diaspora? Do the contemporary African economic émigrés and political refugees trying to gain a foothold in Europe (in A Veil of Footsteps) or in South Africa (in The Pickup and Skyline) constitute an ongoing African diaspora? And even allowing for a more relaxed use of the term, how legitimate is it to include all African migrants, often from very diverse national backgrounds and historical experiences, in the homogenising/panAfricanist concept of an African diaspora? Or should one, in the case of the latter two novels by Gordimer and Schonstein Pinnock, rather think in terms of an intra-African diaspora? How feasible are the attempts of Gordimer in No Time Like the Present and Mda in Cion to interpret past and present South African history in relation to an African diaspora? And finally, can the two such very different fictional subjects of Winnie Mandela and J.M. Coetzee conceivably be brought together under the common rubric of diaspora?

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Diaspora In their introduction to Theorizing Diaspora, Jana Evans Braziel and Anita Mannur acknowledge that ‘diaspora’ and ‘diasporic’ are contested terms and they caution against ‘the uncritical, unreflexive application of the term “diaspora” to any and all contexts of global displacement and movement’ (2003: 3). What needs to be interrogated, they maintain, is how diaspora is ‘historicized and politicized’, especially in relation to contemporary ‘ideas of nationalism, transnationalism and transmigration’. Braziel and Mannur point out that diaspora, once conceptualized as an exilic or nostalgic dislocation from homeland . . . has attained new epistemological, political, and identitarian resonances as its points of reference proliferate. The term ‘diaspora’ has been increasingly used by anthropologists, literary theorists, and cultural critics to describe mass migrations and displacements of the second half of the twentieth century, particularly in reference to independence movements in formerly colonized areas, waves of refugees fleeing war-torn states, and fluxes of migration in the post-World War II era (4).

Other contemporary theorists of diaspora studies, such as Ato Quayson and Khachig Tölölyan, also remind us that ‘not all dispersals amount to diasporas’ (Quayson 2007: 581; see also Tölölyan 1996, 2007) and that in the world today social scientists have had to devise various ways of talking about the consequences of globalisation, transnationalism and cultural hybridity.1 Diaspora studies nevertheless provides a useful lens for doing so – in Quayson’s formulation: ‘The binary settler and migrant emphases of earlier models of migration studies are now making way for understandings of transnational networks, with diaspora studies providing the scholarly focus through which the social sciences and the humanities elaborate these phenomena’ (2007: 588).2 Diaspora studies, Quayson emphasises, ‘is first and foremost an interdisciplinary academic discipline’ (589), involving, among other disciplines, ‘history, sociology, political science, ethnic studies, international relations, public health, human rights, and literary and cultural studies’. In their introduction to Diasporas, Cultures of Mobilities, ‘Race’, Judith Misrahi-Barak and Claudine Raynaud also highlight the interdisciplinary nature of diaspora


studies: ‘Over the past twenty years, the concept of “diaspora” has played a central role in migration studies, international studies, government studies, postcolonial studies, African American studies and comparative literatures’ (2014: 11). They suggest, however, that older notions of diaspora need to be rethought, since definitional terms such as ‘dispersal, dispersion, borders, host and home, origin and return, insider and outsider correspond to new realities and lived experiences that demand close intellectual scrutiny’ (12), while the conditions that originally produced diasporas also still continue: ‘Wars are waged that displace peoples, deportation, imperialism, and racism are not things of the past.’3 Although ideas of what constitutes a diaspora might vary greatly and the term is often used in a casual way, the typology developed by Robin Cohen in his book Global Diasporas: An Introduction (1997), from William Safran’s (1991) identification of the key characteristics of diasporas, beginning with the Jewish diaspora, has nevertheless remained an important point of reference for subsequent theorists. According to Cohen, diasporas normally exhibit several of the following common features (as formulated in the second edition of his book): 1. Dispersal from an original homeland, often traumatically, to two or more foreign regions [the ‘prototypical’ Jewish diaspora and the African, Armenian, Irish and Palestinian diasporas]; 2. alternatively or additionally, the expansion from a homeland in search of work [‘labour’ diasporas, such as the Indian], in pursuit of trade [‘trade’ diasporas, such as the Chinese and Lebanese] or to further colonial ambitions [‘imperial’ or ‘colonial’ diasporas, such as the British and other colonial]; 3. a collective memory and myth about the homeland, including its location, history, suffering and achievements; 4. an idealization of the real or imagined ancestral home and a collective commitment to its maintenance, restoration, safety and prosperity, even to its creation; 5. the frequent development of a return movement to the homeland that gains collective approbation even if many in the group are satisfied with only a vicarious relationship or intermittent visits to the homeland;

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6. a strong ethnic group consciousness sustained over a long time and based on a sense of distinctiveness, a common history, the transmission of a common cultural and religious heritage and the belief in a common fate; 7. a troubled relationship with host societies, suggesting a lack of acceptance or the possibility that another calamity might befall the group; 8. a sense of empathy and co-responsibility with co-ethnic members in other countries of settlement even where home has become more vestigial; and 9. the possibility of a distinctive creative, enriching life in host countries with a tolerance for pluralism (2008: 17).

In her introduction to Diaspora and Multiculturalism Monika Fludernik points out that the first two of Cohen’s nine criteria for a diaspora to come into existence are mutually exclusive, the second one applying to a wide range of ethnic immigrant and postcolonial communities across the globe. Fludernik prefers to open Cohen’s second criterion up into three further categories: the ‘colonial diaspora’, which is her category for ‘ethnic groups that have dispersed into foreign regions as part of a colonial venture’ (2003: xii) and, adopting Vijay Mishra’s terms, the ‘old and new diasporas’ (1996: 421–2). For Fludernik, the really ‘new’ diaspora consists of ‘(admittedly free) labour movements across the globe’, a type of diaspora ‘motivated by professional considerations – the movement of individual professionals and their families to mostly anglophone industrial nations’ and now including also ‘cultural and political elites’ (2003: xii–xiii). In Diaspora, Braziel builds on her previous work with Mannur and outlines, as she phrases it, ‘the historical roots and contemporary routes of international migration’ (2008: 11) in order to understand the various ways in which human migratory populations have been and are still being dispersed from their homelands. Braziel begins, like other theorists, with the standard models of the Jewish and African diasporas and she also acknowledges the diaspora typologies of Safran and Cohen. She offers an important clarification with regard to the imprecise use in contemporary discourse of ‘diaspora’ as a synonym for terms such as ‘transnationalism’ and ‘global capitalism’:


While transnationalism as a term aptly describes the movement of capital, finance, trade, cultural forms of production, and even material forms of production across national boundaries that serve to erode the nation-state as the foundation or ground for capitalist economies, diaspora remains a primarily human form of movement across geographical, historical, linguistic, cultural, and national boundaries: as such, it remains a lived, negotiated, and experienced form of transnational migration; it is in this sense that diasporic subjects may be understood to be transnational migrants, or transmigrants (27).

Braziel further contributes a taxonomy of distinct groups of people whose movement from ‘a native country across national or state boundaries into a new receiving (or “host”) country’ (27) qualifies them for inclusion in present-day diasporas; she begins with colonial settlers ‘living outside of their motherlands and dispersed from the continental confines of Europe’ (28) and then further distinguishes among transnational corporate expatriates who move freely across national borders to do business; students, mainly from developing countries, on study visas in developed countries; postcolonial émigrés who have relocated themselves to the colonial motherland; refugees from political persecution, civil war or state violence in their own country ‘who have been granted political asylum within a host country’ (29); political asylees (or asylum seekers) who are in the limbo between seeking refuge in a host country and not yet having been granted formal asylum; detainees ‘who are held in detention camps at immigration prisons’ (32); internally displaced persons who have been uprooted from their homes as a result of ‘violence, civil warfare, famine, disease, “ethnic cleansing”, political persecution, or religious oppression’ (33) and who seek shelter elsewhere within their native countries; economic migrants who move from their home countries to work in host countries because of a whole range of economic constraints and opportunities and undocumented workers (‘illegal aliens’) who have gained entry into a host country to make a living there, but have not obtained the legal permits needed for them to enjoy the status of economic migrants. From whatever particular migrant background they come, diasporic subjects are all characterised, as Iain Chambers expresses it, by living between worlds and their identities are formed across frontiers that pervade every aspect of their being:

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To be forced to cross the Atlantic as a slave in chains, to cross the Mediterranean or the Rio Grande illegally, heading hopefully North, or even to sweat in slow queues before officialdom, clutching passports and work permits, is to acquire the habit of living between worlds, caught on a frontier that runs through your tongue, religion, music, dress, appearance and life. To come from elsewhere, from ‘there’ and not ‘here’, and hence to be simultaneously ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ the situation at hand, is to live at the intersections of histories and memories, experiencing both their preliminary dispersal and their subsequent translation into new, more extensive, arrangements along emerging routes. It is simultaneously to encounter the languages of powerlessness and the potential intimations of heterotopic futures. This drama, rarely freely chosen, is also the drama of the stranger. Cut off from the homelands of tradition, experiencing a constantly challenged identity, the stranger is perpetually required to make herself at home in an interminable discussion between a scattered historical inheritance and a heterogeneous present (1994: 6).

The various situations in the twenty South African literary texts by a dozen contemporary novelists discussed in this book exhibit many of the typological features and fit into many of the diasporic taxonomies outlined above and may therefore reasonably be approached within the general framework of diaspora. Importantly, what all their South African fictional subjects share is what Aisha Khan calls a ‘diasporic consciousness’ (2007: 142), a sensibility ‘that both marks the very act of uprooting as shaping their sense of self and that memorializes displacement in everyday discourse and practice’ (161). The particular interest of a diasporic consciousness for the literary scholar lies in the ways in which the different stories of dislocation and relocation are narrativised in the individual and group memory and how a diasporic personhood and cultural identity are shaped between worlds and across frontiers. In the chapters that follow the fictional subjects are discussed as embodying different aspects of the diasporic experience in their respective historical and cultural contexts. Equally importantly, it will be shown how their South African identities are also formed in what Avtah Brah (1996) has called ‘diaspora space’, which, I argue, encompasses sites


such as those metaphorised by Bhabha in terms of the ‘Third Space’, De Kock’s ‘seam’, Nuttall’s ‘entanglement’, Sanders’s ‘complicity’ and Clingman’s ‘transitivity’. As a conceptual category, Brah says, diaspora space is ‘inhabited’, not only by those who have migrated and their descendants, but equally by those who are constructed and represented as indigenous. In other words, the concept of diaspora space (as opposed to that of diaspora) includes the entanglement, the intertwining of the genealogies of dispersion, with those of ‘staying put’ (209).

Diaspora space is where diaspora, border, location and dislocation intersect, ‘where multiple subject positions are juxtaposed, contested, proclaimed or disavowed’ (208) – and where, it is argued in this book, South African cultural production takes place. While not attempting what Sudesh Mishra calls ‘diaspoetics’ – ‘the meta-critical art, the techne, of witnessing the witnesses of the event called diaspora criticism’ (2006: 14) – each chapter in this book nevertheless considers a pertinent area of diaspora theory as it is currently debated. It is argued, moreover, that the common theme of diaspora has also produced the most innovative developments in contemporary South African fiction. Salman Rushdie recorded in his notebook how, as he was preparing to write The Satanic Verses, he asked himself the question, ‘How does newness enter the world?’ And his answer to himself was: The act of migration . . . puts into crisis everything about the migrating individual or group, everything about identity and selfhood and culture and belief. So if this is a novel about migration it must be that act of putting in question. It must perform the crisis it describes (2012: 13).

Each of the novels discussed in the following chapters may be regarded as performative, in that each also enacts, at a deep narrative level, the crisis of diasporic migration. This book shows how the South African habit of living between worlds, at the intersections of history and memory and of different cultures and languages, has produced texts that similarly occupy hybrid spaces at the intersections of biography and fiction, and photography and painting and novelistic narrative, which

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perform migration and nomadism in their telling and are extraordinarily self-reflexive in the different ways they represent their diasporic subjects. Notes 1. See, for instance, Avtar Brah’s discussion, ‘Diaspora, Border and Transnational Identities’, in Cartographies of Diaspora: Contesting Identities (1996: 178–210). 2. For a useful résumé of critical and theoretical debates with regard to diaspora, see Robin Cohen’s chapter, ‘Four Phases of Diaspora Studies’ in his Global Diasporas (2008: 1–19). 3. In Diasporas the editors Kim Knott and Seán McLoughlin have brought together a particularly useful collection of ‘succinct guides to the latest research on, and key contours of, a particular concept, perspective or exemplary case’ (2010: 8) pertaining to diaspora and diaspora studies.



The Colonial Diaspora Karel Schoeman, Another Country

Another Country in context No South African novelist has written more extensively about the colonial settlement of South Africa from the seventeenth century onwards than Karel Schoeman in his fictional, biographical and historical works.1 The colonial diaspora in South Africa might be said to be his great subject as a novelist and as a cultural historian. Although Schoeman’s novel Another Country cannot strictly be regarded as a contemporary work, it appeared during a crucial transitional phase in recent South African history and his depiction of nineteenth-century colonialism in South Africa from the vantage point of its fitful end in the late twentieth century merits the inclusion of Another Country in this study of diasporic identities. The novel was first published in Afrikaans as ’n Ander Land in 1984, at a time when the National Party government in South Africa was countering the armed struggle of the exiled African National Congress (ANC) with all its legislative and military might. This was a period of increasing oppression, of large-scale arrests and bannings, political assassinations and destabilisation of neighbouring states. Unable to deal with the mobilisation of a mass democratic movement internally, the government declared a State of Emergency in 1985 and again in 1986. To the historic killings of Sharpeville (1960) and Soweto (1976) were added further massacres in Uitenhage and Crossroads in 1985, and Boipatong and Bisho in 1992.2 By the time Schoeman’s novel was translated into English as Another Country by David Schalkwyk in 1991, the ANC, the Pan-Africanist Congress and the Communist Party had been unbanned, 28

Karel Schoeman, Another Country  29

Nelson Mandela had been released from prison and the political process that led to the eventual transfer of power in South Africa was under way. Another country was being created. Schoeman had already (in 1972) written an apocalyptic South African ‘fiction of the future’, as Margaret Lenta (1988: 133) has called it, the ironically titled Na die Geliefde Land (translated into English in 1978 as Promised Land) and in 1990 he set his novel Afskeid en Vertrek (Take Leave and Go, translated into English in 1992) in the tense Cape Town of the late 1980s. In 1984, however, Schoeman seemed – uniquely among major South African writers – to be disengaged from immediate historical events. At the time of writing ’n Ander Land, in response to the question of how he perceived his role as a writer, Schoeman said: The nature of the society of which I am part and my relation to it is not for me as a writer of primary importance, for in the act of writing, it is the act of writing which comes first. Everything else becomes secondary when you sit bent over the sheet of paper. In the creative process, no matter how unassuming or modest, you obey essentially, I think, an inner voice, an inner rhythm – you might even say that you were led by an inner prompting or vision. You do not sit muttering to yourself all the time that you are a white South African of the early eighties, just in case you might forget (Schoeman 1984b: 99).

This did not imply, he said, that he was not influenced by the times, but he disavowed writing as a form of political protest. Activism, he argued, was for others: ‘The only weapon you [the writer] have, and the only one you would probably ever be able to handle to any effect is words.’ Schoeman cautioned against the temptation to be ‘ “involved”, topical or “meaningful” ’ and chose to emphasise his interpellation as discursive and linguistic subject, rather than as political subject in the narrow sense. His advice was: Watch, listen, take note; absorb, digest; sleep with your observations and wake to reflect on them. And then forget about them when you are in front of your writing paper, in order to write as your judgement and inspiration lead you, because these things too will inevitably resonate somewhere in the words you write and they will be enmeshed in the


texture of your writing even though they may not be obviously and immediately apparent (100).3

In 1984 Schoeman’s fictional discourse had been more directly determined by his work as historian, archivist and librarian in Bloemfontein where he worked until 1982. In 1980 he produced a history of the city, Bloemfontein: Die Ontstaan van ’n Stad: 1846–1946 (Bloemfontein: The Origin of a City: 1846–1946), which was followed in 1982 by a study of nineteenth-century Free State architecture, Vrystaatse Erfenis: Bouwerk en Geboue in die 19de Eeu (Free State Heritage: Construction and Buildings in the 19th Century). As a novelist, Schoeman was also interested in the South African tradition of landscape writing. In 1985, in a review of Perceval Gibbon’s republished colonial novel, Margaret Harding (first published in 1911), he expressed his admiration for one aspect of Gibbon’s work in particular: the sensitivity with which the English writer – like Olive Schreiner before him – depicts the Karoo. The vast and arid landscape, Schoeman said, ‘is an everpresent element in the background of Gibbon’s novel that relativises and absorbs into its great silence all human pettiness and injustice’ (1985: 45; my translation) or, as it is expressed in Margaret Harding: ‘This great staring vacancy . . . was outside of language; it struck a note not included in the gamut of speech’ (Gibbon 1983: 45). Some might argue that Schoeman’s own concern in Another Country with the inadequacy of language in a silent land was perverse amid all the clamour of South Africa in 1984. They might regard his narrative of Versluis, a bourgeois Dutchman from Delft who is suffering from tuberculosis and goes to Bloemfontein in the Orange Free State in the late 1870s in search of health, as a denial of the particular historical moment of both the writing of the novel and its reception. They might interpret the sickly and fastidious Versluis’s encounters with the empty expanses of the southern African landscape and his feelings of alienation and loss as merely endorsing the colonial ideology of Africa as an/Other country (see De Jong 2002).4 Another Country is not, however, just a further chapter in what J.M. Coetzee has called the South African ‘literature of empty landscape’ (1988a: 9), which is also a literature ‘of the failure of the historical imagination’. This literature is predicated, Coetzee says, on a conception

Karel Schoeman, Another Country  31

of Africa as an ancient and ‘vast, empty, silent space’ (7) and under such a conception ‘the task of the human imagination is to conceive not a social order capable of domesticating the landscape, but any kind of relation at all that consciousness can have with it’. Such a landscape ‘remains alien, impenetrable, until a language is found in which to win it, speak it, represent it’. Coetzee sees the question of finding an appropriate language for Africa as being central to landscape art and landscape writing in South Africa from the early nineteenth century to the middle of the twentieth. The European colonial attempts to seek ‘a dialogue with Africa, a reciprocity with Africa, that will allow him an identity better than that of visitor, stranger, transient’ (8), but the landscape ‘remains trackless, refuses to emerge into meaningfulness as a landscape of signs’ (9). South Africa with its harsh light, aridness and vast horizons confounds any European aesthetic schema of the picturesque; consequently, instead of depictions of this landscape, there is a ‘concern with the hermeneutics of landscape’ (1988b: 62). According to Coetzee, white South African writers keep returning to the questions of ‘whether the African landscape can be articulated in a European language’ and ‘whether the European can be at home in Africa’ (1988c: 167). It is this discourse, in one sense, for which Schoeman’s Versluis is the spokesman when he asks: ‘This land of stone and rock and sand . . . how did one understand this land, and what did it mean to know it’ (Schoeman 1991: 218–9). That Another Country is much more than a rhetorical exercise, rehearsing these now irrelevant questions, was recognised by Coetzee himself in his review of ’n Ander Land, in which he expressed his admiration for Schoeman’s ‘superlative art’ (2002a: 141) in this novel about a double discovery: discovery of the nature of the hold which the landscape of the South African interior (to call it merely landscape, for the moment) exerts over people who have ceased being Europeans and become Africans (‘Afrikane’); and discovery of a truer, more spiritual (in the widest sense of that term) self beneath the civilized exterior. The discovery of the self and the discovery of Africa are linked, in the case of Versluis, and occur under the pressure of imminent death. ’n Ander Land is about living and dying in South Africa (140).


In its depiction of European settlers in the Free State, as focalised through the ailing Versluis, Schoeman’s novel presents the displaced colonial subject in a strange country, ‘transitively’ – to return to Stephen Clingman’s (2009) terminology – navigating across the boundaries of its European experience and consciousness, confronting what is different and engaging with that difference in a changing and more complex sense of self. The colonial diaspora The narrative begins and ends ‘in the space of crossing, in transition, in movement, in journey’ (Clingman 2009: 25). The opening sentence, with its statement of the journey motif in terms both particular and symbolic, introduces a narrative about translation into ‘another country’ and the translation of that country: ‘When the journey ended, he did not even know it: he was not conscious of the fact that they had arrived, and that the seemingly endless clattering and lurching, creaking, swaying and shaking of the coach had abated’ (Schoeman 1991: 1). The semiconscious Versluis’s ten-day transportation by passenger coach from Port Elizabeth to Bloemfontein is the final stage in a process of displacement that began at his home in Delft when his luggage was loaded on to a waiting coach for the long voyage to the Cape. Later, in Africa, the memory of his black trunks ‘encapsulated for him everything about the transfer, perfectly expressed his alienation, emphasised the inexorability of his parting, and sealed his departure with complete finality’ (65). Irreversible leave-taking is elegiacally intoned by the measured formality of the sentence. The language, however, draws attention to itself in a way that disturbs simple identification with the narrative consciousness, especially a periodic sentence such as the one expressing Versluis’s awareness that ‘he was being carried further and further, more and more deeply, into an alien country’ (3). The motif of the diasporic journey is sustained throughout the narrative, but with gradually decreasing momentum, in the form of an excursion into the countryside, a walk up the hill behind the town and a visit to an outlying farm. As Coetzee explains the structure of the novel: ‘ ’n Ander Land is a symphonically constructed work in which the weight of all the slow, stately preparation is architecturally necessary to give the ending its correct proportions’ (2002a: 140).

Karel Schoeman, Another Country  33

At both a literal level and a symbolic level Versluis’s journey is imaged as one towards death. Bloemfontein in the late 1870s had become a refuge for Europeans with lung diseases – in the words of the German doctor who tends to Versluis when he arrives: ‘We are used to taking the dead and the dying off the coach’ (Schoeman 1991: 3). Or, as the German hotelkeeper, Mrs Schröder, complains: ‘Sick people . . . come here to die, and once they are dead there is not even enough money to bury them’ (57). In this last respect at least, the moneyed Versluis will not be like the unknown young Scotswoman or his young Dutch compatriot, Gelmers, whose deaths shortly after their arrival in Bloemfontein illustrate one of the main themes of the novel: that it ‘is not easy to die in a strange country’ (140). For all Schoeman’s apparently having turned his back on contemporary history in Another Country, the novel contains a complex dialectic about cultural dislocation and relocation at a particular moment in South African history.5 The narrative wears its history lightly, though. An allusion to local newspaper reports about Sir Henry Barkly, President Burgers of the Transvaal and the African chiefs Sekhukhune and Cetshwayo indicates – but does not pursue – larger imperial and republican narratives of conquest and dispossession. Conversational references are made to the earlier history of the Free State as a British sovereignty before 1854, to its presidents Boshoff and Brand, to the ‘Diamond Fields question’, to the conflict with the Basotho people and to British political ambitions with regard to the neighbouring Transvaal. The British annexation of the Transvaal in 1877 provides an occasion in the narrative for English officers to pass through and be entertained in Bloemfontein. The more local historical perspective is established, however, by the German Jewish merchant, Hirsch, who recognises not only that the rural Boer republic had by the end of the 1870s already become a different country from the wilderness he had encountered when he first arrived there 30 years earlier, but also that the immediate future promises an even less familiar country. This is Hirsch speaking: ‘There are towns, churches, schools throughout the Free State and deep into the Transvaal; the telegraph has just reached us, and no doubt the railway will be on its way within the next few years. The discovery of diamonds off-loaded the whole world on to our doorstep; and the


Diamond Fields question has dragged us willy-nilly into international politics. It’s no longer just developments in our immediate vicinity that involve us, but everything that happens in this part of the world. No single part of this region can remain unaffected by the developments in another’ (107–8).

And he adds, proleptically when read in the context of the greater South African historical narrative: ‘For the first time we are becoming aware of the fact that we belong to Africa and that we must accept responsibility for what is happening in Africa’ (108). In his history of Bloemfontein Schoeman describes how, in the 1870s, Bloemfontein grew from what one of its residents a decade earlier had called ‘just a little dorpie, like one sees so many in the Free State’ (quoted in Schoeman 1980: 47b; my translation) to a town of more than a thousand white inhabitants, some thirty shops, three hotels, six churches and, by the late 1870s, five proper schools (69a, 63a). The first census in the Free State showed that by 1880, ‘Bloemfontein had 2 567 inhabitants, 1 688 of them white, and 879 non-white . . . Of the whites 680 had been born in the Free State, 589 in the Cape Colony, and 419 abroad’ (89a). A quarter of the white population were therefore foreign-born settlers and most of the others first- and second-generation colonists. In Another Country, Schoeman draws very closely on this history, referring to a number of actual historical personages, such as the German merchants Isaac Baumann, Carl Eberhardt Fichardt and his brother Gustav, Dominee F.G.T. Radloff of the Dutch Reformed Church, the lawyer Voigt, and Advocate H.A.L. Hamelberg, as well as more dubious figures such as the Dutch magistrates C. van D. van Soelen and J.A. Smellekamp, and the government secretary, J.J. Groenendaal. Whereas these names are largely part of the historical furnishings, other Bloemfontein inhabitants such as the German doctors, C.J.G. Krause and his brother-in-law B.O. Kellner, and Dr Johannes Brill, rector of Grey College, feature more prominently as fictional characters in Schoeman’s narrative to provide different perspectives on the colonial immigrant experience. Schoeman inevitably turns to the colonial trope of the garden in the wilderness as a metonymy of the colonial undertaking, his horticulture in the text being as unforced as his history. When Versluis surfaces to

Karel Schoeman, Another Country  35

consciousness again in a Bloemfontein hotel room after the stress of the journey, the flowers brought by Hirsch are ‘merely an indication of gardens, orchards, plantations and parks which he had not yet seen, a reminder of the existence of a new and strange life out there’ (Schoeman 1991: 15). Versluis’s later experience of some of these gardens forms part of his growing sense of the precariousness in the Free State of what he conceives of as civilisation. The garden of the English convent school, where he is persuaded to participate in a poetry reading, is incongruously filled, he notices, ‘with a profusion of English flowers’ (79); beyond it the open veld stretches out, flat and silent. The two gardens that may be seen to function symbolically in the text are those belonging to the hospitable Hirsches and Mrs van der Vliet, in whose house Versluis finds lodging. The Hirsch garden is an established one, largely taken up by vegetables and an orchard and, according to Mrs Hirsch, ‘conjured . . . out of absolutely nothing’ (32). The tidy beds represent what she calls, at best, ‘a provisional victory’ (33) over drought and hail. Mrs van der Vliet’s swept, formal front garden provides a public introduction to the Dutch respectability of her home; the equally immaculate back garden – the domain of her strangely unacknowledged second husband – ends in a stream which, Mrs van der Vliet says, unnecessarily, ‘smells’ (56). Only towards the end of the narrative does Schoeman’s text explicitly incorporate these gardens into a more comprehensive view of the colonial endeavour. Having seen beds full of English flowers blooming unexpectedly in the garden of the uninhabited Fichardt farmhouse at Brandkop, Versluis, taking a shortcut through a gum plantation, considers: How much labour it must have taken . . . to have laboriously established that garden through the course of the years: to have broken open the ground and rendered it receptive, to have cherished the seedlings and carried the water. What faith it must have taken to have planted these trees in the empty veld, to have worked for a goal that lay so many years ahead that it seemed to be scarcely attainable, and already to have seen its shade and refreshment in one’s imagination (213).

This is not simply ideology made palatable. Immediately afterwards, Versluis becomes disoriented by the regular rows of young, silvery gum


trees and confused by the dazzlingly symmetrical shadows at his feet. Blinded by the setting sun, he stops in the middle of the plantation: For a moment he did not even know where he was, caught in that maze of light and shade, struggling in that network of patterns from which he was unable to free himself; and from far away out of the immense silence that enveloped him he heard a high-pitched, mocking sound, the call of a strange bird or the laughter of children darting away among the trees.

The moment of panic that the cultivated Versluis experiences needs to be seen as part of an overall narrative dynamic of light and dark, the familiar and the unfamiliar, utterance and silence – and colonial self and other. The most insistently stated aspect of the narrative design in Another Country is Versluis’s focalising perception of the landscape around Bloemfontein and of the ‘silence and space and solitude’ (24) surrounding the little community. The reader is subjected to an almost exaggerated colonial view of the landscape as ‘an empty expanse waiting for something to happen, a surface that had never been described, unmarked by any house, tree or sign of life’ (26) – a place of potential, rather than existing meaning. Equally repetitively stated through free indirect discourse is Versluis’s consciousness of his ‘alienation in another country, an alien part of the world’ (42).6 The narrative highlights this colonial ideology, but does not subscribe to it; within its binary grid a more nuanced and complex debate is conducted about cultural transplantation in the colonial diaspora. From the outset, the narrative foregrounds the heterogeneity of the colonial world of Bloemfontein. The white population comprises Germans, Dutch, English, Free State Afrikaners and those from the Cape Colony. Taken together, the Germans, Dutch and English settlers might be seen to represent a European/British colonial diaspora; however, separately they cling to their different nations of origin. Dr Kellner’s speech at the ball in honour of the German Kaiser’s birthday – delivered in German, English and Dutch in deference to the mixed company – is worth quoting at some length for the textbook definition it provides of the colonial diasporic consciousness:

Karel Schoeman, Another Country  37

‘Some of us, members of the older generation in particular, come from elsewhere while others were born here . . . But notwithstanding the nature of our links with South Africa where we were either born or have settled, each one of us has retained some bond with the fatherland: bonds of birth and remembrance, or else bonds of piety which have been passed down to us by the previous generation, and so it is significant that we should come together on occasions like tonight to do homage to our country of origin or to show allegiance to the fatherland’ (160).

As Kellner switches to German, he loses himself ‘in the sombre euphony of his mother tongue’ (161). He identifies himself with his German homeland and, in the rest of his address, one can recognise many of Robin Cohen’s (2008) typological features of diasporas – a shared sense of exile, a collective memory of an ancestral home, a sustaining ethnic group consciousness and solidarity with Germans in other countries: ‘Each one of you who is of German descent will know what I mean and will, from your own memories or such precious remembrances as have been passed down by parents or grandparents, be able to call up your own series of images which will remind us, as we have gathered tonight on this special occasion, of the way in which our own destinies are inextricably bound up with that of the mighty German nation. Isolated we may be, thinly spread across a part of the world that stands at the very threshold of its development and growth; but even in our isolation there is the consolation that we are not completely cut off from that greater civilization, that fuller and richer life elsewhere – that we have maintained our bonds with it, and, in a sense, that we are part of as we gather here to pledge our allegiance to our beloved Kaiser Wilhelm’ (Schoeman 1991: 161).

Countering Kellner’s insistence on the Bloemfontein German community’s cultural rootedness in their homeland, however, is the analysis of colonial cultural identity provided by Dr Brill on the occasion of a wedding in the Dutch community. Speaking to Versluis about those Dutch who, like himself, are in Africa more or less permanently, ‘for whom it is not a visit, but a question of displacement, of transplantation’


(130), he identifies a state of tension, rather than cultural cohesiveness, in settlers who are ‘living with a foot in both worlds’ and whose loyalties are divided. He says that this tension is experienced in varying degrees by all colonists: ‘For some this country offers an agreeable home, but for others life here is a continuous state of exile – the degree of adaptation differs from one to the other, and so also the amount of satisfaction or not, and the extent of the tension that each one suffers’ (131). He adds that for the majority of his College pupils it becomes even more challenging and difficult to forge a cultural identity for themselves across a divide, since they are ‘almost without exception the children of foreigners, of immigrants . . . the first-generation citizens of this country which until recently was nothing but an uninhabited wilderness’ (132). The Europe of their parents is as foreign a place to them as the one that they are living in: ‘On the one hand they have no real ties with Europe, it’s a distant part of the world about which they have only heard; but on the other hand they have not yet become a part of this country.’ Nor is each colonial group homogeneous in itself. Schoeman’s narrative presents occasions where the Bloemfontein Netherlanders bond sentimentally, as in their boisterous singing of ‘Lank zulle ze leven . . .’, ‘Piet Hein’ and the ‘Wilhelmus’ at the wedding of Mr Helmond and Miss Pronk, or when they gather in Mrs van der Vliet’s home for ‘a genuinely Dutch evening’ (71), complete with coffee and sandgebak (shortbread), gin and cigars, to lament the declining Dutch influence in Bloemfontein and to reminisce about Scheveningen or Haarlemmerhout and ‘the shops, coffee houses and reading rooms of the Netherlands; its mailcoaches, barges and rail service’. These evenings invariably conclude with ‘a final, longing glance . . . cast across time and space: to Rotterdam and Amsterdam, to Beveland and Terschelling, pale beneath their winter skies and hardly visible in the mist’ (73). Femke Stock points out that in the lived experience of diaspora, ‘memories of home are no factual reproductions of a fixed past. Rather they are fluid reconstructions set against the backdrop of the remembering subject’s current positionings and conceptualizations of home’ (2010: 24). Mrs van der Vliet, upholder of the standards of a Dutch household, despite the unavailability of endives, chicory and purslane (Versluis describes her ‘Good Dutch food’ as ‘a stodgy, nourishing winter meal, petit bourgeois Dutch cuisine which

Karel Schoeman, Another Country  39

had been parodied with African ingredients and served in the blazing heat of summer’ (Schoeman 1991: 60)), is Cape-born, however, unlike her second husband, who was born in the Netherlands and comes from a better class than his wife or her Dutch visitors. The social fault lines are further traced in the narrative by Versluis’s impression of the lawyer Helmond as being not ‘an entirely well bred person’ (39–40) and his conclusion that with the exception of the socially superior Dr Brill, the community is made up of ‘an astonishing ragbag of people’ (155) and consists largely of ‘clerks, accountants and shop assistants’ (126) – all of whom finally turn their backs on Gelmers, the sick and uncouth young peasant from Meppel, who has been sent out to Bloemfontein by his family to die there. The narrative similarly indicates differences of class, religion and regional provenance among the members of the German community. At the upper end of the social scale are the pioneers of the community, Prussians as well as Hessians, Lutherans and Jews: the doctors Kellner and Krause (the latter described by Dr Brill as having remained ‘echt Deutsch’, 130) and the merchants Hirsch, Baumann and Fichardt. Lower down are Frau Schröder, in whose hotel ‘authentic German dishes were served under [her] watchful eye by German waiters’ (25) and her barman Gustav. But, when they all waltz together to ‘An der schönen, blauen Donau’ at the Kaiser’s birthday ball, Mrs Hirsch likes to think of it as all the Germans ‘being together . . . Almost as if one were at home again’ (158). In actual fact, it is Bloemfontein that after 30 years has become home for the Hirsches and, despite their return visits to Hamburg, Kassel and Hanover, these places have slipped back into a nostalgically recalled past. To keep Klopstock, Herder and Schubert alive in Bloemfontein, the Germans have established a club, reading circle and choral society, which is how, Mrs Hirsch explains to Versluis, they have in their modest way created a ‘little Weimar in Bloemfontein’ (101). It is in Versluis’s conversations with the awkwardly intense young Lutheran pastor, August Scheffler, his outspoken sister, Adèle, and their elderly missionary father, however, that displacement and cultural translation are most self-reflexively raised in the narrative and the tensions of colonial identity are brought into sharp relief. Coetzee emphasises the central importance of these conversations:


The questions which occupy them are questions that have occupied South African writing – and particularly South African poetry – since the time of Schreiner. What place has European culture in Africa? Is there a lack of congruence between the European mind and African reality? Is there perhaps even a lack of congruence between language and African reality? What is the meaning of Africa, and how can it be known? How is it possible to overcome the alienation which the European feels in Africa – that is to say, how is it possible to live in Africa? (2002a: 141).

The Schefflers can be seen to represent different stages in the colonial engagement with Africa. Old Mr Scheffler speaks for the generation who saw their civilising mission as a calling to bring light to an ‘immense darkness’ (Schoeman 1991: 188). He finally believes, towards the end of his life, that the Goethe, Schiller, Shakespeare and Mozart that he also brought along to Africa in his trunk are as important as all the people he taught to read and write, or the houses he built and the gardens he planted in the wilderness. He is fatalistic about whether the country will finally retain his cultural goods: ‘It must decide for itself what it can use, what it needs – it takes or rejects’ (189). Even after 35 years in Africa, he and his wife will never be able to loosen their bonds with Germany, although he believes that it is possible for his children to devote themselves entirely to this ‘other’ country and belong to it. For the Free State-born Adèle Scheffler and her brother, their cultural dividedness is a matter of existential crisis. Adèle, who has never left the Free State, acknowledges to Versluis that she lives in two worlds, part of ‘a half-hearted sort of country’ (200) that is still undecided about what it wants to be or where it wants to go, but clinging to what it has and ‘too afraid to abandon it, even when it has been redundant for ages’. Her real desire, she says passionately, is ‘from this place, from my own environment and from my own time, to be able to produce something for the whole world and for all time . . . to see this silence given a voice’. For August Scheffler, the disjunction between the world of Mozart and Schubert and the ‘hard, barren land’ (217) by which he is surrounded is intensified because of the six years he spent studying in Germany. The clergyman has made a conscious choice to turn his back on the Europe

Karel Schoeman, Another Country  41

that has made a rubbish dump of Africa where people live off memories, with patterns brought from elsewhere. He has come to realise that Africa has an identity of its own, but also that he lacks the courage to surrender himself entirely to this land of emptiness and silence, to abandon everything . . . brought from elsewhere, and to advance into that emptiness with empty hands . . . to become one with this land in the way that the gods and spirits in other countries are one with them, and also in the process allow it to become one with you, in the dark among the stones and roots and gravel (224–5).

Versluis, however, registers not only the way silence is already woven into old Mr Scheffler’s existence, but also the extent to which his son, too, has already given himself over to this land. Schoeman has created in Versluis a focaliser who both distances and identifies. Bloemfontein is mediated for the reader through his discriminating consciousness, but his fastidiousness is constantly brought into focus.7 Versluis’s feelings of revulsion begin with his humiliation at the smell of his own unwashed body when he is ill and has to be shaved by the barman Gustav. Versluis’s expressions of distaste punctuate the narrative at regular intervals. He is ‘unpleasantly taken aback’ (26) at the ‘unsavoury sight’ of a woman suckling her baby on the ground in the shade of a shop wall, although he realises that no one else seems to find it obscene. He finds the bustle at the hotel where he first stays ‘exasperating’ (41) and, later, the motley group of people who make up the local population ‘disconcerting’ (155). He reacts ‘indignantly’ (50) to this half-civilised country where a dead dog is left to lie rotting in the square. When he is first exposed to the ‘grotesque locomotion’ (81) of the disabled Adèle, he finds it ‘repulsive’, an ‘unnecessary spectacle’. His sexual squeamishness causes him to avert his eyes from the naked young men bathing in the dam on the outskirts of town and also to recoil from the sounds of lovemaking introduced into Mrs van der Vliet’s house by the newly wed Helmonds. The riotousness of the Helmond wedding reception filled him with ‘revulsion and loathing’ (126) and when he accompanies Scheffler out to Brandkop, Versluis finds the foul-smelling and impoverished farm labourers with their noisy children and dogs ‘bothersome’ (211).


It is with reference to language that the text perhaps analyses the formation of a colonial identity in South Africa most closely and that Versluis’s discrimination is most telling. Although Dutch was the official language of the Free State, in the late 1870s Bloemfontein was nevertheless a predominantly English-speaking town, a large number of whose inhabitants also understood and spoke Afrikaans, which had already become widely used (see Schoeman 1980: 89–92). In Another Country, through Versluis’s linguistic fastidiousness, Schoeman identifies a whole range of codes for his reader. At the most inflected end of the colonial linguistic spectrum is the Latin of Virgil’s Aeneid, to whose order and regularity Versluis turns for reassurance and over whose syllables he lingers towards the end, in growing awareness of his death. His love of Virgil has its counterpart in the passion that the Cape officer, Lieutenant Michell, declares for the language of Tacitus with its ‘secure forms and prescribed rules’ (1991: 102) to sustain him in the wilderness. An important intertext is also provided by Dante’s Purgatorio, which Adèle recites for Versluis shortly before he agrees to attend to the dying Gelmers. The formal Dutch that Versluis speaks and his fluent German ensure his status and social acceptability in the Dutch and German communities in Bloemfontein. His formal Dutch also serves as a standard by which deviations can be measured for the reader: Hirsch’s fluent Dutch with its heavy German accent; the foreignsounding Dutch with its strong German accent of the hotelkeeper, Frau Schröder; the effortful ‘formal schoolgirl Dutch’ (35) used by Hirsch’s daughter when speaking to Versluis; the surprisingly ‘formal Dutch’ (211) in which Scheffler and Versluis are welcomed by an old black man at Brandkop; Mr van der Vliet’s ‘meticulous Dutch’ (75) as distinct from Mrs van der Vliet’s slightly irregular Cape Dutch with its ‘hardly discernable weakness in the vowels and a slight impurity of intonation, slight errors in the gender of words, small shifts of meaning, and a general absence of idioms which imparted a weird lack of colour to her speech’ (53–4); the grammatical slips made by the priest marrying the Helmonds; the English expressions, local words and idioms and ‘alien flattened vowels’ (63) that generally characterise the Dutch spoken in Bloemfontein; the conversations conducted ‘in various degrees of broken Dutch and English’ (113) by Miss Pronk’s bridesmaids; the ‘mutilated African Dutch’ (25) spoken by the black servants; the language in which

Karel Schoeman, Another Country  43

Versluis hears children in the streets calling to each other and ‘in which he sometimes recognise[s] Dutch words’ (25) and the Dutch and German phrases interjected by the young people into the English they normally use. Present, too, in the speech world of Another Country are the Hirsches’ silent Malay coachman, Amien, and the Africans whose language Scheffler speaks fluently, but from which Versluis remains excluded and registers only as babble. By emphasising this code-switching and linguistic creolisation – what Versluis refers to as the ‘degenerate’ (73) language of a degenerate people – Schoeman represents the creation of ‘a new way of speaking’ (132) that Dr Brill says is the expression of the new identity that the members of this new nation are forging for themselves. He believes: ‘This local patois has the potential of becoming a full-blown language, and as such it would be central to the development of a sense of their own identity among the whites in this country. It is Dutch that has been adapted to the land and its conditions, it is proof that Europe has been left behind and a new world accepted’ (133).

What Dr Brill describes is in fact a stage in the development towards standard Afrikaans, itself now more than a century old. The language was first formed in the Cape of Good Hope in the second half of the seventeenth century out of the dominant lingua franca, Cape Dutch, which was heavily influenced by Malay, Portuguese and Khoi and creolised by the numerically superior non-native speakers (see Ponelis 1994: 107–9). In Bloemfontein in the 1870s, Reverend Mackenzie of St Andrew’s School wrote disparagingly in The Friend of this ‘African patois’ that it ‘has been enslaved by Hottentot and kitchen influence and now represents anarchy and low civilization’ (quoted in Schoeman 1980: 92a). When Adèle observes that after 30 years in Africa their family still speaks German, August asks his sister: ‘ “What would you want us to speak, Adèle?” ’ (Schoeman 1991: 194), to which she replies: ‘ “Not German or Dutch or English, not a foreign language, but one which belongs to this country, like those of the black people or the farmers” ’. In Schoeman’s narrative the transition from high Dutch to Afrikaans is a marker of the development of a colonial identity in South Africa. (The English translation of the text cannot, however, capture the important distinction


in the Afrikaans dialogue between the second-person respectful form of address, ‘u’, and the familiar ‘jy’.) And this colonial identity is shown to be what Daniel Boyarin and Jonathan Boyarin describe as ‘a disaggregated identity’ (2003: 108), which is the result of ongoing cultural mixing. Or, in Jana Evans Braziel and Anita Mannur’s formulation: diasporic subjects are ‘marked by hybridity and heterogeneity – cultural, linguistic, ethnic, national’ (2003: 5). Not only is the colonial diasporic drama of displacement from home, foreignness, engagement with the unknown other and cultural ambivalence all staged within Versluis’s narrative consciousness, but in the course of the narrative he gradually comes to recognise in himself – and also to enact – the transitivity of the diasporic subject. Initially, he accepts his persona of being ‘a stranger in a strange country’ (Schoeman 1991: 6, 20), although this soon changes into a perception of himself as a ‘new person in a new world’ (98). His moments of disorientation and panic in an alien country, where he feels himself separated from ‘the safe and familiar world at the other end of the globe’ (50), begin to make way for a new consciousness of his balancing on a ‘subtle boundary which divided the two worlds, like a disc balancing precariously on its edge without toppling to one side or the other’ (63). He becomes increasingly unsure about being able to bridge the gulf between Bloemfontein and the ordered and sequestered life he led in Delft: on the one hand, the events reported in months-old newspapers from the Netherlands are ‘too far removed to hold his wavering attention, relativised by time and space’ (145) and, on the other hand, he finds it difficult to write to his elderly aunts and his friends about the crassness of Bloemfontein society and wonders whether they would have any interest in it, or even know how to respond appropriately. He comes to realise that the Netherlands has already become ‘another country’ for him. As he begins to navigate the topographical, cultural and linguistic boundaries of this new world, so the regulated syntax of his former self slowly begins to slacken and eventually disintegrate. As a child he had always been haunted by an awareness that there was ‘in the smooth, undisturbed surface of life a tiny crack . . . a hairline in the enamelled surface of reality’ (152) and this had opened up into a bottomless chasm when his doctor in Delft had first diagnosed his disease. His anxiety is intensified in the Free State when he fears that he might lose control of

Karel Schoeman, Another Country  45

his orderly self and allow chaos to come ‘flooding through the unguarded fissures and tiny cracks, to engulf everything’ (174). As he grows accustomed to colonial Bloemfontein – ‘not to the point of acceptance, but at least to the point of forbearance’ (183) – his perspective changes and he begins to understand deterioration in terms of flux and the relaxation of social rules in terms of freedom. On one occasion, after having been caught in a rainstorm, he has an epiphanic vision as the flooded landscape is suddenly ‘suffused with a single radiance’ (97) by the sun breaking through the clouds and ‘the impassable reality of clay and mud’ is ‘magically transformed into an unacceptable beauty’. On another occasion, he listens to August Scheffler and his father playing a Mozart duet together. The music is poorly performed on inadequate instruments and Versluis has a fleeting impression of the real distance between this world and his own in Holland. But whereas he is at first acutely ‘aware of the boundaries that separated him from these people, the infinite differences in their respective worlds of experience, values and associations’ (203), he suddenly realises that through the intensity and love with which the two amateurs play, they have grasped something of the essence of the music, ‘no matter how insecure and incomplete’. Versluis gives himself over to an experience of Mozart that transcends technical limitations. The ‘perfect totality of the music’ that envelops them has the effect of briefly suspending ‘any consciousness of alienation’ in him. When Dr Kellner confirms to Versluis that he is beyond cure and dying, acceptance turns into resignation. All his earlier feelings of distaste culminate in the penultimate episode in the novel where he is obliged to sit up in the Schefflers’ house with the dying Gelmers, whose presence in Bloemfontein he has found so disagreeable. Disgusted as much by Gelmers’ rudeness as by the sight of his bloodstained handkerchief and the stench of sweat and urine in the room, Versluis is ‘overcome with discomfort and dismay’ (259) by the dying boy’s weeping at the memory of his distant home. The lines that Adèle quotes, not quite accurately, from Canto XXVII of the Purgatorio, ‘Pon giù omai, pon giù ogni temenza. Volgiti in qua, e vieni oltre sicuro . . .’ (269) – ‘Put off all fear, now put away fear: Turn this way; come, and enter safely in!’ (Dante 1983: 316), the words of encouragement spoken to Dante by Virgil when, on the highest peak of the Mountain of Purification, he has to pass through the fire


to reach the holy wood – resonate in Versluis’s head. He realises that imminent death has brought him and Gelmers to ‘a point where they understood one another, and where there was no longer any need for words of explanation’ (Schoeman 1991: 290). Before daybreak, the young man is lying silent in Versluis’s arms, as he embraces also the prospect of his own death and reflects on the course of his life: There were journeys which he would never finish . . . roads whose end he would never reach, regions that he would never discover . . . The familiar shore had been left behind, the destination was not yet in sight; he had stopped half-way in the unmoving silence of a winter morning with the body of this young man in his arms (295).

In the final episode of the novel, Versluis once again journeys into the landscape, but it is through different eyes that he looks at it, no longer with feelings of alienation and fear, but ‘recognizing in its already familiar features different elements and other patterns’ (302) and with a new awareness that ‘isolation, loneliness and dying expanded into a dizzying freedom’ (308). Coetzee says: ‘I cannot think of any Afrikaans prose that matches the sober magnificence of the last pages’ (2002a: 141). The concluding sentences of Schoeman’s original Afrikaans narrative, with their echo of Dante and their slight Dutch resonance, describe from Versluis’s changed point of view how a transitive colonial identity has come into being: Die leegheid neem jou op en stilte omsluit jou, nie meer vreemde groothede om van oor ’n afstand onbegrypend betrag te word nie; die onbekende land word vertroud en die deurganger onthou nie meer dat dit eens nog sy bedoeling was om verder te reis nie. Halwerweë op die pad ontdek jy effens verras dat die reis voltooi is, en die bestemming reeds bereik (Schoeman 1984a: 313). The emptiness absorbed you and silence embraced you, no longer as alien wastes to be regarded uncomprehendingly from a distance; the unknown land grew familiar and the person passing through could no longer even remember that he had once intended to travel further. Halfway along the route you discovered with some surprise that the journey had been completed, the destination already reached (Schoeman 1991: 311).

Karel Schoeman, Another Country  47

In his novel about living and dying in South Africa, its concern with the gradual dissolution and transformation of European cultures in colonial Bloemfontein and its diasporic trope of the journey, Schoeman has produced a landmark work of fiction in the context of a country in which, during the late 1980s and early 1990s, the final end of colonialism was being transformed into ‘a dizzying freedom’. Notes 1. In the volume dedicated to Schoeman, Sluiswagter by die Dam van Stemme, the editors, Willie Burger and Helize van Vuuren, provide a useful biobliography of his extensive publication output (2002: 354–83). 2. For further information about the political and historical contexts of these massacres, see Leonard Monteath Thompson, A History of South Africa (2006, 3rd ed.); Rodney Davenport and Christopher Saunders, South Africa (2000, 5th ed.); Reader’s Digest Association, Illustrated History of South Africa (1995, 3rd ed.) and South African History Online, http://www.sahistory.org.za/. 3. Schoeman repeated this advice in his piece, ‘Die GAR (Groot Afrikaanse Roman)’, adding, however, that it did not amount to solipsism: ‘Ek vind dit moontlik om heel gelate voort te gaan en in dié situasie te skryf of te probeer skryf en binne die grense van my beperkings so goed doenlik dit te kan uitrig waartoe ek in staat is, sonder om my te veel aan omringende slagspreuke en krete te steur, en ek sou wil hoop dat elkeen wat in Afrikaans wil skryf dieselfde sal probeer doen. Vir eie selfbehoud, en ter wille van jou werk, is dit nodig dat jy jou in groot mate losmaak van die troosteloosheid van Suid-Afrika anno 1985 . . . Onthegting is nodig: dit is nodig om weg te kyk, jou na binne te keer, te kyk, te luister. Maar terselfdertyd, hoe paradoksaal dit miskien ook klink, is dit vir die Suid-Afrikaanse skrywer noodsaaklik om hom veel meer oop te stel vir sy omgewing as wat hy hom tot dusver ooit bereid getoon het om te doen’ (2002: 19). (‘I find it possible just to continue unperturbed and to write, or try to write, in this situation and, constrained only by my limitations, achieve what I can to the best of my ability without bothering too much about the slogans and cries around me, and I would wish the same for everyone wanting to write in Afrikaans. For the sake of self-preservation, and for the sake of one’s work, one needs to separate oneself as much as possible from the misery of South Africa anno 1985 . . . Detachment is essential: it is necessary to look away, to turn one’s gaze inwards, to look, to listen. But at the same time, however paradoxical it might sound, it is essential for South African writers to expose themselves much more fully to their surroundings than they have hitherto been prepared to do’; my translation.) 4. See Helize van Vuuren’s overview of the critical reception of ’n Ander Land (2002: 58). 5. Gerrit Olivier speaks of Schoeman’s comprehensive fictional project to reach ‘the stage, in principle unachievable, where the entanglement of a life with the larger


historical tapestry becomes immediately and inseparably recognisable’ (2002: 40–1; my translation) (‘die strewe na die punt, onbereikbaar in beginsel, waar die verstrengeldheid van ’n lewe met die groot historiese weefsel onmiddellik and onverdeelbaar herkenbaar word’). See in this connection also: Luc Render’s discussion of ’n Ander Land – which he describes as ‘a great Afrikaans novel’ – in terms of historical fiction (2002: 160–3); Hermann Giliomee’s appreciation of Schoeman as historian (2002) and Louise Viljoen’s discussion of spatial history in Schoeman’s fiction (2002b). 6. According to Gert Jooste, nowhere else in Schoeman’s fiction is Africa quite so overwhelmingly present as in Another Country (2002: 47–9). Carl Kieck reads Another Country as ‘an allegory of the confrontation between the unindividuated European self or consciousness, and Africa as the Other or the unconscious’ (2002: 86). 7. Graham Pechey describes Versluis as ‘supremely civilised and pathologically fastidious’ (2002: 134) and says that Schoeman uses his protagonist’s liminal position between Europe and Africa and between life and death ‘not only for the perspectives it offers through Versluis, but also for the way their intuitive sense of this liminality provokes others to reveal themselves in speaking to him’ (136).

Elsa Joubert, Isobelle’s Journey  49


Portraits of Afrikaners Elsa Joubert, Isobelle’s Journey

Elsa Joubert’s earlier travel writings and novels provide an important backdrop to her major novel about the Afrikaner, Isobelle’s Journey (2002), which was first published in Afrikaans as Die Reise van Isobelle (1995).1 The European presence in Africa is a recurrent theme in Joubert’s work: she recorded her own extensive travels in colonial Africa in Water en Woestyn (1957), Die Staf van Monomotapa (1964) and Die Nuwe Afrikaan:’n Reis deur Angola (1974) and the end of the colonial order in Angola informed the events in her novel To Die at Sunset (1982; originally in Afrikaans, Ons Wag op die Kaptein, 1963). Her historical novel, Missionaris (1988), dealt with life in the Cape Colony in the early nineteenth century and the journeys of her missionary-protagonist to the northwestern and eastern Cape. The Long Journey of Poppie Nongena (1980) told, in the aftermath of the Soweto uprising of 1976, the story of a black South African family over three generations and of a woman’s lifelong struggle to make a life for herself and her children under apartheid. The narrative is underpinned by the motif of the journey, although the English translation of the title does not have the diasporic resonances of the original Afrikaans, Die Swerfjare van Poppie Nongena (Poppie Nongena’s Years of Wandering) (1978). The extent to which Joubert has, in Isobelle’s Journey, drawn on her own Afrikaner background and journeys is apparent from the two volumes of her autobiography, ’n Wonderlike Geweld (A Wonderful Violence, 2005) and Reisiger (Traveller, 2009), that have appeared since the publication of Isobelle’s Journey.



Afrikaner identity: A diasporic model The two contrasting approaches to diasporic cultural identity that Stuart Hall describes, referred to in the Introduction, together provide a useful way of understanding contemporary Afrikaner identity as it is presented in Isobelle’s Journey. Hall explains that according to the first, essentialist approach: ‘Our cultural identities reflect the common historical experiences and shared cultural codes which provide us, as “one people,” with stable, unchanging, and continuous frames of reference and meaning, beneath the shifting divisions and vicissitudes of our actual history’ (2003: 234). And, he reminds us, it is important to appreciate the images that cultures produce in order to impose ‘an imaginary coherence on the experience of dispersal and fragmentation’ (235). In contrast, the second approach acknowledges differences, ruptures and discontinuities and regards cultural identity as a matter not only of ‘being’, but also of ‘becoming’ and as therefore belonging as much to the future as to the past: It is not something which already exists, transcending place, time, history, and culture. Cultural identities come from somewhere, have histories. But, like everything which is historical, they undergo constant transformation. Far from being eternally fixed in some essentialized past, they are subject to the continuous ‘play’ of history, culture, and power. Far from being grounded in mere ‘recovery’ of the past, which is waiting to be found, and which when found, will secure our sense of ourselves into eternity, identities are the names we give to the different ways we are positioned by, and position ourselves within, the narratives of the past (236).

This second view argues for an understanding of cultural identityformation in terms of a ‘politics of identity’ (237), instead of its proceeding ‘in a straight unbroken line from some fixed origin’. In his discussion of black Caribbean identities Hall proposes a model that sees them as being ‘ “framed” by two axes or vectors, simultaneously operative: the vector of similarity and continuity; and the vector of difference and rupture’ (237). He suggests that Caribbean identities

Elsa Joubert, Isobelle’s Journey  51

always have to be thought of in terms of the dialogic relationship between these two axes. The one gives us some grounding in, some continuity with, the past. The second reminds us that what we share is precisely the experience of a profound discontinuity . . . slavery, transportation, colonization, migration (237).

In the diasporic Caribbean context, Hall says, difference ‘persists – in and alongside continuity’ (238) and ‘difference matters’. The question is: ‘How, then, to describe this play of “difference” within identity?’ Without claiming untenable correspondences between black Caribbean and white Afrikaner experience, one can nonetheless extrapolate from Hall’s conceptual framework for understanding Caribbean diasporic identity a useful theoretical model for approaching Afrikaner cultural identity: that is, to see it in terms of a dialogue between an axis of linear identity-formation, according to a narrative of common historical experiences and shared cultural codes (Hall’s ‘vector of similarity and continuity’), and an axis of discontinuity and difference. Where Schoeman’s Another Country depicts the growth of an Afrikaner identity and the Afrikaans language in the late nineteenth century, Isobelle’s Journey charts the further development of Afrikaner culture over the course of the twentieth century. Paradoxically, the narrative presents Afrikaner identity, during the century that witnessed its appropriation by an exclusionary Afrikaner nationalism and the fullest consolidation of its ideological claims to being essentially European, as heterogeneous, still undergoing transformation, variously positioned and unstable.2 Joubert’s novel about the continuing Afrikaner diasporic imaginary bears out Jana Evans Braziel and Anita Mannur’s statement that diasporic traversals question the rigidities of identity itself – religious, ethnic, gendered, national; yet this diasporic movement marks not a postmodern turn from history, but a nomadic turn in which the very parameters of specific historical moments are embodied and – as diaspora itself suggests – are scattered and regrouped into new points of becoming (2003: 3).


In this respect, Isobelle’s Journey deserves also to be read in conjunction with Hermann Giliomee’s major historical study of Afrikaner identity, The Afrikaners (2003) and its revised version in Afrikaans, Die Afrikaners (2004). The axis of similarity and continuity Schoeman’s novel may wear its history lightly, but in Joubert’s text the narrative, which follows the histories of the members of two Afrikaner families – the descendants of Dominee Josias van Velde and his wife Emma Anderson from the Cape and the descendants of the widow Valeria Greylinck from Pretoria – over four generations from 1894 to 1994, is much more consciously structured in terms of milestones in the history of the Afrikaner nation.3 Along the axis of linear identityformation, Joubert’s third-person narrative traces the development of a cohesive Afrikaner identity. The first part of the narrative, ‘In the Beginning’, commences with the marriage of Josias and Emma in Worcester in the Cape Colony in 1894 and the departure of his brother Hennie for the mission fields of Nyasaland shortly after the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer War in 1899. The narrative then shifts to New Year’s Eve 1899, where the dawn of the new century is being celebrated at the Pretoria home of Valeria Greylinck, whose three sons, Piet, Daniel and Jannie, are away fighting against the British. The symbolic importance of the Anglo-Boer War for Afrikanerdom is emphasised as the narrative unfolds to include events in the war that have become enshrined in Afrikaner cultural memory, such as the execution of 33 pro-Boer rebels in the Cape Colony for treason and the suffering and deaths of thousands of Boer women and children in British concentration camps. The first decades of the twentieth century are further marked out by the 1914 Rebellion, the First World War and the Great Influenza of 1918. A historical perspective on the decimation of the Afrikaner population in the Anglo-Boer War (10 per cent of all Afrikaners in the two Boer republics died) is provided from newspaper clippings about the influenza epidemic that Josias sifts through some years later: The losses of the Boer War less than two decades earlier – 7 000 menat-arms perished, 27 000 women and children in the camps, 14 000 black people in their own concentration camps, 22 000 British (without including the imperial or colonial numbers), in a period of three years

Elsa Joubert, Isobelle’s Journey  53

– seemed paltry set against the 140 000 lives claimed by the ’flu all over the country in less than six weeks . . . (Joubert 2002: 103).

Other symbolically important moments for Afrikaner culture are the general switch from Dutch to Afrikaans in schools, the official recognition of the language in 1925 and the translation of the Bible into Afrikaans in 1933. Featuring prominently in the first half of the narrative is the 1938 ox-wagon trek that re-enacted the Great Trek from the Cape a century earlier and culminated in the laying of the cornerstone of the Voortrekker Monument in Pretoria on 16 December, the Day of the Covenant. According to Giliomee, the first wave of emigration of parties of burgher families, later called Voortrekkers, and their servants from the Cape Colony between 1835 and 1840 had seen approximately 6 000 people, amounting to 20 per cent of the whites in the eastern districts and 10 per cent of the Cape Colony’s whites, trekking. And by 1845, ‘some 2 308 families, or fifteen thousand burghers and their families, accompanied by an estimated five thousand servants, had left the colony’ (2003: 161). Joubert’s narrative captures the cultural fervour in 1938 around the ox wagons’ passing through Worcester, accompanied by men on horseback representing the Boer commandos and traditionally garbed participants singing the anthems of the old Transvaal Republic, ‘Kent gij dat volk vol heldenmoed’, and the Orange Free State (OFS) Republic, ‘Heft, burgers, ’t lied der vrijheid aan’. A quotation from a newspaper cutting is included in the novel to illustrate how the Great Trek was mythologised in the formation of a modern Afrikaner cultural identity: ‘The Afrikaner will never be the same after 1938 as he was before 1938. This was not the work of princes or kings, but of two humble, mute wagons. They couldn’t speak, but they aroused unprecedented emotions’ (Joubert 2002: 211). The huge gathering of Afrikaners in Pretoria is also described in detail: the tented camps, massed choirs, Voortrekker commandos and torchlight procession – all leading up to the laying of the cornerstone of the Monument. (The source of this extended episode in the narrative is to be found in Joubert’s autobiographical account of her own participation as a sixteenyear-old schoolgirl in the events; see 2005: 117–55.) Also clearly signalled in the narrative are the Afrikaner sympathy with Germany in the Second World War, the coming to power of the National Party under D.F. Malan in 1948, the rise and entrenchment of


apartheid through legislation such as the Population Registration Act, the Group Areas Act and the Immorality Act, the influence of the Afrikaner Broederbond and the achievement of the Republic in 1961. The narrative refers from time to time to the ways in which a family history, together with that of a people, is reconstructed ‘through the haze of old family photographs, from old letters and relics and family stories that have been passed down’ (Joubert 2002: 7), from memories shared in later years and from what the narrative refers to as ‘the communal memory’ (30) – and what Maurice Halbwachs (1980) calls ‘collective memory’. Halbwachs distinguishes collective memory from individual remembering: collective memory is a social, rather than a personal, activity.4 Collective memories, as Barbie Zelizer explains, are held in a shared consciousness and are plural, not singular, in that they are ‘dependent on interpretive groups called “memory communities” to gain meaning’ (1998: 4). Collective memories underpin group belonging and solidarity, they inform social, cultural and religious identity and are shaped by the common agendas of those who invoke them in the present. As Zelizer explains further: Collective memories allow for the fabrication, rearrangement, elaboration, and omission of details about the past, often pushing aside accuracy and authenticity so as to accommodate broader issues of identity formation, power and authority, and political affiliation. Memories in this view become not only the simple act of recall but social, cultural, and political action at its broadest level (3).

More particularly, Katharine Hodgkin and Susannah Radstone argue that collective memory occupies a central role in any nationalist historical narrative of identity: ‘Nationalist memory describes a geography of belonging, an identity forged in a specified landscape, inseparable from it. To study memory in the context of the nation, then, is to engage very directly with the relations between individual and collective memory, between the subject and the state, between time and space’ (2003: 169– 70). It follows, then, that contesting nationalisms should have contested pasts. The Afrikaner historical narrative memorialised in Isobelle’s Journey is doubly coded. Along the axis of similarity and continuity in identity-

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formation, Joubert is just as scrupulous about recording, especially in the later twentieth-century history, the milestones in the rise of the oppositional African nationalism against which the Nationalist government defined itself with ever-greater force and for which it was increasingly judged by the world: the adoption of the Freedom Charter at a Congress of the People at Kliptown in 1955; the Sharpeville massacre in 1960; the Treason Trial of 1956–61; the Rivonia Trial of 1963–4; the widespread detentions and bannings of the 1960s and 1970s; the growing protests against the removals of black people under the Group Areas Act; the 1976 Soweto uprisings; international sanctions against the country in the 1980s; the 1985 State of Emergency; the school riots, boycotts and political funerals of the late 1980s; the unbanning of the South African liberation organisations in 1990 and the transition leading up to the 1994 elections.5 Each historical moment is revisited in the narrative as a ‘new point of becoming’, to use Braziel and Mannur’s formulation. The diasporic origins of Afrikaner culture are reinscribed into the narrative in the motif of journeys, which continue and repeat in various ways the migrations of the colonial Cape Dutch, not only to South Africa from Europe, but also into the southern African interior from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century. The novel opens with Emma’s half-day train journey from Worcester to Stellenbosch, where she first meets Josias. The motif is then continued with Hennie van Velde’s journey, with his wife Jessie, by boat to Beira, up the Zambezi to Tete and overland to Nyasaland; Irma Greylinck’s train journey to the Cape Colony, together with the baby born from her affair with a French official in Pretoria during the war, and Josias’s solitary journeys, first by train to the Springfontein concentration camp to minister to the Boer women and children and later by train and donkey cart to Osplaas to break the news to the Nels that their son had been hanged as a traitor. These physical and symbolic journeys to the north and south of the country, into east and central Africa and into Afrikaner history are foregrounded throughout to reinforce the idea of a migratory people. At the end of the Anglo-Boer War, Daniel Greylinck takes the infant Agnes Valeria with him when he joins an exodus of three other families, who refuse to live under the British flag, and they travel by train to Lourenço Marques, by boat to Mombasa and then by train and ox wagon to settle in Kenya on the Uasin Gishu plateau. It is from here, eleven years


later, that he sends the child back, on a three-month overland journey through the African bush via Tanganyika and Northern Rhodesia, to the Transvaal to live with his brother and his wife. The journey momentum is sustained throughout the 583-page narrative as it maps various other travels in the second and third generations of Van Veldes and Greylincks: Daniel’s journey by boat and train from Kenya to Pretoria on the single occasion that he returns to visit his mother; Agnes’s journey as a college student by train from Heidelberg to Pretoria, when she witnesses the hearse-trains bearing the bodies of the victims of the Great Influenza epidemic; her journey from Worcester to Cape Town to seek out her true parents and her journey by train to Pretoria for the Voortrekker centenary celebrations. The travels also extend overseas with Josias’s daughter, Leonora, departing from Cape Town by mailship to take up an exchange teaching position in Britain and Agnes’s daughter Belle undertaking what turns into a fateful journey by air, train and military jeep to Kitale in Kenya to visit the grave of her brother Ozzie, who had died there in the Second World War, and the continuation of this journey to Paris, Geneva and London. All these journeys ramify into numerous others in the later sections of the narrative dealing mainly with the third and fourth generations of Van Veldes, to new places of work, new homes, to family gatherings and family funerals and, eventually, to new lives abroad. The axis of difference and rupture Although the journey cast of the narrative might invite a reading of an Afrikaner identity formed simply along a linear trajectory of ongoing diasporic dispersion, it is important to consider Braziel and Mannur’s reminder that diaspora cannot ‘stand alone as an epistemological or historical category of analysis’ (2003: 5). What diaspora does is make possible ways of thinking about identity across once-demarcated categories and offer ‘insights into the cultural constructions of identity in relation to nationality, diapora, race, gender, and sexuality [and] class’. Isobelle’s Journey is as painstaking in its depiction of Afrikaner cultural identity in terms of difference and rupture as Schoeman’s Another Country is in its presentation of colonial cultural dislocation and relocation. Joubert’s novel shows that, from the very beginning, Afrikaner identity was a divided one, the narrative enacting the south-north division in its

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opening split between telling the stories of the colonial Afrikaners in the Cape and those of the republicans in the Transvaal. Nor were the Afrikaners on either side of the south-north divide homogeneous groups; on the contrary, they were themselves deeply divided. It seems that the fractiousness that had characterised the burghers on the eastern Cape frontier in the first half of the nineteenth century accompanied them on their trek to the north. Giliomee describes the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek (ZAR) as a ‘failed state in the Transvaal’ (2003: 189) during the second half of the century: besides the Afrikaner religious community having split into three different churches, the Dutch Reformed Church (DRC), the Gereformeerde Kerk (the ‘Dopper’ church) and the Nederduitsch Hervormde Kerk (NHK), political integration was also undermined by what he says was the ‘dwarstrekkery’ (contrariness) that characterised the Afrikaners living on the Transvaal frontier of the late nineteenth century: In politics and in fighting on commandos an extraordinary degree of political factionalism and division often existed, captured by the term dwarstrekkery. The isolated Transvaal frontier produced an extreme individualism and lack of discipline, an unwillingness to risk white lives, and a refusal to think about the welfare of the state as a whole as distinct from that of the family farm or the district (190–1).

Their successful revolt in 1880–1 against the British annexation of the Transvaal did later give rise to a feeling of nationalism among the Boers, which was further reinforced by President Paul Kruger’s promotion of both the idea of the Great Trek as a heroic myth and the notion of the Afrikaners as God’s chosen people (see Giliomee 2003: 229, 231), as well as by their fear that they would be overwhelmed by the great influx of foreign fortune-seekers to Johannesburg after the discovery of gold in 1886. During the Anglo-Boer War, however, the combined ZAR and OFS military effort was still characterised by what Giliomee calls the ‘blight of any attempt at Afrikaner collective action, namely internal division’ (257). Giliomee’s account of the complex cultural and language politics in the Cape Colony in the nineteenth century, which form the main pre-history of Joubert’s narrative, equally shows deep divisions in the


Afrikaner intellectual and spiritual heartland. Afrikaners, who in the mid-1860s made up three-quarters of the whites in the Cape, had not been able to withstand the aggressive anglicisation policy in government, the courts, education and even the Reformed church, after the second British occupation in 1806 and they succumbed to English cultural imperialism and nationalism. The Afrikaner elite increasingly came to identify themselves with the Empire and became known as ‘ “the loyal Dutch” or the “Queen’s Afrikaners” ’ (193), while the religious revival that swept through the western Cape in the 1860s led to a strong evangelical tradition that, Giliomee says, ‘with its tendency to submit to the earthly powers, helps to account for the extraordinary devotion of even non-anglicized Cape Afrikaners to Queen Victoria and the Empire that began to manifest itself in the 1880s’ (210). At the same time, the decline of Dutch and spread of spoken Afrikaans as the common language across most of South Africa led to the so-called First Language Movement under S.J. du Toit and the founding of the Genootskap van Regte Afrikaners (GRA, the Society of True Afrikaners) in 1875. The GRA identified three different kinds of Afrikaners, ‘those with Afrikaans hearts, those with English hearts, and those with Dutch hearts’ (218), seeing as its mission the cultivation of more Afrikaners with Afrikaans hearts and rapidly turning into a nationalist movement. The Afrikaner Bond was formed in 1879, with ‘Afrika voor de Afrikaners’ (Africa for the Afrikaners) as its slogan, but chose to promote Dutch as the language of the people, rather than the mongrel Afrikaans, and later also proclaimed its loyalty to the British Empire. Giliomee explains the cultural ambiguity of the Afrikaner in the Cape Colony: The colonial patriotism that the Bond espoused allowed multiple identities and sympathies: patriotism towards the colony; loyalty towards the monarchy and the imperial tie; solidarity with their republican brothers across the Orange River; and pride in their own cultural distinctiveness, giving rise to a demand for formal equal language rights. Afrikaner loyalty to the Empire (later the British Commonwealth) proved to be long lasting (227).

The main reason for the Cape Afrikaners not rising in support of their fellow Afrikaners north of the Orange River against Britain in 1899,

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Giliomee says, was that they ‘were immobilized by their own multiple identities’ (246). In Isobelle’s Journey the marriage of Josias and Emma (the daughter of a Scottish DRC minister) signals a conflicted cultural heritage from the outset and the family’s Afrikaner-English split is amplified by the division between the pro-Boer and pro-British inhabitants of Worcester during the Anglo-Boer War, the polarities sharpening and causing friction ‘between children and parents, between brothers and between friends’ (Joubert 2002: 30) and leading to ‘a split that would live on in the communal memory’. Afrikaner cultural affiliations in the Cape Colony become even more fraught with the public disgrace of the ‘joiners’ who signed up with the English against the Boers, on the one hand, and the public execution of the rebels who joined up with the Boer forces, on the other. For Josias, who prays for peace for ‘this divided land’ (36), but whose English-speaking mother-in-law and her sister Issy ‘make no bones about their loyalties’ (13), it is a matter of shame and personal injustice that he finds mourning crêpe on his own front doorknob to observe the death of Queen Victoria at the beginning of 1902 and discovers when he returns from his visit to the Boer women and children in the Springfontein concentration camp that his wife has, during his absence, allowed their daughter to be named Victoria ‘after the old queen, in whose name horrific deeds had been perpetrated against his people’ (46). He is no more able to continue reading the English Bible afterwards than he can bring himself to utter the name of his daughter (Vicky) during her short lifetime. The cultural fault line running though Afrikaner identity becomes an existential one for Josias as he considers his own loyalties to both the Colony and the Boer people in the north in terms of the spiritual dichotomy between allegiance to God and allegiance to nation: Was it perhaps God’s will that the stubborn little Afrikaner nation should be obliterated? He could not accept that. Lord, the people over the Groot River were his own flesh and blood. The question plagued him: what was he actually himself? Married into an English family; his children brought up half English. He was emotionally bound to his people. But who were his people? Not his father and mother, who, for the sake of personal profit, had grown ever more English since the war. So what made him, heart and soul, so much a part of the Boer people?


What glued him to his people? Was it, above all, their Bible? No, not simply their Bible. Issy and Grandma were Bible-lovers. Their belief in the God of the covenant? This belief that they were the people of the convenant that stirred him so. His chosen people. Where did it come from? Where would it lead them? (55).

The rift later widens between Josias and his eldest son Stuart when the young man takes up arms against his own people by going to German South West with Louis Botha during the First World War to capture the rebels and to seize the territory for the Crown – in the words of Leonora decades after her father’s death: ‘ At the time we had absolutely no conception of Father’s inner turmoil. I think he had a battle to keep his faith alive . . . The war with the English was still waged in our house’ (89). It is this unresolved conflict that causes her father’s distress towards the end of his life about Jan Smuts joining the Second World War as Britain’s ally and Leonora’s own dismay when Josias’s grandson Ozzie, who has volunteered to fight alongside the British, arrives wearing his uniform to be a pallbearer at his grandfather’s funeral. In the Transvaal, the cultural rift runs between Jannie Greylinck, who lays down his arms and swears an oath of loyalty to the king long before peace is declared, and his brother Daniel, who refuses to live in the Transvaal under British domination. The ‘play of difference’: Photography To answer the earlier question of how to describe the play of difference within diasporic identity-formation and how to represent the dialogue between the axis of similarity and continuity and the axis of difference and rupture, one needs to turn to the important trope of photography in Isobelle’s Journey. In his novel, Levels of Life, Julian Barnes identifies the invention of photography in the nineteenth century as an important instant of cognitive change: ‘The vestigial human outline on the cave wall, the first mirror, the development of portraiture, the science of photography – these were advances which allowed us to look at ourselves better, with increasing truth’ (2013: 26). Joubert’s narrative self-reflexively activates the discourse of photography, its history, grammar, aesthetics and ethics, to represent the Afrikaner politics of positioning in the narratives of the past and present. The notion of diasporic identity as

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a disaggregated identity enables the reader to regard the spectrum of fictional photographs of twentieth-century Afrikaners in the novel as images of discontinuous, heterogeneous and even conflicted cultural identity that negate any monolithic sense of ‘the Afrikaner’. The magic lantern show of the itinerant Herr Winterbach that they saw as children first suggests to Leonora how the imagination works, from the way ‘the beam of light hits the cloth and the shadowy figures begin to tremble, like reflections in water’ (Joubert 2002: 26). But it is her brother Frikkie who becomes obsessed with the mechanics of the magic lantern, its reflectors, slots for the plate, limelight, condenser lens and mirrors – all of it ‘happening in that big beam of light that is projected from the back of the hall onto that cloth screen’ (92–3) – and for whom photography becomes a vocation. Recognising that ‘Herr Winterbach’s beam of light writes a powerful language . . . more powerful than the pen’ (92), Josias explains to his son that the word ‘photography’ is from the Greek: ‘to enscribe [sic] with light’. This etymological phrase, which combines the creation of visual images with writing, underpins the narrative. When Josias later uses the magic lantern to explain the act of reading to Leonora as ‘making up your own pictures in your own imagination’ (94), she thinks about his words: ‘Inscribe with light’ (95) and when Frikkie develops his first photographic prints, cropping, enlarging and reducing the images, he silently asks his father: ‘Have I not inscribed in light’ (142). As Frikkie’s passion for photography progresses from taking photographs at family picnics and weddings to opening a studio in Worcester, so the narrative explores and exploits the discursive analogies between photography and fiction. To begin with their comparable basis in imaginative control: Frikkie’s feeling, with his first photograph of the girl he later marries, that he has captured and possesses ‘an image of her that no one has ever seen before’ (91), bears out the idea that to take a photograph of a person or thing is an act of voyeuristic appropriation, which, as Susan Sontag formulates it, puts ‘oneself into a certain relation to the world that feels like knowledge – and, therefore, like power’ (1979: 4). Like fiction, photographs do more than simply document and provide evidence of the world; they interpret that world and Frikkie understands this in his desire to do ‘serious photography’ (Joubert 2002: 222).


Joubert’s narrative also confirms the point that Sontag makes about photographs conferring on people and events ‘a kind of immortality (and importance)’ (1979: 11) they would never otherwise have enjoyed. Leonora expresses this when she says to Frikkie about his portrait of her after her return from England, which later becomes known as one of his best works: ‘I don’t look like that anymore. You photographers are conmen, dealers in mortality, or in death, call it what you will. Always seizing the moment that is over, that’s past’ (Joubert 2002: 224). The narrative again echoes Sontag’s observation that photography is ‘an elegiac art, a twilight art’ (1979: 15) and that all ‘photographs are memento mori’ when Agnes’s daughter Belle goes through the family photographs that she had inherited from her grandfather and his brother: The old sepia photos created a strange feeling inside her. Because the people in their old-fashioned clothes had all disappeared from the earth. And because those who could have said who they were, and where that place was, were also dead. Many, many dead people were staring out from albums all over the world (Joubert 2002: 238).

Sontag’s further point that photographs memorialise the achievements of individual family members and that each family constructs a ‘portraitchronicle of itself – a portable kit of images that bears witness to its connectedness’ (1979: 8) is especially relevant. Frikkie’s taking photographs of the five Van Velde siblings and also of the whole extended family at their dying father’s bedside is metonymic of the late nineteenth- and twentieth-century Afrikaner family portrait-chronicle in Isobelle’s Journey. Joubert’s narrative returns regularly to the practice and theory of photography and their progression during the twentieth century. The invasiveness of taking a photograph emerges, for example, when Agnes says to Frikkie, ‘You’re a monster’ (Joubert 2002: 230), as he clicks away insistently to capture an emotional moment between herself and Hennie, Josias’s brother, who is living out a lonely old age in the Strand. The narrative more fully addresses the issue of whether photography can be regarded as an art when, in their later years, Frikkie takes Leonora into his attic studio, where she goes through his photographs. He defends himself against her criticism that he has manipulated the things he has

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photographed: he is not in search of reality, he says, but rather what he calls ‘the moment of super-life. Of ecstasy’ (437). What she regards as subjectivity and distortion, he experiences as creativity. To her retort that he is not a painter looking at the world with a living eye, but through a mechanical lens, he replies: ‘The eye is also a lens’ (438). For him the camera provides a revelatory way of seeing; it ‘enlarges to infinity, perhaps further’ and tries ‘to capture a moment, tear away veils’ (442), not like a microscope, which ‘requires no creative leap of the imagination’. Leonora remains unconvinced, however; she objects to the way the photographer tries to control her perceptions, unlike the painter. Frikkie’s answer is that he takes photographs to see for himself, not for others, and his photographs have their own truth value: what he photographs ‘doesn’t lie’ (443). Frikkie’s passion for photography is passed on to his son Arnold, who becomes a newspaper photographer and in the next generation to his daughter Miemie’s son, Fred, a professional photographer whose work is met with acclaim overseas and who is commissioned to take photographs of the riots and police brutality in South Africa for the international media in the 1980s. This last stage of the narrative brings the discourse of photography into the present, raising various ethical issues. On the one hand, Fred claims that as a news photographer he captures ‘priceless images . . . for the whole world, for generations to come. It’s history’ (529), but he does so without actively intervening in any conflict. On the other hand, as he explains to Belle’s daughter Leo, the change to digital photography has led to its becoming ‘so unreal that we’ll end up where we started’ (553). She concludes that in an age where images are subject to unlimited manipulation, the photograph has become ‘the ultimate lie’ (554) and wonders: ‘What had become of her great-grandfather’s “enscribing [sic] in light” the family was so fond of referring to? Was this the ultimate in creativity?’ (554). What Joubert’s narrative confronts towards the end, through its trope of photography that ‘can make lies look like truth’ (555), is the very nature of contemporary fiction, where boundaries have similarly disappeared between reality and invention and what Fred says of the photographer holds true for the novelist as well: ‘The responsibility still rests with the person behind the camera. Today more than ever: individual morality’ (555).


Portraits of Afrikaners Two episodes in the narrative in particular may be seen as instances of mise en abyme – embedded metaphors – for Joubert’s fictional undertaking in Isobelle’s Journey. The first is when Frikkie takes his niece Belle to an exhibition in a Cape Town gallery of photographs of ‘poor whites who are no longer poor. Just white’ (352) in a mining town on the East Rand and comments: ‘ “He’s damn good, you know, this photographer. But he has it in for Afrikaners” ’ – to which Belle replies: ‘ “As you always say, Oom: the camera can’t lie” ’. The second is when Fred suggests to Leo, in Frikkie’s studio after his funeral, that they should one day organise a retrospective exhibition of his grandfather’s work and Leo responds: ‘ “A bygone era. Gentle decay of the late bourgeoisie” ’ (516). Isobelle’s Journey provides in its narrative exhibition of Van Velde and Greylinck family photographs a retrospective view of the extended Afrikaner family and particularly of the women in this patriarchal culture. The narrative exhibits a diverse range of subjects, from formal portraits to snapshots and, in narrative as in photographs, the presence enjoyed by certain subjects indicates also the peripherality or absence of others. According to Sontag: ‘In the normal rhetoric of the photographic portrait, facing the camera signifies solemnity, frankness, the disclosure of the subject’s essence . . . frontality also implies in the most vivid way the subject’s cooperation’ (1979: 37–8). In Parts Two, Three and Four of the novel Joubert presents narrative portraits of Agnes, Belle and Leo and by using these eponymous subjects as focalisers within an overall frame of third-person narration, she creates the fictional equivalent of the collaborative frontal pose in portraiture, each subject surrendering herself to the narrative camera. And as the narrative follows the lives of its subjects during the twentieth century, it reveals their conflicted identities as Afrikaners and shows how the fissures that were their legacy from the nineteenth century widen and become ever-more complex. The first of these subjects, Agnes, represents most literally a ruptured identity when she learns on her grandmother’s death that she is not the daughter of Daniel Greylinck, whom she had loved as her father in Kenya, but was the unknown, newborn baby that Iris Greylinck, following her lover to France in 1901, had in Cape Town substituted for the child that she was supposed to return to her mother-in-law in

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Pretoria. Agnes’s feeling of unreality is intensified by the discovery that she has a double, the original Agnes Valeria, living in Paris. Agnes resolves to put her past life with the ‘uncles’ and ‘aunts’ in the Transvaal behind her and to create a future for herself in the Cape, but although she marries Stuart van Velde and so becomes part of his large family, she remains tormented by the question of who she really is and about not having any connections – or family photographs – of her own. When her efforts to find out the identity of her biological mother fail, she is left with a sense of essential aloneness. Only when she travels to Pretoria for the Voortrekker celebrations in 1938 does she briefly acquire among all the people gathered at the Monument some sense of belonging, of a shared and inalienable Afrikaner identity. The one person she feels close to is her father-in-law’s brother, Hennie, whose young wife had died in childbirth in Nyasaland and who had himself been mauled by a lion; as she expresses it, they have both suffered ‘a wound inflicted by Africa’ (Joubert 2002: 228). Of the Van Velde family that she married into, however, she thinks: ‘You’re nothing, you know nothing, you feel nothing . . . Africa would reject you, shrug you off. You are, and that was the final word, you are colonial English. Father – Afrikaans? That was laughable. But it wasn’t the language; it was their mannerisms, their attitudes’ (228). Her ‘non-existence’ (243) and own cultural indeterminacy are only partially resolved when, after Josias’s death, she befriends the woman who might possibly have been her mother, the piano teacher Miss Marais, who was pregnant with young Braampie Nel’s child when he was hanged as a traitor in Burgersdorp in 1901. Agnes explains her wish to go and share her life with Miss Marais in Cape Town after Stuart’s death to her daughter Belle in terms of a cultural, rather than any filial, homecoming, which remains unspoken; she has always felt ill at ease speaking English with the Cape family. She says: ‘I feel like an Afrikaner with Miss Marais. We think the same way. She’s a supporter of Verwoerd . . . I don’t know why, but I feel that I am myself with her. I don’t try to be anything I’m not. I had my happiest moments when I was aware of myself as an Afrikaner. And as a white person’ (367).


Agnes lives on in Miss Marais’s house after her death, until she is eventually raped and murdered in her own backyard. Although Leonora is not given a separate part of the narrative to herself, her long life means that her story spans those of Agnes, Belle and Leo over three generations. Leonora features crucially as the custodian of the family’s diaries, letters and photographs; equally importantly, she serves in the narrative to register the ways in which nationalism and racism further divide and complicate Afrikaner cultural identity. When she travels from England to Germany in 1938 to meet her younger brother Robert, who is studying political science in Frankfurt, her unease about all the nationalist fervour around the Voortrekker celebrations in South Africa is increased by the similarity she perceives between National Socialism with its Nazi anti-Semitism and Afrikaner nationalism with its racism. After the National Party comes to power in South Africa in 1948, she fears that ‘her own country seemed to be on the same path to racial hatred’ (246). She is torn between her self-appointed task to keep the family from splitting up along the north-south divide after their father’s death and her distress over the involvement of her three younger brothers, Philip, Hendrik and Robert, who have all settled in the Transvaal, in Nationalist political circles and ideology. The overt racism of the north and the greater racial tolerance of the Cape are brought into sharp juxtaposition by the Population Registration Act. Despite her disapproval of apartheid legislation, Leonora is forced into the moral compromise of appealing to her brothers to intervene so as to have two family members of their old retainer, Nellie, reclassified as white. The reader is afforded little more than a glimpse of Leonora’s earlier relationship with a coloured fisherman in Saldanha, which, as she had known and accepted, could not have lasted. Another narrative snapshot shows her upsetting her Nationalist brothers by standing in front of parliament wearing a black sash in protest against its racist laws ‘and giving the newspaper her name because she wanted at least one Afrikaans name to appear amongst all the English ones’ (377). Leonora admits in old age to ambivalence: she confesses to her great-niece and namesake Leo her personal tragedy of never having had a great passion ‘that overshadows everything’ (463) in her life, but she also writes to the ailing Frikkie that she is horrified by how ‘fervour for a cause’ (465) has warped their three younger brothers. She concludes

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her letter with the insight that identity is much more complex than some essentialised and shared past and that their father Josias had ‘lived in an age of innocence. But his innocence wasn’t innocence, rather ignorance or denial of knowledge . . . We have come further than father was, and we can look back at them and judge them, if we dare’ (467). Belle, who is named after her English-speaking great-aunt Issy and who is the main subject of Part Three of the narrative, is represented as a casualty of racism. When she travels to Europe five years after the end of the Second World War, to continue her studies in Geneva, she goes via Kenya to visit the grave of her brother Ozzie who had died there as a soldier. She also decides to look up Daniel Greylinck on his farm, where she meets his common-law Indian wife, Auntie Latifa, and finds the dying old man ‘not the brave Boer War hero, or the pioneer-farmer . . . Just a stricken human being, whom the stout Indian woman, the woman who had once been young, was trying to nurse’ (285). Belle is passionately attracted to Auntie Latifa’s nephew and assistant on the farm, Hussein, who takes her to visit her brother’s grave outside the village of Kitale. She tells Hussein that, with him, she feels for the first time that she is getting to know herself fully – in a relationship, however, that she knows would have seen them both imprisoned in South Africa. Before they can consummate their love, he is fatally shot by racist English soldiers who raid the farm on the pretext of looking for illegal ivory. Traumatised, Belle makes her way to Geneva where her personal crisis is given an international diasporic context. She is struck by the words of a Chinese student: ‘On ne peut pas rester coupé de son monde . . . You can’t live cut off from your own world’ (326). But feeling bereft of both her love and her country where this love would not have been permitted, she asks herself: ‘Why do I still say “my” country?’ (341). Her own sense of dislocation is put into perspective by a woman official at the International Refugee Office where she applies for work, who tells her about the chaos of uprooted and displaced people in Europe in the years after the war. ‘ “Do you realise” ’, she says to Belle, ‘there are hundreds of thousands of refugees for whom we have to provide not only the physical necessities, but also the psychological: they’ve experienced such trauma they no longer know who they are or where they come from. We have to give their life solidarity.


In the camps their displacement is not a mask, but the reality, the quintessence’ (346).

After suffering a breakdown in London, Belle returns to South Africa, culturally as well as emotionally detached. She says to her Uncle Frikkie that her emotions had been ‘muddled up’ (369) by her Afrikaner upbringing: ‘In your childhood they fasten you with such strong glue to some vague loyalty that when you try to break away, you hurt yourself. And you don’t heal easily. If you want to do something because it seems right for you personally, you become completely schizophrenic.’ She concludes that the notion of a fatherland ‘that has to be something pure, something beautiful, something noble’ is ‘a myth, a chimera, a mirage’ and realises that she is now a damaged person, for she lives as a stranger in her own country. Her teaching job and flat in Johannesburg bring her into contact with the city’s immigrants, including the Chinese pupils in her school. She also becomes deeply disturbed when she is forced to testify as a witness against a couple in her flat building who are charged with contravening the Immorality Act. Around the time of the Sharpeville massacre in 1960 and the declaration of the republic the following year she becomes acutely aware of racial injustice in the country and her feeling of alienation increases, despite her marriage to the head of the college, Holtzhausen, and the birth of their child, named Leonora for her great-aunt. Belle’s clumsy attempt to involve herself with one of the accused in a political trial raises the suspicion of the Security Police, who dig up her past with Hussein in Kenya and she becomes an embarrassment to her politically connected uncles. She grows increasingly distant from her husband and family and sinks into a depression so severe that she is finally admitted to a psychiatric institution for a course of electric shock treatments. The Belle who emerges from this experience is apathetic and introverted and becomes a remote figure in the family. It is Leonora who diagnoses her crisis of identity, when she looks at photographs that Frikkie had taken in Johannesburg: ‘Strange discords in Belle, all in irreconcilable contradiction, almost schism’ (437). Belle’s word ‘schizophrenic’ provides a key to understanding the character of present-day Afrikaner identity as it is presented in Part

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Four: ‘Leo’, where the fissures become more pronounced and spread throughout the family. Having moved into Miss Marais’s house in Cape Town, which had come to her via her grandmother Agnes and her mother Belle, Leo gets involved with street children who have occupied the lean-to at the back of the house. Her exposure to the world of the dispossessed and of squatter camps causes her to understand for the first time how the society she lives in can be regarded as ‘odious’ (477) by these people. When she supports her pupils in the schools’ boycott and demonstrations during the 1985 State of Emergency, she discovers a new solidarity in the comradeship of the black struggle against injustice and realises that privileged whites in South Africa are, in the socio-political rhetoric of the time, ‘mummies – anachronisms that belong in museums’ (522). The gulf between her own family obligations, where she moves ‘in an entirely different frame of reference’ (491), and those she now has towards the people in the black townships opens so wide that it feels overwhelmingly ‘as though she was living in two different worlds. One country but two different worlds.’ It makes her ‘feel schizophrenic’. Leo’s new understanding of Afrikaner cultural identity has relinquished the old shibboleths of nation and country, as she explains to her cousin Barry, in a formulation that echoes her mother Belle’s earlier words: ‘It’s terribly difficult to have to ask: were nation and fatherland just chimeras? Something we had been made to believe’ (523). Her only way to cope with it, Leo tells Barry, is to try to help bring an end to the injustice being inflicted on others. He, in turn, rationalises his own decision to emigrate to Canada by replying that as a doctor he has discarded any notion of national pride or national penance: ‘No specific nation, simply people. That’s why I can leave’ (523). When Leo is detained, together with thousands of others around the country, including her lover Fred, for six months under the Internal Security Act, the bond that is created by the singing of the black women in Pollsmoor prison causes an obsessive desire in her to explain her standpoint to other white Afrikaners: ‘One needed an Afrikaner to understand what had driven her so far. To realise the personal emotional implications’ (538). This last part of the narrative in particular contains a range of images of fractured Afrikaner identity during the period when ‘the pillar of ideological coherence was beginning to crumble’ (Giliomee 2003: 619)


and Afrikaner nationalism to disintegrate. The stigma of Leo’s being held in detention causes her kindly and generous Uncle Hendrik to be ostracised by his Afrikaner Nationalist friends, while old notions of betrayal are revived, but now applying both to the supporters of South African democracy, such as Leo and Fred, who undermine the nation, and to the new wave of Afrikaner emigrants, such as Barry, who leave to join the scattered Afrikaner communities in places such as Perth and Christchurch, London and San Diego. The narrative depicts the cultural fault lines extending into the third and fourth generations of Van Veldes and Greylincks. Frikkie’s newspaper photographer son, Arnold, has turned into a drunk; the arch-conservative Robert clings to the idea of a Boer homeland for the Afrikaner, while his son Benjamin is serving a prison sentence for having – it is hinted in the narrative – together with his friends, while on border duty, raped and killed a black woman. Philip’s two daughters have married well, but not, according to Robert, to ‘men with national pride’ (Joubert 2002: 503), but to ‘traitors, colluding with kaffirs. Members of the Progressive Party’ (503). Frikkie’s granddaughter Koba is killed as a result of children by the roadside stoning the car in which she is travelling on the way to the cemetery for her grandfather’s burial. The realisation that Leo and her relatives share, from their very different positions, that they are unable to draw on a collective past for a cohesive sense of what it means to be an Afrikaner in the present and their cultural identity is uncertain, contingent and to be decided in the future, is perhaps best summed up in the words of Barry’s father, Philip: ‘ “It’s bitterly difficult to accept that the Afrikaners have become . . .” He found the word hard to say, “. . . irrelevant, and to accept that we . . . have to endure our status as a permanent minority” ’ (550). The diasporic cast of Afrikaner history comes full circle at the end of the narrative, which also marks the end of colonialism in South Africa under Afrikaner Nationalists, whose forebears, as Giliomee reminds us, ‘were both colonizers and a colonized people’ (2003: 662). After F.W. de Klerk’s announcement in parliament on 2 February 1990 about the unbanning of the resistance movements and release of political prisoners, the exiles start to return from overseas and the period of transition to the new South African begins. The killings, political assassinations, school unrest and violent demonstrations continue and Leo, not knowing how

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still to make a contribution, becomes tense and anxious. Fred, now her husband, has turned from taking photographs of ‘dead children and weeping mothers’ (Joubert 2002: 572) to studies of wild birds. When he is invited to take up a permanent position with an ecological magazine in the United States, Leo realises that this, in effect, means emigration. In the midst of the national euphoria around the historic democratic elections in 1994, followed by the inauguration of Nelson Mandela as president, she feels tired and depressed. When the doctor confirms that she is pregnant, the opportunity to leave South Africa seems even more compelling and she remembers Barry’s words: ‘it’s spiritual suicide to stay’ (580). Leo decides, however, not to tell Fred about the pregnancy, nor to begrudge him his freedom, but resolves for herself to remain and raise her child in the new South Africa. Before her death at the age of 90, Leonora handed over all the family albums to Leo for safekeeping. The narrative concludes with Leo deciding on the name of her child: ‘ “If it’s a little girl, I’ll call her Isobelle. In full: Isobelle. In full. In full” ’ (583). Leo’s daughter Isobelle will inherit, through her name, the full cultural legacy of the Afrikaner diasporic journey. Notes 1. Louise Viljoen emphasises the importance of Joubert’s travel narratives in their own right and of the figure of the female traveller in her work to address important personal and political issues: ‘in haar geval word die reis onderneem deur die vroue-reisiger, hetsy werklike persoon of romankarakter, juis gebruik om belangrike persoonlike en politieke probleme aan te spreek’ (1998: 21). H.P. van Coller speaks of the ‘symbiotic relationship’ (1998: 53) between Die Reise van Isobelle and Joubert’s travel journals and approaches the novel from an intertextual perspective as a rewriting of earlier texts that were still the products of a colonial consciousness. Willie Burger (1998) discusses the way in which travel, through exposure to different perspectives, contributes to the subversion of master narratives and how, in a postmodernist text such as Die Reise van Isobelle, travel functions as a trope for undermining conventional certainties about Afrikaner identity, language, history and nation. 2. Luc Renders (2005) includes Isobelle’s Journey in his comprehensive overview of South African literature in the post-apartheid era that revises and demythologises the past. Alicia van der Spuy and Helize van Vuuren offer a detailed postcolonial re-evaluation of Joubert’s travel narratives and novels and demonstrate how, especially in the novels, she revisits and subverts a range of colonial concepts and attitudes that she has identified in the earlier texts and also how in Die Reise van Isobelle she addresses


the question of Afrikaner identity in the so-called ‘New’ South Africa (2007: 129). Writing also from a postcolonial perspective, Marita Wenzel (1999) pursues the theme of Joubert’s narrative journey to selfhood and an African identity in her travel books as well as her fiction and shows how this project culminates in Isobelle’s Journey. 3. Van Coller (2011) identifies a proliferation of historical novels since the 1990s in Afrikaans fiction and situates Die Reise van Isobelle within his proposed typology as a work in which the life of the protagonist is told in parallel with important historical events. In an essay about narrative, identity and moral consciousness in Afrikaans historiographical fiction, Burger identifies Joubert’s revisioning of Afrikaner history in Die Reise van Isobelle as an attempt ‘to rescue integrity from some of the events of the past in order to make a new story, a new moral identity, possible’ (2001: 89). 4. See, in this connection, Burger’s thoughtful analysis of the nature and operation of memory in Die Reise van Isobelle and in particular his discussion (via Paul Ricoeur) of individual and shared, or collective, memory (2008: 27–8). 5. According to Burger, in Die Reise van Isobelle Joubert subverts the master narrative of Afrikaner nationalism by presenting the dawn of post-apartheid as its logical conclusion, in contrast to the teleology of the 1961 Republic as featured in most histories (1998: 81–2).

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Black and White in Colour Zoë Wicomb, David’s Story and Playing in the Light

Roots/routes Zoë Wicomb’s first story collection, You Can’t Get Lost in Cape Town (1987), has as one of its epigraphic quotations lines from Arthur Nortje’s poem about exile, ‘Waiting’: ‘Origins trouble the voyager much, those roots / that have sipped the waters of another continent’ (Nortje 1973a: 90).1 The narrator-protagonist of You Can’t Get Lost in Cape Town, Frieda Shenton, is a South African woman of colour on a return visit in the early 1980s to her home in rural Namaqualand, after eleven years in England. In an exchange between Frieda and her mother in the last story, ‘A Trip to the Gifberge’, Wicomb provides a metafictional perspective on the uprooted subject. When her mother objects to the way in which Frieda has drawn on recognisably real events and people in the stories she has written about her youth, coloured family and mixed Griqua and Scots ancestry, Frieda offers the standard defence of fictionality: ‘ “But they’re only stories. Made up. Everyone knows it’s not real, not the truth” ’ (Wicomb 1987: 172) – to which the old woman responds: ‘ “What do you know about things, about people, this place where you were born? About your ancestors who roamed these hills? You left. Remember?” ’ The expatriate’s problems of leaving, knowing, recalling and imagining home are all contained in the mother’s terse remark: ‘ “You left. Remember?” ’ All of Wicomb’s fiction, from You Can’t Get Lost in Cape Town to the novels David’s Story (2000) and Playing in the Light (2006), her second short story collection, The One That Got Away (2008) and her third novel, October (2014), is the product of her knowledge about displacement.2 Her own migrant journey from Namaqualand, where she 73


was born and raised, to Cape Town where she was educated, to England in 1971 and then to Scotland, where she has been living and working in Glasgow as an academic at the University of Strathclyde since 1989, is reflected in what has developed into the Cape Town-Glasgow axis of her writing. While Abdulrazak Gurnah speaks in more general terms of ‘the tension in [Wicomb’s] writing between the value of travel and the value of rootedness’ (2011: 261) and Pamela Scully notes how ‘her characters move between township and city, between Namaqualand and Cape Town, Glasgow, the Griqualands East and West’ and the way her work ‘highlights itinerancy’ (2011: 303), Virginia Richter states more explicitly that Glasgow is the ‘topographical counterpoint’ (2011: 374) to localities in the Western Cape in her fiction and that the choice of places ‘is determined by Wicomb’s familiarity with them, and yet is not purely contingent’. Dorothy Driver makes an even closer connection: ‘In the course of her movements back and forth between her two homes, the Cape and Glasgow, her writing increasingly binds the two together, historically and figuratively’ (2011: 93). This migrant route becomes particularly apparent in the interlinked stories in The One That Got Away, most of which feature in- and outmigration to and from both Cape Town and Glasgow over the last three decades.3 In the opening story, ‘Boy in a Jute-Sack Hood’, the protagonist, who left Glasgow to go to Cape Town twenty years earlier, in 1984, to take up a university post during the time of the international academic boycott of South Africa, recalls how the terracotta tableaux of the British colonies on the derelict Doulton Fountain on Glasgow Green fired his earliest imagination as a child. In ‘Disgrace’, a coloured domestic worker in Cape Town gives an account of a visit to her employer (another transplanted Scot) by a friend from her schooldays in Scotland. This friend, who knew the academic in the opening story in her student days, is now a poet living in Glasgow. In ‘The One That Got Away’, the same domestic worker’s university-educated daughter and her artist husband spend their honeymoon in Glasgow, together visiting the School of Art and The Mackintosh House, and he returns a book to the Dennistoun Library as part of a subversive art project. Their story is taken up again later in the companion piece, ‘There’s the Bird That Never Flew’, with the newly wed wife becoming increasingly fascinated by the restored, five-tiered Doulton Fountain, which was

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originally constructed to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee of 1887 and to celebrate Britain’s imperial achievements at the 1888 International Exhibition, with figures representing the peoples of Australia, Canada, India and South Africa in niches in its first tier.4 The young coloured woman from Cape Town is struck by the seated figure of the woman illustrating South Africa, who is ‘unmistakably coloured’ (Wicomb 2008: 71) and forming, together with the figure of the Boer standing next to her, ‘unmistakably a couple’ (77). She realises that here, in the heart of Empire, this figure represents miscegenation without shame or embarrassment, unlike her ‘descendants at the Cape’ (77). In ‘Neighbours’, the settled routine of a retired Glasgow couple in their terraced home in respectable Bilsland Street is disrupted by the arrival of a new neighbour, a coloured woman from the Cape who has spent years as an exile in Europe working for the African National Congress (ANC) and is now living with her younger son in Glasgow after the death of her Scottish partner. Her older son, a writer, has left home, declaring his distance from his mother’s South African struggle background: ‘Your world is not mine. I can’t live with your past’ (99). He turns up again later in ‘Trompe l’Oeil’, at a Ligurian study centre, where a celebrated, middle-aged historian from Cape Town and his wife meet this young Scottish writer whose South African mother had known Steve Biko and spent some months in gaol – only to read about themselves afterwards as the unpleasant and unhappy subjects of a short story in the Mail & Guardian. In ‘Friends and Goffels’, two coloured women, close friends since high school and university, find their relationship difficult to maintain when the cleverer one, who had gone to study in Scotland and lived there for years, returns to Cape Town, accompanied by an overbearing Scottish husband, to take up a position at Groote Schuur Hospital. In ‘Nothing Like the Wind’, a schoolgirl lives in a tenement in Glasgow with her father, who left South Africa to escape the violence and brought his two children to Scotland where their Scottish roots lie (they have always been ‘a good class of people, of good Scottish blood’, 136) and where his young son is murdered by a paedophile. And in the story ‘In the Botanic Gardens’, a middle-aged coloured woman travels from her home in Namaqualand to find out what has happened to her son, who became involved in struggle politics and has mysteriously disappeared in Glasgow, where he is a student on a British Council


scholarship. She goes to the Kibble Palace, an ornate, nineteenth-century, wrought-iron-framed glasshouse – ‘a fairy-tale house of glass and wrought iron painted silver’ (167) – in the Botanic Gardens, where she tries to imagine his presence among the plants in its South African section that he described in his letters to her. Coloured identity in diaspora space Besides the Cape Town-Glasgow axis, the common denominator in the narrative network of The One That Got Away is the coloured identity of the protagonists, which, as Mohamed Adhikari reminds us in his introduction to a collection of essays on coloured identities, Burdened by Race, has ‘a specialised meaning in South Africa where the term “coloured” denotes a person of mixed racial ancestry rather than one who is black, as it does in most other parts of the world’ (2009b: xviii). Sometimes foregrounded, sometimes inferred and sometimes assumed, South African coloured identity has been an important theme in Wicomb’s fiction from the very beginning. In You Can’t Get Lost in Cape Town, she provides an incident in the story ‘Behind the Bougainvillea’ as a mise en abyme for her earliest fictional concern with racial and cultural identity. The returning protagonist, Frieda, goes to the local doctor’s surgery, where she becomes acutely conscious of the face of a young man who enters the waiting area. Disconcerted by the directness of his staring back at her through his round, mirrored sunglasses, in which she sees her own face reflected, ‘bleached by an English autumn’ (Wicomb 1987: 111), she digs out a novel from her bag, only to chance on a passage beginning, ‘The right side was browner than a European’s would be, yet not so distinctly brown as to type him as a Hindu or Pakistani and certainly he was no Negro, for his features were quite as Caucasian as Edward’s own.’ She is filled with shame at the thought of how these words of racial classification, which echo her own contemplation of the young man, ‘are sucked off the page by the mirrors’ and she quickly covers the text, but fears ‘for the reflection of light, beams criss-crossing and backtracking and depositing their upside-down images God knows where’. In this complex, selfreflexive moment of scrutiny, reflection and self-scrutiny, both gazers are also the objects of the gaze; both are subjects in the discourse on coloured racial and cultural identities, which are brought into focus,

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projected, mirrored and refracted throughout the narrative cycle. The young man turns out to be Henry Hendrikse, a coloured, Afrikaansspeaking schoolmate from fifteen years earlier, with whom Frieda had exchanged teenage love letters – in secret, since she and her friends had thought of him as ‘a native’ (124) and her father had dismissed him as ‘almost pure kaffir’ (116), in contrast to ‘respectable Coloureds’ such as themselves, with their Shenton English ancestor, ‘whose memory must be kept sacred’. Henry’s precise ethnic identity remains as indeterminate as his work: he could be either an armed guerilla or a government spy. Frieda’s own changing cultural identity, repositioned through education and exile and linking the stories, is no more stable or cohesive than Henry’s. Frieda is the focaliser throughout this early collection of stories, in which the narrative optic reveals how under apartheid people of mixed heritage, in the words of the Cape Town sociologist Zimitri Erasmus, describing her own middle-class coloured upbringing, grew up with the ambivalent knowledge about themselves that they were to varying degrees ‘not only not white, but less than white; not only not black, but better than black (as [they] referred to African people)’ (2001: 13). This uneasy self-definition was also an important factor that led to many coloured people allowing themselves to be co-opted by – and even adopting – an exclusionary white nationalism, or else identifying themselves with an oppositional black nationalism, while nevertheless remaining marginal to both groupings. As Frieda’s university friend, Moira, now part of the coloured middle class, living in a coloured suburb, with her own black domestic servant, succinctly puts it in the story, ‘Ash on My Sleeve’: ‘Coloureds haven’t been around for that long, perhaps that’s why we stray. Just think, in our teens we wanted to be white, now we want to be full-blooded Africans. We’ve never wanted to be ourselves, and that’s why we stray . . . across the continent, across the oceans and even here, right into the Tricameral Parliament’ (Wicomb 1987: 156).

A third choice for coloured South Africans was to claim a distinctive, coloured cultural and racial identity, thereby also claiming a political space for themselves in the apartheid dispensation. In trying to understand these tensions in coloured identity, one needs to bear in


mind that in one sense, as Adhikari explains, ‘coloured identity is a product of European racist ideology which, through its binary logic, cast people deemed to be of mixed racial origin as a distinct, stigmatised social stratum between the dominant white minority and the African majority’ (2009b: ix). The conundrum of a coloured South African identity, its ambiguities and dilemmas, in the context of apartheid with its essentialised racial categories, as well as in the aftermath of apartheid, has remained a dominant theme in all Wicomb’s works of fiction. Of course, such an assertion has to acknowledge her statement in an interview with Stephan Meyer and Thomas Olver that when she wrote her first book, she ‘honestly did not know that You Can’t Get Lost was crucially about coloured identity’ (Meyer and Olver 2002: 184) and also her protest that she has ‘no truck with the identity mania’ (190). That she was being more than a little disingenuous on this occasion is obvious if one considers, for example, the wide spectrum of attitudes of her coloured characters towards coloured racial and cultural identity, not only in You Can’t Get Lost in Cape Town, but in all her works, especially the more recent stories in The One That Got Away – attitudes that include claiming to belong to ‘an old respectable family from way back’ (Wicomb 2008: 55) and having English or Scottish blood; expressing disdain for ‘uncultured’ coloureds; upholding middle-class standards; code-switching between Afrikaans and English; adopting the Cape coloured vernacular; being vigilant about using the politically correct qualifier ‘so-called’ when referring to coloured people; assimilating pejorative epithets such as ‘Hotnot’ (63); denigrating other coloureds with darker skins and African or Khoisan features as ‘goffels’ (103); being embarrassed about coloureds who either cringe with shame for being coloured or else live up to the racist stereotypes and feeling ambivalent about coloured complicity in supporting apartheid. In trying to describe these divisions and contradictions, the critic needs to be mindful of the fact that the challenge (for him- or herself no less than for the author) is, in the words of Denis-Constant Martin, ‘how to define and recognize communities without perpetuating apartheid categories, attitudes and behaviours’ (2001: 262). In her essay, ‘Shame and Identity’, Wicomb takes as her point of departure what she calls the shameful Cape coloured vote for the

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National Party in the 1994 elections – effectively a vote against nonracial democracy – and the simultaneous resurgence of a Coloured identity politics in which the name ‘coloured’ was reaffirmed, once again capitalised and without apologetic scare quotes. Wicomb considers the question of colouredness in the context of the problematic ‘coloured exclusion and self-exclusion from national liberation politics’ (1998: 98) and also in relation to larger postcolonial notions of hybrid identity and she argues that the failure of coloureds to represent their own history in popular forms, their spurious identification with a mythical ‘District Six’ and their current conservative politics all have their source in a deep-rooted, internalised sense of shame: of their slave origins, of the miscegenation that produced them and of being black. Discussions of coloured identity in South Africa all locate colouredness in the area that Avtah Brah refers to as ‘diaspora space’, which is inhabited not only by dislocated migrants and their descendants, but also by those who are constructed and represented as indigenous. Diaspora space, Brah says, includes ‘the entanglement, the intertwining of the genealogies of dispersion with those of “staying put” ’ (1996: 209) and it is where diaspora, border, location and dislocation intersect, ‘where multiple subject positions are juxtaposed, contested, proclaimed or disavowed’ (208). In addressing the moot question of South African coloured identity being regarded as a hybrid one, critics such as Desiree Lewis, Heidi Grunebaum and Steven Robins, and Zimitri Erasmus have turned to the view of identity defined in terms of rupture and suture, but they consciously reject the notion of ‘racial hybridity’, with its connotations of impurity and degeneracy.5 Lewis, writing about autobiographical selfrepresentation in the works of Richard Rive and Zoë Wicomb, shows how both these authors respond to the notion of ‘racial hybridity’ by drawing on a much wider range of cultural fictions and discourses that have shaped them as coloured individuals. Lewis argues that, in his autobiography, Rive ‘writes a hybridized identity that . . . charts multiple subject positions and unstable subjectivities (2001: 146) and Wicomb’s stories, she says, ‘affirm individualistic processes of identity formation, unchartered [sic] spaces, and interruptive languages’ (155). In their essay, ‘Crossing the Colour(ed) Line’, Grunebaum and Robins acknowledge the value of recent debates proposing that


cultural identities are fluid, contingent and diverse and that ‘hybridity, indeterminacy and in-betweenness have come to be celebrated as spaces of radical openness that refuse to embrace essentialist myths of origins and totalizing narratives of ethno-nationalism’ (2001: 169). They nevertheless caution against ‘the tendency to romanticize these inbetween “third spaces” ’ as being simply liberatory. From their case study of the ANC activist and combatant Zahrah Narkadien, Grunebaum and Robins argue that the cultural space that coloured South Africans have to occupy is a precarious one: living ‘in the grey zones between the essentialized and racialized blocs of whiteness, colouredness and blackness’, coloureds always have to engage with ‘the cracks, fissures, ambiguities and continuing difficulties in negotiating the complex politics of location, identity and history in contemporary South Africa’ (171). In her introduction to Coloured by History, Shaped by Place, Eramus, like Lewis and Grunebaum and Robins, insists that coloured identities should not be defined in terms of other, ‘purer’ races, but rather in terms of ‘cultural creativity, creolized formations shaped by South Africa’s history of colonialism, slavery, segregation and apartheid’ (2001: 14). Drawing on the work of Édouard Glissant, Erasmus maintains that coloured identity-formations are ambiguous and ceaselessly fluid. ‘Born of appropriation, dispossession and translation in the colonial encounter’ (16), they are the result of an ongoing process of creolisation and bricolage, constructed ‘out of elements of ruling as well as subaltern cultures’ and ‘made and re-made by coloured people themselves in their attempts to give meaning to their everyday lives’. Coloured identities were historically formed, Erasmus reminds us, ‘in the colonial encounter between colonists (Dutch and British), slaves from South and East India and from East Africa, and conquered indigenous peoples, the Khoi and the San’ (21). As a cultural identity, South African colouredness was ‘constructed out of fragmented cultural material available in the contexts of slavery, colonialism and cultural dispossession’ (22–3) and it is distinguished by its composite nature, as well as by dislocation, incoherence and incompleteness. In an essay on creolisation and coloured identity, Helene Strauss makes the important point that creolisation can be understood on both the collective and the individual level, ‘in terms of transformations of

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group identity and in terms of the small-scale everyday decisions that people have to make to accommodate the demands of cultural difference, power imbalances and inequalities’ (2009: 35). In Midfielder’s Moment, Grant Farred theorises coloured South African identity in terms of hybridity and ‘coloured-ness’ in relation to ‘mestizo-ness’ (2000: 1–2). His discussion of the mixed, mestizo or coloured subject engages with issues of racial mixture and impurity, social and political in-betweenness and indeterminacy, cultural creolisation and bricolage. In a historically racialised society, he argues, the interstices, the in-between space, is ‘the psychic and political domain of the hybrid subject’ (2), who has been marginalised in the contestation between black and white. Hybrid communities are therefore forced into a complex position of dual identification: ‘Mestizo-ness signals at once the incorporation – the experience of living with – both black and white, yet being neither one nor the other. The hybrid body speaks of a historic entanglement that does not allow the easy dissociation of black from white’ (3). The coloured body is a zone of racial ambiguity, as Farred elaborates further: The coloured body sparks a historic confrontation, a meeting of the black and white selves in a form that is at once physically different but hauntingly recognizable. This is the white self ‘distorted,’ the black self ‘refigured,’ but always insufficiently different. Both black and white can ‘see,’ that is, identify itself, sometimes through a physiognomic lens that refracts, ‘dilutes,’ but does not eliminate ‘whiteness’ or ‘blackness’ (4).

Farred also formulates it in terms of the racial binary: ‘The coloured body is the hybridized, “blackened,” white self; alternatively, it is the black body “whitened”.’ In relation to the body politic, Farred likens coloured identity to a gymnast on the parallel bars, ‘precariously balanced between two dominant groups, tenuously linked to both but with a firm “grip” on neither; their “hold” on whiteness and blackness is politically slight, which means the interstices is, in effect, the only place they can occupy’ (5–6). Within this general framework of hybridity, Farred offers the following definition of South African coloured identity:


South African colouredness is, arguably, best understood as a quasiethnic identity: a racially indistinct – including in its ranks several different physical ‘types’ – community bound together by cultural practices, mores, values, and traditions, all of which have evolved in the face of racist white hostility. In the absence of an autochthonous black culture or an imported (and amended) white European culture, coloureds have had to forge a set of cultural practices out of disparate racial experiences – East Asian slaves, indigenous African communities, European influences. (Colouredness, however, is different from ethnicity in that it is without the kind of narrow racial overtones that usually gird such a description, which is not to say, of course, that it is not conscious about race.) Overdetermined by what we might call ‘negativity,’ coloureds are not white, they are not black; colouredness assumes primacy in this community because it marks their distance from the South African nation; it speaks most complexly of this constituency’s ambivalent location within the body politic. They are that part of the nation that is only partial, or tangential, to the South African political imaginary (6).

Yet coloureds are, he says, nevertheless the ‘quintessential “South Africans” ’ (7): they are the product of and symbolise the original contact between coloniser and colonised and having neither a precolonial African nor a European past, they are ‘completely grounded in South Africa’ and articulate ‘the hybridity of the postcolonial condition’. David’s Story According to Adhikari, the transition to non-racial democracy in South Africa has been accompanied by unprecedented changes in the way colouredness is perceived and articulated. After what he calls the ‘essentialist’ (2009a: 7) apartheid view of coloured identity as the product of miscegenation, it has been in a state of flux since the early 1990s: This fluidity has resulted in a degree of uncertainty, even confusion, around colouredness and the extent to which it is appropriate to espouse or invoke it. Within South Africa’s coloured community there is a tentativeness about whether members should express their identity as black, as African, as South African, as coloured, as Khoisan or as descendants of slaves, or whether they should make a stand on the

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principle of non-racism – or what combination of these forms of selfunderstanding are pertinent in what contexts (2009a: xvii–xviii).

In Wicomb’s novel David’s Story the protagonist David Dirkse, a former ANC operative, expresses this uncertainty about whether, or how, to identify himself as coloured in 1991, when the main action of the novel takes place: ‘ “Everything’s so confused. I suppose it’s all bound up with our changing roles [at the end of apartheid]” ’, he says (Wicomb 2000: 9).6 This text, too, provides a metafictional moment for its reflection on identity in a description of David’s fondness for a mirror that belonged to his Ouma Ragel. In the shape of a three-masted sailing ship, the mirror is divided into four separate sections and, ‘behind this mirror, in four parts, the whitewashed wall paints the absence between base and sails, an illusory sea of unimaginable depth’ (98). When shaving, ‘David observes himself in four parts’, his image held in the tension between coherence and fragmentation, between presence and absence and between reflection and imagination. At a symbolic level, the ‘ship of mirrors’ also represents the vessels that, from the seventeenth century onwards, brought his colonial as well as slave ancestors to the southernmost part of Africa. Although David insists that it is ‘not really about roots and traditions’ (29), after having formerly identified himself with the black freedom struggle, he has now become absorbed in the history of the Griqua people and their claims to being a distinct nation.7 Both David’s affiliations meet with his father’s contempt: first for the liberation movement that Dawid says consists of ‘communist kaffirs’ (22) and second, for what he regards as backward ‘Griquaness’ (23), the ‘shame and the filth and the idleness’ that it took him and his wife ‘sweat and blood’ to shake off and attain the status of ‘decent, respectable coloured people’ (24). It is this reactionary coloured identity that he holds before his son when he accuses him: ‘ “It’s people like you who give coloureds a bad name” ’ (21) and further reproaches him: ‘ “You . . . can’t even accept yourself as a coloured person” ’ (24). The tension in David arises from the need, on the one hand, to draw on a collective past for a cohesive sense of cultural identity and, on the other hand, acceptance of a heterogeneous and conflicted ‘colouredness’. His wife Sally dismisses any idea of recovering the ‘roots’ of a coloured


identity in South Africa: ‘ “Ours are all mixed up and tangled; no chance of us being uprooted, because they’re all in a neglected knot, stuck. And that I’d have thought is the beauty of being coloured, that we need not worry about roots at all, that it’s altogether a good thing to start afresh” ’ (27). As she elaborates further about the absence of a distinctive coloured cultural heritage: ‘ “ There’s nothing to reclaim. We are what we are, a mixture of this and that” ’ (28). Ironically resorting to a popular cultural trope, she urges David to abandon the identity politics of the past: ‘ “Liberate yourself and face up to being a Tupperware boy, light, multipurpose, adaptable. We’re brand new Tupperware people and should thank God for that” ’ (29). For David, however, such acceptance does not come so easily and he replies: ‘ “You’re wrong about just being ourselves, about being simply what we are. We don’t know what we are; the point is that in a place where everything gets distorted, no one knows who he is” ’ (29). What David is expressing here is the awareness that Martin says must result from any consideration of the question of a coloured identity in today’s South Africa: ‘What emerges is a situation full of ambiguities and contradictions’ (2001: 261). Postcolonialist diaspora theory, which attempts to bring migrant subjects in diasporic communities across the globe into clearer focus, ‘in all their ambivalences, contradictions, migrations and multiple traversals’ (Braziel and Mannur 2003: 17), may provide one way of approaching David’s preoccupation with his roots. A paratextual family tree maps his descent from both the historical Griqua line of Adam Kok I in the nineteenth century and the French Huguenot immigrant missionary Eduard la Fleur. The fictional narrative, which expands on this lineage, can also be traced over many of the features of diasporic experience that Robin Cohen (1997) has outlined, including traumatic dispersal or alternatively colonial emigration from an original homeland to foreign regions, a collective memory and idealisation of the homeland and its history and culture, a wish to return to the ancestral home, a strong ethnic group consciousness based on a sense of a common history and fate and a troubled relationship with the host society. Behind the fictional representation of the Griqua diaspora in David’s Story lie the earlier colonial and slave diasporas, as well as the histories of displacement of indigenous peoples, which all form part of the long diasporic history of South Africa.

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David’s mixed-heritage story started, the narrator says, ‘at the Cape with Eva/Krotoa, the first Khoi woman in the Dutch castle’ (Wicomb 2000: 1) in the seventeenth century. (Writing elsewhere about the fissured identity of the woman who was both the assimilated ‘Eva’ and the othered indigene, Krotoa, Wicomb says that in her case ‘the contradiction that lurks within the coloniser’s project is mirrored back at him’, 2002: 214). Skipping over the centuries, David and the narrator, who is his amanuensis, piece together Griqua history and traditions from oral sources, including the old stories of David’s grandmother Ragel, historical diaries such as that of Andries Abraham Stockenstrom le Fleur, paramount chief of the Griquas, other documents from the museum and municipal library in Kokstad and old newspaper reports from the archives of the Kokstad Advertiser. The narrative, a combination of history and fiction, traces the Griqua lineage, with its commingled autochthonous, colonial European and imported Asian and African bloodlines, from Adam Kok I, his descendants Cornelius Kok the Careless, Adam Kok II and Adam Kok III, to Adam Muis Kok and Rachael Susanna Kok, who married Eduard la Fleur’s grandson, Andrew (later Andries) le Fleur (the original French Huguenot surname also having become domesticated in mid-nineteenth-century coloured culture), who then succeeded Adam Kok as paramount chief of the Griquas. ‘The mixture of Malayan-Madagascan slave, French missionary, and Khoisan hunter blood,’ the narrator says, produced in Andries le Fleur ‘a perfect blend of high cheekbones, bronze skin, and bright green almond eyes’ (Wicomb 2000: 39) – the looks inherited by his greatgrandson, David. And to bring David’s coloured heritage and appearance up to date, the narrator mentions the denture now covering his ‘passiongap’ (71), where he had had the two front teeth extracted, in accordance with the coloured fashion of his youth. The narrative also details how the special identity of the Griqua nation was forged in the territory north of the Orange River in the early nineteenth century when the Khoisan-European ‘Bastaards’, as they were known, renamed themselves ‘Griquas’, ‘in recognition of the Grigriqua (Khoikhoi) element in their make-up’ (Davenport and Saunders 2000: 32) – in the words of an elderly Griqua council leader in the novel, ‘not a cobbled-together, raggle-taggle group of coloureds who do not know where they belong, but a real volk, a nation who had no need to claim


kin with either whites or blacks’ (Wicomb 2000: 130). Then followed the historic trek (also referred to as the ‘Great Trek’, 41) in 1862 by Adam Kok III and 3 000 of his followers from Griqualand West across the Drakensberg to Griqualand East and, after the British take-over of Griqualand East in 1874 and its annexation to the Cape in 1879, the later treks, under the leadership of the legendary Chief le Fleur, out of oppression, first to Touws River in the Karoo in 1917 and then in 1922 into another promised land at Beeswater on the edge of Namaqualand, where they once again dreamt of settling as an autonomous nation with their own church, their own flag and their own emblem. Their years of wandering in the wilderness are recalled in the Griqua collective memory in terms of the exile of the Jews. The myth of the Griqua diaspora informs their ‘Thanksgiving Prayer’ and is commemorated in the photograph of the founding fathers of Beeswater that hangs, together with her ship of mirrors, in Ouma Ragel’s parlour. It was, ironically, the Griquas’ claim to having a special identity as a ‘pure Griqua people with [their] own traditions of cleanliness and plainness and hard work’ (94), combined with their belief that they were non-political, which later made them susceptible to the apartheid ideology of separate homelands for separate races. The metadiscourse of the novel, however, actively subverts any such linear narrative of cohesive cultural identity-formation and exposes the totalising narrative of Griqua ethnic nationalism for what it is – a mythical construct. From the outset, the narrator emphasises that David both wanted and did not want his story to be written and that its fragmentary nature, many errors and concealments, gaps and absences, supplemented by her prodding and provoking, ‘occasional flights of fancy’ (3) and ‘attempts at artistry’, including ‘the art of inferencing’ (134), result at best in ‘mixtures of meaning’ (3) in a ‘mixed-up tale’ (8). As the narrator explains: David was simply unable/unwilling to disclose all. He believed it possible to negotiate a path between the necessary secrecy and a need to tell, a tension that caused agitation which in turn had to be concealed, but it drove him to view the story of his life as a continuous loop that never intersected itself (3).

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As David’s amanuensis, the narrator draws the reader’s attention to the way in which various stories collapse into one another and historical disjunctures and anachronisms occur. She describes David’s relationship with his ANC colleague Dulcie Oliphant, ‘whose life is swathed in secrets (151), as ‘a protean subject that slithers hither and thither, out of reach, repeating, replacing, transforming itself’ (35). Having nothing more than ‘disconnected images, snippets of Dulcie’ (80) to go on, the narrator is obliged to invent the rest. At one stage she wonders whether Dulcie might not be fictitious, ‘a decoy’ (124), invented by David ‘to cover up aspects of his own story’. Dulcie’s story becomes lost in David’s, with ‘no progression in time, no beginning and no end. Only a middle that is infinitely repeated, that remains in an eternal, inescapable present’ (150). The narrator further draws attention to Ouma Ragel’s unreliability as a source of information about the Griqua past, not only because of her failing memory, but also because of David’s inability as a young boy to recognise how mythical truth is constructed, ‘how truth, far from being ready-made, takes time to be born, slowly takes shape in the very act of repetition, of telling again and again’ (103). Ouma Ragel’s unreliable stories (which the narrator later dismisses as ‘mumbo jumbo’, 158), David’s patched-together family history, Griqua manuscripts prepared by ill-educated scribes, David’s own revisions and growing dependence on his narrator’s interpretations, intertextual digressions about coloured identity into, among others, Francis Buckland’s Curiosities of Natural History, Sarah Gertrude Millin, Breyten Breytenbach and Eugène Marais – lead to the narrator’s conclusion that ‘truth . . . is the word that cannot be written’ (136). ‘Truth’ has been changed in David’s story to the palindrome ‘TRURT’, as it is pronounced in the speech of the Cape Flats, disintegrating into incoherent letters. As Wicomb herself described it in an interview, David’s ‘inchoate story . . . threatens to fall apart; only the reader can hold together some of the events’ (Meyer and Olver 2002: 187). David’s story begins to spin out of control as suppressed memories begin to surface: ‘Sounds and images reel chaotically through time until a picture growing out of the morass, out of the cacophony, slowly flickers into shape like the marks on a developing photograph, unintelligible at first until the black-and-white image, whole and in sharp focus, settles,


and there it is – the truth’ (Wicomb 2000: 141). The narrator describes David’s world as being a ‘treacherous, helter-skelter’ (177) one in which false memory, ‘spiraling into the past, mates with new disclosures to produce further moments of terrible surprise’ (194–5). The narrator no longer knows which story she is trying to write – the relationship between David and Dulcie, the events in 1984 in the notorious ANC Quatro camp in Angola, dissidence and betrayal within the liberation movement – and she says: ‘Who could keep going in a straight line with so many stories, like feral siblings, separated and each running wild, chasing each other’s tales?’ (201). Her attempts to narrativise David’s life finally disintegrate, some days after his ambiguous suicide on the day of a chaotic ANC Youth Day rally in Cape Town: a bullet explodes into the back of her computer and ‘its memory leaks a silver puddle onto the desk, and the shrapnel of sorry words scuttle out, leaving behind whole syllables that tangle promiscuously with strange stems, strange prefixes, producing impossible hybrids that scramble [her] story’ (212–13). The narrator leaves us with this surrealistic symbol of the ‘trurt’ of David’s fragmented and incoherent story and of his coloured identity. Playing in the Light Wicomb’s fictional examination of diasporic South African coloured identity along the Glasgow-Cape Town axis in her short stories and novels operates in both directions: colonial Glasgow is used to provide a perspective on coloured identity in South Africa and coloured protagonists from South Africa bring a postcolonial perspective to bear on Glasgow. The third Victorian landmark on Glasgow Green, besides the Doulton Fountain and the Kibble Palace, featuring prominently in Wicomb’s fiction is the People’s Palace, which is the museum of social history for the city of Glasgow. In David’s Story, David tells the narrator of a visit there and his first sight of Archibald McLauchlan’s painting of the tobacco lord John Glassford and his family (c.1767), depicted in their Shawfield mansion amid symbols of their wealth and status: ‘A really glossy picture . . . A sealed, even surface that releases its information with reluctance’ (Wicomb 2000: 191; see Figure 1). David contemplates the painting of the bewigged patriarch, his daughters, their mother, the

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details of their hands, the abundance of flowers in the scene, the basket of fruit on the oriental carpet and the little black dog at their feet: It is then, fixing on the red and the black, the intrusion of black dog between child and withdrawing mother, which at the same time joins their clothing into a single drape of red fabric, that his gaze is drawn obliquely upward, following the gaze of the black dog, along what transpires to be the only sight line in the painting, to the space to the left of the father’s head. There, as if being developed in photographic solution, out of the darkness of a wooden panel, the face of a black man takes shape before his very eyes. In three-quarter profile, the distinct face of a bald black man in red livery, repeating the colours of the foreground. David feels himself going cold with fright. The man, who was not there a moment ago, looks directly at him, rather than at the adoring dog. His hands are held together as if in prayer (192; see Figure 2).

The appearance of John Glassford’s black slave, originally part of McLauchlan’s composition, but later painted out during the growth of the humanitarian movement, is an example of pentimento, which in art is the reappearance in an oil painting of original elements of drawing or painting that the artist tried to obliterate by overpainting. David steps back somewhat, meeting his steady gaze, and, yes, the man is still there. He does not know how long he stands gazing at that face, but he stays transfixed until the edges of the images start wobbling as if under water, the eyes shift to meet those of the dog, and the colours of that crisp outline dissolve and fade into the high gloss of the paint, leaving just a darkish smudge above Glassford’s head (192).

The overpainted figure of John Glassford’s African slave emerging from and dissolving into the painting draws David’s attention to the effacement of slavery on the American tobacco and sugar plantations from the historical documents in the Glasgow museum; it also becomes a symbol for him of false memory, as the figure of the black man reminds him of someone he erased from his own past in the black freedom struggle: an ANC lackey present during his interrogation and torture at the ANC Quatro camp.


Even more tellingly, the image of the African under erasure can be seen as a symbol of the obliterated coloured identity that resurfaces in the life of Wicomb’s protagonist, Marion Campbell, in her second novel, Playing in the Light. On first impression, Marion’s existence, rather like the McLauchlan painting, is finished to a high gloss: white, Afrikaansspeaking and still unmarried in her forties, she is the successful owner of a Cape Town travel agency (but ironically herself has an aversion to travel), drives a Mercedes-Benz and has an elegant flat on Bloubergstrand with a classic view of Table Mountain. Beneath the carefully contained surface of her life, however, lies something indefinite that causes her to suffer from panic attacks, to wonder about the old coloured servant, Tokkie, who used to visit them every week when she was a child and to sense that ‘there is something secret, something ugly, monstrous at the heart of their paltry little family’ (Wicomb 2006: 58). Wicomb’s subject in Playing in the Light is the problematic dispersion of coloured people under apartheid who were light enough to ‘pass for white’ and did so, for obvious reasons of social and material advantage. The title of her novel intertextually not only inverts Toni Morrison’s concern in her collection of essays, Playing in the Dark (1992), as Dirk Klopper points out, by ‘dealing not with the presence of blackness in white fiction but with the presence of whiteness in black fiction’ (2011: 154), but it also evokes the isolation of exile that is the main subject of Arthur Nortje’s early collection of poems, Lonely Against the Light (1973b) – in the case of Wicomb’s novel, a self-imposed, internal exile. The Population Registration Act of 1950 brought about great confusion of identities: many white people found themselves reclassified as coloured; some coloureds were reclassified as Africans; others became white. To escape from the essentialist racial classifications of apartheid, a few hundred coloured families immigrated to England in the early fifties. When Marion discovers from a visit to Tokkie’s home village of Wuppertal that the old servant had in reality been her grandmother, Tokkie Karelse, and she realises that her own parents had turned their backs on their coloured families and community and crossed over, ‘played white’, she is forced to reflect on her own hitherto unquestioned ‘whiteness’ and on race thinking in present-day, non-racial South Africa. Being black, white or coloured may well mean nothing now, but, she concludes, ‘it is also true that things are no longer the same’ for her

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(Wicomb 2006: 106). She is no longer the person she thought she was: hitherto she has been ‘white’, now she is ‘coloured’. The racial categories ‘may have slimmed down, may no longer be tagged with identity cards, but once they were pot-bellied with meaning’ and it is a difference that Marion struggles to get her head around. What she, the ‘reluctant traveller’ (74), realises is that her life has been turned topsy-turvy and that its trajectory has become part of an ongoing and irreversible process of migration.8 As a consequence of her parents having crossed over from being coloured to passing themselves off as white, she herself now has to cross over from thinking of herself as white to conceptualising herself instead as coloured – but, as she says to her lover, Geoff, in the new South Africa there is ‘no question of returning to a place where [her] parents once were’ (107); the most she can foresee for herself is to ‘keep crossing to and fro, to different places’. In this exchange between Marion and Geoff, Wicomb defines Marion’s new sense of her identity in contemporary diasporic terms when Marion says to Geoff about such endless crossing over to different places: ‘Perhaps that is what the new is all about – an era of unremitting crossings’, which leads to his halfhearted retort about whether she is ‘theorising the rainbow nation’. Marion’s parents, John and Helen Campbell, ‘betrayed their families . . . obliterated their histories [and] stripped themselves of colour to be play-whites’ (122), thereby embarking on a deadly serious game under the Population Registration Act. ‘Play-whites’, Marion thinks, was a misnomer for her parents, whose condition was everything but playful: ‘Not only were they deadly serious, but the business of playing white, of bluffing it out, took courage, determination, perseverance, commitment’ (123). Being always vulnerable and therefore having constantly to be vigilant, their never-ending attendance to the rules of whiteness – playing ‘in the blinding light of whiteness’ (123) – left them, Marion realises, ‘no space, no time for interiority, for reflecting on what they had done’. They reinvented themselves as white Afrikaners, learnt to use the vocabulary of the master race against their own kind, dissociated themselves completely from other coloureds and erased the past.9 For Helen Campbell, selfobliteration ‘was the nature of the bargain’ (142) and she came to see the birth of her fortunately pale-skinned daughter as the completion of her project, her legacy to her child being the creation of ‘a new generation unburdened by the past’ (150). The pursuit of whiteness, Marion


concludes, ‘is in competition with history. Building a new life means doing so from scratch, keeping a pristine house, without clutter, without objects that clamour to tell of a past, without the eloquence – no, the garrulousness – of history’ (152). For the generation of South African coloureds who denied the rich complexity of their own identity and assumed a new, privileged identity, immersing themselves in its perceived hegemonic purity, ‘playing white’ meant to be forever steeped in silence and to find themselves, like Helen and John Campbell, ‘alone in the world, a small new island of whiteness’ (152). Wicomb’s text enters that silence to show how it was achieved and at what cost. The story of how Helen Karelse stripped herself of her coloured history and transformed herself into Helen Charles and how she had to be hyper-conscious in acquiring the correct codes of whiteness in her social and domestic conduct, dress, church affiliation (Anglican instead of the Moravian Mission Church), personal relationships, language and education of her child, while also constantly guarding against and abjuring those codes that gave her access to and made her accessible to her husband’s family and even her own mother, is contained within the narrative of Marion’s growing sense of her own newly discovered coloured identity in terms of its constructedness, its dislocations and its absences. The essentialised, homogeneous whiteness that her mother strived for, Marion realises, was a fiction into which their lives had been so thoroughly moulded, ‘there was barely anything to recall’ (117). Having to dismantle the carefully assembled fragments of her mother’s life and composite identity and piece together her true history leads Marion to arduous journeys of discovery into the discontinuities and contradictions of her own heterogeneous history and identity: She is exhausted by the idea of Helen, by the bits and pieces she has had to put together, by the construction of a sci-fi monster of moulded steel plates, ill-fitting bolts and scraps of rusted corrugated iron, like the sculptures made by township artists; she has seen a programme on television about such stuff, called transitional art. Her mother has been bolted together and then undone as new information comes to light . . . The self-made woman, unmade and several times over reassembled (175).

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Marion’s growing perception of her mother as a Frankensteinian creature, modelled from various texts and approximating its human ideal in ways that are finally grotesque, serves a dual purpose in the novel. Most obviously, through Marion, the reader is provided with a telling metaphor for Helen Campbell’s misguided attempt to recreate herself as a white South African; however, at a deeper narrative level, Wicomb is also providing the reader with an insight into how, through processes of creolisation and bricolage, incoherent and discontinuous cultural identities have been formed out of various cultural fragments. For Marion, the discovery of her colouredness means not only having to come to terms with the figure of her late mother and the memory of the grandmother who was disowned, but it also involves a complex revisioning of her relationship with her elderly father and the injury he has done to his daughter, as well as to the family that he denied. She has to come to terms, too, with this family – aunts, uncles, cousins, nowdead grandparents – that her parents kept her from and also with their history in the struggle against white domination under apartheid. Once Marion has learnt the disruptive truth about her parents’ history, a truth from which there is no turning back, she has no choice but to follow the new, multidirectional trajectories of her own life into past and present. The various narratives into which she is thrust involve a repositioning of herself in relation to a spectrum of South African cultural identities, including those represented by the employees in her office: her young coloured assistant, Brenda Mackay, whom she has befriended; the other, white Afrikaner employees; the coloured cleaner Tiena – and even the coloured skollies in the street outside. In Playing in the Light, Wicomb’s text offers yet again a metafictional moment for its reflection on racial and cultural identity, comparable to Frieda Shenton’s seeing herself reflected in Henry Hendrikse’s mirrored sunglasses in ‘Behind the Bougainvillea’ in You Can’t Get Lost in Cape Town and David Dirkse’s gazing at his fragmented reflection in Ouma Ragel’s ship of mirrors in David’s Story. Towards the end of the novel, having decided to travel to Britain and staying temporarily in an attic room in London, Marion looks up from her reading to find a rectangle of sunlight projected onto the wall opposite the skylight window, despite the rain that is still trickling across the windowpane. She watches, mesmerised, as the rectangle of light seems to come alive:


The rectangle is a painting, or rather, is painting in action, of white light on the white wall. It is a picture of time, a projection of rain drilling into the angled glass, rolling down the pane, translating itself into a dance of light on the wall . . . Held within the rectangle of the reflected window frame, the liquid patterns form and dissolve (192).

This composition of white on white, of light in motion against a static background of light, represents, with its forming and re-forming abstract images, the narrative contemplation of whiteness as the absence of colour. In its complexity it also symbolises the increasingly unpredictable directions into which Marion’s life has been led by her mother’s essay into whiteness. Inevitably, Marion’s journey abroad finally takes her to Glasgow where, exploring the area around Garnethill, engaging in conversations with an elderly Glaswegian named Dougie and reading J.M. Coetzee’s early novel, In the Heart of the Country, ‘the crazed thoughts of Magda, a hole crying to be whole’ (202), she learns about Scottish emigrants and immigrants, about the ancestral culture of the coloured South African Campbells, about storytelling and reading and the difference between fiction and reality. Marion’s cultural repositioning of herself is an ongoing process and is necessarily inconclusive. Wicomb’s novel cannot, therefore, leave its protagonist with any greater certainty about herself. Rather, she is left in a state of conflict about the ownership of her own personal narrative and with a dramatically heightened awareness of all the discontinuities in her identity. Like David’s Story, the narrative of Playing in the Light ends on an explosive, self-reflexive note with a confrontation between Marion and Brenda. During Marion’s absence Brenda has been writing a book, not her own coloured history, which is too typical and dull, but that of Marion’s father, whose life story, she says, is the one that she wanted to write and that needs to be written.10 Marion angrily accuses Brenda of having appropriated her father’s story and asks her: ‘ “Why don’t you write your own fucking story?” ’ (217). As Margaret Daymond points out, although Marion ‘is developing some insight into her father’s history, her sense of betrayal still leaves her with a need to control both its contents and its utterance’ (2011: 157) and the

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question for her understanding of her own identity that reaches beyond this final scene is whether, in the confessional era of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (1996), Marion will develop the capacity to imagine more fully the historical pressures, and the opportunities, which faced her parents, John and Helen, when they decided to ‘try for white’.

In order to accommodate at least some of the conflicting elements in the identities of Helen, John and Marion, for which it cannot provide overall coherence, Wicomb’s text offers the reader instead, in addition to the symbol of Frankenstein’s creature, another, rather more flamboyant symbol of an identity assembled out of various cultural bits and pieces. This is the figure of the itinerant Outa Blinkoog whom Marion and Brenda encounter on their way to Wuppertal: an elderly coloured man harnessed to a ramshackle cart that he drags behind him, whose colourful, patchwork clothes, the shiny, outlandish decorations on his cart and its load of handmade tin and glass toys and other objects all make him appear to be ‘a bundle of bric-a-brac’ (Wicomb 2006: 87).11 His treasures, he tells the women, ‘are all from found things that others throw away’ (89). Marion and Brenda are drawn into the flood of words that bursts unstoppably and barely comprehensibly from him when he tells them his story – or rather, his stories – ‘as he launches into a narrative that has no end, each fragment leading to another’ (88). This migrant figure first appears in the narrative almost as a parody of a creolised cultural identity, one that is performed, flaunted and still further amplified in the telling. But although Outa Blinkoog first enters the text as an exotic, almost mythical presence – a caricature of a diasporic ‘coloured’ man – the truth of what he represents becomes clearer to Marion towards the end of the narrative as she and Brenda become the joint custodians of his gift to them of a homemade coloured lantern and as Marion, coming to understand the implications of her mother’s ‘playing white’, begins to admit colour into her life. The notion of an essential cultural identity – white, black or coloured – as Wicomb’s stories show, is a strategic fiction; the diasporic reality is much more cluttered, garrulous, ambiguous and contradictory.


Notes 1. In an essay on Zoë Wicomb, Kai Easton and Andrew van der Vlies describe ‘Waiting’ as ‘a poem about being elsewhere, about straying, about being a victim of histories always written by someone else, and about the anxiety of origins’ (2011: 250). 2. Although the focus in this chapter is on David’s Story and Playing in the Light in relation to the short story collections, October is briefly discussed in Chapter 9 in the context of other contemporary novels about homecoming from exile by Nadine Gordimer, Zakes Mda, André Brink, Marlene van Niekerk, Ivan Vladislavic´ and Michiel Heyns. 3. Julika Griem provides an analysis of Wicomb’s use of the undertheorised ‘hybrid form of a sequence of stories’ (2011: 392) in her two collections of short stories. 4. Mariangela Palladino and John Miller (2011) discuss the Doulton Fountain in relation to postcolonial heterotopia. 5. Analysing coloured identities in terms of collaboration, assimilation and contestation, Michele Ruiters nevertheless defines them in terms of hybridity: ‘Coloured identities are multiple, fluid and hybrid’ (2009: 112). 6. See Hugh William Macmillan and Lucy Valerie Graham’s discussion of ‘the ways in which David’s Story foregrounds what is described in the novel as the “great coloured question,” and the ways in which the novel interrogates the relationship between armed liberation struggle and democracy’ (2011: 331). According to Shaun Irlam, David’s Story ‘approaches the problem regarding the retrieval and reconstruction of identities during the postapartheid epoch in a particularly mischievous way that reflects self-consciously on the entire enterprise of identity mongering. By staging a figure of retrieval as well as critical reflection on that project, [Wicomb] offers an astute and satirical variant on the typically rather earnest pursuits of lost identities and traditions’ (2004: 712). 7. Meg Samuelson says that ‘for reasons not clear even to himself, David embarks on a quest for a Griqua past. This sees him undertaking research on the historical figure A.A.S. le Fleur (from whom he may/may not be descended) and attempting to root his story in the foundational female figures of Krotoa-Eva and Saartjie Baartman, through whom Khoisan nationalists – including members of the Griqua National Council led by Le Fleur’s descendants – now trace “biological and cultural continuity” to a pre-colonial Khoisan past’ (2007: 102). See also Samuelson’s discussion of David’s Story in ‘Unspeakable Acts (Un)spoken: Disfigured Bodies in David’s Story and Disgrace’ (119–39). 8. Gurnah says: ‘Marion’s travel aversion is not contentment with her circumstances or with her landscape but a shriveling up; an avoidance’ (2011: 272). 9. As Stéphane Robolin puts it: ‘Perhaps more painfully, John and Helen excise themselves socially by terminating virtually every intimate or familial relationship, a decision that ultimately poisons their own marriage’ (2011: 358). 10 . Dirk Klopper offers an interesting speculation about the authorship of ‘the novel the reader has in hand, which tells the story both of Marion’s discovery of her ancestry and of Brenda’s discovery of this story’ (2011: 150).

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11 . Wicomb’s Outa Blinkoog is based on the actual Outa Lappies, who also features as a character in Breyten Breytenbach’s travel memoir, Dog Heart (1998). For more about Outa Lappies, see http://lib.pl.privatelabel.co.za/page/travel/447809-OutaLappies-philosopher-and-master-recycler; http://roadtravelafrica.com/2011/07/21/ van-gogh-of-the-karoo-and-patchwork-philosopher/; http://www.thistourismweek. co.za/newsletters/outa-lappies-mr-jan-schoeman-%E2%80%93-artist-philosopherand-activist-1929-%E2%80%93-7th-july-2011/.



Mapping the Indian Diaspora Aziz Hassim, The Lotus People and Revenge of Kali

The South African Indian diaspora The 1.33 million South Africans of Indian extraction make up 2.5 per cent of the country’s total population of 53 million. Three-quarters of these Indian South Africans live in KwaZulu-Natal and are concentrated in and around Durban, which has the largest Indian population in sub-Saharan Africa. Although the Indian community has maintained a distinctive ethnic and cultural profile with its culinary traditions, temples and mosques, religious festivals, dedicated newspapers and radio and television programmes, one needs to be cautious about regarding Indian South Africans as a homogeneous diasporic group. In South Africa, as worldwide, the Indian diaspora, like the African diaspora, cannot simply be spoken of in the singular; despite a shared history of displacement from the Indian subcontinent, its narratives are diverse and its identities complex.1 In his introduction to The Encyclopedia of the Indian Diaspora, Brij V. Lal reminds us: There are, in truth, diasporas of so many kinds – the ‘dollar’ diaspora of the West and the ‘desperate’ diaspora in the developing world, those which were formed by the ‘brawn’ drain and those formed by the ‘brain’ drain. There are also diasporas within diasporas, whose relationships with India are marked by myriad memories and different distances. Personal circumstance, proximity to the subcontinent, the timing, nature and purpose of the initial departure, and the political situation prevailing in the country of residence, all affect the relationship. There are points of convergence and divergence which influence relationships among members of the diaspora (2006: 13). 98

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More specifically, in her book, Afrindian Fictions, Pallavi Rastogi explains that in South Africa, ‘Indian racial and cultural identity, what one might call “Indianness,” is . . . slippery’ (2008: 10). Any notion of a collective Indian consciousness was complicated from the outset by the various backgrounds from which the two main Indian immigrant groups came: South African Indian identities are always configured by multiple determinants such as indenture, migration for commercial purposes, language, religion, gender, and class. As a vastly heterogeneous community, speaking in tongues as varied as Gujarati, Tamil, Hindi, and Urdu, and also belonging to different religious faiths, South African Indians are marked more by difference than by similarity. All this makes it difficult to characterize the lives of Indians with a prescriptive label such as ‘the South African Indian Experience’ (11).

The idea of an ‘Indian’ self became still more problematic, Rastogi says, when many Indian South Africans identified themselves with a larger community of blacks, coloureds and whites during the struggle for democracy.2 In a radical interrogation of ‘Indianness’ in South Africa, Thomas Blom Hansen outlines what has become a standard and widely held narrative of Indian identity in South Africa. It is based on ‘indenture as a traumatic migratory experience forced by abject poverty and colonial despotism’ (2010: 109), causing ‘a loss of a dignified cultural self  ’, but also affording ‘new forms of spontaneous horizontal solidarities – beyond caste and traditional communities’. According to this narrative, ‘Indians gradually overcame racial stigma and oppression in the colony and slowly, against many odds, recreated a proper life, an Indian life, in towns and cities across South Africa’. Hansen argues, however, that this ‘narrative of loss, displacement and a diasporic predicament among Indians in South Africa hardly captures the historical or the contemporary complexity of relationships with India and Indianness’ (118).3 Indians were first brought to South Africa as slaves from Bengal and South India by the Dutch East India Company in the seventeenth century, but by the end of the nineteenth century most of these Indian peoples had been absorbed into the Cape Malay population (Bhana and Vahed 2006). The majority of present-day Indian South Africans are


descended from the 152 184 indentured labourers who were imported by the Natal colonial government between 1860 and 1911 to work on sugar plantations, since the indigenous Zulu people were unwilling to do so. These indentured caneworkers (men, women and children) were largely Tamil- and Telugu-speakers from Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh in southern India, the rest being from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh in the north. Four-fifths of these labourers were Hindu and one-fifth Muslim, with a small number of Christians. According to Surendra Bhana and Goolam Vahed, these Indian migrants ‘comprised several hundred castes ranging from Brahmins to Pariahs’ (242). The early 1870s saw a second category of Indian immigrants arriving in South Africa: the so-called ‘free’ or ‘passenger’ Indians, who were tradespeople from Gujarat on the west coast of India and paid for their own passage to Natal in pursuit of new opportunities. Passengers were subject to the ordinary laws of the colony as opposed to the harsh terms of indenture and they settled throughout Natal and what was then the Transvaal (now Gauteng, Northwest, Limpopo and Mpumalanga provinces). Bhana and Vahed emphasise the important role that the passengers played in shaping Indian society in Natal: ‘They dominated Indian trade, competed with the Whites, provided credit and job opportunities for Indians, and took the lead in establishing religious and educational institutions’ (242). Regarding their sojourn in South Africa as temporary, they kept a social distance from other Indians, but maintained links with their Indian homeland through visits and marriages and by remitting money to build wells and schools in their native villages. Their regional identities were important to them and Bhana and Vahed point out that ‘Gujarati Hindus and Muslims also had more in common with each other than with their co-religionists among the indentured migrants’. By 1911, when the system of indenture was stopped, there were approximately 150 000 Indians in South Africa, of whom some 30 000, or 20 per cent, were of passenger origin. More recently, since the scrapping of the immigration restrictions of the apartheid government after 1994, new immigrants from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh have come to South Africa – although there are, understandably, significant cultural differences between these new groups and Indian South Africans.

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The stories of the South African descendants of the indentured and passenger Indians have been told by historians,4 sociologists and social anthropologists,5 linguists,6 autobiographers such as Kesavaloo Goonam (Coolie Doctor) and Phyllis Naidoo (Footprints in Grey Street), journalists such as Raji Govender (Down Memory Lane), playwrights such as Ronnie Govender, Kessie Govender, Kriben Pillay, Muthail Naidoo and Rajesh Gopie,7 and writers of fiction, including Ahmed Essop, Farida Karodia, Imraan Coovadia and Aziz Hassim. Lindy Stiebel has pointed out that in the run-up to 2010, the year marking the 150th anniversary of the arrival of indentured Indians in Natal, a number of novels appeared with indenture as theme, for example Aziz Hassim’s Revenge of Kali (2009), Fiona Khan’s Reeds of Wrath (2009) and Rubendra Govender’s Sugar Cane Boy (2008). The year 2010, Stiebel predicted, would ‘surely see an increased focus on Indian settlement in South Africa, on questions of Indian diaspora and identity, a self-reflexive process which will no doubt foreground place and memory, prompting fresh writing by descendants of the first wave of Indian diaspora to our shores’ (2010: 3). Aziz Hassim’s first novel, The Lotus People (first published in 2002), charts the experiences of Indian passenger immigrants and their offspring in South Africa over four generations from 1882 to 1986. Its companion work, Revenge of Kali (first published in 2009) – the second volume in a projected trilogy, which remains incomplete because of Hassim’s death in 2013 – features the lives of indentured labourers and their descendants in Durban, also over four generations, from the mid1860s to the early 1960s. Together these two novels provide the most comprehensive representation of the Indian diaspora in contemporary South African fiction.8 Their narratives map in detail the Grey Street area, an old business and residential part of central Durban, which has always been the symbolic heart of the KwaZulu-Natal Indian community. Narrative mapping In his discussion of the use of topography in literary and philosophical writings in Topographies, J. Hillis Miller explains that the word ‘topography’ is no longer used in its original meaning of, literally, writing (graphein) about a place (topos), which is to represent a place in words, nor is it often used in its second sense of the exact delineation of the physical features of a place or region, not through verbal description, but


by means of graphic signs, which is to represent a landscape ‘according to the conventional signs of some system of mapping’ (1995: 4). Through a triple figurative transference, ‘topography’ is used these days mainly to refer to the actual configuration of the landscape surface itself. In effect, he says, ‘the name of the map was carried over to name what is mapped’. Its representation has become absorbed into and contained in the place and its name: The power of the conventions of mapping and of the projection of place names on the map are so great that we see the landscape as though it were already a map, complete with place names and the names of geographical features. The place names seem to be intrinsic to the places they name. The names are motivated. By a species of Cratylism they tell us what the places are like. The place is carried into the name and becomes available to us there. You can get to the place by way of its name. Place names make a site already the product of a virtual writing, a topography, or, since the names are often figures, a ‘topotropography’ (4).

Miller’s view of the topographical convergence of place and narrative in the toponym is important. On the one hand, he says, the (toponymically) ‘encrypted place generates stories that play themselves out within a topography’ and ‘narration is a way to talk about it’ (8) and, on the other hand, every narrative provides an exercise in spatial mapping, since it ‘traces out in its course an arrangement of places’ (10), which the reader can map. Furthermore, Miller maintains – and this is of particular importance for a reading of Hassim’s texts – the novel itself may be seen in a larger sense as a ‘figurative mapping’ (19) in the way it charts both imaginary and physical spaces and also the interpersonal spaces created by the complex relationships between characters. Cityscape descriptions such as those in The Lotus People and Revenge of Kali illustrate the conundrum that Miller points out in Topographies. Their obvious function is to give verisimilitude to the novel: ‘Topographical setting connects literary works to a specific historical and geographical time’ (6). However, landscapes and cityscapes do not just pre-exist works of fiction as the ground for the narrative; as Miller explains, they are also produced by the narrative:

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Novels do not simply ground themselves on landscapes that are already there, made by prior activities of building, dwelling and thinking. The writing of a novel, and the reading of it, participate in those activities. Novels themselves aid in making the landscapes that they apparently presuppose as already made and finished (16).

In the case of The Lotus People and Revenge of Kali, therefore, the Grey Street area in Durban not only provides a verifiable historical context for the novels’ diasporic narratives, but is also a creation of those narratives.9 The urban grid through which Grey Street runs in central Durban (see Figure 3), with its streets originally named for the British imperial monarch, her consort and children (Queen Street, Albert Street, Prince Edward Street, Victoria Street, Alice Street, Beatrice Street, Alfred Avenue, Leopold Street, Maude Lane, Louise Lane), colonial governors and provincial officials (Grey Street, Smith Street, West Street, Field Street, Gardiner Street) and also for streets in the British capital (Saville Street and Bond Street), can be seen as an example of what Paul Carter calls ‘spatial history’ (1987: xxi). This is his term for the way in which nineteenth-century European colonial discoverers, explorers and settlers, through the act of place-naming, inscribed themselves ideologically into the landscape, thereby bringing it into textual presence in order for colonisation to be set into motion. Or, as Elleke Boehmer explains the concept: A country was ‘mapped’ or spatially conceived using figures which harked back to home ground . . . Classifications and codes imported from Europe were matched to peoples, cultures, and topographies that were entirely un-European. And having once done the work of interpretation, the imported symbols, even if entirely arbitrary, stuck. Colonial maps grew dense with old toponyms applied to new contexts (1995: 17).

In The Lotus People, however, Hassim’s narrative shows how the original colonial ‘topotropography’ of the Grey Street area has been recoded and its imperial grid reconfigured into a ‘topotropography’ of the Indian diaspora. By the late 1940s, we are told, Grey Street and the roads bisecting it ‘were a miniature replica of a major city in India’ (Hassim


2003: 168) with their ‘rows of double-storied buildings, consisting of stores on the ground floor and residential flats above’ and the odd cottage in between. Popularly known as the Casbah, the area was inhabited mainly by Indians, as well as some coloureds: It was owned and developed in its entirety, and from its inception almost a hundred years before, by Indians who had automatically settled within its confines before spreading out into the suburbs. It was a vibrant and energetic community that was representative of the second and third generation of the early settlers (169).

In the language of postcolonial revisionist cartography, Hassim’s description of the Casbah offers an instance of what Graham Huggan calls the ‘geographical and conceptual de/reterritorialization of postcolonial cultures’ (1991: 130), when postcolonial writers respond to the codification and regulation of their world with ‘a cartography of difference’ (1994: 124) that emphasises the heterogeneity of postcolonial societies.10 Hassim describes the Casbah on a Saturday morning as being . . . like no city anywhere on earth. The streets and pavements were clean, the shop windows freshly washed and glittering, the shoppers dressed in festive gear and wearing anything from the sari to the Hawaiian sarong. Old men in turbans and long shirts shuffled alongside the younger generation in jeans and colourful t-shirts. They came from everywhere, from the suburbs and the country towns, from distant villages and tiny hamlets; white, black, brown and all shades in between smiled at perfect strangers and strolled on the pavements with gay abandon, some looking for bargains, a large number simply out to enjoy the day and meet friends and relatives before moving on to restaurants and bioscopes. Each street served a specific function. The eastern end of Victoria Street was theatre-land, the western half reserved mainly for the markets and grocery stores. Grey Street, from the racecourse to the West End Hotel in Pine Street, was the clothes-horses’ paradise, offering an array of the most recent fashion trends from virtually every major centre in the world, the garments carefully copied and faultlessly reproduced in local sweat shops and factories. Queen Street was a street of barbers on the one side and hardware and timber merchants on the other.

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Pine Street housed the best family-owned tailor shops in the world; Prince Edward Street the neatest sari houses and craftsmen jewellers. In between and at every corner was the inevitable tea-room, serving the best in chilli-bites and confectionary (Hassim 2003: 108–9).

The Casbah was also a place where streetwise operators played Fah Fee, a gambling racket, and sold black-market cinema tickets and where the street blocks were demarcated as the turf of different gangs: the Casbah belonged to the Victorians, with competition from the Beatrice Street Gang and the Young Americans; the May Street Gang ruled the Umgeni Road area, while the Dutchenes ‘reigned supreme in the Old Dutch Road and Warwick Avenue complex’ (194) and further afield there were ‘other less organised groupings, such as the Overport and Sydenham bunch’. The Casbah, with its network of back alleys and passages, was, in the words of the gangster Jake, ‘another world . . . Another country’ (193). It was, furthermore, we are told, famously a place for political discussions: ‘There was no other area of under one square mile that could equal it for the intensity of its emotions and its pursuit of justice’ (109). Hassim’s narrative records the best-known landmarks of the Grey Street area, including the Juma Mosque and the Emmanuel Cathedral, Madressa Arcade, the Normandie and West End Hotels, the Avalon and Shah Jehan cinemas, the Victory Lounge, Victoria Café, Squatters Market and St Aidans Hospital. The narrative is just as diligent in tracing the exact routes that its characters follow through the Casbah and the adjacent areas, the street names anchoring the events in an actual world. For example, when the young Nithin Vania is beaten up by a group of white youths and his Indian and African friends come to his aid, they head off the whites by going down West Street and via Church Street into Pine Street. Nithin then makes his escape by walking along Pine Street in the direction of Warwick Avenue and along Cathedral Road, passing the Berea Road railway station, crossing Lancers Road, turning into Syringa Avenue, emerging onto Wills Road and finally reaching his home in Verbena Road. Whatever narratives might originally have been encrypted in each of these street names, they have all been re-narrativised, together with the other toponyms in the spatial mapping of Hassim’s narrative of the Indian diaspora.


Mapping the Indian diaspora in The Lotus People The figurative mapping of the Indian diaspora in The Lotus People is presented in relation to two chronotopes: a historical narrative that begins in 1882, during the early years of the Indian migration to Durban, and a more contemporary one whose events take place in 1986, when, a century later, descendants of the original Indian immigrants were themselves emigrating or considering emigration on account of the political situation in South Africa. In the opening chapter, the 1882 chronotope introduces the figures of Yahya Ali Suleiman and Pravin Naran, both passenger immigrants from Gujarat. Yahya is a small storekeeper and mender of pots and pans, whose ancestry goes back to the warrior tribes of the northwest Indian frontier. His Pathan forebears were noted for their independence and ethnic pride; for them ‘bloody tribal vendettas were a way of life, a daily dance of death’ (13) and ‘they subscribed to one law only: Paktünwalï – the way of the Pathan. The chief obligation of this code of honour, its binding force, was Badal, or revenge, which stipulated an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth’. Tempering the code of honour, however, was the principle of Maelmastya, ‘the right to hospitality, which extended to an enemy as much as a stranger’. In contrast to the Muslim Yahya, the Hindu Pravin is ‘the offspring of a gentle, cultured people’ (11). He embodies the essence of the bunya, a businessman whose philosophy of life ‘was steeped in the concept of Ahimsa, a way of life that precluded harm to any living creature. In his dealings with his fellow men he was guided by the principle of courtesy and honesty, his motivation a reasonable profit for his goods and services’ (12). The bunya demonstrated his skill and courage in his business transactions and derived his pleasure and his pride from them; for him business, ‘where fortunes could be made and lost overnight, presented a challenge worthy of a civilized individual’. Yahya and Pravin first meet when Yahya discovers that the property on which his small store, or dukan, stands, and for which he had paid dakus (crooks) in cash, without proof of payment or title, has subsequently been legally acquired by Pravin. The potential conflict between Pathan and bunya is resolved by each man responding to the best qualities of honour and integrity in the other and their coming to ‘a bhai-bund understanding, a gentlemen’s agreement’ (19). Pravin,

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refusing to accept Yahya’s priceless heirloom dagger offered as security, is prepared to sell him the property for what it has cost him, plus a fixed percentage of the profits until full settlement of the debt, to be paid over as uplung, or undeclared cash money, which will be left to Yahya alone to calculate, Pravin’s only security being Yahya’s word of honour. Out of this mutually advantageous and trusting business transaction, sealed with a simple embrace, a bond is forged between the two men and their families, ‘one that would outlast both their lifetimes and extend well into the next century’ (19). In the second chapter, also set in Durban but in 1986, this diasporic history comes full cycle when the 83-year-old Dara Yahya Suleiman, Yahya’s son, announces to his children his plan to liquidate their business empire and emigrate. With the country under a State of Emergency, the climate of violence is increasing because of government intransigence and militant black resistance. The looting and burning of Indian homes and businesses in Inanda, including the Gandhi Settlement, together with all its documents and archives, cause Dara to relive the massacre of scores of Indians, among them his parents, in Durban in 1949 by rampaging Zulu mobs. Having abjured his ancestral code of violent retribution, despairing of negotiation as a means of securing the safety of his family and determined not to have any part of his fortune looted from him again, he compares marginalised Indian South Africans to the persecuted Jews of history: ‘Like the Jew throughout the world, the Indian in this land is despised for the very reason he is admired. Even as they seek to emulate us, they denigrate our culture, our education, our self-sufficiency and the fact that we look after our own’ (23). Dara refers to their forefathers who came to South Africa as pioneers and, continuing in the idiom of diaspora, tells his family: ‘Like our ancestors, you and I made this country our home, we worked hard in a hostile land and we prospered’ (24). Although he acknowledges that his children have accepted the ‘culture of Africa, its lifestyle, its struggle’ (25) as part of their lives, he is nevertheless adamant: ‘We must leave this country. Now!’ He plans to bypass exchange control regulations by negotiating with the anti-apartheid activist leader of the Metalworkers’ Union, whose access to development funding from overseas has been blocked by the government. Dara agrees to pay him seven million rand in cash – ‘uplung money, hot money that the taxman knows nothing about,


accumulated over a long period in time’ (34–5) – in South Africa, against the deposit of its equivalent of three million dollars into Dara’s account abroad. Like the transaction between Yahya and Pravin a century earlier, this mutually beneficial and elegant financial arrangement is based on trust. It may be illegal, but as Dara’s son Sam explains to the union leader: ‘We are businessmen. This represents no more than a simple transaction conducted secretly by honest traders who are precluded from acting openly by an unjust government that makes a mockery of the free enterprise system’ (36). Framed by these late nineteenth- and late twentieth-century diasporic moments – what Vijay Mishra calls the old, ‘early modern, classic capitalist or, more specifically nineteenth-century indenture’ diasporic topography of colonised people, and the new, ‘late modern, late capitalist’ (2005: 13) diasporic topography of global migrants – Hassim’s narrative tracks the cultural changes undergone by the Indian community. In the beginning Yahya socialises mainly with the small group of fellow Gujarati settlers in Durban, who later establish a madrasa and a Gujarati language school. His marriage in 1887, to a girl from his home village of Porbandar, is arranged by their families in a traditional ceremony there and he meets his bride for the first time when she arrives in Durban. In later years, however, he realises, while writing to his brothers in their home village, that he can no longer visualise their features or remember the names of their children. As his life becomes more fully entrenched in South Africa, even to visit his Indian homeland seems increasingly irrelevant.11 Cultural traditions are not easily given up, but observances do slacken over generations and the narrative highlights many obvious indicators of adaptation and assimilation. Although Yahya’s son, Dara, retains his Muslim name, those of his sons, Yacoob and Salim, are anglicised to Jake and Sam and the family business eventually becomes registered as Solomon, not Suleiman, Brothers. Unlike his father, Dara is married in 1922 to a local girl chosen by himself together with his mother, although the engagement is still negotiated according to tradition between the two families. In the next generation, his son Sam’s romance with Salma is also sealed with a ceremonial engagement visit between the families, which leads to the customary Muslim, all-male exchange of vows in the mosque and celebrations at the bride’s home

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afterwards. We are told that, by the time he has reached middle age, Sam ‘in a manner typical of a large number of his generation, struck a delicate balance between his father and his own family, between tradition and tolerance for change’ (29). As parents, Sam and Salma (known as Sally) have failed to inculcate Eastern traditions and customs in their three children, although she has tried to extol the Indian way of life and its ‘highly valued concept of izzat – which not only governed an individual’s standing in the community, but also determined the rules of respect and deference towards an older person’. Sam realises that his sister Ayesha is bound to her weak and ineffectual husband, Ahmed, not by passion, but by the traditional expectations of an Indian wife and he thinks: ‘Duty, tradition, obedience . . . it holds us together and tears us apart’ (216). His brother Jake’s cross-cultural and cross-racial marriage to Hannah represents a more decisive departure from tradition. She is the daughter of a white South African Jew and a North Indian Muslim mother, who met and married in London and have settled in Durban, in the coloured area around Sydenham. Despite the understanding her parents have reached about their respective religions, Hannah has seen what the religious divide has done to them, ‘separated them from their families’ (256), so that she has never known any of her grandparents, uncles or aunts and has been left with a deep void in her life, ‘which would not have existed if either of them had made a decision and embraced the other’s religion’.12 Hassim’s narrative presents many of the cultural features that would indicate a cohesive Indian diasporic identity in Durban, such as maintaining culinary traditions, wedding and funeral customs, and the extended family home, the establishment of an institution such as the Lotus Club in answer to the exclusive and all-white Durban Club, the popularity of sports such as boxing and cricket and also occasions that are forever etched in the collective memory, such as the performance by the jazz clarinettist Tony Scott in the Shah Jehan cinema on the day that Charlie Parker died. On the other hand, the narrative also points to the social divisions among Durban’s Indians – for instance, the fact that the Grey Street merchants are almost entirely Muslim or Hindu and nearly all from the state of Gujarat, each of the two groups always favouring their own kind. When Jake and his friends discuss this at the Lotus Club,


the comment is made that the division is tribal, rather than religious: ‘A South Indian Hindu, working for a Gujerati [sic] Hindu, would still suck the hind tit. The same applies to an Urdu-speaking Muslim working for a Gujerati Muslim’ (370). The friends agree that they all share a common Indianness, however: ‘We know each other’s psyche. The different groups, whether it be Surti, Memon, the Bunya, Tamilian or Hindustani, all mix at a social level and on the sports field’ – the distinctions among them are based on wealth and social status.13 Hassim’s characters are concerned, however, about the fact that the local Indian community is losing much of the cohesiveness it once had. The joint family system, where each house is ‘a miniature village, with all the support and security it provides’ (450), is fast disappearing and Sam laments that it will soon be ‘an anachronism’. The community has further been eroded by the immigration of Indian South Africans to the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States. As Nithin expresses it: ‘There are South Africans all over the world . . . Practically every family has someone who has skipped the country. The close-knit family unit has been ruptured, perhaps forever. Siblings have lost that special bond and first cousins have become strangers’ (411). The experience of their fathers and grandfathers is being repeated; Sam recalls: ‘My father never got to see, let alone know, his grandparents.’14 Language change Hassim is particularly alert to language change as an indicator of cultural change. In its representation of diasporic speech habits the narrative documents the development of South African Indian English (SAIE). According to Rajend Mesthrie (2010: xxi), the Indian languages spoken by the indentured labourers (Bhojpuri, Awadhi and Urdu among North Indians and Tamil, Telugu and Dakhini, or ‘southern’ Urdu, among South Indians) and by the merchant passengers (Gujarati, Urdu, Meman and Konkani) have survived in South Africa over the last century and a half only ‘with considerable difficulty, showing what linguists have called language shift’ (v). Mesthrie explains that since the 1960s English has become the main language of the Indian communities of South Africa, with the result that a ‘generation of children is growing up with little or no fluency in an Indian language’ (xxi). Their vibrant form of English, however, retains ‘a great deal of important religious, cultural and culinary

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terminology from India’ (v), while also ‘showing considerable creativity in adapting the English of queen and colonist to the contexts in which Indians find themselves’. As a variety of English, SAIE ‘owes a great deal to the substrate Indian languages in matters of accent, turns of phrase and . . . vocabulary’ (xxi), but it has also been influenced by the Zulu spoken in KwaZulu-Natal. Hassim’s narrative either states or signals by the inclusion of Gujarati words and expressions that the nineteenth-century immigrants Yahya and Pravin continue to converse only in Gujarati. Yahya is nevertheless aware from early on that his mother-tongue education is of limited value in a country where he is reduced to being a tinker; as his friend Madhoo Daya expresses it: ‘Outside of our tiny community the only language that is spoken is English; without it we always appear stupid and dumb’ (51), leading Yahya to resolve to learn some English, the language that John Skinner has called ‘the stepmother tongue’ (1998: 11) of colonised peoples. In the next generation, Yahya’s son Dara obtains a good grasp of English mainly by reading newspapers and although, when dealing with his customers, he speaks in English and occasionally in Zulu, most of his day-to-day conversation is still conducted in Gujarati, which also remains ‘the language in which he did all his thinking’ (Hassim 2003: 78). Right into old age, Dara speaks English with ‘a slight guttural accent, choosing his words with care’ (22); despite having lived his entire life in South Africa, English still remains ‘somewhat foreign to him’. The Grey Street Indian language context is epitomised by the Saturday morning gatherings in the barbershop at the back of Dara’s store, where the men speak ‘in a mixture of dialects ranging from Hindi, Urdu and Gujerati’ (127), switching to English, however, as their only means of communication when a topic of common interest – usually sport – is discussed. The general proficiency of first- and secondgeneration Indian immigrants in both their mother tongues and English by the middle of the twentieth century is shown in the narrative by Dara’s own code-switching when he instructs his son Sam in the bunya ways of doing business; he speaks ‘in a curious mixture of English and Gujerati, switching from one to the other suddenly, in mid-sentence’ (190). The vernacular remains the language of deference, however, especially in relation to an older generation, such as when Dara and Mr Lalloo use Gujarati in negotiating, together with their English-


speaking sons, the acquisition of a store or when Pravin, who had been entrusted by Yahya with his family’s financial affairs, hands Dara’s inheritance over to him and they speak ‘exclusively in Gujerati’ (236); or when Jake tells his father Dara in ‘still faultless’ (246) Gujarati that he has given up his gangster life and intends to return to the family home. The heteroglossic character of the Grey Street community is indicated in the narrative by the range of different languages included in the dialogue, for instance a Hindi threat, ‘Tu ghee khane wala’ (47), a Zulu greeting, ‘ “Unjani mkai?” / “Sapile . . . Wena?” / “Lungile, bafana” ’ (319), a Gujarati exclamation, ‘Choop, gudha!’ (219) and a Muslim plea for forgiveness, ‘Maaf, bhai’ (220). Hassim’s narrative distinguishes among various sociolects, such as the slang of white youths in the 1950s, with its pejoratives such as ‘charkie’ and ‘curry guts’, the speech of a prison warder, whose idiom is shown to be as indeterminate as his racial origins (‘ “I tell you, ek se, nobody don’t tune me false in this tronk” ’, 280), the language of second-generation Indian South Africans and especially the argot of the various gangs in and around the Casbah, with their Indian, coloured and African members. Their dialogue is peppered with words and vulgarisms derived from Indian vernaculars (garach, chacha, scotens, larnie, pussbhai, chootya, chinal, madars), but also extensively from Afrikaans (kuk, scarpie, vit ous, bruin ous, makelaar, kaatjie, kerel, smark, parrer, boet, neuk, lekker, vrying, kom, maat) and Zulu (jidiga). Further stirred into this mix is a range of South African English slang terms, such as ‘lighty’, ‘sassy’, ‘sink it’ and ‘dust’. As the gangster Nithin explains to a white woman, they live in ‘different worlds’ (363), not only socially but also linguistically, her standard English existing alongside the ghetto patois spoken by himself and his friends, who are equally comfortable in both language worlds. Hassim’s text here illustrates Mesthrie’s point that younger Indian South African speakers ‘are capable of switching between various styles of English: dialect, slang and standard’ (2010: xxii). Bunya and daku Hassim emphasises two main cultural co-ordinates in his figurative mapping of the Indian diasporic community. The first of these is the legacy of the bunya. The narrative traces Yahya’s progress from hawking his goods around town to opening his own small shop in Porbandar Arcade in 1920, expanding his business in the heart of Queen Street

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in 1938 and in 1948, having a premonition of his death, acquiring with Pravin’s assistance a larger store with flats and a warehouse in a prime Grey Street position for his family to inherit. Dara in turn grows the Queen Street store into a mini-emporium, still adhering to the old trading principles of always paying cash, never pawning anything to raise money, counting out his daily takings and keeping proper records, stashing away a portion of the profits as uplung, making his word his bond and remaining a man of honour in all his dealings. The narrative pays tribute to the Indian businessmen of Durban: the shopowners of Grey Street with their ongoing ‘sales’ (‘It was a way of doing business and it worked’, 173), the restaurateurs and the darjees whose tailoring was as renowned as it was modestly priced. The fortunes of the original Suleiman and Sons undergo a considerable change when Sam, ‘under Pravin Naran’s guidance and contrary to Dara’s strict insistence on always buying for cash’ (229), acquires three more stores. Sam thrives in the atmosphere of playing suppliers off against each other, obtaining long terms while selling for cash, turning over the creditors’ money a number of times before payment is due and using the cash flow to pick up bargains and buy in bulk. By late 1955, we are told, ‘Sam, barely twenty one years of age, was already a veteran trader with a solid reputation’ (230). He quickly responds to the new dynamics of the business world, establishes contacts with manufacturers in India and the Far East and before long becomes an exporter as well as an importer. In 1963, he converts the business started by his grandfather Yahya into a limited liability company, now known as Solomon Brothers. Sam’s business career began when his father confronted him with the choice of either continuing in his brother Jake’s footsteps as a street thug or joining him in the store: ‘Daku or Dukan!’ (218), or as Dara had put it: ‘One or the other, for now and forever.’ Hassim’s narrative follows the legacy of the daku in tandem with that of the bunya. Sam’s first taste of easy money was as a schoolboy when Jake introduced him to the ‘biocope racket’ – scalping cinema tickets, with the connivance of the managers – and later to the Casbah underworld: the ‘numbers racket’ (109) operators, the street vendors, ‘local sharks who moved from one street to another, always a step ahead of the law’ (173), the lowly scotens who hustled for the gamblers and the ‘spivs, pickpockets and the occasional mugger’ (174). He learnt from his gangster brother how to


cheat on restaurant bills and about dagga dealers and prostitutes. He acquired the survival skills of the streets, came to know the protocols of gang membership and also to appreciate the criminal hierarchy of the Casbah. As Jake explains its different echelons: ‘The scotens, who are way down the ranks, depend on the runners for their living, the runners in turn dance to the tune of the street gangs and the street gangs that make their money from the small stuff have to play ball with the League’ (337). The Crimson League, or the Big Five as they refer to themselves, were ‘the undisputed crime kings of the Casbah’ (196). These sinister ‘Motas’ operated only at the level of ‘the really big stuff, like extortion and the bucket shops’ (337); they were untouchable; they had top police officers and judges in their pockets and formed a national syndicate with other ganglords in Johannesburg and Cape Town to control everything ‘from dagga to dames, from guns to gambling, from fixing a football game to foreign currency’ (232). While learning from his father ‘the intricacies of business and the rules that governed the straight trader’ (205), Sam was also mastering on the street ‘the tricks of turning a shilling into a pound, faster and with less effort than even the most dishonest shopkeeper could have imagined’ and becoming at the age of seventeen ‘an accomplished veteran of the underworld’. When he was made unwitting accomplice to Jake’s assassination of a white official, however, Sam resolved to abandon his dual life and to walk away from the Victorians gang. He later explains to Pravin’s grandson, Karan, that the business and gangster worlds are not dissimilar: ‘Although they are two different worlds, they have a common denominator: their methods of doing business are exactly the same – you find out what people want, then supply it . . . you have to corner the market and hang on to it. In the one case you use your fists or a gun, in the other you work around the law by using your bankers or the shippers. The only difference is in how society perceives the two methods of operation’ (231).

It is mainly through the figure of Jake’s friend, the unregenerate Nithin (Nits) Vania, also known as ‘The Fixer’, that the narrative demonstrates the skills and articulates the ethos of the daku. Nithin is a loner whose allegiance is only to his partner, John Farley; operating on the fringes of

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the various gangs, he settles his disputes personally without recourse to any particular mob. His career in crime is traced in detail as he graduates from youthful street brawling, burglary and running a newspaper racket to eventually becoming a loan shark, known in the underworld for his straight dealing, reasonable rates and high-up connections. Like the bunya, he has his principles: his rule is never to lend to whites or Africans, but to target only Indian and coloured factory workers and office staff. He learns ‘the language of big money’ (353) early on and understands crime as business: he can neither compete with the Grey Street businessmen nor venture into the territory of the Motas, but rather offers them his services, regarding himself and his partner as ‘the wholesalers’ (340) and the Motas as ‘the retailers’. Nithin dedicates himself to the acquisition of wealth and formulates his creed of money quite simply: ‘Money . . . is a synonym for greatness. The manner of its acquisition has little to do with the status it bestows’ (366). His advice to a university student who asks him for a formula for making money is: ‘The answer is between your ears. Go into yourself. Plot, plan and puzzle. Set a goal, put a timetable to it, make it an all-consuming passion, be ruthless with yourself in the pursuit of it and presto! your brain will provide the answer’ (369). As the narrative moves towards its present, however, Nithin comes to realise that both he and the Motas have been overtaken and that when the Indians and coloureds were forced out of downtown Durban and into the townships of Chatsworth, Phoenix and Wentworth, this also gave rise to a new generation of gangsters from there, drug traffickers ‘more vicious, more deadly’ (388) than anything that had existed in the city: fifteen- and sixteen-year-olds armed with guns – in the words of the gangster Sandy, ‘There’s no sophistication in their methods, no style . . . Talk about principles – they’ve never even heard of words such as honour and diplomacy. As for friendly persuasion, you can forget about it. All they understand is vengeance and survival, in that order’ (388). Political resistance The legacies of the bunya and of the daku merge, together with the spirit of the Pathan, in the novel’s depiction of political resistance to colonial and apartheid oppression in South Africa. Early on in the narrative Yahya explains to the young Dara a lesson to be learnt from the speech


by Mohandas Gandhi that they heard the previous evening: ‘ “If parents behave like dakus then their offspring can only be dakus . . . In the same way, when governments behave like thieves they reduce the people who benefit from such theft to the level of chors, to no more than dakus” ’ (68). White South Africans, Yahya tells his son, are descended from Europeans, who for centuries ‘ “have looted the world and now become the biggest daku nations on earth” ’ (69). Four decades later, at the end of 1948, with the birth of apartheid South Africa, he tells Pravin that he fears that ‘ “this country warps our character, brings the Pathan in us to the fore” ’ (121). Premised on apartheid South Africa being the criminal offspring of a thieving parent culture, the narrative maps in detail the oppression of Indian immigrants, beginning with the exploitation and abuse of indentured caneworkers and including the trading constraints placed on Indians by the government, as well as by white business, and the passage of the Asiatic Land Tenure and Indian Representation Bill – otherwise known as the ‘Ghetto Bill’ – in 1946 by the Smuts government, whereby Indian properties in the First Avenue, Mitchell Road, Florida Road and Cowey Road areas were expropriated and their occupants given 30 days to vacate, the compensation to be determined by the government at a later date. ‘It was a looter’s paradise’ (100), we are told, as workingclass whites and European immigrants were able to acquire the homes of now-impoverished middle-class Indians. Under the specially created body of enforcers, known as the ‘Investigators’, a ‘reign by terror’ (101) began. The narrative goes so far as to suggest that even the events of 13–16 January 1949 were the result of a ‘Machiavellian plot’ (140) hatched in the corridors of Durban City Hall and that far from being a spontaneous outburst, the slaughter of scores of Indians, rape of Indian women and looting of shops by hordes of armed Zulus had been instigated by whites who wanted ‘to break the Indians’ (141).15 While Yahya’s generation still subscribed to Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence (‘You cannot obtain liberty by violent rebellion – the one negates the other’, 67), Dara’s generation grew up in a climate of vehement political resistance, inspired by the speeches of activists such as Dr Goonum, Zainub Asvat, ‘Monty’ Naicker, Fatima Meer and Yusuf Dadoo, who likened the Ghetto Bill to the proscriptions of Nazi Germany. Together with the words of these prominent figures,

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the narrative records other landmark events in the history of concerted Indian opposition to the white supremacist state, including the Nichol Square Rally in March 1946, which led to the launch of the Passive Resistance Campaign in May, and the observance of a national day of mourning, or ‘Hartal Day’, on 13 June. The narrative describes the assaults by police and whites at the meetings, as well as the increasing mood of frustration and rebelliousness among Indians, resulting in the arrests of their leaders. Their defiance in court is memorialised in Hassim’s text, as is the denunciation of the government by the familyowned newspaper, The Leader, over the mass arrests and victimisation of protesters. Hassim’s chronicle of resistance to apartheid in South Africa, from the detentions and bannings of the 1960s and 1970s after the Sharpeville massacre to the intensification of the armed struggle and the rise of a mass democratic movement after the Soweto uprising in 1976, finally focuses on its narrative present of 1986, when the government – of what is described as a ‘gangster state’ (420), run by mobsters who have made the rule of law subservient to their greed – declared a State of Emergency. It is in this context of national political crisis that the combination of bunya canniness and daku methods is most telling. On the one hand, Karan calls in the assistance of Nithin and Sandy to secure the Queen Street retail business for Sam when he decides, after Dara’s death, nevertheless to honour his father’s sale of all the Solomon Brothers’ properties. In an elaborate underworld power play, Nithin and Sandy bring pressure to bear on the Motas, who in turn use their influence with the Johannesburg ganglords to intimidate the daku purchaser. On the other hand, Jake’s later involvement in the family business empire has been a screen for his activities as a senior member of Umkhonto we Sizwe – the military wing of the African National Congress (ANC) during the struggle years – where he employs his skills from the underworld in the political underground as a saboteur known by the Zulu nickname of Aza Kwela – in the words of Nithin to Sam: ‘He’s out to blow this government to hell and he doesn’t give a damn about the methods’ (163). The narrative details the political power play between Jake and the Special Branch, from his secret meetings with activists in the black township of Lamontville and planting a bomb in central Durban, to his being betrayed, arrested and detained by the


‘absolutely untouchable’ (408) special division of the Special Branch. Nithin once again exploits his underworld connections – this time the scotens, prostitutes and corrupt policemen – to establish contact with Jake’s wife Hannah in Point Prison, when she too has been arrested, and afterwards to bribe a warder so that Sam and Sally can briefly see Jake in the central city prison where he is being held. Criminality peaks when the political and financial stakes are highest. Sam’s bribe of a Special Branch general and his Indian middleman to obtain the release of Hannah and Jake from detention is presented as both a high-level business transaction and ganglord negotiation – one in which Sam is bested when his brother’s dead body is delivered to his home after two million rand has already been deposited into the general’s Liechtenstein account. The law of the underworld prevails and the Indian doubledealer is executed by Nithin and Sandy. It is given to Nithin to define what he says are three types of Indians who have been produced by white oppression in South Africa: those who ‘openly defy the system, to the point of losing everything they possess’ (356), who deserve admiration; those who are ‘so completely intimidated into servitude that that all they have left to fall back on is their dignity’, who deserve sympathy and finally the wretch who ‘energetically reduces himself to the level where he resembles a clone that not only imitates his oppressors but actually outclasses them in his effort to emulate their behaviour’, who is contemptible. After Jake’s death the businessmen Sam and Karan and the gangsters Nithin and Sandy are forced to take stock of themselves as Indian South Africans in the late 1980s, with co-option politics having created the Indian House of Delegates in the tricameral parliament at one end of the spectrum and a militant younger generation boycotting the apartheid educational system at the other end. Filled with sadness and anger over the mixed neighbourhood of his childhood having been destroyed and his friends and their families dispersed, Sam is forced to re-engage with the tenets of nang (honour) and badal (revenge) of his warrior ancestry and with its law of Paktünwalï – that the Pathan is the equal of all men and allows no man to interfere with his ‘zan, zar and zamin’, women, wealth and land (473). When Sam is shot by riot police at a political rally and nearly dies, the four friends learn that their own children belong to a network of ANC cells, their goal to destroy the apartheid state and

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establish a people’s democracy – of necessity with violence and to ‘fight evil with evil’ (519). The narrative concludes with four monologues, in which each of the men confronts his own life in the light of the young people’s challenge to them to join the struggle for justice in the country. Sam now realises that his father’s demand years before that he choose between daku or dukan had been shortsighted: there ‘was no contradiction there’ (523), he tells Sally; the real decision he should have been making was ‘either death or survival’ – the bigger South African story of which the story of the Indian diaspora was part. Mapping the Indian diaspora in Revenge of Kali Hassim’s second novel, Revenge of Kali, is presented, in the words of the opening narrator Thiru (Thiruvengadam), as a ‘coolie odyssey’ (Hassim 2011: 78) in three parts: ‘The Canefields’, ‘The Duchene’ and ‘The Casbah’, together with a prologue and epilogue. The narrative complements that of The Lotus People by extending the figurative map of the Indian diaspora to focus on the experience of indentured workers and also developing, with important differences, the concerns and motifs of the earlier work. In Part One, Thiru, a criminal lawyer who lives in Riverside in the early 1960s, wants to find out more about his roots, beyond the information from the few documents he has been able to obtain and the tales he remembers his grandmother telling him. Within this framing conceit, he pays nightly visits to the canefields north of Durban where he communicates with the shades of his ancestors. The harsh tale of indenture told to him by his ghostly visitants leads to a spiritual homecoming for Thiru, as well as the release of his forebears from the bondage of their experience. The overdetermined narrative, comprising all the worst aspects of indenture, presents the lives of a group of labourers on George Jackson’s sugar plantation in the mid-1860s, some of whom arrived together with the first group of indentured Indians on the Truro in 1860. The group includes men, women and children, Hindus, Muslims and a Christian and, as in The Lotus People, their diverse backgrounds are signalled by the many Tamil, Hindi and Urdu words and expressions whose meanings are either translated in the text, left to be inferred from the context, or else provided in a paratextual


glossary. Many of these Indian immigrants were the victims of their own poverty and ignorance and were misled about the nature and terms of their indenture; some were simply abducted. This part of Hassim’s novel exemplifies the standard narrative of early Indian identity-formation that Hansen refers to, starting with the voyage from Madras across the kala pani (‘black water’), which was sometimes followed by the separation of families on arrival in Durban. Living conditions on the plantations were primitive, the hours of backbreaking labour in the canefields long and hunger was a constant factor. The Indian overseers, or sirdars, were brutal, workers were flogged and plantation owners often sexually abused indentured women. Without the means to buy their way out of indenture after five years of service, the mostly illiterate labourers were trapped in ongoing servitude, often through fraudulently renewed contracts. They were hardly aware of a world beyond the confines of their plantation and their hopes of escaping were thwarted by their lack of documents and by the sirdars. The narrative proposes that indenture was the British method of securing forced labour for the colonies after the abolition of slavery.16 Thiru learns about how Ellapen and his friends Runga and Mohideen tried to bring George Jackson to justice when the worker Nabee was flogged to death for attempting to escape, how, despite the assistance of a sympathetic neighbour, this was frustrated by the solidarity of the English settlers and how Ellapen lost a leg to gangrene after being shackled as punishment.17 Thiru further hears how resistance turned into resignation, how the dream of returning to their home villages in India eventually faded and how this small group of labourers ‘over the years moulded into a close-knit community’ (69), forgot ‘their tribal origins and caste differences’ and considered themselves ‘as part of an extended family’. And he hears how, finally in 1886, Ellapen and his wife Angamma encouraged their sixteen-year-old son Kolapen to escape to the free settlement of Newlands, in the course of which Runga, who was helping him, killed two of the pursuing sirdars before he himself was overcome. Part One ends with Thiru learning that the 90-year-old man whom he consults in Newlands is in fact Kolapen and that he is his grandfather. The next stage of the story to be recovered, Thiru tells his wife Malliga, is that of his own background.

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‘Part Two: The Duchene’ begins with a narrative map of the former racially mixed area immediately west of the Casbah at the lower end of Old Dutch Road. The narrator invites the reader to join him on a circuit through the Duchene – from Old Dutch Road via Acorn Road, Agnes Lane, Lancers Road, Douglas Lane, Wills Road, Milton Road, Syringa Avenue, Ajax Lane, Etna Lane, Hampson Grove, Verbena Road, Duffields Avenue, Carters Avenue, Lansdell Avenue, Ritson Road, Mansfield Road and Leathern Road back to Old Dutch Road – and he also identifies the houses and blocks of flats along the way – President Court, Hampson Court, Lavender Court – where people, ‘Black, White, and every shade in between’ (85) lived ‘side by side in perfect harmony’.18 With its emphasis on the vocabulary of walking (‘hesitant steps’, ‘fancy footwork’, ‘leisurely stroll’, ‘take a left’, ‘steer clear’, ‘tarry’, ‘saunter’, ‘pause’, ‘cross over’, ‘meander’, ‘ramble’, ‘take a sharp right turn’, 85–7), Hassim’s narrative bears out Stiebel’s point (drawing on Michel de Certeau, 1993) about how the writers of Grey Street, whether in fiction or autobiography, ‘describe in walker’s detail their lives in Grey Street, crisscrossing roads, taking short cuts through alleys, weaving domestic patterns of familiarity’ (Stiebel 2010: 17). These Grey Street writers, Stiebel says, are all mentally traversing and remembering lived spatial patterns in clear geographic detail over a period of many decades. By walking this area, the writers have got to know this place and therefore their own place in the world – this claiming of intimacy they pass on to their characters or their own histories. By repeating these patterns in writing about these same places, they retain their significance in the collective memory (18).

In this novel, too, the dialogue includes words and expressions from the various Indian languages, as well as Afrikaans, Zulu and English slang, to indicate the mixed inner-city community of Muslims, Hindus, Tamils, Gujaratis, coloureds, whites and Africans living together in the Duchene. It is here that the second protagonist, Miley (Ismail) Kader, spends his early years with his mother Sarah, two sisters and nanima (grandmother), their closest friends being the Zulu cleaning woman Gladys and Marie Naude, the wife of the white police station commander. While emphasising the social support systems within and across cultures in the


Duchene, Hassim’s narrative also signals the divisions in sectors of this community; for instance, the Afrikaner Marie supports and encourages the Muslim Sarah to divorce her husband Yusuf, an abusive drunkard who has abandoned her, whereas the merchant-class, Gujarati-speaking Muslim women denigrate her as an Urdu-speaking ‘Hydroo’ (Hassim 2011: 98) and working-class ‘girmit wallah’ (108). When black properties in the Duchene are expropriated in 1958 in terms of the Group Areas Act and the Kader family are forced to move from their rented cottage to a flat in Cross Street in the Casbah, Miley says of the rich Gujarati businessmen, ‘the larnies, they deserve this’ (109). As a schoolboy Miley helps out at a Warwick Avenue gambling school, as well as at the Central Police Station in Smith Street, in order to earn a bit of extra money for his mother. He and his best friend Mo (Maganathan) both leave high school before finishing and enter the world of scamming the larnies’ clothing stores in Grey Street and frequenting gambling dens where they make their living as cardsharps. Echoing Nithin’s creed in The Lotus People, Miley says: ‘Money! I need it to survive and to make my mother happy . . . I don’t abuse anyone’s trust. I give fair value in exchange’ (142). The operation that he and Mo set up involves ‘a few fah-fee banks’ (149) and a ‘bit of money lending’; they work on the fringes of the underworld, acknowledging that they are ‘small time’ hustlers and no more than ‘a side show’ (150). They are approached, however, by a white ganglord, Monty, who wants to expand his business into the Indian world of ‘night clubs, gambling schools, massage parlours’ (149), formerly the exclusive territory of the Crimson League, and needs their credibility as Indians to win over the Duchene and Casbah street gangs. Within a year Miley and Mo are making a great deal of money, but realise what they have let themselves in for when a child is caught in the crossfire during a shooting. When Miley refuses to use his influence with Marie Naude’s police chief husband to help Monty out of his predicament, Monty turns to the Johannesburg figure known as the ‘Duke’, ‘the undisputed king of the underworld, the emperor of Soweto’ (154), who has corrupt judges in his pay; as he explains: ‘It all boils down to money. Every man does indeed have his price, no matter how high up the ladder he is’ (164). The ‘Duke’ turns out to be Gladys’s long-lost son, Sipho, and Miley’s childhood friend who had one day simply disappeared.

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The novel’s factitious plot has Thiru’s story being told alongside Miley’s in ‘Part Three: The Casbah’. The eleven-year-old Thiru, whose parents have both been killed in the 1949 riots, is introduced via his early morning routine of collecting and selling bottles, cardboard and sacks, vending newspapers and then peddling snacks and cheap perfume to schoolchildren, to help his grandmother. She holds up to him the model of Krishna Deva Raya (emperor of the Vijayanagara Empire, who reigned from 1509–30) and the ancient Tamil ideal of education (‘To be a citizen of Madurai, to master Tamil, was the dream of every nation on earth’, 174) and insists that he completes his schooling. While studying for a law degree at the segregated university for Indians, he also develops, with his friend Trevor, a smuggling operation in the harbour, floating the contraband goods from the ships down the main channel. Within four years they become ‘the kingpins of the dockland’ (183), with a sophisticated network of contacts, including corrupt customs officers. The Point area bordering the docks becomes their territory: ‘It was an underworld with a distinct ethos, different from the rest of the city and considerably more violent’ (183). Here they protect their interests ‘as viciously as the most feared druglords and liquor barons’ and eventually learn to live in symbiotic relationship with their rivals. Thiru soon establishes himself as a leading criminal lawyer, drawing his business mainly from his contacts in the underworld. The narrative strands are (perhaps too predictably) drawn together when, shortly after Miley and Sipho are reunited, Miley’s reprobate father once again assaults his mother and Miley, having years before sworn to kill him, hunts for him in all his favourite dives. Mo, Monty, Sipho and Thiru mobilise their extensive underworld networks to find Miley – the ‘biggest search party ever organised by the underworld was set in motion’ (197) – but before they can stop him, he succeeds in tracking down his father and shooting him dead, also wounding a white security guard in the process. The resolution brings justice and gangsterdom into conjunction rather too neatly: the injured guard is bought off, the motherly Marie Naude persuades her husband that Miley’s father was ‘a bloody kak’ (204) and got his just desserts, Mo provides succour to his tormented friend and Miley learns afterwards that his father and Thiru’s mother had been siblings, so he and Thiru are cousins, not only in crime.


In the epilogue, Thiru takes Miley to their grandfather’s cottage in Newlands, where the ancient sage advises Miley to have faith in his noble origins, to put the immediate past behind him and not burden himself with the sins of his father – all this in the presence of their ancestors whose ghosts are finally put to rest, signalling the end of Thiru’s odyssey. Of sirdars and larnies The contrived conclusion of the narrative is less interesting than an aspect of Indian diasporic identity that it raises in relation to the theme of political resistance. In response to the racist taunt, ‘Go back to where you came from’ (168), Thiru declares his position as an Indian South African in the larger context of other national and international diasporic belonging: ‘What does it mean? Back to the Canefields? The Duchene? India? If I don’t belong here, does the so-called Negro, the descendant of slaves, belong in America? How about the Italians and the Irish? Do they not belong there either? What about the Afrikaners, who are truly a tribe of Africa; where are they supposed to go? You can’t rearrange history’ (168).

He is, he says dramatically to Malliga, ‘the product of the flogged, the maimed and the raped, the starved and the murdered’ (169) and, like other Indian South Africans, he still bears the psychological scars of his ‘enslaved ancestors’. Hassim’s novel shows, however, that the Indian South African psyche also bears evidence of other wounds, inflicted on Indians by their own kind. The first part of the narrative, ‘The Canelands’, emphasises the particular harshness of the sirdars, the overseers who negotiated a space for themselves on the plantations by siding with their masters and brutally subjecting their fellow Indians to their authority. In the third part, ‘The Casbah’, such villainy is represented by the larnies, the Grey Street merchants, ‘Gujarati Indians – Muslim and Hindu’ who, with a few exceptions, ‘operated on a brutal system of vassalage refined to perfection’ (115). In their family-controlled enterprises, we are told, ‘second and third generations of Indian families ensured a constant supply of skilled labour possessing a work ethic unparalleled elsewhere in

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the world. It was a system based on the most evil exploitation of human resources, garnered from within its own community.’ The narrative provides numerous examples of the ways in which these larnie families consolidated their wealth: by stealing the wages of their own Indian employees in the form of compulsory kickbacks, or delaying payment to after banking hours, thereby obliging workers to have their wage cheques cashed for less than their value by so-called ‘friendly’ shopkeepers, or buying up blocks of flats and evicting all the existing tenants for the key deposits to be paid by new tenants. The narrative constantly returns to Miley’s hatred of the larnies and their ‘Grey Street System’ (118). When Mo raises the question of how to respond to the call to join the resistance movement, Miley replies: ‘ “Do you see any larnies at the rallies? While the workers are opposing the government those okes are busy raking in the dough, off the very people who are fighting for liberation” ’ (188). His cynicism about the duplicity of the larnies qualifies the discourse of Indian resistance to apartheid: ‘There’s nothing this government is doing to us that hasn’t already been done by those guys.’ He refuses to fight, he says, ‘to entrench the larnies and their system of exploitation’ (192); the fact that 95 per cent of Indians are already living in misery is because ‘the bloody larnie . . . put them there, by exploiting their labour, long before all this apartheid shit kicked in’. Why should he do battle to preserve the businesses of the ‘Grey Street tykes . . . the very bastards who are growing fat off the backs of their workers’ (192)? Trying to break through Miley’s obsession, Mo explains the difference between larnie and apartheid exploitation: ‘There are two distinct issues here . . . they are both evil . . . but the one is a social phenomenon, the other entrenched in law’ (193). This distinction may hold in the larger social picture that Hassim’s novel presents, but his work nevertheless raises an important question about a deep division in Indian South African identity, as expressed by Miley: ‘Do you ever hear anything about the exploitation of our people, by our own people?’ (192). It is tempting to speculate how Hassim might have taken this up in the projected third part of his diasporic trilogy. Nevertheless, what he has achieved in the two completed volumes of his ambitious fictional project is a comprehensive representation of the South African Indian diaspora in all its historical and contemporary complexity. However fractured or conflicted along lines of religion, language, origin or caste, the Indian


South African identity has been forged in the struggle of an immigrant people against discrimination and oppression, under colonialism and apartheid, and its successes in this struggle, Hassim has shown, are also due to its widely varying cultural legacies. Notes 1. While he acknowledges that ‘India, clearly, is not a culturally monolithic entity; it is, on the contrary, a staggering compendium of a multitude of ethnicities, languages and traditions’, Emmanuel S. Nelson in Reworlding nevertheless justifies his use of the term ‘Indian diaspora’ because ‘its inhabitants share a common history’ (1992: x). Similarly, Knut A. Jacobsen and P. Pratap Kumar state in South Asians in the Diaspora: ‘Whether or not the term captures the range and the diversity of life experience of so many different cultures and peoples, in the last two decades the term has emerged as a useful organising category with reference to those whom one could have called expatriates, emigrants, refugees, slaves, indentured workers and illegal aliens’ (2004: xiv). Such conceptions of the Indian diaspora need, of course, to be seen in relation to Vijay Mishra’s reminder that ‘it may be argued that the modern Indian diaspora has a longer history that is in fact contiguous with an older wanderlust, the ghummakar tradition, which took gypsies to the Middle East and to Europe, fellow Indians to Southeast Asia and Sri Lanka as missionaries and conquerors, and traders to the littoral trading community around the Arabian sea’ (2005: 12). 2. In ‘Sister Outsiders’, Devarakshanam (Betty) Govinden, in a postcolonial feminist approach to South African Indian women’s writing, also addresses the differences within South African Indianness and asks, among other questions: ‘How are identity and difference interwoven, and what spaces are there for claiming difference?’ (2008a: 55). Ronit Frenkel, in her book, Reconsiderations, argues that because ‘South African Indian identities consist of a multitude of positions, forming an elastic construct that is complex and often ambiguous’, South African Indian fiction is therefore ‘an inherently ambivalent construct, while simultaneously being an inherently racialised one’ (2010: 5–6) and so provides a useful way of approaching the issue of race in South African culture. 3. Isabel Hofmeyer describes the tensions and contradictions in studies of Indian diasporic communities in Africa in terms of a fault line between Africa and India: ‘If these communities are awkwardly positioned in relation to Africa, they are equally uneasily located with regard to India. On the diasporic end of the equation, these communities are often understood to have some automatic or inevitable link to India (and hence a distance from Africa). On the Indian end, they are generally ignored and are assumed to have no relevance to India and a nationally conceived Indian Studies’ (2010: 101).

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4. The work of historians includes Vishnu Padayachee, Shahid Vawda and Paul Tichmann, Indian Workers and Trades Unions in Durban, 1930–1950 (1985); Surendra Bhana and Joy B. Brain, Setting Down Roots (1991); Surendra Bhana (ed.), Essays on Indentured Indians in Natal (1990); Surendra Bhana, Indentured Indian Emigrants to Natal, 1860–1902 (1991); Vishnu Padayachee and Robert Morrell, ‘Indian Merchants and Dukawallahs in the Natal Economy, c.1875–1914’ (1991) and Bill Freund, Insiders and Outsiders (1995). For the history of the main diasporic religious groups, see Alleyn Diesel and Patrick Maxwell, Hinduism in Natal (1993), Abdulkader Tayob, Islam in South Africa (1999), S.E. Dangor, ‘Negotiating Identities’ (2004) and P. Pratap Kumar, ‘Taxonomy of the Indian Diaspora in South Africa’ (2004). 5. The work of sociologists and social anthropologists includes Fatima Meer, Portrait of Indian South Africans (1969) and The Ghetto People (1975); Uma Dhupelia-Mesthrie (ed.), From Cane Fields to Freedom (2000); Rehana Ebr.-Vally, Kala Pani (2001); Ashwin Desai and Goolam Vahed, Inside Indenture (2007); Goolam Vahed, Ashwin Desai and Thembisa Waetjen, Many Lives (2010). 6. The best-known works of linguists are Rajend Mesthrie’s Language in Indenture (1991) and A Dictionary of South African Indian English (2010). 7. Neilesh Bose provides a list of South African Indian playwrights and their works in Beyond Bollywood and Broadway (2009: 482). 8. It would be interesting to consider Hassim’s novels in the light of Pier Paolo Piciucco’s argument about Indian postcolonial narratives being ‘mongrelised fictions in that they constantly combine the novelistic and the epic form’ (2004: 37). 9. In her book, A Time of Memory, Devarakshanam Govinden approaches The Lotus People in terms of Es’kia Mphahlele’s notion of the ‘tyranny of place’ in South African writing (see Govinden 2008b: 26). 10 . In this connection, see also Duncan Brown’s discussion in To Speak of this Land of the way Ronnie Govender’s narrative mapping of Cato Manor in ‘At the Edge’ and Other Cato Manor Stories (1996) sets up an ‘unofficial cartography’ against the ‘official cartography’ of the state (Brown 2006: 129). 11 . Ralph J. Crane and Radhika Mohanram say of Indian diasporic writing in general that the notion of India as diasporic home ‘might be repressed, but it reappears to punctuate the diasporic text, overtly or in disguise, over and over again’ (2000: x); however, Pallavi Rastogi points out: ‘In the case of South African Indian fiction, even though the “Mother Country” is an icon charged with mythic resonances, there is rarely a desire to return even in a “spiritual” sense. India, then, exists as an empty symbol. The proclamation of a South African national identity, as well as the articulation of a permanent bond with an everyday South Africa rather than with an imagined India, dominates the thematic concerns of South African Indian fiction’ (2008: 29). 12 . Preben Kaarsholm, in his essay, ‘Transnational Spaces, Islam and the Interaction of Indian and African Identity Strategies in South Africa during and after Apartheid’ (2010), provides an illuminating account of ambiguities inherent in Islamic identity-


formation in South Africa and of the relationship between Indian and African Islam. 13 . Lisa Lowe, writing about differences in Asian-American culture, makes useful distinctions between the terms ‘heterogeneity’, ‘hybridity’ and ‘multiplicity’ to name the material contradictions that characterise Asian-American groups: heterogeneity indicates ‘the existence of differences and differential relationships within a bounded category’ (for example, differences of national origin, class background, gender and economic status); hybridity refers to ‘the formation of cultural objects and practices that are produced by the histories of uneven and unsynthetic power relations’ (for example, racial and linguistic mixings) and multiplicity designates ‘the ways in which subjects located within social relations are determined by several different axes of power, are multiply determined by the contradictions of capitalism, patriarchy, and race relations’ (2003: 138). 14 . Frenkel’s reminder that the South African diaspora ‘is doubly inscribed because it is marked by a history of both apartheid exile and voluntary movement’ (2010: 64) also applies to Indian South Africans since 1990. 15 . In his essay, ‘Navigating Difference’, Jon Soske (2010) analyses the story of the riots in terms of the intersections between race, public and private spaces, gender and miscegenation between Indian men and African women. 16 . In his introduction to the anthology, South African Indian Writings in English, Rajendra Chetty unequivocally adopts the view that indenture was a ‘new form of slavery of the Indian subjects . . . sanctioned by the British in Dutch, French and British Guyana, Guadeloupe, Trinidad, Ceylon, Fiji, St. Croise, Surinam, South America, Mauritius and Natal’ (2002: 13). 17 . See Ashwin Desai and Goolam Vahed, Inside Indenture, for Hassim’s historical source for conditions on Jackson’s plantation, the names of his characters, the death of Nabee Saib and the case Regina vs Balookoomund (October 1866) and its outcome (2007: 77). 18 . Hassim is inconsistent between the two novels: in The Lotus People he refers to the Old Dutch Road area gang as the ‘Dutchenes’, obviously named for the road, but in Revenge of Kali he refers to the area as ‘Duchene’ without the ‘t’. I suspect the name only ever existed in oral form.

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Picturing the African Diaspora Patricia Schonstein Pinnock, Skyline

A diasporic house of fiction Patricia Schonstein Pinnock’s novel Skyline (2000) takes its title from the name of a run-down, eight-storey block of flats at the top of Long Street in Cape Town. From the outside, the narrator says, using a graphic simile, ‘it looks like a patchwork quilt draped from the sky’ (Schonstein Pinnock 2000: 8): the windows are hung with curtains of different sizes and colours or covered with newspaper and the broken ones closed with cardboard, while the balconies, with their identical, empty plant boxes made of cast cement, serve as storage places for ‘fridges, mattresses, bicycles, fold-up beds and armchairs which won’t fit inside the crowded flats’ (8). Skyline resembles scores of other blocks of flats in deteriorated inner-city areas throughout South Africa and, like many of them, has become home to illegal immigrants and refugees from the rest of Africa, who share its crowded spaces, renting beds in corners of rooms. In the words of the young, white South African female narrator, who is also a fledgling writer: ‘Not many have the right to be here and most of them carry forged papers or pay bribes to stay in the country. They arrive from all over Africa by taxi, by bus, by train. Some hitch rides on overland transporters. Many just walk’ (8). Zimbabweans, Mozambicans, Congolese, Nigerians, Ghanaians, Sudanese, Angolans – some are economic migrants, others are survivors of various wars in every part of the continent; all of them, she says, have stories written on the parchment of their hearts which they don’t recite easily. They are stories which have crept out of the edges of civil wars 129


and scattered into the fleeing wind. You can read the words in their eyes, stained by despair; in their mouths, silenced and tightened by horror. You can even read the words in their torn and weary clothes (11).

They survive in Cape Town by selling sweets, South African flags, African curios or drugs on the sidewalks and at traffic intersections, at the PanAfrican Market, in St George’s Mall or from Skyline itself.1 As a group, these ‘kwere kwere, foreigners who are not really welcome here’ (118), are the objects of the xenophobic distrust of black and white South Africans alike. The garage workers across the road, who refer to Skyline as ‘the Africa junction’ (10), express this collective resentment against foreign Africans: ‘The whole of Africa is running into the country and to here at the top of Long Street. Do they think Cape Town is the big hotel with the free jobs? Or what they thinking? And do they think they can just come here from where they come from over Africa and take the people’s jobs? What is going on with the government to let them in, hey? . . . You see, they no good for us, these peoples. They must go back their own country. They must go back to the Congo or whatever’ (10).

The combination of fear and hostility is echoed by Sylvester from the 7-Eleven, whose twisted racism nevertheless conveys some of the truth of widespread corruption in the Department of Home Affairs and the operations of criminal syndicates in South Africa from countries such as Nigeria and Mozambique: ‘They just got to come down from Africa and take over our country. Fuck up their own place, then come here to steal from us. I’m telling you, the old days was better. Those apartheid days, you can give them back to me anytime. At least in those days, there was electric fences around the border and if illegals came over they fried on the wires. Those guys couldn’t just stroll across like now . . . The country’s just gone to shit. It belongs to illegals now, not to us. They bought it! They paid somebody something under the counter. I’m telling you! South Africa belongs to Africa, not us’ (50).

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The narrative mapping of the African diaspora in the novel also extends beyond Skyline to include the clubs and pubs down Long Street and in the vicinity, such as the Lounge Café, Mama Luke’s shebeen in Bree Street and the Whistle Stop Café disco, as well as the Pan-African Market, with its shops selling ‘bronzes from Benin; carved doors from Zanzibar; Ethiopian crosses; masks from Cameroon; cloth from Mali’ (104). The African diaspora in Africa The large questions concerning the African diaspora, as formulated for example by Paul Tiyambe Zeleza in his essay, ‘Diaspora Dialogues’, are too complex and far-reaching to be properly dealt with here. Zeleza asks: What does the term ‘diaspora’ mean? What is the African diaspora? Who qualifies to be considered part of the African diaspora? How have African diasporas been formed and changed over time? How have they engaged Africa? How do the histories of African diasporas affect the way we think about diasporas, theorize diaspora (2009: 31)?2

It is perhaps more useful to begin with Zeleza’s general statement that ‘African diasporas include all those peoples dispersed from the continent in historic and contemporary times who have constituted themselves into diasporas’ (34) and understand it in relation to the definition of the African diaspora he offers that was adopted by a technical workshop of the African Union in Trinidad in 2004: ‘The geographical dispersal of peoples whose ancestors, within historical memory, originally came from Africa, but who are currently domiciled, or claim residence or citizenship, outside the continent of Africa. This definition recognizes both dispersal and subsequent reconstitution of African Diaspora identities in new locations as equally important elements’ (35). Zeleza goes on to distinguish three stages in the formation of diasporas: diasporisation, he says, is a cumulative process ‘beginning with migration, followed by resettlement, and reproduced through the offspring of the migrants’ (41). On the basis of this three-stage schema, he then distinguishes between African migrants, who over the years become diasporised Africans, whose offspring then turn into African diasporas.


In wanting to treat Africa and the African diaspora as a whole, Patrick Manning proposes what he calls ‘Africa-diaspora studies’, which is ‘an approach that traces connections among the various regions of the black world and emphasizes the social dynamics of those connections’ (2009: 4). He distinguishes four types of overlapping connections in the history of black people: (1) interactions among black communities at home and abroad, (2) relations with hegemonic powers, (3) relations with non-African communities, and (4) the mixing of black and other communities. These four dynamic dimensions of Africa-diaspora studies, explored across the regions of the black world, add up to a comprehensive yet flexible concept for analysing the broad historical experience of black people and for setting that experience in a broader social context.

Manning suggests that it is also helpful to distinguish the dynamics of connections within the black community (the connections among subgroups of the diaspora by region, language or religion) from connections without the community (dealing with hegemonic powers, slavers, or co-workers of a different racial attribution) and from connections combining these two, such as those of families spanning racial and ethnic lines (10).

Whether the larger African diaspora is approached from an ‘Afrocentrist’ perspective or from Paul Gilroy’s (1993) ‘Atlanticist’ perspective, the question that is more immediately relevant for my consideration of Schonstein Pinnock’s Skyline is whether an immigrant African community in another African country (here South Africa) can technically be regarded as forming part of the African diaspora.3 This is answered, in part at least, by Michael A. Gomez, a contemporary historian of the African diaspora, who defines his subject as ‘people of African descent who found (and find) themselves living either outside of the African continent or in parts of Africa that were territorially quite distant from their lands of birth’ (2005: 1; emphasis added). The state of being ‘out of Africa’ can thus also be experienced elsewhere in Africa. The related question of whether the African diaspora can or should be spoken of as a unified experience, considering ‘the complex pattern of

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communities and cultures with differing local and regional histories’ (2), Gomez says, has no easy answer. The mostly illegal African immigrants in Schonstein Pinnock’s novel have, for example, gravitated towards Cape Town because of, among other factors, civil wars in Angola, Mozambique, Sierra Leone and Congo, genocidal conflict in Rwanda and Sudan, corruption and failed democracy in Nigeria and economic and social collapse in Zimbabwe. What Gomez does make clear, however, is that there can be no essentialist model of the African diaspora and his definition of the term allows for a vast range of different experiences: it ‘consists of the connections of people of African descent around the world, who are linked as much by their common experiences as their genetic makeup, if not more so’ (2). Brent Hayes Edwards, in his genealogy of the concept of African diaspora, similarly argues that diaspora points to internal as well as external differences within and among transnational black groupings. ‘In appropriating a term so closely associated with Jewish thought,’ he says, ‘we are forced to think not in terms of some closed or autonomous system of African dispersal but explicitly in terms of a complex past of forced migrations and racialization – what Earl Lewis [1995] has called a history of “overlapping diasporas” ’ (Edwards 2001: 64). In their critical reassessment of the concept of African diaspora(s), Geneviève Fabre and Klaus Benesch begin by acknowledging that as a result of the ‘historical juggernaut’ (2004: xv) of the slave trade and its aftermath and the violent uprooting represented by the Middle Passage, ‘Africa was irretrievably lost’ to exiled Africans in Europe and the New World and so acquired great symbolic meaning: Real or imagined, Africa is the matrix of the African diaspora, the lost homeland and center. For people of African descent who had been abducted from or driven out of Africa, the ‘dark’ continent is the place of origin, the guarantor of identity and filiation; it is a mythic site, a source of inspiration and consolation, to which one longs to return. The massive exodus of Africans and their dispersal throughout the Western World remains the most compelling image of black discourse.

However, Fabre and Benesch, like Edwards, remind us that ‘Africa is a complex continent made up of many nations and a plethora of ethnic


and linguistic groups’ and because of its ‘amazing cultural diversity marked, more often than not, by ethnic fervor and division’ (xv–xvi), assumptions of unity cannot easily be made. Consequently, they argue, ‘though still a land of origin, Africa has shifted conceptually: it has finally become an ambiguous place, a conflict-ridden continent’ (xvi). Because of the differences among the various experiences of dispersal, they point out that the ‘idea of an African diaspora was thus gradually replaced by that of multiple diasporas, unified solely through their lost center and mythic homeland, Africa’ (xvii). And the current situation, they say, is still more complex: With the rise of new, postcolonial African nations and, concomitantly, an increase of migratory flux and the appearance of multiple, temporary homelands, the cultural, historical, and geographical differences within the black diaspora itself are being increasingly recognized. Today scholars are more interested in how these various forms of diaspora are connected to each other than in links between the dispersed former Africans and a mythic homeland or spiritual center (xviii).4

What is important for understanding the intra-African diaspora as represented by Schonstein Pinnock in Skyline is the ‘diasporic consciousness’ (Khan 2007: 142) that all her uprooted characters have in common and the way a diasporic personhood and cultural identity are shaped in their separate and collective narratives. Recent theorists have, however, stressed the extent to which diasporic communities, despite their collective memory and strong ethnic group consciousness and solidarity, are equally shaped culturally through continuous interaction with their host societies. Sunil Bhatia and Anjali Ram have argued that the development of a diasporic identity-formation does not follow the standard psychological model of acculturation and that the conflict within and displacement from a native culture are followed by ongoing engagement and negotiation with host cultures: ‘Far from being a linear process that proceeds along a teleological trajectory, immigrants variously experience contradictions, tensions, and a dynamic movement that spirals back and forth’ (2009: 146). It is this dynamic that also underlies Stuart Hall’s view of diasporic cultural identity being a matter not only of

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being, but also of becoming. The experience of diaspora, he reminds us, ‘is defined, not by essence or purity, but by the recognition of a necessary heterogeneity and diversity; by a conception of “identity” which lives with and through, not despite, difference; by hybridity’ (2003: 244). Hall’s view of diasporic identity in terms of internal division and motility, rather than fixed essence, is echoed, more specifically in a black context, by Gilroy’s thesis that the ‘history of the black Atlantic yields a course of lessons as to the instability and mutability of identities which are always unfinished, always being remade’ (1993: xi) and that cultural doubleness and intermixture are the legacies of the African diaspora. Or, as more recently formulated by Fabre and Benesch, ‘diaspora is less a condition or a state than a search for identity that is constantly contested, re-imagined, and re-invented’ (2004: xiv). Picturing the African diaspora The heterogeneity and the cultural displacement and syncretism of African diasporic identities can perhaps best be conveyed by means of a fictional work that shares this hybridity. The inventive fictional structure devised by Schonstein Pinnock for telling the individual and combined stories of the residents of Skyline articulates fully with the experience of the African diaspora and its legacies of cultural doubleness and intermixture. Skyline provides one of the most self-reflexive and wideranging examples of ekphrasis – ‘the literary description of a work of art’ (Hollander 1998: 86) – in contemporary South African fiction.5 More precisely, Schonstein Pinnock’s fictional discourse needs to be distinguished from the merely iconic, for, as John Hollander, quoting Jean H. Hagstrum (1958), explains, truly ekphrastic literary works are those ‘that purport to give “voice and language to the otherwise mute art object” ’. W.J.T. Mitchell formulates it in more general terms: ekphrasis is ‘the verbal representation of visual representation’ (1994: 152), a definition that has to take account of the obvious fact that a verbal representation cannot represent – that is, make present – its object in the same way a visual representation can. It may refer to an object, describe it, invoke it, but it can never bring its visual presence before us in the way pictures do. Words can ‘cite,’ but never ‘sight’ their objects.6


The particular challenge for an ekphrastic literary work, Mitchell says, is that because ‘the textual other’ – the work of art – can never be present, ‘it must be conjured up as a potent absence or a fictive, figural present’ (158). A major part of the narrative in Schonstein Pinnock’s novel is devoted to description and discussion of particular paintings and the language of painting more generally. Furthermore, as an ekphrastic fictional construct, Skyline combines both kinds of ekphrasis that Hollander (1988, 1998) distinguishes: actual ekphrasis, where a literary work incorporates actual, particular works of art that pre-exist it, and notional ekphrasis, where a literary text incorporates descriptions of purely fictive works of art. The novel consists of 40 more or less symmetrical chapters, in each of which the (sometimes overlapping) main stories are narrated and all of which, with the single exception of the penultimate chapter, conclude with the description of a painting. The descriptions of the paintings are separated from the foregoing text in the chapter by an illustration of a string of graded beads. As it turns out at the end of the novel, the paintings are all by the narrator’s self-taught, close friend, Bernard, a traumatised refugee from the war in Mozambique, where his wife was killed and his three children abducted, their fates unknown to him. Most of these fictive paintings have titles; some, we are told, are untitled; however, for some there is simply no mention of a title or otherwise. As a collection, they constitute the notional ekphrasis in the narrative – which Schonstein Pinnock then further hybridises by combining it with a whole range of instances of actual ekphrasis. In the majority of the descriptions of the fictive paintings an actual, well-known work from the history of Western art is explicitly cited by the narrator as having been the inspiration for Bernard’s painting or the narrator draws attention to similarities in Bernard’s work to such a painting, the inspiration or resemblance being based on a particular colour, an element of composition or technique, a figure, a mood or a theme. In some cases there is no Western painting mentioned for comparison. Bernard’s paintings all have their own subjects, however, and do not simply illustrate the fictional narrative or reproduce their source paintings. They tend to be stylistically mixed and experimental, but nevertheless have an expressive, aesthetic logic of their own, which is generally characterised by the use of rich colours and recurrent motifs, such as flying or floating figures. It is the achievement of Schonstein Pinnock’s narrative that

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Bernard’s paintings, as presented and analysed by the narrator, together make up a fictive body of work that could conceivably be that of an actual contemporary African artist – and more particularly, an artist of the African diaspora.7 For example, Auguste Renoir’s richly exotic, reclining Woman of Algiers serves as a point of departure for a painting titled It is the Woman of Rwanda, of a similarly colourful, fat black woman, whose facial expression and ‘mulberry-purple, burnt-ochre, paw-paw-orange and sacrificial-crimson’ (Schonstein Pinnock 2000: 12) robe recall Renoir’s subject. The subject of Bernard’s painting is inspired by the hairdresser, Princess, who is a refugee from the Rwandan genocide and whose daughters’ terrible fates she cannot bring herself to tell anyone. ‘ “Princess from Rwanda” ’ (11), as she presents herself, rents out sleeping space to other refugees who make their way to Cape Town, but have nowhere to go. Henri Rousseau’s naive fantasy, Sleeping Gypsy, provides a model for Bernard’s painting It is the Woman Travelling, which is based on the actual story of a woman who has fled with her small children, silenced by the horrors that they have witnessed, from the war in Sudan and come on foot to ‘ “Nelson Mandela’s country far away to the south” ’ (15), sleeping in the desert on the way. There are no source paintings given, however, for It is the Treasures Bought from Heaven, which is painted to resemble a black-and-white photograph and serves to memorialise the Ghanaian, Kwaku, who came to Mandela’s promised land to find his fortune, only to die there of AIDS, or for It is the Dealing on Long Street, which has as its subject the Nigerian drug dealers in central Cape Town and follows on an account of a police raid on Skyline – also known, the narrator says, as ‘Cocaine Court’ (87). Nor are there Western models for the paintings in Chapters 26 and 27, where the narrator tells of the arrival of Cameron and Liberty Chizano from Zimbabwe in a truck laden with wooden and stone carvings, which they offload in the third-floor flat of the Zimbabwean wire-workers. In the painting titled In the Harare Township, Cameron is figured as a skinny, barefoot black boy standing on a dirt road at the edge of a township and, in an untitled painting, Liberty, a performance poet whose Shona songs celebrate the freedom fighters in the Chimurenga war, is depicted as an adolescent black girl in a ragged dress sitting on the steps of a country trading store, with a Rhodesian military vehicle in the background.


The narrator and the other principal characters in the narrative are also interpreted by Bernard with direct or oblique reference to sources in Western art. (It is sometimes left ambiguous to what extent the Western paintings have served as actual models for Bernard’s work, or whether the correspondences between them are perceived by the narrator, who tends to use phrases such as ‘striking similarity to’, ‘resembles’, ‘based on’, ‘reminiscent of’, ‘borrowings from’, ‘much like’ and ‘fashioned on’.) In the opening chapter the unnamed teenage narrator introduces herself, together with her autistic twelve-year-old sister, Mossie, and their mother, in their flat in Skyline on the day that their father left home. The narrator features in the painting, It is the Cape Town City, as a girl looking down from the veranda of a block of flats into the street below, the incline of the surrounding buildings making her the focal point of the painting. Although the movement in the painting captures the general dynamism of a modern city, and its model is clearly Umberto Boccioni’s Street Noises Invade the House, its colour-sounds, we are told, are distinctively African: ‘Azures, plumbago blues and fire-yellows weave through traffic choruses with the beating of goat hide drums and rhythms of kwaito’ (4). The narrator’s alcoholic mother, as represented in Bernard’s charcoal drawing She Has Sorrow in the Kitchen, bears a strong resemblance to the gaunt figure of the woman in Pablo Picasso’s The Frugal Meal. Bernard later develops his drawing into a painting, She Has More Sorrow in the Kitchen, incorporating into it also the tragic loneliness of the figure in Edgar Degas’s painting Absinthe. The narrator’s absconded father is represented by Bernard in It is the White Man Crossing the River as a white colonial explorer being rowed, together with his Land Rover Discovery, on a raft across a river by naked black men, with a jungle background and an intertextual reference in the right-hand corner: a black-and-white photograph of a woman standing at a kitchen sink and looking out of a window. The infidelities of which the narrator’s mother accuses her husband are conveyed by She is Selling the Love in the Brown’s Hotel, which is of a naked woman on a bed in a shabby room and is based on Walter Sickert’s La Hollandaise. Mossie, who has an obsessive passion for beads and birds, is depicted by Bernard in a couple of paintings: first in She is the Little Sister, in which he has borrowed from Amedeo Modigliani’s hauntingly vulnerable Little Girl in Blue, and later in an untitled painting of a young girl sitting on a window ledge

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overlooking the city, while the figure of a white woman in a greatcoat and smoking a cigarette floats above her, the tranquility of the picture inviting comparison with Marc Chagall’s Ida at the Window. Bernard’s painting, It is the Fine Young Man, of Raphael, the narrator’s Jewish friend from school who lives with his widowed mother in a beautiful home in Oranjezicht, is based on Chagall’s The Fiddler and mimics its lightness and spontaneity, although the background architecture has been transposed from Russian to Cape Dutch. Like the foreign Africans, the other residents of Skyline and its surrounds are presented in the narrative as marginalised people. The flamboyant transvestite entertainer, Alice the Spice Girl, is the subject of Bernard’s You Can Buy the Love Here, which is derived from Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s Astarte Syriaca, whose voluptuousness Bernard’s portrait shares, whereas his untitled painting of Adelaide, the homeless woman, is based on Paul Cezanne’s The Negro Scipio, the common element being the weariness of spirit conveyed by both figures. The painting of the blind, mixed-race couple, Gracie and Cliff, together with their two guide dogs, and simply titled It is the Beauty, takes its inspiration from Henri Matisse’s The Conversation. Mrs Clara Rowinsky, the elderly art dealer whose flat is filled with books and beautiful things, and who has the only veranda in Skyline with plants, came to South Africa after the war from Berlin, where her father, a university professor, had been arrested for concealing Jews from the Nazis. Elements of her story are captured by Bernard in three canvases, the first a haunting work, The Sorrow is Sitting on the Bench, depicting a young Jewish girl escorted by two Nazi soldiers, and the second an untitled chiaroscuro study of a young woman sitting inside a bomb-damaged cathedral, neither painting being provided with an actual source. The third canvas, however, also untitled and the only head-and-shoulders portrait in the collection, of a pensive, white-haired woman with three goose-stepping soldiers behind her, is recognisably based on Evelyn de Morgan’s study of the head of Jane Morris in old age for the painting The Hour Glass. What unites the marginalised Africans and many of the white South Africans is the common theme of flight from war, which also brings the perspective of the archetypal Jewish diaspora to bear on the narrative representation of present-day African experience: Raphael’s Jewish grandparents had survived Nazi persecution in Holland and


established themselves, like Clara Rowinsky, in Cape Town after the war. The diasporic loss of an ancestral homeland has a parallel, furthermore, in the trope of the lost father figure in the novel: the narrator finally rejects her father who abandoned his family; Raphael’s father died in a drowning accident and Clara Rowinsky’s efforts to trace her father after the war were fruitless. It is given to her to reflect on the general plight of the refugee: on the question of ‘the sheltering of the fugitive, the sheltering of the refugee from whatever circumstance but particularly from war and destabilization’ (102); on the fugitive from war as a broken person, especially the ‘realization, conscious or not, of the barbarism which hovers at the edges of our reality, all the time’ and finally on the whole question of returning: ‘How do displaced persons return home?’ – and her conclusion: ‘No one returns after war. You cannot return to what you knew because everything and everyone is changed either by death or the pretence of forgetting what happened’ (103). To appreciate the effectiveness of Schonstein Pinnock’s ekphrastic narrative mode, it might be still more accurate to regard Skyline as resembling an ‘iconotext’, in terms of Peter Wagner’s argument in Reading Iconotexts. Wagner goes beyond the word-image opposition and the traditional view of texts and images as ‘sister arts’, to break down the barriers between literature and visual art. In what he calls an ‘iconotext’ neither image nor text is free from the other, but they are mutually interdependent in the ways they establish meaning.8 Basing his discussion on cartoons with captions and on eighteenth-century engravings, Wagner variously describes the textual dynamic of iconotexts as ‘the interpenetration of texts and images’ (1995: 12), ‘the conflation of word and image in spacing/inhabitation/framing’ (24), ‘mingling and layering visual and verbal texts’ (25) and ‘visual and verbal crossings’ (27). According to Wagner, the iconotext, comprising text and image, each of which is in itself ‘dialogical, at times even polylogical and contradictory’ (162), needs to be decoded ‘as a construct that welds texts to images while appealing to the observer to activate his/her knowledge of both media’. Mitchell, in his discussion of the many and complex ways in which pictures enter texts and texts enter pictures and of the relation between visual and verbal signs, ‘between the seeable and the sayable, display and discourse, showing and telling’ (1996: 47), maintains that ‘word and image’ is better understood as ‘a dialectical trope rather than a binary

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opposition . . . a relay between semiotic, aesthetic and social differences’ (54). He is exact about the terminology he employs: the typographic convention of the slash designates ‘ “image/text” as a problematic gap, cleavage, or rupture in presentation. The term “imagetext” designates composite, synthetic works (or concepts) that combine image and text. “Image-text,” with a hyphen, designates relations of the visual and verbal’ (1994: 89). But beyond technical analyses of textual pictures and pictorial texts, he says, lies the larger question: ‘Why does it matter how words and images are juxtaposed, blended, or separated?’ (91). In answering this question, he returns repeatedly to the point that the word and image dialectic is linked ‘to questions of power, value and human interest. It rarely appears without some hint of struggle, resistance, and contestation’ (1996: 54). In the case of Schonstein Pinnock’s Skyline, I argue here, image and text merge to convey what it means individually and collectively to experience the African diaspora, to attempt to depict its overlapping histories of conflict and dislocation and to write about it from a South African perspective.9 For example, the complex interdependence between text and image in the narrative can be seen from two features of Bernard’s paintings. In a number of them, embedded verbal texts form part of the iconography – a Kentucky Fried Chicken sign and also a Democratic Party election poster in an untitled watercolour of a white vagrant, a Standard Bank sign in the background of the painting of the drug dealers, an incongruous Coca-Cola advertisement in the painting of the Jewish girl and the Nazis, a sign advertising ‘Italian Panettone for Sale’ in a picture of Mr Giovanni’s Italian delicatessen in Long Street, the name of the Cashel Valley Trading Store in the painting of the young Zimbabwean girl and a Total petrol pump in the painting, It is the Petrol for the Journey, about Bernard’s journey from Mozambique to South Africa. In each of these paintings the verbal text is integrated into a visual composition, which, in turn, is mediated through the verbal narrative in which it is contained. To add to the hybrid semiology, the innovative frames improvised by Bernard for his paintings are often also described – a wooden frame painted in bright enamels, another painted in the colours of the Italian flag and other frames made from rusty, flattened CocaCola cans, out of pigeon feathers and beads pasted onto cardboard, out of corrugated card spray-painted in gold, out of twisted wire threaded


with bottle tops, or formed simply by sticking orange Rizla packets sideby-side onto card, or fixing Castle beer bottle tops around the canvas. Bernard’s artistically and culturally hybrid paintings are framed by what are recognisably hybrid, contemporary African artefacts, which are themselves framed by a hybrid fictional discourse. Wagner reminds us that the paratextual framing devices of a work of fiction (such as prefaces, introductions and epigraphs) are comparable to the frames of pictures in the way they contribute to the production of meaning. Frames function as borders to set paintings off from their surroundings – ‘as a device separating the space of art from natural space’ (1995: 90); however, they also establish their own space and can draw the observer’s attention to themselves. ‘Rhetorically and epistemologically,’ Wagner argues, ‘pictorial liminality is part of an iconographic strategy that allows the subversion of what is allegedly more important or central’ (75). Frames, textual as well as pictorial, are part of the contesting value and power systems at the interface of visual and verbal systems of representation. Leon Strydom’s illuminating analysis of the expressionist paintings of the Flemish-born South African painter-priest, Frans Claerhout, provides an even more nuanced critical language to adapt and apply to Schonstein Pinnock’s narrative. Paintings, Strydom argues, can be organised into a coherent group in two ways, namely as a cycle or as a series. The difference is that ‘the cycle is the development of a theme in a timespace continuum, and thus entails a horizontal or linear arrangement. This group depicts a history, and the paintings illustrate the consecutive episodes or phases of that narrative or process’ (1983: 16). The series, on the other hand, is a repetition of a theme discontinuous in time and space, and thus necessitates a vertical arrangement. The paintings in the group are all variations on a sustained theme, each painting accentuating a different aspect of a chosen theme, or presenting a different perspective to illustrate the theme by means of other objects.

Each of these theoretical possibilities has its limitations, however. The paintings in a series are interchangeable and the theme can be varied endlessly, without affecting the overall meaning and without reaching any conclusion. Simple, boring thematic repetition can, however, be turned

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into ever-deepening variations on a theme by bringing into a series the development or continuity principle of the cycle. And, conversely, by bringing into the cycle the repetition principle of the series, simple, chronological narrative progression can be enriched with variously repeated colours, lines or images. The power of Bernard’s collection of paintings in the overall narrative of Skyline derives from the dialectic between the principle of the cycle and that of the series. Many of his works can be seen as belonging to a series of paintings around the theme of contemporary African migrancy or social marginalisation; each of them, however, has – to a greater or lesser degree – a narrative component that counteracts mere repetition of the same subject. For example, his paintings based on the lives of Princess from Rwanda, the woman from Sudan, the Ghanaian Kwaku, the Nigerian drug dealers and the Zimbabweans, Cameron and Liberty, are more than simply versions of the same theme; each of these pictures of refugees or migrants is encoded with elements of a separate history and contributes to the developing portrayal of the complex reality of diasporic dispersion in Africa today. Similarly, the three paintings in which Bernard engages with aspects of the story of Clara Rowinsky are not just discontinuous images of an elderly German immigrant, but capture progressive stages in a life of persecution, exile and endurance. Conversely, the narrative strength of the cycle of paintings through which Bernard attempts to come to terms with traumatic episodes in his own life is reinforced by the shifts in perspective and recurrent motifs of a series. The first of these paintings, It is the Senhora, which is his representation of the lonely Portuguese Senhora Sofia Isabel de Oliveira, on whose husband’s estate he worked as a domestic servant in Mozambique and who was brutally murdered by rebel soldiers, has its origin in Henri Matisse’s Portrait of Madame Matisse with a Green Stripe, the expression in the Senhora’s eyes resembling the gaze of Madame Matisse. The Senhor’s visits to his mistress in the nearby town are interpreted by Bernard in his painting It is the Cantina of Vila de Manhica, in which the texture of the woman’s red taffeta skirt as she leans against the man at the bar and the sensuality of her skin recall Edgar Degas’s Four Dancers. In contrast to the women in these two works, in a third, untitled painting Bernard can only recall the tender dignity of the figure of his wife working in the tobacco-sorting shed on the Senhor’s estate


by means of Giotto’s Madonna and Child. It is this image that he clings to, rather than the memories of the day when the rebel soldiers arrived, shot the Senhor and Senhora, looted the farmhouse and hacked the rings off the fingers of the dead woman. There is no source painting for It is the Death of the Holy Mother under the Trees, Bernard’s depiction of the subsequent stripping naked and massacre of the holy sisters of a Catholic missionary order by the rebels for having sheltered people in their church. In this grim picture of hanged nuns and a burning church, the only bright colour is the scarlet blood from a wound on the head of the naked Mother Superior, recalling the crimson robe of the obese cardinal in the left-hand corner of Bernard’s portrait of the Senhora and the red taffeta dress of the woman in the painting of the cantina. The flock of crows flying across the background of the painting is later transformed in It is the Senhora and the Love for Her House Boy into the image of a great moth flying towards the gas lamp in the Senhora’s bedroom, where a black man – Bernard – stands naked at the foot of her bed, his white tunic, pants and apron floating in the background. The cycle continues with Bernard’s painting It is the Petrol for the Journey, which, like the previous two, has no origin in Western art and interprets an episode on his journey from Mozambique through the Kruger Park to a small South African town, where he was given manual labour to do for a week by a Portuguese woman from Mozambique who owned a garage. Bernard depicts himself as a balladeer with a red scarf around his neck, kneeling before two figures, the garage owner as a middle-aged woman and as a young girl – and flying towards the centre of the canvas, a naked black man with wings, followed by a black bird with a yellow beak. The cycle concludes with the memory that torments Bernard: of his three children whom soldiers abducted and of his wife whom he lost in the flight from the burning church. The description of this painting in Chapter 38 deserves perhaps to be quoted in full, to illustrate his incorporation into it of the serial colours and symbology of his earlier paintings in the cycle to try to deal with his terrible loss: This painting is of a black, peasant woman crawling on her hands and knees towards a group of soldiers. Her faded dress is brushed with suggestions of roses and leaves. In addition to this often-used image of a faded, floral dress we see another of the recurring images, that of a black bird with a yellow beak flying across the top of the canvas.

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It is the end of a military manoeuvre and the soldiers, dressed in camouflage fatigues, stand around smoking and laughing. It is clear to the viewer that they will shoot the woman later. In the background, a mission smoulders in reds and golds. In the foreground are a child’s lost shoe and a broken crucifix. To the right sits a cardinal wearing a scarlet robe and black sunglasses. He is holding a bottle of Madeira wine and a goblet. A roasted piglet floats by (Schonstein Pinnock 2000: 177).

This painting has no title; there is no reference to any Western source and it is unframed. Bernard, like so many of the diasporic Africans who live in Skyline, has been permanently damaged by war and can never escape from its spectre. The theme of war is first introduced by Schonstein Pinnock’s paratextual dedication of the novel to the thousands of child victims of the sixteen-year-long civil war in Mozambique (1976–92), most of whom were abducted from their homes and forced into the fighting. The narrator, while having to deal with the emotional turmoil of her mother’s alcoholic depression, as well as with Mossie’s idiosyncratic moods, is also receptive to the stories of the refugees trying to make sense of their horrific experiences. She internalises the discourse of war, beginning with the Sudanese saying that ‘war is a crocodile which is always hungry . . . It is with you always . . . waiting to explode your life and throw you down beside a riverbed to die. War wants death’ (16). From Bernard’s attacks of terror during their talks on the roof of Skyline she learns, however, that war is beyond such metaphorical comprehension: ‘We must never think that war is like a hyena or a jackal or like locusts covering your fields. War is not an animal and it is not insects. War is the madness of people and nothing else’ (77). He tells her that from his experience, whatever army they come from, all soldiers are the same – beyond reason: ‘ “ They all killing you anyway” ’ (38), so that ‘ “when you see the soldiers mad from killing coming to your place, you better to hide away” ’ (39). Moreover, once war has come, there is no survival: ‘Those who escape the bullets walk away with a torn heart and eternal horror’ (77). From Clara Rowinsky’s telling of how their Berlin housekeeper betrayed her father to the Nazis and how, at the age of fourteen, she had lost innocence and belief in good, the narrator learns that war, ‘ “the turning of human upon


human” ’ (100), is part of ‘ “the mindset of evil” ’ and something one can never come to terms with. The evidence of such evil is manifest in the Pan-African Market, where the narrator describes a woman from Sierra Leone serving in the food bar who had one hand chopped off with a machete by boy-soldiers in the decade-long civil war. The narrator is emotionally and imaginatively overwhelmed by the stories of the refugees around her, but from the turmoil begins to generate her own figurative language for giving expression to their experience in her narrative. Thoughts of war begin to invade and dominate her imagination: war, she tells us, ‘howls with the taka-takataka of machine-gun fire tearing up the edges where sunset meets night; tearing up the curtain behind which life is supposed to be safe’ (40). She hears in Liberty’s wordless singing ‘the sound of the plundered village’ (167), the ‘after-sound of the village burnt to the ground’ and the ‘non-sound of a girl hiding in the bushes, turned to sand by fear’ and in Liberty’s Shona songs she can hear ‘children crying and people running, running, running from Ian Smith’s army’ (120). She begins to experience nightmares with commingled elements of the various terrible stories of war and butchery; in her head, she says: ‘I hear the armies marching. From a thousand miles away I hear them marching. From a thousand thousand miles I see pangas shining and tanks shining and automatic rifles shining’ (145). The only way in which Bernard can express his knowledge of war is in the visual language of his paintings. His most ambitious work consists of a series of three paintings on the subject of war, arising from his terror attacks when he feels, he says, ‘ “I have fire inside. I have fire around me. Everything is fire for me” ’ (74) and painted to convey his belief that ‘war is the madness of people and nothing else’. The three paintings have been hammered together onto a wooden packing crate to form a triptych titled It is Time for the War (Chapter 17). Its three panels are respectively modelled on Chagall’s War, Francisco Goya’s The Third of May, 1808 and Picasso’s Guernica. Series and cycle merge in Bernard’s triptych, which combines theme, variation and narrative continuity in paintings that refer directly to masterpieces of Western art dealing with war in specific historical contexts. And in each case, Bernard has recontextualised the theme of war in contemporary African experience by introducing images that derive from and are developed in his other

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canvases and that also bring with them other, African stories of war, the stories of the residents of Skyline that he has assimilated. The painting on the left, based on Chagall, shows a column of fleeing people, with a body lying in the foreground and two crucified children at the right of the canvas. Overhead a black bird with a yellow beak is flying off into the distance and a weeping madonna is floating in the air, the figure of a child falling from her arms. The central painting renders in close-up the man before the firing squad in Goya’s painting, capturing his trapped and terrified state, against a black background, with the two pieces of a broken calabash lying to his left. In the painting on the right, based on Picasso, Bernard has portrayed an apocalypse, with only the odd touch of carmine and some sparks of yellow to relieve the black, grey and white of the palette. It is a work, the narrator says, which should have stood on its own, and it should have been executed on a much larger canvas. But the overwhelming despair it transmits, together with the pain and sense of useless slaughter, suggest that the artist would have been overcome by the horror and palpitation of the episode he was capturing, had he dared to express himself as hugely as did Picasso (79).

By means of an elaborate intertextuality canonical works of a European artistic tradition have been appropriated and pictorially and narratively reinterpreted in a postcolonial, diasporic African context. The individual experiences of each of these Africans and marginalised South Africans have been framed within Bernard’s paintings to record and interpret their stories of unspeakable loss and longing and collectively the paintings narrativise an African diaspora. Taken together, the mutually inscribed and depicted stories and paintings are held within the larger framework of the narrator’s commitment to ‘those who have turned their backs on what they left behind and built a new life here at the top of Long Street’ (55), to ‘try to re-embroider [their] splintered words into the finery they once were – old litanies from Ethiopia; chantings from Sudan; fables from Eritrea’. In her ekphrastic engagement with the theme of the African diaspora, Schonstein Pinnock has endeavoured textually to link contemporary histories of African dispersal back to an ancestral past and also to bring Western cultural traditions in relation to new African


practices, thereby presenting through the artistic syncretism of her novel the ongoing reimagination and cultural transformation of the splintered African diasporic self. Chapter 39 has no description of a painting to conclude it; it describes, instead, the killing of Bernard by the insanely jealous Giovanni, owner of the delicatessen, and two accomplices, in a dark lane off Long Street. Bernard’s death is witnessed only by the homeless couple, Adelaide and Chris, who see ‘the swift killing-act through their meths-soaked eyes’ (179). For the murder of the artist no equivalent in art is appropriate; the narrator can only imagine and recount the event in figurative terms of Bernard having finally been overtaken by his horror of war: ‘War will seek you out. War will wear any garment to come find you if you flee from its killing fields’ (178). But art survives. The final chapter, Chapter 40, tells of Bernard’s paintings being catalogued by Clara Rowinsky and exhibited at the National Gallery in Cape Town after his death and then, appropriately, dispersed in an artistic diaspora among his friends in Skyline and on permanent loan to the National Gallery and the Pan-African Market. It also tells of the narrator’s grief and of her emerging from her grief to be able to call out to Bernard: ‘Look at me! I am a writer now. I can spin my words, my many gathered words, into fine coir and threads of raw cotton, as you always said I should, so as to weave from them all manner of finery’ (184). The chapter concludes with a last description of a painting, for which no source is provided and it is left to the reader to supply the possible intertexts – which are to be found in the great self-reflexive masterpieces of Western art, where the painting of the subject forms the subject of the painting, such as Johannes Vermeer’s Allegory of Painting, or Diego Velasquez’s Las Meninas or Picasso’s paintings of himself in his studio with his models. This is Bernard’s largest painting, painted a week before his death, in a frame made of small stars cut from old tin and titled It is the Portrait of the Artist with his Good Friends. The painting shows, from a vantage point opposite, three figures on the veranda of a run-down block of flats: the narrator sitting with her legs dangling through the rails, Mossie standing next to her, with a brown hen at her feet and flock of pigeons hovering behind her, and the stylish figure of Bernard himself. On an easel next to him is ‘an artist’s palette smudged with vibrant

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oils of aloe-crimson, shadowed-chameleon-green and butterfly-mauve’ (186). In the background there is a framed portrait of ‘a broadly smiling black man wearing a red beret’, a self-portrait of the diasporic African artist. And in the left corner of the canvas, combining self-reflexivity in painting with metafiction in an iconotextual detail, is painted a copy of Sister Wendy Beckett’s The Story of Painting (1994), which Schonstein Pinnock also includes in her paratextual bibliography at the end of the novel. Beckett’s narrative history of Western art, which contains reproductions of paintings, is itself embedded as an image in a painting – which is described in a fictional narrative. The Story of Painting operates at different diegetic levels in Skyline: it is the (fictionalised) art book that Bernard acknowledges in his painting as having introduced him to the Western discourse of painting, in relation to which he developed his own African pictures; it is the (fictionalised) volume to which the narrator has had access at some later stage and from whose contents she could draw comparisons between Bernard’s works and Western paintings and it is the actual introductory guide to Western art that was the source for most of the paintings that Schonstein Pinnock included in her novel and acknowledges in her bibliography, together with Jan Marsh’s PreRaphaelite Women (1987), Gill Polonsky’s Chagall (1998) and the Methuen Dictionary of Modern Painting (1956), edited by Carlton Lake and Robert Maillard. In Skyline, Beckett’s art book is at once both image and text, fiction and reality and serves as a metaphor for the hybrid doubleness of the novel itself. It is worth noting, in conclusion, that gathered together into Beckett’s compendium volume on ‘Western art’ are a number of nineteenth- and twentieth-century European painters who themselves were exiles and émigrés – from revolutionary Russia, from fascist Spain, from Nazi-occupied France – and have found their collective, diasporic identity and artistic home in the larger category of ‘Western art’. The final lesson of Schonstein Pinnock’s novel may be that what we now uncomplicatedly refer to as ‘Western art’ is itself not an essential, unified concept, but refers rather to the cultural products of long and continuing histories of migration and to works of art that are themselves scattered among art galleries and collections all over the world.


Notes 1. In his analysis of Skyline, Tony Simoes da Silva, following Zygmunt Bauman (2004), views these African immigrants as refugees: the refugee is best defined ‘as part of a continuum with, and encapsulating, a panoply of identity categories such as “economic migrants”, “illegal migrants”, “asylum seeker”, “illegal refugees”, “certified refugees”, “displaced person”, “stateless person”, perhaps even “terrorist”, and represents in this brave new world the subject position that best captures modernity’s ever-evolving impetus’ (2014: 58). Broadly defined, he says, the refugee ‘today constitutes modernity’s underbelly, a subject position inextricable from a political unconscious where it both challenges and gives new meanings to the function of the nation-state’. 2. For discussions of the African diaspora in relation to the new African diasporas, see, for example, Tiffany Ruby Patterson and Robin D.G. Kelley in the Special Issue of African Studies Review (2000), as well as the introduction by Judith Byfield (2000) and the responses by Brent Hayes Edwards (2000), Cheryl JohnsonOdim (2000), Augustìn Laó-Montes (2000), Michael O. West (2000). See also Susan Arndt’s introduction to Africa, Europe and (Post)Colonialism (2006); Khalid Koser’s introduction to New African Diasporas (2003); Afe Adogame and Cordula Weissköppel’s introduction to Religion in the Context of African Migration (2005) and Ashraf H.A. Rushdy, ‘An Apology for the African Diaspora’ (2014). 3. For critiques of Gilroy’s Atlanticist conception of the African diaspora, see Isidore Okpewho’s introduction to The African Diaspora (2001); Michael J.C. Echeruo, ‘An African Diaspora’ (2001); Elliott P. Skinner, ‘The Restoration of African Identity for a New Millennium’ (2001) and Wumi Raji, ‘Looking Back/Looking Forward’ (2006). Adeolu Ademoyo argues in ‘The Ontological Imperative for the New African Diaspora’ that ‘where people of African descent integrate into the diaspora environment from an ontological location, the result is a single consciousness, an African and black consciousness from which the African and black subject can relate to and embrace non-African, non-black diaspora cultures, just as others do’ (2009: 517). Mark Christian is critical, also with reference to Gilroy’s book Against Race (2002), of his ‘postmodern, fragmented, pick’n’mix, approach to black experience’ (2009: 52), and concludes: ‘It is confidently predicated here that the future of African-centered scholarship lies in there being more research produced to show the commonalities in African Diaspora experience, rather than seeking merely the obvious, fragmented, isolated and fractured one. In sum: All roads lead us back to Africa’ (58). 4. In their essay, ‘Rethinking the African Diaspora’, Ruth Simms Hamilton, Kimberly Eison Simmons, Raymond Familusi and Michael Hanson point out that ‘Africa is a continent. There is no country-specific “African homeland” . . . As a place, Africa in the diaspora is part of a collective memory, a reference for tradition and heritage. Its symbolic and material significance lies within changing relations and ideas of homeland and diaspora – a dialectical relationship between and within Africa and its diaspora, defined by an ongoing proliferation of passages and marked

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by the impermanence of place and home . . . For many of the diaspora, the African homeland is an emotional attachment, for others it is a distant past, and for yet others a concrete present. Ways of thinking about the homeland are mitigated by time and conditions of departures over long and short spans of time’ (2007: 19). Paul Tiyambe Zeleza suggests that there are at least four main constructions of ‘Africa’: ‘Africa as biology, as space, as memory, and as representation – that is, African identities and cultures are mapped in racial, geographical, historical and conceptual imagining. It is an invention as much as “Asia” or “Europe” or “the West” and all such civilizational spaces, but it has a physical, political, paradigmatic, and psychic reality for the peoples who live within or who are from its cartographic, cultural, and cognitive boundaries, themselves subject to shifts’ (2009: 34). In asking the question ‘Can we “go home” again?’ Okpewho explains the problem from the perspective of the recent African immigrant: ‘Some of us who brought our families to live in America may continue to insist, against all countervailing evidence, that we are still Africans to the core. But what about our children . . . their appreciation of that Africa and its values are now filtered through eyes that are no longer indigenously Africa, conditioned as they now are, to some extent at least, by the comforts and securities of their new environment’ (2009: 10–11). 5. For a wide-ranging collection of essays on the relationship between the verbal and the visual in the context of postcolonial studies, see Michael Meyer (ed.), Word & Image in Colonial and Postcolonial Literatures and Cultures (2009) and especially the essays by Marita Wenzel, ‘Zakes Mda’s Representations of South African Reality in Ways of Dying, The Madonna of Excelsior and The Whale Caller’ (2009) and Heilna du Plooy, ‘Looking out and Looking in’ (2009). 6. W.J.T. Mitchell (1994) explains that this definition also forms the basis of James Heffernan’s writings on ekphrasis (1991, 1994). 7. Nicholas Mirzoeff points out the dilemma of the diaspora artist: ‘Museums served to emphasize the Western notion that history logically tended towards the dominance of the imperial powers, while art collections served to reinforce the perceived “superiority” of Western culture. Diaspora peoples have been marginalized by this visualization of national cultures in museums, while constantly using visual means to represent their notions of loss, belonging, dispersal and identity’ (2000: 2–3). 8. Peter Wagner suggests that such works might also be approached in terms of ‘intermediality’ as ‘a particular form or area of intertextuality’ (1995: 12). 9. Mirzoeff maintains that diaspora ‘generates . . . a “multiple viewpoint” in any diasporic visual image’ (2000: 6) and further: ‘The diasporic visual image is necessarily intertextual, in that the spectator needs to bring extratextual information to bear on what is seen within the frame in order to make full sense of it. However, in the visual image, intertextuality is not simply a matter of interlocking texts but of interacting and interdependent modes of visuality that I shall call intervisuality. From a particular starting point, a diasporic image can create multiple visual and intellectual associations both within and beyond the intent of the producer of that image’ (7).



A Nomad of the Middle World Breyten Breytenbach, A Veil of Footsteps (Memoir of a Nomadic Fictional Character)

A ‘nomadic fictional character’ Few South African writers have engaged as fully with the theme of exile and the figure of the present-day nomad as Breyten Breytenbach has done throughout his writing career. His book, A Veil of Footsteps (Memoir of a Nomadic Fictional Character), provides yet another chapter – or, more precisely, an extension – of the Breytenbach macrotext, in which he has mapped his émigré state from the time he first left South Africa for Europe in 1960. A self-described nomad and wanderer, ‘a bird blown from one region to the next’ (Breytenbach 2008: 101), he traces his nomadism back to the residual ‘Khoi blood’ (292) in his Afrikaner veins, the ethnic and cultural legacy of his South African ‘heartland’ (139). A Veil of Footsteps is a demanding work that needs to be read in relation to Breytenbach’s earlier prose writings, especially from the late 1980s onwards, such as Memory of Snow and of Dust (1989), Return to Paradise (1993), Dog Heart (1998) and Woordwerk (1999), whose themes and techniques it continues and develops. A combination of autobiography and fiction, travel narrative and metafiction, poetry and philosophical reflection, A Veil of Footsteps offers a complex and profound discourse on the migrant condition and on migrant writing. Compulsive journeying, points of arrival and departure, nodes of temporary locatedness, belonging everywhere and nowhere, home and homelessness – these and many other themes contribute to the richness of this text about a text in the making and of a migrant life lived and a narrative art practised in increasing awareness of death. The narrator 152

Breyten Breytenbach, A Veil of Footsteps  153

and his various personas are presented in a narrative world in which biography, history and dream fantasy are consciously merged and paraded before the reader in a ‘migration of images’ (Breytenbach 2008: 10). A Veil of Footsteps contains memorable descriptions of the main resting places in Breytenbach’s nomadic existence. Paris, where he has lived with his wife since the 1960s, in a small top-floor flat in an early seventeenth-century building in the 5th arrondissement, is his adoptive home, which he has come to know too well not to be disgusted by many of its inhabitants. This, he says, is where Wordfool always comes back to even though the neighbours are awful and authorities of all kinds squeeze one for money, where everything is a game of paraître and pouvoir. However down and out the human with neither roof nor attachment and the memory gnawed to dust by maggots – he will still ‘belong’ to a place and return to it again and again (33).

Cape Town remains Breytenbach’s ‘Mother City’ (143), which he evokes both lyrically and despairingly: ‘One always returns to this heartland’ (139), he says of the Boland region of the Western Cape, although South Africa itself has now become ‘Fuck-land’ (138) in his vocabulary. He also regularly takes up residence on the former slave island of Gorée, off Dakar in Senegal, where he is attached to the Gorée Institute and where, he says, ‘I live out my madness’ (207). Although his identification with Gorée is evident from the phrase, ‘Back “home” in my rooms on the island’ (171), with which he introduces the chapter, ‘The Island’, he confesses in a later chapter about Gorée that ‘there’s no one here [he] could ever imagine understanding totally or trusting absolutely’ (217). His home in the summer is Can Ocells, an old farmhouse on a hill in Catalonia where, he says, ‘it is good to wake up . . . and look out the window and see a whisper of smoke from the neighbour’s chimney’ (77). A significant portion of the narrative is devoted to an account of this mythologised neighbour, Don Vecino Espejuelo (Mr Neighbour Mirror), a familiar figure from Breytenbach’s earlier prose writings. In New York, where Breytenbach teaches periodically at New York University, he has had the use of a friend’s apartment south of Washington Square,


which is where he was staying during the 9/11 attack and its immediate aftermath. Paris, Catalonia, Gorée, Cape Town, New York – all are homes where he also feels unhomed, together with the other émigrés, refugees, illegal and legal immigrants, nomads and economic migrants of all kinds in this narrative that leads from one topic and chapter to another in a fictional nomadism that Breytenbach has made distinctively his own. His writing is specifically the product of migrancy, which, as Iain Chambers explains in Migrancy, Culture, Identity, is different from simply travelling: For to travel implies movement between fixed positions, a site of departure, a point of arrival, the knowledge of an itinerary. It also intimates an eventual return, a potential homecoming. Migrancy, on the contrary, involves a movement in which neither the points of departure nor those of arrival are immutable or certain. It calls for a dwelling in language, in histories, in identities that are constantly subject to mutation. Always in transit, the promise of a homecoming – completing the story, domesticating the detour – becomes an impossibility. History gives way to histories, as the West gives way to the world (1994: 5).

The African diaspora In A Veil of Footsteps Breytenbach describes three images of the African diaspora that provide different perspectives on his complex sense of himself as a diasporic African. The first appears early on in the narrative in an account of how, when he was in Genoa for a gathering of poets, he went as always to the Chiesa di San Donato to view the early sixteenthcentury triptych, The Adoration of the Magi, by the Flemish master Joos van Cleve (Figure 4). The centre panel of the painting depicts the patron and his entourage paying homage to the Holy Family, but Breytenbach’s interest is focused on one figure who stands out among the group of men in richly embroidered robes gathered in adoration of the Virgin and Infant Jesus – as he expresses it irreverently: The black guy in their midst is of West African stock. He is as opulently dressed in hose similar to that of his mates, and thus probably no longer a slave, just a curiosity from a mythical beyond. One wonders

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how much information these ‘imports’ from Africa brought with them. Were they then without history, surfacing like exotic thoughts in saturated societies? (2008: 23).

Breytenbach then draws attention to present-day avatars of the African diaspora: two Nigerian prostitutes in Genoa, sitting having lunch at an adjacent restaurant table. To conclude his account of this particular visit to Genoa, he identifies himself with the figure of the displaced African; he has always been, he says, ‘the black in the painting’ (25). The second image is of a stuffed and mounted Bushman hunter, ‘mistaken for a warrior and dressed up accordingly with lion skins and spear’ (126), who was on display in a glass case from 1916 to 1997 in the Darder Museum of natural history in the Catalan town of Banyoles and became known as ‘el negro de Banyoles’ (126; see Figure 5), until he was eventually returned to Botswana in 2000 to be buried. The third image is what Breytenbach calls ‘an atrocious statue’ (186) at the House of Slaves museum on Gorée, where, he says, ‘AfricanAmerican pilgrims and tourists go to break down and sob’ (211). This ‘kitsch artwork’ (186; Figure 6) was ‘left as votive offering by a number of indépendantistes from Guadeloupe’. He recalls the day when the ‘larger than life chocolate representation of a well-endowed couple breaking their chains’ was brought to the island and how the emotional visitors ‘wept tears of joy at returning to the place from where their ancestors had been shipped in slavery’. These three images – of an exotic, free African in Renaissance Europe, of an indigenous African whose body had been removed from his native soil in 1830, mummified and exhibited in Europe for the better part of a century before finally being repatriated, and of Africans liberated from the bondage of slavery – are recalled by Breytenbach with a combination of historical curiosity and irony that borders on cynicism. And each becomes an occasion for reflection on his own diasporic condition that is sustained throughout the book: his identification as a white South African with the African diaspora, his exile and various homecomings and the popular discourse regarding the ‘black Atlantic’. Migrant Africans populate Breytenbach’s fictional memoir. Besides the ethnic communities that he mentions in Paris – the Jewish quarter of St Paul’s, the Turks and Kurds of the garment district and the


Chinatowns of Choissy and Belleville – he says that Barbès-Rochechouart is ‘day and night alive with North Africans and black folk from the islands and the colonies’ (33) and in the 13th arrondissement, where he has his studio, ‘you see many blacks and Asians on the street in all shades from pearl to old ivory to burnished ebony folded in with the native pink population’ (43). He singles out the figure of the diasporic African in Paris, from his description in a chapter titled ‘Paris 2’ of a provocatively dressed black prostitute in the metro who spits in his direction, to Leah, the Cameroonian owner of a favourite restaurant, which he describes in ‘The African Bar’, who has created an African haven in Montparnasse for her countrymen. In Spain, the migrant African first enters the narrative in the person of a North African with a forged identity card who shares a train compartment with Breytenbach, but is apprehended, together with ‘a few more bedraggled Africans’ (62), by the Spanish frontier police. ‘Black skin crosses no border painlessly,’ Breytenbach notes. He documents the present-day African diaspora in Spain from newspaper reports and his own observations. In Barcelona, the ‘black Africans without identity papers or permits hanging out on the Plaça Catalunya with bundles and plastic bags containing all their worldly possessions’ (86) all claim to be refugees from the civil strife in Sierra Leone, including the Nigerian and Ghanaian prostitutes who are, however, betrayed by their accents. In Lleida, seasonal harvesters from North Africa without work permits embark on a public hunger strike in order to have their position legalised. On the roads in the South, Moroccan immigrant families head home from Germany, the Netherlands, France and Italy in overloaded vehicles for the annual holidays. In Granada, young men from Mali vend their trinkets on the pavements, while the television news shows ‘footage of the “illegals” being flushed from their poor sanctuaries’ (107). And along the coasts of Andalusia successive waves of illegal immigrants who have survived the crossing from Moroccan ports in overloaded boats are intercepted as they land and the bodies of those who have drowned are washed up on the beaches. ‘How desperate for survival Africa is!’ (107) Breytenbach remarks.1 In an article on clandestine immigration, the Sunday edition of El País cites two letters from readers, among the many received by the Moroccan daily, Al Ahdath Al Maghribia: one from a young Moroccan woman with a degree in English literature who, with

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the knowledge of her friends and her fiancé, has decided to enter the European sex market, the only work for which she is able to obtain a work permit; the other is from a young man whose wish to escape from his life of petty crime and drug trafficking in Morocco through illegal immigration was thwarted when the overcrowded boat he was in foundered and he was returned by the Spanish police to Tangier. On the plane to New York Breytenbach notices among his fellow passengers ‘a clan of Somalis, the many children dressed up to the nines, the women with their heads draped in gossamer cloth of vivid hues, the men wearing grave and glistening countenances because they have the responsibility of taking their people into the unknown’ (230). Another passenger is a coloured South African nurse from the Cape, who turns out to be one of hundreds of South African nurses working in England. Finally, diasporic dispersals, too, are what characterise contemporary South Africa in Breytenbach’s narrative. In Cape Town he observes ‘how much the coloured population of Mother City carry in them the fused memories of slavery, of displacement, of exile from an East, of perfumed islands like Madagascar and Java’ (133). The inhabitants of the tin and cardboard shack settlements on the Cape Flats are ‘mostly [Xhosa] migrants from the devastated Eastern Cape’ (134). Parts of the central city have been taken over by ‘Nigerians and other West Africans living boisterously and dealing in drugs’ (135). The car guards are nearly all Congolese, ‘refugees from war and poverty’, who would ‘just about weep a need for normal human interaction when you spoke French to them’. And immigration into South Africa is matched by emigration from the young democracy. The Jewish diaspora, Breytenbach observes ironically, is ongoing in South Africa: ‘Children and grandchildren of Jewish refugees from Lithuania and Russia . . . commute to New York where the going is good and easy, a cousin runs a bakery chain in Manhattan, many emigrate as dentists to California’ (142). Large numbers of white South Africans ‘choose to be obliged to leave’ (240), as Breytenbach puts it: Many are doing so; those who can afford it. Twenty-seven percent of people with university education have already left. Thousands of doctors now work abroad. There are Diaspora colonies in New Zealand and Australia and Canada and Britain and in the States. They meet for church services and sing and cry their hearts out. Displaced families


work all over Africa. I don’t know of a single Afrikaner family who hasn’t at least one member living outside the country. The Indians and the Coloureds are following (240).

In A Veil of Footsteps Breyenbach defines his own diasporic consciousness in relation to this international community of émigrés, exiles and illegal immigrants, for whom he has invented the notion of a ‘Middle World’. He has said in an interview that A Veil of Footsteps ‘is conceived to be part of what will ultimately be The Middle World Quartet’ (Saayman 2009: 202). The Middle World The Middle World is Breytenbach’s trope for those who share a diasporic consciousness; it was first developed in two Fernando Pessoa commemorative lectures at the University of Natal in Durban in 1996 (see 1996a, 1996c), which were published in 2009 as a chapter in the volume of essays Notes from the Middle World.2 According to Breytenbach, the Middle World is located ‘somewhere equidistant from East and West, North and South, belonging and not belonging’ (Breytenbach 2009b: 136). He defines its inhabitants as ‘uncitizens’ (142); as opposed to ordinary internationalists, they are ‘Global Village vagrants’ (135), who live in the in-between and are by definition peripheral, existing in the margins.3 ‘Refuge and asylum, persecution and hospitality, indifference and difference, solidarity, home and exile – all these concepts figure in the Middle World’ (139), Breytenbach says. The journey to the Middle World, as he describes it, follows a diasporic trajectory: To be of the Middle World is to have broken away from the parochial, to have left ‘home’ for good (or for worse) while carrying all of it with you and to have arrived on foreign shores (at the outset you thought of it as ‘destination,’ but not for long) feeling at ease there without ever being ‘at home.’ Sensing too, that you have now fatally lost the place you may have wanted to run back to (143).

Breytenbach argues that the state of exile, ‘a memory disease expressing itself in spastic social behavior’, which invites pity, may be part of the passage to the Middle World, but the Middle World itself represents a final stage of displacement beyond exile:

Breyten Breytenbach, A Veil of Footsteps  159

For a while at least the reference pole will remain the land from which you had wrenched yourself free or from where you were expelled. Then exile itself will become the habitat. And in due time, when there’s nothing to go back to or you’ve lost interest . . . you may start inhabiting the in-between.4

A defining trait of the Middle World uncitizen, as of the diasporic subject, is the way in which he/she is positioned in relation to language (in Breytenbach’s own case, Afrikaans): More often than not he/she will no longer be living untrammeled in the subtle regions of the birth-tongue, and memories of that ‘paradise’ will now be travel jottings; just as often the contours of the other language(s) used will be potentially hostile shallows to be negotiated with great care and the precise circumspection of the trained orphan. But often too, these ‘new’ spaces of self-othering will be invested with exuberance (141).5

Dismissing any romantic association with the term, Breytenbach further describes the inhabitants of the Middle World as having ‘a conflicted relation to identity’ (149), as being culturally hybrid and practitioners of nomadic thinking at heart, with the nomad’s sharpened awareness of place. They have a fascination for metamorphosis and their consciousness is characterised by multiplicity, not duality. A cardinal Middle World law is that ‘you can only survive and move forward by continuing to invent yourself’ (148). And further, he says: ‘To be of the Middle World is to be aware of the moral implications of narrative’ (152), with an ethics that arises from ‘sensitivity to the rapport between words (the narrative) and action (movement)’ (153). Journeys by train and by car through France and Spain, by air to New York, on foot through the streets of Paris, running on Gorée Island and in Manhattan, journeys actual and imaginary – Breytenbach’s narrative in A Veil of Footsteps both thematises and enacts his diasporic nomadism. As he puts it: ‘He has rubbed elbows with so many wanderers . . . drifting from one continent to the other, from city to city . . . exploring some Middle World in this continuum of time that has neither beginning nor end’ (Breytenbach 2008: 14–15). The narrative charts the Middle


World in different ways: through Breytenbach’s self-reflexive discourses about the Middle World and through his explicit identification of its inhabitants among his many friends and acquaintances, such as the painter Guy Harloff, ‘a polyglot and a giramondo [Italian, globetrotter]’ (81), who had lived and worked in the Middle East and Morocco, Milan and Paris and frequently travelled to London, New York, Germany, Scandinavia, Holland and Belgium – a ‘man from nowhere, a citizen of the Middle World’. Breytenbach’s own refuges in Paris, Catalonia, Cape Town, New York and Gorée are the most significant features of his Middle World topography, the stopovers that, he says, are ‘places of the imagination but also stations of survival’ (9). Of Gorée, for instance, he says: ‘For me it is a site – an outcrop of the Middle World – where the dialectic between space and movement can be enacted’ (221). Imagining Africa Africa remains the conflicted matrix of his own diasporic state for Breytenbach and he keeps returning obsessively in A Veil of Footsteps to the subject of the continent that defines him: ‘Always the return to Africa,’ he says, ‘how tedious! But also, how inevitable’ (160). Louise Viljoen (2001) has traced his problematic attempts to inscribe an African identity for himself in his poetry (see also Sienaert 1999; Jacobs 2004). In A Veil of Footsteps, in conversation with two old ‘Africa hands’ after Independence Day celebrations on Gorée, Breytenbach once again comes ‘to realise how passionately, desperately passionately, frustratingly passionately one fights over the same theoretical and experiential and remembered and dreamed African being-scape’ (Breytenbach 2008: 217) and he asks rhetorically of himself: ‘What are you going to be outside Africa?’ He does not know what to make of what he calls his ‘intimate paso doble between despair and invention’ (222). On the one hand, Africa is a dying continent: ‘It must not be forgotten,’ he says, ‘that Africa, from whatever angle you look is in a much worse condition and situation than ten years ago, which was then a damn sight worse than ten years earlier’ (162). He is dismayed by the ‘historical failure and political bankruptcy in Africa’ (163); liberation governments everywhere depend increasingly on thuggery in order to retain power, the political system imposed on Eritrea is ‘a conscious imitation of Italian fascism’ (164) and Mozambique after

Figure 1: Archibald McLauchlan, John Glassford and His Family (© CSG CIC Glasgow Museums Collection). Figure 2: Detail from Archibald McLauchlan, John Glassford and His Family (© CSG CIC Glasgow Museums Collection) of black man on left. St



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Figure 4: Central panel of The Adoration of the Magi triptych, 1515, by Joos van Cleve the Younger (1485–1540), oil on canvas, 260 × 200 cm (Gallo Images).

Figure 5: ‘Stuffed Bushman’ (photograph by Francesc Xavier Butinyà Carreras, taken in 1977 in the Hall of Anthropology, Darder Museum photographic collection, 1977/26).

Figure 6: Slave statue at House of Slaves, Gorée (© Rémi Jouan, CC-BY-SA, GNU Free Documentation License, Wikimedia Commons).

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independence is ‘very close to becoming a criminalised state’ (172), with political assassinations to conceal government involvement in corruption and money laundering. Hundreds of billions of dollars of ‘African money [are] siphoned off and stolen by successive revolutionary governments and eternal leaders [and] salted away in banks in Switzerland, the Cayman Islands, Jersey’ (165–6). Nor has South Africa escaped the general corruption: ‘For all practical purposes,’ he says, ‘the people of Fuck-land are living under the big black cloud of the African National Congress (the ruling party)’ (239) and ‘stroking the asses and the arses of the benevolent lords of the Movement . . . is a pre-condition for any form of political, social or cultural advancement’ (240). Breytenbach’s litany continues: in the Congo, bands of feral children, AIDS orphans, are ‘roaming the countryside to rob and to terrorise’ (165) and besides the genocide in Rwanda, there has been ‘mass barbarism and bestiality in Sierra Leone and Liberia and the Congo’ (66). On the other hand, he tells his colleagues at the Gorée Institute, the only appropriate antidote to despair is to ‘Imagine Africa’: First, because it is impossible to rationally get hold of in all its complexity, horror, madness and beauty. No understanding except through invention. And it will get worse. Then . . . because we must do all we can to establish – no, re-establish or re-invent – a horizon of imagination and aspiration for people, particularly the young, to live toward. For what is there for them now (222)?

Such a project of ‘imagining Africa’, he says in an essay with this title, needs to begin with the recognition by those within Africa (and he includes himself) that ‘we have descended from liberation euphoria to the heart of darkness’ (2009a: 65). A recent example of Breytenbach’s own ability to reconcile Afro-pessimism with invention is to be found in the epigraph to his poem ‘Windklip’ in the volume Katalekte (Catalects), where he offers an Africanised version of the ancient universalist creed, ‘Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto’ (I am a human being, I consider nothing that is human alien to me): ‘Africanus sum, nihil Africani a me alienum puto’ (I am an African, I consider nothing that is African alien to me, 2012: 129).


Breytenbach’s African masks A Veil of Footsteps was originally titled Word Bird (On the Peripatetic Art of Writing an I) (Saayman 2009: 201). In one of his many self-conscious reflections in the book on himself as a writer of the Middle World, Breytenbach says that one must begin by knowing ‘the first person, the voice’ (2008: 101) and then asks about himself: ‘Does he know who he is?’ By way of answer, he quotes Michel Foucault in The Archaeology of Knowledge: ‘Do not ask me who I am, and do not tell me to remain the same. More than one person, like me no doubt, writes in order to have no face.’ Foucault’s notion of self-effacement is echoed by Breytenbach in the opening paragraph of The True Confessions of an Albino Terrorist in an often-quoted statement about his many different names for himself: ‘If there is one thing that has become amply clear to me over the years, it is exactly that there is no one person that can be named and in the process of naming be fixed for all eternity’ (1984: 3). Displacement of the self has, from the beginning, been Breytenbach’s way of engaging with himself as displaced African subject in his writings. Various critics have discussed Breytenbach’s numerous pseudonyms, nicknames, aliases and fictionalised self-projections. Viljoen has suggested a typology of the names created by Breytenbach for himself as subject: names derived from his imprisonment (for example, Bangai Bird); poetic modifications of his real name, which echo its principle of duplication (for example, Prenten Prentenboch) and names unrelated to the autobiographical proper name (for example, Rip Lasarus) (1993: 37–47). Viljoen has also pointed out the recurrence of the name Jan/ Jean adopted by Breytenbach for versions of himself, including Jan Blom, the name under which he published his volume of poetry, Lotus (1970), and Jan/Jean Walker, the name he gives to his nomadic alter ego, an old ‘Africa hand’ through whom he depicts the writer as ‘whore, clown, tramp, disabled traveller and opportunist’ (1995: 14). An analogy for Breytenbach’s proliferation of selves in his writing is to be found in Italo Calvino’s use of the ambiguous metaphor of speculation, or reflection, in his novel If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller, where one of his narrators, a financial speculator and also a collector of optical instruments, explains: ‘Speculate, reflect: every thinking activity implies mirrors for me . . . I need mirrors to think: I cannot concentrate except in the presence of reflected images, as if my soul needed a model

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to imitate every time it wanted to employ its speculative capacity’ (Calvino 1981: 161). Calvino’s speculator has built his business empire on illusion, multiplication and concealment, on the principles of the little seventeenth-century theatres ‘where a figure is seen multiplied by the variation of the angles between the mirrors’ (162). He has also endlessly replicated his own image, his person, his presence, in an act of self-projection for the sake of self-protection. Breytenbach’s narrative reflections of, and on, the displaced Middle World subject are similarly centrifugal and centripetal and based on a comparable imaginative act of self-displacement as a way of self-identification – with the difference that Breytenbach develops such mirroring further into a theory of masking. Breytenbach first articulated his version of elaborate self-revelation and self-concealment, of self-proliferation through self-masking, in A Season in Paradise (first published in 1980) in what he calls ‘The self-image in the eye of the I’ (1985: 147). He explains this concept, a combination of self-perception and self-conception in the optic pun he uses. This mask – or, more accurately, as he maintains, imago – is one that writers create and project as a substitute or shield for the self/I, ‘both as a means of contact and as an isolator’ (148). The mask, or imago, is doubly determined and doubly coded. Although we may create it, see it from behind, others perceive it differently from the way we do and they also contribute to determining its shape and meaning. So it is co-created – by the individual self, as well as communally. Co-creation of meaning can have the result that the mask gradually becomes inseparable from the self and the self begins to take the shape it is constrained under by the community. The mask may be seen as a dynamic, changeable and unstable site of identity. Breytenbach expresses this dialectical interplay between the image and the ‘I’ as: ‘I create Image; Image makes “I” ’ (149). This is the dynamic that underpins his description of the relationship between an author and his/her creations, as he explains it in the essay ‘Painting and Writing for Africa’: ‘Every portrait . . . is a self-portrait’ (Breytenbach 1996b: 68). To understand literary masking such as Breytenbach’s more fully, one might also turn to the figure of the Portuguese poet, Fernando Pessoa, whom Breytenbach includes in his list of Middle World inhabitants in ‘Notes from the Middle World’ and who, he says, ‘populat[ed] his head with alienated explorers of the self, that slippery slope to damnation’


(Breytenbach 2009b: 149). As Jaime H. da Silva explains, Pessoa fragmented ‘his Self into well delineated other selves’ (1986: 9), labelling them ‘heteronyms’, ‘a neologism based on the Greek for “other name” ’. To each heteronym was attached ‘a persona with attendant biography, world-view, civil status, and even physical details’. Among the 72-odd heteronyms (and semi-heteronyms) created by Pessoa, the principal ones were the poets Alberto Caeiro, Ricardo Reis and Álvaro de Campos and also an ‘orthonym’ who wrote poetry under the name of Fernando Pessoa, but was ‘the most stylistically varied and least stable of Pessoa’s poetic non-persons’ (10) – or, as Richard Zenith puts it, ‘just as much a fiction as the heteronyms’ (1998: 3). In Pessoa’s work, all four poets are in constant dynamic interaction with each other, collaborating and also criticising, translating and revising each other’s work. Pessoa’s splitting and grafting of personality among multiple personas created a dramatic ensemble, as Edward Honig and Susan M. Brown point out, that would ‘allow for paradox and embrace self-contradiction’ (1985: xv). (Da Silva reminds us that, serendipitously, ‘the Portuguese word pessoa is derived from the Latin persona, denoting the mask used in the Roman theatre, and originally from the verb personare, “to sound through” ’, 1986: 9). To return to Breytenbach’s own statement in A Season in Paradise, namely ‘all of us live behind projections of ourselves’ (1985: 147), it follows that, like Calvino’s anonymous speculator-narrator and the orthonym ‘Fernando Pessoa’, the subject ‘Breyten Breytenbach’ is finally just another persona. In The True Confessions of an Albino Terrorist, for instance, he refers to his police interrogators ‘coming across a mask called Breyten Breytenbach under a mask named Galaska’ (1984: 9), the alias under which he entered South Africa clandestinely in 1975. The diasporic subject, Breyten Breytenbach, whose name, he has said, ‘sounds so much like an echo’ (1998a: 177), has been determined by conflicting African discourses, with each of which, in turn, he has a conflicted relationship. On the one hand, his frequently expressed, deep longing for his Afrikaner heartland has always been offset by his emphatically reiterated abhorrence of Afrikaner exclusionary nationalism and apartheid. On the other hand, his repeatedly stated affiliation with Africa as a continent essentially of ‘myth and magic and animism’ (1995a: 29) and predicated on metamorphosis is troubled by his constant

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despair over its civil wars, corruption, starvation, despotic leaders and AIDS. Employing a linguistic metaphor, he has said of his Afrikaner filiation, ‘I am the syntax of the people. The tense and the tenseness’ (1986: 209) and, in contradiction, of his extensive journeys into Africa, ‘My travels bear the scansion of this continent’s rhythms’ (1993: 4). How, then, to resolve the conundrum, to reconcile the paradox of his Afrikaner identity, of which he has said, ‘We are in Africa and we are not Africans’ (1985: 157), with the increasingly problematic identification he had formulated in the title of a 1972 poem, ‘Ek is Afrika’ (I am Africa) (1995b: 145–6)? Notwithstanding the paradoxical traces in Breytenbach’s work of the notion of identity as some kind of cultural core, it becomes clear that what it means for him to be an Afrikaner and an African is not fixed, but for him these identities are constructed through various positionings by means of his various masks in an ongoing process of ‘autometamorphosis’ (to use Zenith’s term for Pessoa). By adopting, among his many masks, various specifically African ones, Breytenbach achieves a synthesis of ‘Afrikaner’ and ‘African’ in a process of identityformation that incorporates the diasporic ambivalence of belonging to both cultures, but not fully to either one. Marilet Sienaert points out that Breytenbach’s strategy of self-masking derives also from a specifically African cultural tradition and that ‘the mask as archetypal African image has . . . become synonymous with [his] work’ (1999: 83; see also Jacobs 2003d). To identify only the most important personas in Breytenbach’s narrative masquerade, in which the dynamic between the diasporic subject and his various African personas is played out, one needs to begin with the mask ‘Breyten Breytenbach’. In his travel memoir Dog Heart, he celebrates, as often before, his own ancestral Afrikaner identity in terms of its mongrel character: ‘I mix Europe and the East and Africa in my veins, my cousin is a Malagasy . . . I’m a Dutch bastard, my father is French and my mother is Khoi’ (1998a: 183). His language, Afrikaans, he continues, ‘is the visible history and the on-going process not only of bastardisation, but also of metamorphosis’. This bastard language is most apt for pursuing what he says is the specificity of the writer: ‘ “Writing the self” and rewriting the world. In other words, self-creation and revolution. Ultimately a destruction of “self  ” ’ (184).


In his novel, Memory of Snow and of Dust, the central figure, Mano, a ‘coloured’ South African actor living in Paris, describes himself in diasporic terms as ‘a knockabout, a hack actor, a stateless unemployed marginal, a shifta’ (Breytenbach 1989: 6) – someone whose identity is less a matter of essence than a matter of positioning and transformation. A nomadic being with a chameleon identity, he ironically defines himself in the language of the South African townships as ‘a location kid’ (26). He himself is invisible behind the role he is acting; he is, he says, simply ‘a situation of view, a transit point, an impersonation – better still, a translation’ (24). Mano personifies what J.M. Coetzee defines as ‘the two themes of [Breytenbach’s] ethical philosophy: bastardy and nomadism’ (2001b: 312).6 The figure of Ka’afir, whose name, besides containing the denigratory ‘kaffir’, is also an anagram of ‘Afrika’, is Breytenbach’s African acolyte with whose life, he says in Return to Paradise, his own had become entwined. He first met Ka’afir on the island of Goreé and describes his African imago as a ‘poet, student, world wanderer, stray dog, dealer in thises and thats with North America’, someone ‘deeply saddened and offended and angered by the fate of the brothers and sisters in Azania’ (1993: 20). In Memory of Snow and of Dust, Ka’afir appears as an African philosopher-poet who visits Mano in Paris and finally, he appears in the cell opposite Mano’s on death row in Pretoria, which leads to a moment of identification and bonding when Ka’afir calls Mano ‘Mfowethu’ – brother. In the mask Ka’afir is configured the cultural hybridity not only of Breyten Breytenbach and Mano, but also of the contemporary African who belongs to a heterogeneous continent and is marginal to the West. A more generic persona in Breytenbach’s process of autometamorphosis is to be found in his poetic revival of the ancient term ‘Afriqua’ to designate a syncretic African-Afrikaner identity for the future. He explains in Return to Paradise that ‘Afriquas’ was the name by which ‘the mixed offspring of Khoi (Hottentots) and passing sailors were known. Later the word was deformed to “Griquas”. The suffix -kwa (-qua) to Hottentot names indicated “the people, the sons, the men of  ” ’ (1993: v). Afriqua, for Breytenbach, is therefore the most suitable name for an Afrikaner son or daughter of Africa, since it conveys the true mongrel nature of Afrikaner culture that has developed in South Africa over

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three centuries. Through the mask ‘Afriqua’, Breytenbach can speak as Afrikaner qua African and as African qua Afrikaner. In Dog Heart Breytenbach identifies a number of coloured South African nomadic figures in the Boland town of Montagu who exist on the edges of society and embody the artistic principles of deception and metamorphosis. Behind the figure of the decrepit wanderer, Krisjan, ‘a hang-about, bum, drifter, beggar . . . sad nomad’ (1998a: 108), Breytenbach says, lies the legacy of his nomadic Khoisan forebears, ‘the old people [who] trek through the mountains with across their shoulders all their belongings in bags made of soft skin’. The elderly Outa Lappies, ‘clothed in a multi-coloured patchwork coat of his own design’ (165) and pulling along ‘a hand-made cart abundantly embellished with signboards, ribbons, tassels, pennants, flapping black sheets, drawings, strips of handwritten texts’, embodies more creatively and flamboyantly the principle of nomadism: ‘Life is a journey,’ he insists. ‘It is a never-ending story. A man without the traces of his travels has no life to speak of. How can you remember if you have not travelled?’7 To these two nomads Breytenbach adds a couple of folk heroes, the fleet-footed stock thief Koos Sas and the outlaw Gert April, latter-day descendants of the ancient magician-god of the Khoisan, Heitsi Eibib, and the trickster Kaggen, shamans whom Breytenbach describes as ‘subterranean travellers, wind runners, death dancers who change themselves into rocks and ant heaps etc. to become invisible to the others who invade this land’ (157). The figure of Dog, who appears in various forms throughout Dog Heart – as a figure of death, as an anagram of God, as Breytenbach’s names for the Truth and Reconciliation Commissioners and as the name Nietzsche gave to his pain – reappears in Woordwerk (Wordwork) as the persona to whom Breytenbach refers as ‘my friend Dog, the black writer’ (1999: 46; my translation), ‘Mr. D’ (49), ‘my brother Dog, the black writer’ (118), ‘the black writer Dog who never utters a word’ (197) and is the faithful shadow and manservant of Breytenbach’s father. Dog, the most cryptically presented of Breytenbach’s African personas and the one with whom his own identity is most syncretically merged, is the mask through which he projects himself as an African writer, but also the mask that has usurped Breytenbach’s function and relegated him in turn to the role of reflection or mask. The implied author Breytenbach, addressing himself in the second person, presents himself


in Woordwerk in the persona of an authorial ‘shadow figure’ whom he has thought up: ‘Skrywer/Skreeuer [Writer/Shouter] (honoured is the name) – to whom you will entrust the conclusions that will be called “book”, Woordwerk’ (52). Further on in the text, Breytenbach recounts an earlier, catastrophic venture by Dog (a certain similarity to Breytenbach’s own life story is obvious here), which resulted in a soon-to-be-fogotten autobiographical text. As a consequence, Dog decided many years later to resurrect the story and rewrite it – but this time in collaboration with a ghostwriter, a certain Writer/Shouter. In a sense, Writer/Shouter and Dog are mutually created personas, or, to return to Breytenbach’s own formulation referred to earlier, each stands in relation to the other in the chiastic configuration: ‘I create Image; Image makes “I” ’ (1985: 149). Woordwerk is Breytenbach’s fiction of the self, authored by the triad Breytenbach alias Dog alias Writer/Shouter, all three of whom are also the joint fictional subjects of the text in which their voices may be heard in dispute, in counterpoint and also in unison with each other. Which brings us to the name under which Breytenbach published his volume of poetry Papierblom in 1998, Jan Afrika (John Africa), the persona in which are reflected all the other mediating masks of the Middle World – Breyten Breytenbach, Mano, Ka’afir, Afriqua, Krisjan, Outa Lappies, Koos Sas, Gert April, Heitsi Eibib, Kaggen, Dog and Writer/Shouter – which point the way to the narrative masquerade in A Veil of Footsteps and position Breytenbach as diasporic African. Mapping the Middle World Breytenbach begins his memoir of a nomadic fictional character in A Veil of Footsteps by explaining travelling in terms of self-displacement: The urge ‘to travel, to follow the beckoning horizon’ (2008: 9), which is a need as old as humankind, he says, is also an urge ‘to leave oneself behind and thereby approach inner silences and spaces’. Travelling is an act of reading an unfamiliar topography: the eye ‘instinctively deciphers the land as if it were a book telling of riddles and of dangers’. And of the narrative mapping of such travels, he says: Each journey will be into the unknown but even so routes are traced the way thoughts and dreams become words and the words become tracks and the tracks turn to sand. Sand moving in a haze over your

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vision will be a veil of footsteps – my own, those of the ancestors, those of my companions.8

Breytenbach once wrote that if anyone were to ask him which aspect of his work would justify closer investigation, it would be the fragmentedness, the gaps and the collage-like quality of the language, imagery, thinking and structure (1987: 99). His writings are not the seamless expression of a unified self, but of his nomadism – or, as he puts it in his essay ‘Painting and Writing for Africa’: ‘There is no I, just a series of temporary jottings, a brief bundling of being which will delineate as if along a jotted line the passage of an I (eye), an ancestor, a mask’ (1996b: 69).9 Rather than being teleologically driven, Breytenbach’s writings are as contingent and transient as their authorial subject: ‘For me,’ he says, ‘more and more, writing is about travelling and not about destinations. Identity is a passing creation, the sum of positions gained and evacuated during the trip’ (95).10 In Return to Paradise he defines himself as a ‘nomadic nobody . . . Like a mirror I’m the lair of a collection of impressions, sentiments, afterthoughts’ (1993: 74). It follows, then, that for Breytenbach identity should be a spatial concept, circumstantial and relative: ‘Perhaps the deciding factor,’ he says, ‘is not who you are, but where you find yourself  ’ (73). Writing in terms of nomadism; identity in terms of topography. The trope of the rhizome with which Gilles Deleuze (whom Breytenbach also admits to the company of Middle World inhabitants in ‘Notes from the Middle World’) and Félix Guattari introduce their treatise on ‘Nomadology’ (1988: 23) in A Thousand Plateaus, provides a useful approach to Breytenbach’s nomadic art of memory, masking and metamorphosis. The rhizome, Deleuze and Guattari suggest, represents a true image of mapping as opposed to mere tracing. They argue that the horizontal, underground rhizome is different from the tree, with its hierarchical structure of roots and radicles. A rhizome ‘assumes very diverse forms, from a ramified surface extension in all directions to concretion into bulbs and tubers’ (7) and offers an alternative to the arborescent thinking that has dominated Western reality and thought. Rhizomes can at any point be connected to anything other, whereas a tree or root plots a point and fixes an order. Rhizomes are heterogeneous, ceaselessly establishing ‘connections between semiotic


chains, organisations of power, and circumstances relative to the arts, sciences, and social struggles’. Rhizomes are multiplicities, they have no unity and ‘no points or positions . . . such as those found in a structure, tree or root. There are only lines’ (8). A rhizome may be broken, ‘shattered at a given spot, but it will start up again on one of its old lines, or on new lines’ (9). Binary tree logic, Deleuze and Guattari contend, is that of tracing, whereas a rhizome, with its multiple entryways, openness and connectibility, and because it is also ‘detachable, reversible, susceptible to constant modification’ (12), is a true map and not a tracing. The rhizome, as an ‘acentered, nonhierarchical, nonsignifying system without a General and without an organizing memory or central automaton, defined solely by a circulation of states’ (21), lends itself especially to understanding Breytenbach’s nomadic essays into the Middle World. Since a rhizome has no beginning or end, but, as Deleuze and Guattari point out, ‘is always in the middle, between things, interbeing, intermezzo’, its very fabric is that of ‘the conjunction, “and . . . and . . . and . . .” ’ (25). Whereas the tree is filiation, ‘the rhizome is alliance, uniquely alliance’. Breytenbach’s own version of rhizomic narrative mapping can be seen, for example, in Mano’s introduction to his section of the narrative in Memory of Snow and of Dust: ‘The point is to start anywhere. To continue then in the direction opened by that start. Whatever the way may be, wherever it may lead’ (1989: 215). It is in his 1999 text, Woordwerk, however, with its sub-title ‘die kantskryfjoernaal van ’n swerwer’ (the marginal journal of a wanderer), that Breytenbach provides the most complete definition of his nomadic, or rhizomic, narrative mode. Preferring the term ‘word worker’ to ‘writer’, he describes Woordwerk as: an in-between book. Also an interim. It is of course a self-fiction, but this in itself says nothing. It consists of notes, observations, incidental thoughts, remissions . . . It often seizes the beginning of a story by the tail, a different approach, which then may surface elsewhere in modified form . . . Certain characters and situations recur, since these are also nomadic writings, the travel journal of a wanderer . . . This is the way the mind operates, this is the way the hand moves: in leaps or traces from fragment to fragment, splintering, possibly consuming, in pursuit of the worm of the word, in-between and in the meanwhile . . . (1999: 125; my translation).11

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Such a text is necessarily dialogic, says Breytenbach, because a book ‘is a parliament. In the sense, of course, that “parliament” means talkingplace. It is a house of many voices, a cacophony . . . Even the single voice has many speakers . . . The writer is the talking-place where there is a great deal of argument’ (211–12).12 The dialogism of Breytenbach’s Middle World text in A Veil of Footsteps is a function of the hybridity of its Middle World diasporic subject whose personas, like Pessoa’s heteronyms, are in constant dynamic interaction with each other. The narrative masquerade is summed up by a quotation from Carlos Liscano that the narrator offers to the reader: ‘To write is to invent a non-existent individual, the writer’ (Breytenbach 2008: 120). Breytenbach’s earlier self-displacement through narrative masking culminates here in the relationship between narrator and protagonist that is explained to the reader in a chapter called ‘Progress Report’: Reader, for this story to move forward to its extinction there must be the two of us, I Doggod and Breyten Wordfool . . . The presence of both of us will ensure that the book remains in equilibrium in your hands. Together we search for you from day to night. Maybe I’m looking for myself. Maybe I exist only in your mind (120).

In this narrative ensemble, Doggod (with his backstory in Woordwerk) is the self-reflexive narrator/mask of the implied author, Breyten Breytenbach, and Breyten Wordfool (a composite of many earlier masks) is the protagonist whose agency in the narrative, Doggod says, extends to his beginning ‘to sense himself through the words in the way my reading and looking glance off him’. Each is the creation of, reflection of and substitute for the other in this book that will be their ‘meeting ground and shared existence’ – for, as Doggod says at the end of the chapter: ‘What’s the use of having a double if that person cannot live in your place?’ (121). Both Doggod and Breyten Wordfool inhabit, together with Breytenbach, the ‘I’ of the narrative – in his formulation, each is the self-image in the eye/I of the other. Doggod refers to Breyten Wordfool in the third person as the subject of his narrative (‘he, Breyten Wordfool’, 14 and ‘the word bird’, 130), as well as to writers generally as


‘bird-fool[s]’ (24); frequently, however, he also speaks in the first person as ‘Mr Wordbird’ (17), ‘Breyten Wordprick’ (63) and ‘Breyten Wordbird’ (176) himself.13 On one occasion he tells the reader about the kinds of stories he thinks ‘Breyten’ ought to develop, but his author, he says, ‘set out to narrow the field, to explore the sickness of narcissism by locking us in this infernal couple – I Doggod and I Breyten Wordfool. Make no mistake: like all mirror muttering it is a dialogue of the deaf and a discourse of the deranged’ (182). A chapter titled ‘Declaration’ opens with the declaration: ‘This is to solemnly affirm that I, the undersigned, am Breyten Wordfool’ (288) and continues with a paradoxical claim that shows how the implied author overlaps with his fictional subject, both of them alien immigrants in the host house of fiction: ‘I, Breyten Breytenbach write these words. Or they write me’ (288). Only the reader, he hastens to reassure him/her, is not a construct of the text: ‘Sometimes there may be confusion between you and me, but there are distances and spaces!’ Breyten Breytenbach alias Doggod alias Breyten Wordfool are all further mirrored in the metafictional design of the novel in a series of mise en abymes, each of which reflects the larger fictional undertaking. ‘Breyten’ (Wordfool) gives an outline of a play he proposes to write about the present-day African diaspora, to be called The Day the King Visited Barcelona, in which a poor black man in a shabby room in Catalonia dictates a letter to his family in Africa, reporting on his good life and fantastic achievements, while the white person – him/herself ‘also but one generation removed from emigrant workers’ (125) – taking it down realises the sham. In the main writing project, Doggod tells us that Breyten Wordfool, has, in addition to his memoir, been working on a novel, The Last Days of Simon Snow, about a retired undertaker, Simon Snow, who is preparing himself for death. Wordfool considers interspersing the old man’s story with ‘side-reflections’ (18), or asides – or ‘mirror notes’, from his diary, but which are meant to be the substance of his other book, his memoir, his ‘black book of impressions’ (31) that he is unable to finish. On the one hand, Doggod dismisses Simon Snow as ‘that wormy fruit of the word fool’s imagination’ (121); on the other, Breyten Breytenbach/Doggod/Breyten Wordfool says, he must complete his book about Simon Snow:

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I need someone like the old and confused gentleman, a retired undertaker with the memory of final movements in his hands, to whom I may bring the scattered leaves of my life, all these broken mirror flights. I am looking for binding. Breyten Wordbird wants to confide his life and his senseless travels to Snow so that the old dog may make them his own, take them in his small podgy paws and give it sense and sentences and purpose. And bury it (103).

In this textual Middle World, the slippage between author, narrator and character forms part of the overlapping of fact and fiction; the narrator mocks ‘Breyten’: ‘Here you are now full of hot air and beer and piss, casting yourself as the pleasant if unwitting stranger in the book you’re trying to write – a man without a country no less, and no lesson to show for it’ (54). The narrative by means of which Breytenbach charts the diasporic Middle World in A Veil of Footsteps grows rhizomically, developing in different directions and concretising from time to time into more substantial anecdotes, episodes and passages of reflection. The text may also be seen as a cluster of ‘nomadisms’, to use Breytenbach’s coinage, ‘nomadismes (’n fragmentarium)’ (2011: 83), for the title of one of the sub-sections in his volume of poetry, Die Beginsel van Stof. In addition to all its accounts of fellow travellers, the narrative further contains – ‘without any discernible sequence in my observations’ (2008: 189), as Breytenbach admits at one point – extended descriptions of the streets of Paris that he traverses, his life at Can Ocells and his neighbour Don Vecino Espejuelo and partner Lola, beach visits with his daughter Gogga, favourite haunts in Cape Town, the inhabitants of Gorée and their Independence Day festivities and people on the streets of Manhattan. Interspersed with all these there are accounts of writers’ gatherings – complete with altercations, political gossip and drunken philosophising – that Breytenbach/Wordfool has attended in Genoa, Maputo and the United States. The text also develops into numerous nodes of nightmare with accounts by Breyten Wordfool of various dreams of his impending execution, Kafkaesque appearance before an inquest, arrival in an extermination camp, landing at Johannesburg airport and encountering his old nemesis, Colonel Huntingdon, being part of an exodus of refugees from mainland Africa to the safety of an offshore island, and


escaping from a penal colony on the edge of the desert. Also included is yet another fancifully revised version of Breytenbach’s clandestine return to South Africa in 1975 and subsequent arrest and trial. There is a digression on angels and also an extensive reflection on the destruction of the World Trade Center, on people’s reactions and on the nature of evil. The text contains a number of photographs and poems and an account of Breytenbach’s play, simply titled The Play. Intertextuality abounds – Breytenbach says, ‘I have a magpie mind, my eye is caught by the detritus of words found slowly rotting on all sorts of pages or screens’ (191). Quotations from, among others, William Empson, Georges Perros, Michel Foucault, Robert de Montesquiou, Roberto Calasso’s Literature and the Gods, Alessandro Baricco’s novel Novecento: Pianist; E.L. Doctorow, Philip Guston, E.B. White’s essay ‘Here is New York’ and Wallace Stevens have all migrated into Breytenbach’s text, opening it up further to other contexts. A Veil of Footsteps is not ‘a memoir in the classical sense of the word’ (196), but rather, as Breytenbach phrases it, a ‘jagged line of write-thinking following the bird-hand’s death flight to the end of the book’. Death is an important motif in his nomadic narrative: ‘I carry a tattered notebook wherever I go,’ he says, ‘to keep tracking it’ (288). In addition to the actual deaths that he records – of his old comrade Petit-Loup in Paris, the painter Guy Harloff in Italy, his friend Trung in Vietnam, his old neighbour Don Vecino Espejuelo in Catalonia, a marabout who was murdered in Senegal and the thousands of casualties in New York on 9/11 – death features in the dream sequences in the narrative: in an extermination camp, by execution and figured as an obscene seducer. Breytenbach’s thoughts about the fate of the nomadic wanderer dying nameless and being buried ‘in a nondescript graveyard’ (13) lead to speculations about where and how he himself would like to be buried. ‘Death,’ he says, ‘is the great transformer, the intermediary between us and the unknowable’ (20). Willie Burger has explained how a transformative writing project such as Breytenbach’s in A Veil of Footsteps is aware of itself as an engagement with death: ‘To regard the self – through memories, through narrative with the assistance of imagination – is to regard a dead self. The self that is registered on paper, which continues, has already been fixed, is dead, cannot be kept alive’ (2009: 196; my translation).14

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In addition to Breyten Wordfool’s self-reflexive literary projects, the narrative abounds in aphorisms and discursive passages on writing, in particular Breytenbach’s theory of narrating the Middle World. For example, as a correlative to his own rhizomic approach to writing, he quotes Harloff’s view (who is in turn quoting the painter Pierre Bonnard) of a painting as ‘a succession of blotches that are related and form links and end up shaping the object, the part over which the eye will wander without impediment’ (Breytenbach 2008: 104). Some of Breytenbach’s dicta are formulated in terms of his African affiliation, such as his claim that writing has come about ‘as an activity of magic and power and perhaps atonement’ (169); others are more poetically expressed in terms of his narrative self-displacement: ‘The breath of the storyteller is a bastard product but also the agent of transformation’ (178) or in terms of his nomadology: ‘Writing ought to be like running through a world opening up before you as you listen to your breath’ (180) or simply in terms of paradox: ‘Writing is a way of opening up the memory, even the memory of what is still to come’ (138). Breytenbach/Doggod/Breyten Wordfool returns throughout the narrative to the relationship between fiction and reality and to writing as establishing ‘a sheen of consciousness interacting with reality and the Real’ (102). He quotes Slavoj Žižek’s explanation of the fundamental paradox of symbolic fictions such as his own – A Veil of Footsteps as well as its mirror-text, The Last Days of Simon Snow – namely that ‘in one and the same move, they bring about the “loss of reality” and provide the only possible access to reality: true, fictions are a semblance which occludes reality, but if we renounce fictions, reality itself dissolves’ (102). It is this conundrum of fiction displacing reality and simultaneously providing access to reality that Breytenbach formulates in his own way as: ‘Words are the little hooks holding the sheer and rotting cloth of reality together’ (242). The images of the destruction of the World Trade Center on 11 September 2001, however, which one could view edited and interpreted on television while ‘the real thing [was] still smoking out there like a blown volcano’ (246) – real death and its mirrored relay simultaneously visible – he says, ruptured ‘the pellucid skin between phantasmagoria and phenomena’. He realises that writing needs to be understood in terms beyond the dichotomies of fiction and reality, and dream and reality: ‘Writing is not an escape from the real world but an informed and intelligent entry into it’ (253).


Breytenbach’s narrative art, like the Middle World it engages with, is premised on displacement. Writing itself, he says, is ‘always just out of reach’ (175), nor can it contain meaning: ‘As you form the words the meaning disappears.’ Nevertheless, he reminds us, writing remains an attempt to shape and transform the inchoate, to impose order on disorder, and in that sense it is an act of displacement: I write, and thus a relationship comes about between hand and word, and therefore I am. If I am, I must now be here where the writing takes place. This is already an illustration: writing is ‘taking (the) place’, displacing non-writing. It is a point of departure. I am a measure (254).

And in the final chapter, ‘Letting Go’, Breyenbach offers in conclusion a description of his art of displacement about displaced people: . . . writing is always that tragic and absurd exercise in making memory, trying to create a continuum, a present in other words. And since it is premised on displacement, the past is destroyed and the future falls away out of reach. By pretending to represent the permanently stopped present and fashion the future, writing brings about false consciousness. It intends (in-tends!) to insert itself in the fugacious break between past and future to make sense – I mean literally – and it fails. Nothing can live in that illusionary space (300–1).

Not even memory. All that one is left with, he concludes, are fractured ‘Middle World pictures of people and places’ (301). Notes 1. These Africans in Spain may also be seen to exist in the exilic area that Edward Said, in his essay ‘Reflections on Exile’, locates ‘just beyond the frontier between “us” and the “outsiders” . . . the perilous territory of not-belonging: this is to where in a primitive time peoples were banished, and where in the modern era immense aggregates of humanity loiter as refugees and displaced persons’ (2001: 177). 2. See Louise Viljoen’s analysis of the dialectic between Breytenbach’s notion of his ‘heartland’ and his conception of a ‘Middle World’ in his fictional text Dog Heart and the way in which the narrative deals with ‘the structural schizophrenia between the local and the global’ (Viljoen 2002a: 169). See also Jacobs (2003a).

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3. Michael Chapman uses the term ‘cosmopolitan’ to describe the exilic state of both Breytenbach and Lewis Nkosi, which he defines as ‘simultaneously to be rooted and rootless, attached and detached; it is to retain the trickster quality, always somewhat sceptical, whether looking North or South, always the precursor of alternatives’ (2006: 354). Ileana Dimitriu has, in a number of articles, examined Breytenbach’s writings in relation to those of other prominent imprisoned or exiled African and European writers, such as Wole Soyinka and Milan Kundera (see Dimitriu 2004, 2007). 4. Breytenbach’s sense of exile here is in many ways comparable to Lewis Nkosi’s description of the exiled dissident politician, banished writer or displaced intellectual in terms of a fetish: ‘To be driven from one’s mother country is first and foremost a shocking spectacle which goes a long way to explain the power which exile exerts upon the imagination. It also explains the veneration often accorded to exiles in their countries of asylum. Imprisoned, tortured and finally banished to foreign lands, the exile soon acquires the aura of a fetishised object who must be massaged and caressed until such time as the object becomes too familiar, becomes assimilated into the new environment. Becomes, in a sense, worn, used up, a little too soiled usefully to serve as the object of veneration or worship. A stage is then reached when the displaced person bears the appearance not unlike the empty degraded look of fetish objects which were once sacred but are now abandoned as relics on the scrapheap of some foreign marketplace’ (2006: 212). 5. As Iain Chambers describes the migrant experience of language: ‘For the nomadic experience of language, wandering, without a fixed home, dwelling at the crossroads of the world, bearing our sense of being and difference, is no longer the expression of a unique tradition or history, even if it pretends to carry a single name. Thought wanders. It migrates, requires translation. Here reason runs the risk of opening out on to the world, of finding itself in a passage without a reassuring foundation or finality: a passage open to the changing skies of existence and terrestrial illumination. No longer protected by the gods or their secular resurrection in the vestments of an imperious rationalism or positivist projection, thought runs the risk of becoming responsible for itself and the safekeeping of being, its only protection lying, as Rilke and Heidegger remind us, in the very absence of protection’ (1994: 4). 6. ‘Just as the bastard sheds his self and enters into unpredictable mixture with the other, so the nomad uproots himself from the old, comfortable dwelling place to follow the animals, or the smells of the wind, or the figures of his imagination, into an uncertain future’ (Coetzee 2001b: 312). 7. As noted in Chapter 4, the figure of Outa Lappies also appears in Zoë Wicomb’s novel Playing in the Light as the fictionalised Outa Blinkoog. 8. Willie Burger (2009) provides an illuminating analysis of the dependency of imagination on language and the relationship between imagination, memory and identity in A Veil of Footsteps.


9. André P. Brink (1973) and P.P. van der Merwe (1980) analyse Breytenbach’s displacement of self in terms of Zen Buddhism; Lisbé Smuts (2004) and Marilet Sienaert (2004) also discuss the transformation and dissemination of the subject in his poetry as well as his paintings. 10 . Breytenbach’s view of writing as travelling resonates with that of Chambers (who in turn quotes Michel de Certeau): ‘To begin with these marks on the page, the movement of calligraphy: for to write is, of course, to travel. It is to enter a space, a zone, a territory, sometimes sign-posted by generic indicators (travel writing, autobiography, anthropology, history . . .), but everywhere characterised by movement: the passage of words, the caravan of thought, the flux of the imaginary, the slippage of the metaphor, “the drift across the page . . . the wandering eyes”. Here, to write, (and read) does not necessarily involve a project intent on “penetrating” the real, to double it and re-cite it, but rather entails an attempt to extend, disrupt and rework it. Although allegorical, always speaking of an other, of an elsewhere, and therefore condemned to be dissonant, writing opens up a space that invites movement, migration, a journey. It involves putting a certain distance between ourselves and the contexts that define our identity. To write, therefore, although seemingly an imperialist gesture, for it is engaged in an attempt to establish a path, a trajectory, a, however limited and transitory, territory and dominion of perception, power and knowledge, can also involve a repudiation of domination and be invoked as a transitory trace, the gesture of an offer: a gift, the enigmatic present of language that attempts to reveal an opening in ourselves and the world we inhabit’ (1994: 10). 11 . ‘Woordwerk is ’n tussenin boek. Ook ’n intussen. Dis natuurlik ’n self-roman, maar daarmee het jy nog niks gesê nie. Dit bestaan uit aantekeninge, opmerkings, bygedagtes, aflate . . . Dikwels het dit die begin van ’n verhaal aan die stert beet, ’n ander aanloop, wat dan elders in gewysigde vorm mag opduik . . . Sommige karakters en situasies of omgewings beweeg deur, want dis ook nomadiese geskrifte, die skryfjoernaal van ’n swerwer . . . So werk die verstand, so skuif(el) die hand: in spronge of spore van brok na brok, versplinterend, dalk verterend, al agter die wurm van die word aan, tussenin en intussen’ (Breytenbach 1999: 125). See also Viljoen’s comprehensive and illuminating discussion of liminality in respect of genre, space and identity in Woordwerk as an ‘in-between book’ (2005). 12 . ‘ ’n Boek . . . is ’n parlement. Natuurlik in die sin dat “parlement” praatplek beteken. Dis ’n huis van baie stemme, ’n kakofonie . . . Selfs die enkele stem het baie sprekers . . . Die skrywer is ’n praatplek waar baie opgestry word’ (Breytenbach 1999: 211–12). 13 . Breytenbach has explained: ‘Genetically, in terms of the writing history of the book, “Wordfool” is a descendant of “Woordfoël” – an Afrikaans neologism that could be said to straddle “Wordfool”, “Word bird” and “Word prick” . . . I wanted him to be a clown, a fool for words, a nomad, maybe as free as a nomad and as stupid as a bird and as self-sufficient as a prick’ (Saayman 2009: 206; see also Breytenbach’s explanations of the other personas in the novel, 206–7). 14 . ‘Om die self te beskou – deur herinneringe, deur vertelling met behulp van die verbeelding – is om ’n dooie self te beskou. Die self wat geregistreer word op die deurlopende papier is reeds vasgelê, is dood, kan nie aan die lewe gehou word nie . . .’ (Burger 2009: 196).

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Performing the African Diaspora Zakes Mda, Sometimes There is a Void and Cion

An eternal outsider: Sometimes There is a Void The diasporic subject in Zakes Mda’s work is perhaps best approached through the dialogue between autobiography and fiction. It is generally agreed that autobiography is a mode of self-invention; as Paul John Eakin argues: ‘Autobiographical truth is not a fixed but an evolving content in an intricate process of self-discovery and self-creation’ (1985: 3) – in other words, the process of discovering the self cannot be separated from the art of inventing a self. The subtitle of Zakes Mda’s autobiography, Sometimes There is a Void: Memoirs of an Outsider (2011), announces its autobiographical subject, both discovered and created, as an outsider in relation to various cultural communities and countries. This marginal figure also features as the protagonist of most of Mda’s fictional writing and, more particularly, in his diasporic novel Cion (2007). Mda’s exercise in autobiographical recollection in Sometimes There is a Void bears out other fundamental truths about all self-/life-writing as well, such as self and story being complementary and mutually constitutive in the process of identity-formation – in Eakin’s words: When it comes to autobiography, narrative and identity are so intimately linked that each constantly and properly gravitates into the conceptual field of the other. Thus, narrative is not merely a literary form but a mode of phenomenological and cognitive self-experience, while self – the self of autobiographical discourse – does not necessarily precede its constitution in narrative (1999: 100).



The narrative of Sometimes There is a Void is so constructed as to foreground the related truth that the theatre of autobiography, in which the events of the past are rehearsed, is the present; in the act of autobiographical recollection, ‘the materials of the past are shaped by memory and imagination to serve the needs of present consciousness’ (Eakin 1985: 56). The main structural device that Mda employs in Sometimes There is a Void is a framing account of a series of regular journeys by car undertaken in the present or recent past, together with his wife Gugu, to the Eastern Cape and Lesotho. Each of the stopovers that he names on these various road trips becomes an occasion for narrating a further episode in the story of his life. Mda has repeatedly emphasised the importance of place in his fictional writing: he always begins with an actual place, he says, never with a story, and, as he builds his characters, so the story emerges in their interactions with that place (Anstey 2001: 12). In this same narrative vein, he begins his autobiography at the village of Qoboshane in the Lower Telle area of the Eastern Cape province, where his grandfather used to have a homestead in the Goodwell Settlement, up against Dyarhom Mountain, where Mda has since initiated a beekeeping project among the local women. Walking among the ruins of the homestead, he recalls his grandfather and the history of the amaMpondomise clan. Other signposts on Mda’s narrative journey into his past include the Roman Catholic Mission of St Teresa, where his father had formerly been a teacher and had a home, which is the place of Mda’s earliest memories; Sterkspruit, which was the first place that he and his parents and siblings lived in together under one roof as a family; the now-shabby Tienbank township, which was where their house had been; the ruins of Bensonvale College, where his father conducted a mass choir at its centenary celebrations; the dilapidated Peka High School, where Mda had once been a scholar; St Rose Mission outside Peka, which was the site of his early rupture with the Catholic Church; the Maseru Sun Cabanas, where he encounters an old acquaintance from his youth; the Riverside Lodge in Aliwal North, which leads him to tell about the only time he was ever arrested by the South African police and the town of Ventersburg, which has since become a pit stop on their journeys to and from the ‘Bee People’.

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Eakin reminds us that identities are formed and narrated through social and discursive transaction: ‘Even though . . . there is a legitimate sense in which autobiographies testify to the individual’s experience of selfhood, that testimony is necessarily mediated by available cultural models of identity and the discourses in which they are expressed’ (1999: 4). Sometimes There is a Void reveals how Mda’s identity was determined from the beginning by banishment, exile and migration, going as far back as 1880 when his ancestor Mhlontlo, who had killed a British colonial magistrate, fled together with his followers from Qumbu in the Eastern Cape and were given refuge among the Basotho by Chief Moorosi of the Baphuthi clan. This history of seeking refuge was continued when Mda’s father, A.P. Mda, a noted Pan-Africanist Congress activist, went into exile in Basutoland, as Lesotho was then known, to escape from the South African police and was followed afterwards by the fifteen-year-old Mda (‘because I was my father’s son’, Mda 2011: 68), who crossed the Telle River into Lesotho in January 1964, to live as a refugee with his father. Mda explains in detail how his early life was shaped by the discourse of political exile. The loss of filiation that his exile entailed when his family life was ‘smashed . . . to smithereens’ (68) was aggravated by his initial feeling of desolation in the southern Lesotho town of Quthing, where his father was living. Longing for his disrupted life back in Sterkspruit and perceiving as alien the Basotho world in which he now found himself, he nevertheless immersed himself in a new life in a new country and a new language, although remaining constantly aware of his foreignness and of being labelled by the locals as a ‘Mothepu’ (75), the derogatory term used by the Basotho people for any Nguni-speaking person. The young Mda was formed in the crucible of exile. His own political activism in Lesotho provided some validation of his worth and he also experienced solidarity in Mafeteng, where they later lived, with the large South African refugee community, which, he says, was ‘a family, irrespective of political affiliation’ (93). Different attitudes towards exile are presented in the autobiography, ranging from A.P. Mda’s sense that he owed it to his Basotho hosts who granted him political asylum to offer his services as a lawyer there to Mda’s own appreciation of the spirit of ubuntu displayed by the people of Lesotho in welcoming a flood of new South African refugees into their country after 1976 and his excitement


at the cultural and political invigoration of the refugee community by these new arrivals with their poetry and theatre festivals. And an important outcome of exile for the Mdas was their ability to function in a variety of languages – Xhosa, Sesotho and English. It was as a citizen of Lesotho that, after fifteen years as an exile, Mda returned to South Africa in November 1979, in a homecoming of sorts to an essentially unchanged country, to receive a theatre award. His early experience of dislocation and relocation was to be repeated in different ways throughout his later career as a school and university teacher and playwright in South Africa as well as Lesotho, as a graduate student from 1981 onwards at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, where he also became involved in anti-apartheid campaigns, and later as a visiting professor at the University of Vermont and a research fellow at Yale. Mda describes his current peripatetic existence as that of ‘a migrant worker’ (207), divided between the United States, where he is now a professor of creative writing at Ohio University, and South Africa, to which he commutes every few months to work with the Bee People in the Eastern Cape, teach playwriting at the Market Theatre in Johannesburg and run creative writing workshops with HIV-positive people at the Anglican Church of Christ the King in Sophiatown. He lives his life, he says, in ‘some kind of self-imposed exile’ (194). His South Africanness, he insists, is ‘just one of [his] identities’ (208) and secondary to his ‘humanness’; his experience of diaspora has led him to prefer being an expatriate above any jingoistic patriotism. As a writer Mda might be viewed in terms of the category proposed by Corinne Duboin in her essay, ‘New Transatlantic Passages’, for recent African immigrants in the United States: college-educated, middle-class Africans who have either chosen to leave Africa and go to the United States for reasons of social and professional advancement, or have been forced to seek refuge or political asylum there. For these newcomers, African-born diasporic subjects, postindependence Africa is not a mythical land, an imagined ancestral location that is deeply ingrained in their collective memory. Nor is it a faraway continent of which they know little and have a distorted perception shaped by the media. Instead, it is a lived space, a native land they left behind and that they remember from childhood, while America is initially constructed in

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their minds as an idealized land of freedom and opportunity (2014: 180–1).

Their new novels and short stories, Duboin argues, ‘contribute to black fiction created out of an American experience’. Mda might be included in this body of displaced African artists who ‘offer new perspectives on the myths and realities of Africa and North America, addressing the vexed questions of race and national identity’ (181). And given their growing presence and literary success, Duboin says, ‘we need to examine how these writers participate in the rich diversity and evolution of African Diaspora aesthetics, and look at the way they explore new avenues of fiction writing and imagine narratives that stem from and comment upon their experience of displacement’.1 However much Mda might wish to affirm his own displacement, his diasporic identity has come at a cost – the chronic sense of incompleteness that is conveyed by the ‘void’ in the title of his autobiography and that becomes a leitmotif in his narrative of himself. He is dogged throughout his life by his consciousness of ‘a gaping hole that could not be filled’ (22) and he concludes his autobiography with the sentence: ‘Yet the void widens’ (552). Awareness of an absence is a legacy of diasporic dispersion; the stable life that Mda’s mother used to wish for her children has always eluded him and his siblings with their broken and widely scattered families – ‘We are an estranged family’ (313), he says. Coupled with this is his sense of what he calls his ‘outsiderness’, as he describes this state of being: ‘I have resisted the centre and have always drifted towards the periphery of things’ (195). Being ‘an eternal outsider’ (205), he says, is the position he has always been comfortable with. On the positive side, his outsider status in the United States enables him to do his teaching at Ohio University and further be left alone to write and paint, content to be ‘a nobody and . . . able to lead a quiet life’ (507). On the negative side, when he returned to South Africa in 1994, he found there was no call for the specialist skills that he had to contribute to the new democracy; he was not part of the politically connected black elite and ‘the vast patronage system and crony capitalism’ (195) that had emerged in the country deliberately excluded him. In a letter to President Nelson Mandela, he explained how such marginalisation was resulting in many highly qualified black people who, like himself, lacked the


necessary party credentials, leaving South Africa to work in the United States, the Far East and other African countries. Always a foreigner, a ‘Mothepu’, in Lesotho despite his citizenship and a foreigner in the United States, Mda discovered that he was also a foreigner in his country of birth – ‘an ultimate outsider’ (552). An art of performance Mda’s art is essentially one of performance. Before he turned to writing fiction with his first novel Ways of Dying in 1995, he had created more than 30 plays, set in southern Africa in the period from the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s and concerned mainly, as David Bell has summed it up, with ‘the struggle against apartheid and a critique of neo-colonialism’ (2011: 57). From his experience of working with, among others, the Maratholi Travelling Theatre in Lesotho during the 1980s, Mda progressed as a playwright from a theatre of resistance to a theatre for development, which was later outlined in his book, When People Play People (1993). Theatre for development is a participatory theatre for democracy, which, Bell explains, incorporates ‘indigenous modes of festival and performance that enable communication with the marginalised in the rural areas and urban slums where the majority of the black population live’ (2009: 18). Mda defines theatre as ‘the production and communication of meaning in the performance itself, in other words a transaction or negotiation of meaning in a performer-spectator situation’ (1993: 45–6); for him, theatre is for motivating people to participate in the creation of their own narratives, to become aware of their problems and capabilities and to develop from critical analysis to critical awareness – to become ‘conscientised’. It is a theatre of social, economic and political empowerment (see also Mda 1990). An important legacy from Mda’s theatre work is to be found in the performative character of his novels. Not only is performance foregrounded in the narratives in the form of social ceremonies or festivals, but also the concerns of the novels are usually mediated through some kind of indigenous or indigenised cultural or artistic performance, which is also enacted by the narrative.2 At a deep narrative level the performativity of Mda’s fiction goes to the essence of his art, which has its cultural roots in African narrative forms and ontology and also engages with cultural change in the contemporary world. He

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begins his autobiography by recalling the childhood years he spent in his grandfather’s rural homestead, where he says: ‘We each took turns telling stories that had been passed on to us by older relatives, who had in turn learnt them from those who came before them, from one generation to the next, beginning when time began’ (Mda 2011: 3). And although the events and characters in these ‘tried and tested folk tales’ (4) were transformed according to each teller’s personality or degree of urban sophistication, they nevertheless remained familiar, despite the narrative innovations. In addition to being outsiders in their communities, Mda’s fictional protagonists are all performers of one kind or another. In Ways of Dying, to mediate the violence and political killings in South Africa during the transitional period between 1990 and 1994, he created the figure of Toloki. Initially influenced by the ascetic Aghori sadhus of India, Toloki graduates to becoming a professional mourner, dressed in a shabby costume of top hat, tight-fitting pants and tasselled black velvet cape, with a vocation to grace funerals with his harrowing howls and moans. In the course of his career as professional mourner he later also incorporates the chants of young people at political rallies into his wailing, producing ‘new sounds that he has recently invented especially for mass funerals with political overtones’ (Mda 1995b: 99).3 Mda’s second novel, She Plays with the Darkness, which is set against the history of coups and military governments in Lesotho from 1970 to 1994, draws extensively on the performance traditions of its African subjects. Dikosha, sister of the fraudster Radisene and the performer of the title of the novel, personifies the song and dance culture of the Basotho. Early on she communes with the spirits of the ancient Bushmen in the Cave of Barwa, willing the paintings on the walls of the cave to life and becoming animated by their spirits as she joins in their ‘Great Dance of the Strong’ (Mda 1995a: 51). In the course of the narrative she comes to perform not only the traditional, rural songs and dances of the Basotho; she also participates in the contemporary music culture of the townships. In Mda’s next novel, The Heart of Redness (2000), the ancient Xhosa tradition of umngqokolo or overtone/split-tone singing metonymically represents the simultaneous unfolding of the twin narrative strands: the 1856–7 history of the prophetess Nongqawuse, the Xhosa cattle


killings and subsequent starvation in Xhosaland on the Eastern Cape frontier, and a contemporary story, in 1998, dealing with culture and sustainable development in the new South African democracy. The returning exile Camagu is enchanted by the singing of the young Xhosa woman Qukezwa, whose ‘song of many voices’ (2000: 316), like Dikosha’s dancing in She Plays with the Darkness, symbolises the complexity of a traditional culture at the crossroads: ‘Camagu has never heard such singing before. He once read of the amaXhosa mountain women who were good at split-tone singing . . . He did not expect that this girl could be the guardian of a dying tradition’ (175). Mda’s fourth novel, The Madonna of Excelsior (2002), is an equally performative text, although in a different way. Its parallel narratives, one recounting the notorious history of the arrests and charges under the Immorality Act of apartheid South Africa in the eastern Free State town of Excelsior in 1970 and the other focusing on issues in presentday, democratic South Africa, hinge around the paintings of the painterpriest Frans Claerhout, with Mda’s narrative consciously mimicking Claerhout’s expressionist style. Actual paintings by Claerhout are taken as a point of departure and then recreated in language stylistically approximate to them. An iconic narrative world is translated into a verbal one and this textual dialectic of visual and verbal art is then retranslated into a fictional dialogue between past and present. Through its interpenetration of word and image, The Madonna of Excelsior comes even closer to being a true iconotext than Patricia Schonstein Pinnock’s novel Skyline. In The Whale Caller (2005), the erotically charged, ritualised exchanges between the figure of the Whale Caller and the whale Sharisha, who responds to his dancing and kelp horn serenades with her own repertoire of whale songs and performances, lies at the heart of the novel’s ecological concerns with the southern right whales that annually visit the coast of Hermanus in the Western Cape. The antics of the Whale Caller, with his tuxedo and wailing kelp horn, combine music and dance in a startlingly original way, while also recalling Toloki’s howling in Ways of Dying, Dikosha’s dancing in She Plays with the Darkness and Qukezwa’s singing in The Heart of Redness. In each of these novels, what begins as a solo performance by the protagonist develops into ensemble performance with others as Mda explores individual and collective cultural identity.4

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A migrant mourner: Cion Mda’s sixth novel, Cion (2007), is the first one to be set in the United States and for the first time he turns his fictional attention beyond southern Africa to the larger context of the African diaspora and to what he refers in his autobiography as ‘the sad African American search for an African identity’ (2011: 391). Like Mda’s autobiography, and all his previous novels, Cion is structured in terms of twin narrative chronotopes, the same location providing for a historical narrative as well as a contemporary one that comprises, usually within a love story, a reflection on culture, society and politics. In Cion the impoverished hamlet of Kilvert, 15 miles northeast of Athens, Ohio, is the setting for an account of slavery in the United States in the nineteenth century, as well as for a contemporary narrative that engages with the racial and cultural politics of identity in the present-day United States and in South Africa.5 The narrative of Cion begins with Toloki, the professional mourner from Ways of Dying, telling how he has migrated into the fictional world of Cion to become its performer-protagonist. He was conceived by his author in Durham in England a decade earlier when Mda, who had been commissioned to write a play for the 900th anniversary celebration of Durham Cathedral, began to toy with the idea of a fictional character along the lines of the stinking tramp Vercueil, the angel of death in J.M. Coetzee’s novel, Age of Iron. Having been brought into being as a fictional character in South Africa, Toloki was abandoned later again in Durham, where he began to relish the idea of conversing with St Cuthbert and the Venerable Bede in their tombs in Durham Cathedral. He has now been transported, however, to Athens, Ohio, at the suggestion of Professor Sam Crowl, a Shakespearean scholar and colleague of Mda’s at Ohio University.6 Toloki’s mourning practice had fallen into a rut in South Africa when the violent deaths of the transition period made way for the myriad deaths from HIV and AIDS, in a general climate of denial. Feeling himself contaminated by all the lies about the real cause of the daily deaths and refusing to be part of the conspiracy of silence, he then began to study headstones in cemeteries and tried to imagine the deceased for whom he mourned. Having learnt, moreover, that mourning for payment was not his own invention, but that professional mourners were not


only a feature of the cultures of ancient Greece and Rome, and of the Bible, but that they are still active in present-day Spain, Italy, Ireland, Zambia and India, he has come to realise that he is ‘no longer the simple professional mourner of yesteryear’ (Mda 2007: 61). He embarks on a new stage of his career in Ohio as an itinerant mourner, the creation of an itinerant author and hoping to meet other professional mourners and incorporate their methods into his own mourning routine. Finding himself at The Ridges Cemetery in Athens among the graves of the former inmates of the Athens Mental Health Care asylum, he progresses from mourning to narrativising as he tries to envision the lives and deaths of the unfortunate melancholics, epileptics and alcoholics, as well as the indigent and the homeless – outsiders all – who had been committed there as lunatics; as he puts it: ‘The richness of re-creating deaths lies in the fact that you first have to re-create the lives of the deceased before they died’ (5). He is thwarted, however, by the hundreds of numbered and nameless gravestones in the cemetery. A framing performance Besides having a performer as protagonist, Cion features performance at various diegetic levels. The contemporary narrative events begin on 30 October 2004 and end a year later on 31 October 2005, framed by accounts of the Court Street Halloween parade in Athens – a narrative device that recalls the framing function of the feast across the Black River at the village of Ha Sache in She Plays with the Darkness, the Ficksburg Cherry Festival in The Madonna of Excelsior and the Kalfiefees whale festival in Hermanus in The Whale Caller. From the beginning, Toloki and his author are both presented as outsiders, hovering on the periphery of the Halloween parade among the ‘colourful creatures that are hiding in stolen identities’ (1). Although Toloki concedes that his mourning costume of black top hat and tasselled velvet cape might not be out of place among the revellers, he firmly establishes himself as focaliser of the spectacle from the outset and also identifies his author, ‘strutting about in a brown hooded robe . . . like a friar’ (8), in an unflatteringly recognisable portrait of Mda himself: ‘His belly hangs out like an apron’ (8). For the Court Street celebrants the origins of Halloween in a Celtic religious ritual to mediate the physical and spiritual worlds by lighting

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bonfires on hilltops at the end of summer to frighten away evil spirits, as well as its medieval significance as the holy eve of All Saints’ Day on the first of November, have become largely lost. The ‘day of the disembodied spirits of those who died last year [and who] come back in search of living bodies to possess for the next year’ (266), as Toloki explains it, has devolved into an essentially secular occasion for the performance of pranks. Not properly a carnival with the performative principle of public spectacle and the rule of riotous subversion of the social order, the Court Street Halloween parade is mainly an occasion for self-invention and selffictionalisation, the masked revellers presenting themselves as grotesque impersonations of various popular American figures – according to Toloki, ‘appropriating identities from American icons – living or dead or fictional’ (17). Sharing the streets with comic-book versions of devils, witches and ghosts are the ‘superheroes Superman, Spiderman, Batman and Robin’ (9). Playboy Bunnies and Paris Hiltons mingle with cowboys and Indian chiefs, orthodox Jews and parodied public figures such as Vice-President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Ronald Rumsfeld and former president Jimmy Carter. Although Toloki finds ‘those who are not only parading but are also performing’ (7) more interesting, even he, who as a professional mourner has been called ‘an angel of death’ (11), is overwhelmed by the ‘celebration of the culture of death among the young’ and the abundance of blood: bloody plastic dolls hanging from Rumsfeld, the figure of Yoko Ono embracing a bloody John Lennon and a lone preacher invoking the spilt blood of Christ against the pagan practices around him. The Court Street Halloween parade of people ‘transforming themselves, stealing identities’ (265) in an offshoot of a once-meaningful religious ritual provides an appropriate performative frame for the novel’s fictional examination of fancifully adopted and confused diasporic identities in the United States. A metafictional performance In the midst of what he calls ‘a parade of creatures’ (14, 278), Toloki selfreflexively advertises his own status both as fictional character and overt intradiegetic narrator from the outset. At the same time, however, he not only alerts the reader to the presence of Mda as covert extradiegetic narrator, but also to his author/creator as a character in his own novel,


beginning his narrative with the statement: ‘The sciolist has delusions of Godness’ (1) – a sentiment he reiterates at the conclusion of the novel: The sciolist is in the God business. And like all Gods he lives his life vicariously through his creations. Like all Gods he demands love from his creations. That’s why he creates them in the first place . . . so that they can shower him with love . . . so that they can worship him and praise him . . . so that they can bribe him with offerings. Creation is therefore a self-centred act (286).

Mda has himself on a few occasions in interviews asserted that he is in the ‘God Business’ as creator of fictional characters and situations (Naidoo 1997: 250; Kachuba 2005); in Cion, however, this authority is questioned and undermined throughout. The metafictionality of the novel centres around the self-reflexive relationship between Mda and Toloki, between the disparagingly named ‘sciolist’ and the eponymous ‘cion’: between the novelist not as scientist or sociologist, but as ‘sciolist’, a superficial pretender of knowledge, and his fictional offspring not as the more conventional ‘scion’ or descendant, but merely a ‘cion’, the word referring, in its Middle English spelling without an ‘s’, to a twig, runner or offshoot, a cutting for grafting. In a metafictional performance that begins at the Halloween parade, Cion breaks all fictional frames by parading its fictionality and fictional impersonations in a way that is unmatched by any of Mda’s earlier novels. If Toloki has crossed the ontological divide between fiction and reality by referring to his creator as a figure in his own backstory in the run-up to the events in Cion, Mda’s status as real author, implied author, extradiegetic narrator and fictional character is relativised throughout the narrative, from which the South African writer finally emerges as a figure of diminished authority and fallible judgement. Although Toloki is the intradiegetic narrator of the story in which he himself features in Chapter 1 (‘Of Saints and Pagans’), Chapter 3 (‘Mediation’) and Chapter 5 (‘A Taliban in the House’), it is stated explicitly in the narrative – by Toloki? – that Chapter 2 (‘Quiltales’), Chapter 4 (‘Ghost Trees’) and Chapter 6 (‘White Slave’), all three of which begin with the formulation, ‘The story is told . . . ’ and in all three of which a pseudo-oral, historical narrative is presented, are orchestrated

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by the sciolist. The narration of the last four chapters – Chapter 7 (‘Ghost Orchids’), Chapter 8 (‘Medium Man’), Chapter 9 (‘Mother of All Mourning’) and Chapter 10 (‘Once More the Pagans – Without the Saints’) – becomes more complex, with Toloki as ostensible narrator, but sometimes also little more than a mouthpiece for his author, and with the sciolist himself hovering in the background to guide and advise. Shlomith Rimmon-Kenan has said of such reversals of the hierarchy whereby a narrated object is transformed into a narrating agent and vice versa: ‘Modern self-conscious texts often play with narrative levels in order to question the borderline between reality and fiction or to suggest that there may be no reality apart from its narration’ (1983: 94). Toloki, in true postmodern fashion, is aware of himself as a fictional being. When he introduces himself at the Halloween parade to the young American Obed Quigley as ‘Toloki the Professional Mourner’ (Mda 2007: 12) from Ways of Dying and Obed asks whether it is a ‘manual on how to die’, he replies: ‘ “No. The story of my life . . . We are indeed all from stories. Every one of us. All humanity” ’ (13). At other times he directly addresses those of his readers who already know him as a fictional character ‘from Ways of Dying’ (117) and also distinguishes between the ways in which his narrative will be received by South Africans and Americans. Furthermore, he asserts his autonomy as a fictional character from the outset, dismissing his having been conjured into existence by the sciolist in the first place as a piece of ‘Godly madness’ (2) and declaring his own agency in having accepted the sciolist’s offer to bring him to Ohio. His antagonism towards his author grows and he demands of the sciolist that he ‘provide the answers’ (9) as he grapples with the problems of shaping his life in a strange culture and is frustrated (‘Damn that sciolist’, 15) at not being allowed to share in the sciolist’s omniscience with regard to his future movements. During the year that Toloki spends with the Quigley family in Kilvert, he immerses himself in the affairs of the community and begins to relish his independence, wondering whether the sciolist might not resent the freedom to determine the course of his life that he has claimed for himself and his having forgotten his ‘mission in life: to mourn the dead and to search for ways of mourning’ (83). Gradually the sciolist’s plans for Toloki’s existence fade, together with his nagging voice, as he becomes relegated to the periphery of the world he has created and his creation


becomes increasingly involved in the political life of Kilvert. By the end of the narrative the figures of cion and sciolist have devolved into two interactive subjectivities – two performers of fiction – who are similarly limited in their understanding and agency and similarly contingent in the fictional and real worlds that they inhabit. African diaspora and ‘Africa’ The self-reflexive interaction between cion and sciolist is the main vehicle in Mda’s novel for presenting the relationship between a diasporic African American culture in Kilvert and its African parent, between a cultural offshoot and its roots. And within this narrative performance, the cross-cultural dynamic in Cion is presented by means of further embedded sets of performances. In the pseudo-oral chapters dealing with slavery in Virginia in the 1830s and 1840s, Africa is presented in slave folklore as ‘the old continent’ (32) and ‘the motherland’ (142), a remote world, from where the slaves’ forebears had been sold into captivity, where shamans had been possessed of extraordinary wisdom, some of which has been handed down, together with their stories, to their descendants. In the 2004–5 chronotope, however, the mythical potency of Africa as ‘the old continent’ has become diminished through ignorance into cliché, no more or less real than anything else to be seen on American television. When Toloki first tells Obed Quigley that he is from South Africa, he is obliged to correct the American’s notion of an undifferentiated ‘Africa’ and explain that ‘Africa is not a country. It is not a village. It is a continent with many countries and hundreds of cities and villages and cultures’ (13). Africa remains an essentialised abstraction to Obed, however, and he introduces Toloki, in whom he recognises some kind of African shaman, to his friends and family in Kilvert as his ‘friend from Africa’ (20). The notion of a generic African is hard to subvert in Kilvert; when Obed’s mother Ruth tells the light-skinned Toloki that he does not look like an African – he is ‘yella’ (25) – he explains that his own ancestry is Khoikhoi and Southern Sotho and says: ‘ “Africans come in all colours of humanity, ma’am” ’ (25) – to which she responds: ‘ “I’ll be damned” ’. She, in turn, introduces Toloki to her daughter Orpah and to others as ‘the man from Africa’ (73), which leads to his becoming known in the neighbourhood as ‘Ruth’s African’ (116). Ruth, a staunch believer in the

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Bible and in George W. Bush, is equally fundamentalist in her notion of Africa: on the one hand, she says to Toloki: ‘ “You being from Africa and all . . . you gotta love George W Bush. You know why he gives lotsa money to Africa? ’Cause America owes Africa plenty for slavery” ’ (60). On the other hand, she is just as capable of telling Toloki that ‘one could never trust people from Africa. They could easily sell one just as they sold the African Americans into slavery’ (137). Ruth’s stereotypical views are also more widely shared in Kilvert; Orpah’s suitor Nathan later cautions her against becoming involved with Toloki: ‘ “He’s from Africa, Orpah. You don’t wanna live in Africa with them lions” ’ (257). These reductive and paradoxical perceptions of Africa are matched in the narrative by the confused cultural identities of the present-day cions of nineteenth-century slaves in Kilvert, each of whom, like Toloki, has fallen into a rut and each of whom, furthermore, shares his condition of being an outsider. Mda has cast all his main characters in the novel as outsiders, detached from the ancestry they claim, as well as from their present context. Toloki’s situation as outsider in the United States, reflecting that of his author, is apparent from his frequent comments on American life. These range from praise for the American work ethic and criticism of the dirty toilets in fast-food restaurants in Ohio to observations about American television sitcoms and reality shows, the religious right and Appalachian poverty, with its culture of dependence on food and clothing donations, as well as information about such different topics as the origins of tap-dancing, the histrionics of black television preachers, the ravages of Dutch elm disease and the protocols of a turkey shoot. Toloki’s (Mda’s?) interpretive anxiety also underlies his conscientious flagging of major national and international events during the year that he spends in Kilvert with the Quigleys, including the re-election of George W. Bush as president, the reaction to the American-led invasion of Iraq, the Asian tsunami and the devastation caused to New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina. More immediately, Toloki is a peripheral figure in the Kilvert community, which he enters first via the Quigley family and later through his friendship with Barbara Parsons and Irene Flowers, stalwarts of the Kilvert Community Centre. Kilvert itself, a once-thriving place, has become marginalised from mainstream America; since the closing


of the coal mines the population has dwindled to about 70 families and it has become a village of ‘mostly run-down houses strewn with scrap metal, muddy gardens, broken-down vehicles and rusty trailers’ (23). The Quigley family, in turn, occupies a peripheral position in the community and – to make the nexus of marginalities in the novel still more intricate – each of the Quigleys is further presented as an outsider in the family. The feckless Obed seizes the opportunity of Halloween to disguise himself as the ghost of the fugitive slave Nicodemus – with the sole purpose of being able to grope a female student. The ‘gloriously obese’ (24) Ruth devotes most of her energies to making relishes and pickles. Her taciturn husband Mahlon (‘it is as if he is not there’, 24) has given up his gardening to sit staring at his display of garden gnomes and their daughter Orpah has withdrawn into her room, which is covered in posters of Marilyn Monroe, to read Gothic novels and play the Indian sitar. In the course of the narrative, Toloki’s friendship with Obed leads to his ingratiating himself with Ruth and later to his forming a relationship with Orpah. It is through Toloki, who is arguably like his author a representative of the ‘new’ African diaspora, that the novel offers its reader a perspective on the present-day American descendants of the ‘old’ African slave diaspora. To supplement his own outsider’s knowledge of this diaspora, Mda has in Cion, as is his wont, relied heavily and perhaps uncritically on historical sources for his fictional account of slavery in America.7 For the oral history, he has turned to the actual Barbara Parsons and Irene Flowers and he further acknowledges having drawn on Keith P. Griffler’s Frontline of Freedom (2004), J.A. Rogers’ Sex and Race (1942) and Jacqueline L. Tobin and Raymond G. Dobard’s Hidden in Plain View (2000) – a work that is widely disputed. Out of this material Mda has fashioned a pseudo-oral narrative of an ancestral slave woman, the Abyssinian Queen, and her two sons, the half-brothers Abednego and Nicodemus, the former fathered by the white slaveholder, David Fairfield (referred to as ‘The Owner’) of Fairfield Farms in Virginia, and the latter by an anonymous field slave. The story of the Abyssinian Queen and of her sons’ flight to freedom in 1838, and the subsequent killing of Nicodemus, is complemented by the story of the slave-dealing Irishman, Niall Quigley, who is himself tricked into slavery, which leads to his eventually identifying himself as

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an African among the slaves at Fairfield Farms. In relation to these two ancestral histories, Mda’s narrative provides an account of the mechanics and economics of slave-breeding. The sole business of Fairfield Farms was to breed slaves and its ‘whole machinery was geared for the smooth and fast production of children, who were then sold when they were fifteen’ (Mda 2007: 35). We are told that slaves were regarded as livestock and separated into house slaves and field slaves; studs were rotated over female slaves in breeding bays and slave-breeding was seen as a ‘longterm investment’ (91), with the stock needing many years ‘to mature and be ready for the market’, while inbreeding was always recognised as a danger. Mda’s novel also engages with the paradoxes of slavery, such as the existence of white slaves, mainly indigent, indentured Irish and German girls; the premium placed on mulattoes leading to the more costeffective mating of white women with pitch-black studs over employing white studs for black women; the renting out of unproductive white girls to bordellos in neighbouring cities and the ownership of slaves, including white females, by wealthy black free people in Virginia and Maryland. The narrative rehearses the drama around fugitives – the various escape routes and the Underground Railroad with its conductors (such as the legendary Birdman), stations and supportive abolitionists (such as John Rankin) – and it identifies the main role players in pursuit of escaped slaves, including traders, chasers, stealers and bounty hunters. Toloki, who hails from a country where the taxonomies of race prevailed until almost the end of the twentieth century, when they became subsumed into the notion of a ‘Rainbow Nation’, is especially alert to the mixed racial and cultural identities that resulted partly from the racial engineering of slave-breeding and partly from the early history of the settlement of Kilvert. He remarks, for instance, that many of the people in Kilvert have strong Native American features and also that among ‘the rainbow people of the village’ (148) the ‘children have become lighter in complexion than their parents down the generations’. Kilvert has been a crucible of diasporic identity-formation. This region in the southeast of Ohio was originally inhabited by Shawnee, Cherokee and Powhatan peoples, among whom fugitive slaves from Virginia found refuge, joining the community of Africans who had already settled there from the late 1700s onwards. The village of Tabler Town, as Kilvert was formerly known, was founded by Michael Tabler, the son of a Virginia


planter who had exiled himself there in 1830, together with his mulatto wife Hannah, a number of their sons later marrying Native American women. Many of the former slaves had also intermarried with Native Americans and with Irish immigrants who had also found sanctuary in Tabler Town. As Mda’s narrative puts it: ‘A new race of people was founded’ (113). The Quigleys, Toloki learns, are descendants of ‘generations of African-Americans, Native Americans and Caucasian Americans’ (135) who intermarried and ‘are all part of the inbreeding that has happened over the decades in Kilvert’.8 Toloki is constantly confronted by the contradictory cultural filiations claimed by the present-day inhabitants of Kilvert, who celebrate Black History Month every February, but not a single other day to honour ‘their Native American or Caucasian heritages’ (205). Identities, Mda’s narrative shows, seem to be adopted in Kilvert like Halloween costumes in a similar process of self-invention. On the one hand, Toloki understands the essentialising cultural impulse behind Ruth’s not only boasting that ‘her great-great-great-grandmother was a queen in Africa’, but also paradoxically claiming that she is ‘a Cherokee princess’ and behind Obed’s pride in his ‘famous Native American forebear, Harry Corbett’ (54). Toloki senses that Obed, like his mother, ‘is desperately negotiating his way along the paths of a foggy past to validate his present’ (55) and that they cannot let go, for the past is all they have. On the other hand, Toloki registers their cultural confusion. Ruth’s insistence that they ‘don’t belong to nobody’ (28) and that their mixed race of people ‘is different from any race of people that lived on earth’, her real pride in ‘the one darn thing they ain’t gonna take from us . . . our heritage’ (55) and her belief that ‘we’re everybody. One day the whole world will look like us’ are all undermined by the unconsciously internalised racism of her references to ‘them Indian people’ (74) and ‘them coloured folks’ (59) and Obed’s to ‘high yella niggers’ (28). Obed explains their hybridity to Toloki by telling him that people from Kilvert are called ‘WIN people’: ‘ “ ’Cause we got three bloods in all of us . . . the White blood and the Indian blood and the Negro blood” ’ (62) – but Ruth also seems to accept their being called, more pejoratively, ‘Heinz 57’: ‘ “ ’Cause there’s a little bit of everything in us. Get it? Like Heinz 57’ ” (202). Toloki comes to realise that the racial and cultural uncertainty of these people results from their having formerly suppressed

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their Africanness and Indianness and prized their white ancestry and now wanting to reclaim all three heritages as a source of pride and uniqueness: ‘But they no longer remember who they were, on the African and Native American side’ (238). Performing the African diaspora Reflecting on cultural continuity and discontinuity in the African American diaspora, Toloki notes how some ancient African cultural traditions have survived only in the diaspora, while others are purely inventions of the diaspora: I have observed that people of African descent in America often create African heritages that no one in Africa knows about. There are some who are descendants of kings and queens who existed only in the collective imagination of their oppressed progenitors. I also know that there are many rituals and traditions long dead on the mother continent, that were preserved and transformed and enriched by the slaves to suit their new lives in America (119).

The representations of traditional and innovative cultural practice in Cion go back to the 1830s to the mythical figure of the Abyssinian Queen who, with her sewing skills and instructed by the slave matriarchs, is said to have founded the African American tradition of creating patchwork quilts encoded with secret messages – ‘beauty that spoke a silent language’ (44) – which served as rudimentary maps to guide fugitive slaves on their journeys to freedom. In the account of the escape of Abednego and Nicodemus we are told that the so-called African designs, such as Drunkard’s Path, Log Cabin, North Star, Monkey Wrench, Crossroads and Flying Geese, were a New World development of an ancient tradition from the ‘old continent’ of expressive textiles that ‘talked secret languages that could be understood only by those who had been initiated into the circle’ (48). The Underground Railroad conductor Birdman explains to the two fugitives that the quilts, while not being literal maps, nevertheless ‘bound individuals into a cohesive force, and reminded them of their duty to freedom’ (109) and that their designs were analogous to ‘adages and proverbs learnt from the elders’ and comparable to spirituals and to the stories of the ‘griots of the old


continent’ (110), the patterns, colours, ties and stitches being mnemonic. Toloki accepts the view that quilts are derived from the African tradition of ‘talking fabrics’ (143) in the New World and sees them, moreover, as comparable in function to the unifying slogans and songs that were chanted and sung in South Africa in the struggle against apartheid. While the lore of quilts is introduced in the 1830s chronotope, quilting is further integrated into the theme of traditional and innovative cultural practice in the 2004–5 chronotope, when Ruth first shows Toloki her heirloom African quilt and he detects in it ‘the smell of history’ (30). The different attitudes towards tradition are represented by Ruth, who reveres the old designs, and Orpah, who has taken to appliquéing bits of cloth over the ancestral patterns, embroidering on them and sewing beads and collages of found objects onto the quilts. The intransigent Ruth destroys her daughter’s quilts, for, as she insists: ‘ “Them new-fangled designs are not our tradition . . . We’re people of tradition. Our patterns have come down from our great-greatgrandmothers, and ain’t no little squirt’s gonna change that” ’ (128). She will only reproduce the established quilt designs – for which, although beautifully made, she does not manage to find buyers at the weekly farmer’s market in Athens. In Orpah’s work, however, Toloki recognises someone who has founded her own tradition, one of those creative people who have ‘transformed the quilt from being a mere bedcovering with geometric patterns that, granted, have cultural significance, into works of art that make statements about their world today’ (130). For Orpah, the old slave patterns, or African quilts as they are called in Kilvert, have become irrelevant since she ‘does not need to escape to any place’ (144); rather, her hybrid art must express her own present reality: ‘I want to invent patterns that tell my own story,’ she says. The Abyssinian Queen’s legendary improvised performances of tales and creation myths from the ‘old continent’ for the children of Fairfield Farms are reminiscent of the wailing, dancing and singing of the performer-protagonists in Mda’s earlier novels and her history forms part of his fictional macrotext about cultural tradition and innovation. She is said to have sung to her sons about the Promised Land of freedom, performed stories in which ‘she played all the parts, and incorporated the shadows and the flames and the smoke as characters in the elaborate tales that she seemed to improvise on the spot’ (45) and introduced into

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her animated storytelling also subversive accounts of slave rebellions, including that of Nat Turner. Increasingly, the Fairfields children were drawn into her performances as participants and were made aware (like the audiences in Mda’s theatre for development) of the narrative of their bondage and thereby empowered to escape from it. Like her quilts, the Abyssinian Queen’s legendary performances also form the basis in the contemporary narrative for a set of performances, which, in their turn, develop from individual to a more complex ensemble enactment of African American diasporic identity. The first of these – Toloki initially misconstrues the situation – is to be found in Mahlon Quigley’s nightly activities in Orpah’s room. Modelling himself on the Abyssinian Queen, Mahlon has since Orpah’s childhood conducted an elaborate ritual whereby he not only tells, but also later performs in costume, stories that he has derived from collective memory or else invented himself and she co-creates them by either developing them in tandem with him, sometimes in song, or completing them in paintings. As a ‘medium man’, Mahlon draws on ancient sources, rehearses established cultural traditions and creates new ones together with Orpah as his ‘spirit child’ (220) in a performance that mediates the spiritual world of the so-called ‘ghost trees’ (21) with which Orpah is obsessed in her drawings, giant sycamores as ‘carriers of memories’ with ‘many stories to tell’ (84) from the slave past. Just as Mahlon re-enacts and reinterprets a mythical performance from the past and incorporates elements from it into his own collaborative performance with his daughter, so Toloki comes to absorb aspects of African American experience by degrees into his life as he grows ever more conscious of himself as a kind of ‘medium man’, an outsider-insider whose function is to mediate the larger African diaspora in relation to his own history and, more particularly, to his role as custodian and innovator of the art of professional mourning. While becoming more deeply involved in the local politics of identity, he is also taught the craft of quilting by the women at the Kilvert Community Centre and learns to appreciate the symbolic significance of quilts both as records and celebrations of escapes from slavery and as sources of inspiration for the future. ‘After all,’ he realises, ‘memory is what you make of it . . . We all construct our past as we go along’ (250). In Toloki’s case, as his professional mourning develops from solo to collaborative


performance, it comes to embody, in addition to his own experiences from before Kilvert, elements of African American diasporic history. When, for example, he and Obed come across a forgotten grave in the woods that Toloki identifies as an African one, it turns out to be that of Obed’s ancestor (‘My great-grampa’, 152), the Irishman ‘Niall Quigley – Slave Owner, Slave Trader, Slave, Slave Stealer, Professional Witness’, who died in 1851. To satisfy his urge for mourning, Toloki kneels down at the mound and decides to teach Obed new mourning wails, combining ‘groans and moans and sacred chants of [his] own invention’ (152). Obed joins in and together they produce a hybrid mourning in which their howling merges with American and African song traditions: ‘a two-part harmony at one time, and a call-and-response at another’; it transports them, as Toloki says, ‘to another place; another realm; another time’. Toloki’s mourning innovations are taken further when he is given his first opportunity to perform in public in Kilvert at the funeral of a young child who died through his drug-addicted mother’s negligence. From the depths of his soul, Toloki says, he draws ‘deep and hollow groans, howls, whimpers and moans as rhythmic as they are harrowing’ (182), in a vocal ensemble together with the pastor, Brother Michael, who is conducting the service, and Obed who has discovered various texts from the Bible, which he ingeniously interprets for the congregation as supporting the contributions of professional mourners to Christian burials. One traditional feature of Toloki’s mourning performance remains, however: after the funeral some of the child’s relatives give him money for his services – as he justifies it: ‘Professional mourning without a fee is not professional mourning but just downright pedestrian mourning’ (186–7). At the subsequent funeral of the child’s mother, Toloki is given another opportunity to mourn in public. He punctuates the pastor’s readings from the scriptures and his account of the deceased woman’s earlier life as a pillar of the church with squeals borrowed and adapted from what he recalls as her ‘own atrocious singing’ (229–30) and he revels in the new sounds that he has invented especially for this funeral and in the way he is ‘able to toss [his] audience around and then throw them on an emotional roller-coaster depending on the theme of the hymn or on Brother Michael’s readings and preachings’ (231). Toloki has now reached the stage, he says, where he mourns for ‘the joy of it. For fulfilment rather than remuneration.’

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The African, Native American and Irish cultural heritages of the Quigley family all come together at a memorial service held at the numbered, nameless grave of Margaret Tobias, Mahlon’s white mother, who had been committed to a mental asylum by her family for having married a black man. When Ruth speaks to the small group of people gathered at The Ridges about Mahlon’s mixed-race background and reminds them that ‘her people come in all colours of the rainbow, and therefore they are the race of the future’ (262), Toloki is determined to mourn as he has never done before and for the first time in his career wants also to dance to his wails. Modelling his routine on Mahlon’s nightly performance with Orpah, which itself goes back to that of the Abyssinian Queen, Toloki launches into mourning that is informed by all the individual and collective identities of the Quigleys and the Kilvert community, in which they recognise something of themselves: I screech like an animal in pain. I am drenched in sweat and tears. I perform variations that draw from [Mahlon’s] movements. I can see that he is mesmerised. Orpah is open-mouthed. Obed is wide-eyed. Ruth is befuddled. This is the crowning glory of my mourning since I arrived in this country. I continue furiously for about an hour. Then I fall down in utter exhaustion (263).

In conjunction with Toloki’s innovative mourning routine, each of the Quigleys also embarks on some kind of innovation. Mahlon is raised from his apathy to go back to having living plants in his garden of gnomes. When Orpah agrees to join in with her sitar at a bluegrass music festival, the audience is transfixed by the hybrid music: Soon the impromptu band is giving bluegrass standards a tone that has never been heard before . . . And it is Orpah’s sitar that breaks from the standards in improvised leaps before it returns to them to find the greybeards just ready to reincorporate it in the song with their varied instruments (215).

Obed’s interest in the occult and opportunistic dabbling in everything that is connected to his heritages lead to his discovering the Church of the Healing Path, which, to the accompaniment of drumming and


chanting, teaches its members how to access the ancestors via shamanistic journeys for personal healing – all of which Ruth dismisses as ‘mumbojumbo’ (283). But innovation has in a cautious way also entered her life and she begins to make Bible quilts onto which she appliqués figures from Bible stories. Toloki observes: ‘It was wonderful that she had now learnt that she could preserve the ongoing tradition while expressing her own ideas’ (281). Toloki’s development from individual to collaborative performance culminates in his mourning partnership with Orpah, who becomes ‘the manager and artistic director’ (268) of their joint enterprise. In a creative ensemble, she takes charge of their routine and choreographs it; she is inspired by her sitar music to create designs that Toloki then interprets in quilts, which he sews, their arts becoming mutually inspirational as she performs her music in counterpoint with his newly invented sounds of mourning. He says: The quilts, the sitar and my wails and moans gave colour to our mourning. The fabrics were bright and dazzling and the mirrors and gleaming metals captured our souls and reflected them back to us. Her sitar also had a wide range of tone colours. Despite the fact that she changed her tunes in line with the sounds of my own invention, her strumming did not lose its sense of wonder and mystery (271).

Their work together becomes ‘an expression of joy . . . Naked joy’ and Toloki realises that at the hands of Orpah he has developed ‘from mere professional mourner to performer’, who belongs to a tradition of performance that goes back to the beginnings of tragedy: ‘For the ancient Greeks dramatic tragedy was a ritual that took the songs of professional performers at funerals to the levels of performance’ (271–2). And with their new, hybrid performance he and Orpah will go into the future as itinerant mourners to ‘dazzle the bereaved’ (286). Furthermore, the cion says in conclusion, they will leave the sciolist with his ‘God business’ and ‘rambling narratives’ behind in Athens. As authors of their own narrative, they have to ‘discover how to live in the present’, not in the past. In accordance with the message of the quilts about the slave’s duty to freedom, Toloki claims his separation from his author in the last line of the narrative, ‘I need my independence

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from him’ and exits from the sciolist’s story. The final lessons of Mda’s novel are that a diasporic culture must eventually free itself from the constraints of the ancestral culture and, together with this, that diaspora is best served not by a text that is the product of a traditional, omnipotent author living vicariously and ventriloquising through his fictional characters, but by one that is embedded in and performs the complexities and contradictions of the diasporic identities it mediates. Notes 1. Two other recent writers come to mind in this connection. In her novel, Americanah (2013), Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie examines present-day African American identities from the perspective of American Africans – more specifically those of the new Nigerian diaspora – and present-day Nigerian identities through the eyes of returning diasporic Nigerians. NoViolet Bulawayo compares Zimbabwean and diasporic Zimbabwean-American identities in her novel, We Need New Names (2014). 2. For a more detailed discussion of Mda’s use of performative and visual arts in his earlier novels, see J.U. Jacobs (2000, 2002, 2003c, 2009b), as well as Jacobs and Bell (2009). In her study of Mda’s fictional works, Dance of Life, Gail Fincham also examines the performative dimension of Mda’s novels: ‘His protagonists are involved in writing, speaking, acting, singing, playing instruments, creating sculptures and dancing. Mda’s fiction also involves both author and reader in performative responses’ (2011: xv). 3. David Attwell says that in the context of widespread political deaths in South Africa, Toloki the performer ‘offers not words of consolation but a symbolic presence whose function it is to symbolise. What Mda places before his readers is a performance which stands for the symbolic function, the point being to restore the image of the man-of-ritual, and the maker-of-culture’ (2004: 170). 4. Mda applies this narrative formula in his more recent novels as well. In The Sculptors of Mapungubwe (2013) he recreates the physical and human geography of the precolonial kingdom of Mapungubwe in Limpopo, its social hierarchy, cosmogony and historical context. The narrative considers, with reference to the half-brother sculptors, Chata and Rendani, the role of the artist in society and the relationship between art and national identity. Traditional and innovative music and dance performances are once again foregrounded in the novel as Mda further explores the !Kung/San cultural heritage in southern Africa. As a precolonial parable about art and society, however, the Sculptors of Mapungubwe disappointingly does not offer any kind of contemporary perspective on or suggest any present-day relevance for the historical events it describes. In Rachel’s Blue (2014), Mda’s first purely American novel, he engages with the Appalachian community of southeast Ohio and West Virginia. The trailer-township world of Rachel Boucher is presented with a view to its typicality,


as are all the characters in the novel, poor Americans or buskers. The busking and performance at county fairs and weekly farmers’ markets, the singing, Rachel’s own whiney vocalising and her friend Jason’s innovative playing of the didgeridoo and tumbadora never cohere, however, into any substantial musical motif that either supports or is integrated into the main subject of the novel. Unlike Mda’s earlier novels where music and performance have always featured centrally as part of the narrative structure, here it seems incidental and simply background. 5. In his essay on tradition and innovation in Cion, Bell (2011) discusses the novel as a new fictional departure for Mda. In Dance of Life Fincham also discusses the novel in terms of diaspora and identity (2011: 105–24). 6. Toloki’s career, as well as his experiences in Kilvert to some extent, support Kristin Mann’s contention that the African American diaspora ‘was not bilateral but multilateral’ (2001: 10). What is needed, she argues, is a model ‘that begins in Africa, traces the movement of specific cohorts of peoples into the Americas and examines how, in regionally and temporally specific contexts, they drew on what they brought with them as well as borrowed from what they found in the Americas to forge new worlds for themselves. In the process, persons of African descent contributed to the making of broader regional and eventually national histories and cultures, forging the wider Atlantic civilization. New awareness of the Atlantic as a single, complex and integrated unit of analysis helps us to recognize that influences not only have flowed reciprocally forwards and backwards from Africa to the Americas but have also circulated around the Atlantic world. This knowledge, too, needs to feed back into and enrich our conceptualization of the history and culture of the Atlantic basin’ (16). 7. Andrew Offenburger’s article in Research in African Literatures in 2008, ‘Duplicity and Plagiarism in Zakes Mda’s The Heart of Redness’, occasioned a debate around the topic of Mda’s close use of J.B. Peires’s work, The Dead Will Arise (1989), in The Heart of Redness. Offenburger argues that ‘Mda’s novel . . . systematically paraphrases and profoundly relies upon a single historical work’ (2008: 176) and he concludes that ‘careful examination of the two books . . . reveals an abuse of textual borrowings and significantly undermines the novel’s literary value . . . The Heart of Redness should be understood as duplicitous in two ways: as a novel that explores binary themes, but also as a derivative work masquerading plagiarism as intertextuality’ (164). In this connection, see also Mda’s (2008) response to Offenburger’s article. 8. In Extending the Diaspora Dawne Y. Curry, Eric D. Duke and Marshanda A. Smith (2009) survey the ways in which scholars have argued, for instance, that Africa was not the only diaspora to which Africans belonged and also the ways in which they have developed notions of ‘overlapping diasporas’ (Lewis 1995; Hine and McLeod 1999): ‘These scholars show how African dispersion included the development of culture and communities within spaces not traditionally recognized as African but that were African in content and scope’ (Curry, Duke and Smith 2009: xii). The Kilvert community, as represented in Cion, offers an example of this.

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An Uneasy Guest J.M. Coetzee, Boyhood, Youth, Slow Man and Summertime

Belonging The main stages in the diasporic drama of belonging and not belonging are narratively enacted in J.M. Coetzee’s fictional memoirs, Boyhood, Youth and Summertime. In this trilogy, especially when seen in relation to his first ‘Australian’ novel, Slow Man, he engages more directly than in any of his other works with the question of himself as subject formed in what Avtar Brah calls ‘diapora space’, the site where diasporic location and dislocation intersect and ‘multiple subject positions are juxtaposed, contested, proclaimed or disavowed’ (1996: 209). In December 2003, when he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, Coetzee was asked by David Attwell in an interview how he saw his relationship to South Africa and how this had played itself out in his writing. Coetzee replied by situating his own story in the context of the European imperial and colonial diaspora, of which the history of the settlement of South Africa formed a part: Seen from the outside as an historical specimen, I am a late representative of the vast movement of European expansion that took place from the sixteenth century to the mid twentieth century of the Christian era, a movement that more or less achieved its purpose of conquest and settlement in the Americas and Australasia, but failed totally in Asia and almost totally in Africa. I say that I represent this movement because my intellectual allegiances are clearly European, not African (Attwell 2003; quoted in Kannemeyer 2012: 564).



In his biography of Coetzee, J.M. Coetzee: A Life in Writing, J.C. Kannemeyer traces the various European cultural traditions that have gone into the making of John Maxwell Coetzee. He begins with Coetzee’s Dutch and possibly French descent from the founding ancestor Dirk Couché (later spelt Coetsé) who came to the Cape from the Netherlands under the auspices of the Vereenighde Oostindische G’octrooijeerde Compagnie (VOC) in the seventeenth century. He then follows Coetzee’s ancestry, with a genealogical detour via the figure of Jacobus Coetsé, whose trek in 1760 into the interior of the country across the Gariep (Orange River) as far as the south of Namibia was written up by the political secretary at the Castle of Good Hope, down through the English and German strains that entered the Coetzee line through his great-grandparents and grandparents in the nineteenth century, and finally to his more immediate Anglophile Afrikaner family background in the twentieth century (Kannemeyer 2012: 621–2, n. 10). In his fictional engagement, since the publication of Dusklands in 1974, with the colonisation of South Africa and with the colonial and postcolonial identities of its inhabitants, including his own, Coetzee has provided many graphic metaphors for the diasporic subject. In his fictional memoir, Boyhood, for example, the young John Coetzee describes the coloured workers on the Coetzee family farm, Voëlfontein in the Karoo, as belonging to the place in a way that is denied to the members of the Coetzee family themselves. He senses that his grandfather’s shepherd, Outa Jaap, whom John recalls only as a very old man, but whose name is still mentioned with deference on the farm, ‘was part of the farm; though his grandfather may have been its purchaser and legal owner, Outa Jaap came with it, knew more about it, about sheep, veld, weather, than the newcomer would ever know’ (Coetzee 1997: 84). Outa Jaap’s sons, Ros and Freek, and their families still live on the farm, with a rootedness and claim to the region that John contrasts to the impermanence of the Coetzees: ‘Seeing Freek sitting on his haunches, his pipe in his mouth, staring out over the veld, it seems to him that Freek belongs here more securely than the Coetzees do – if not to Voëlfontein, then to the Karoo. The Karoo is Freek’s country, his home’ (87). John is aware from early on that, unlike the coloured ‘volk’ (84) who truly belong there, his extended family gathered together on the farm

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for Christmas are essentially visitors: ‘The Coetzees, drinking tea and gossiping on the farmhouse stoep, are like swallows, seasonal, here today, gone tomorrow, or even like sparrows, chirping, light-footed, short-lived’ (87). He, too, is excluded from true belonging, for as much as he ‘loves every stone of it, every bush, every blade of grass, loves the birds that give it its name’ (80), he knows instinctively that the farm ‘is not his home; he will never be more than a guest, an uneasy guest’ (79). Much of the cultural ambivalence that the young boy experiences hinges on what he calls the ‘secret and sacred word that binds him to the farm . . . belong’ (95). Alone out in the veld he can only bring himself to whisper the words, ‘I belong on the farm’ (95–6); he cannot, however, go as far as to utter the claim, ‘I belong to the farm’ (96), because ‘in his secret heart he knows what the farm in its way knows too: that Voëlfontein belongs to no one’. Rooted belonging as opposed to sojourning is taken up again in a comparable metaphor in Coetzee’s first ‘Australian’ novel, Slow Man, where his metafictional alter ego, the Australian novelist Elizabeth Costello, offers her own understanding of a migrant identity to the protagonist, Paul Rayment. Talking about the immigrant experience in Australia, she explains: ‘There are those whom I call the chthonic, the ones who stand with their feet planted in their native earth; and then there are the butterflies, creatures of light and air, temporary residents, alighting here, alighting there’ (Coetzee 2005: 198). Her distinction between the chthonically rooted and the uprooted, transient beings lies at the heart of much of Coetzee’s ongoing exploration of diasporic identity in his novels, both at a personal as well as a national level, and is repeated in his third fictional memoir, Summertime. Here the informant Martin J. describes himself and his friend and former University of Cape Town colleague, John Coetzee, as having shared a colonial migrant identity in South Africa: Whatever the opposite is of native or rooted, that was what we felt ourselves to be. We thought of ourselves as sojourners, temporary residents, and to that extent without a home, without a homeland. I don’t think I am misrepresenting John. It was something he and I talked about a great deal. I am certainly not misrepresenting myself (2009: 210).


The diasporic subject, variously imaged as a bird of passage, butterfly, temporary resident or sojourner, in contrast to the native or rooted subject, is a dichotomy that can serve only as a starting point when considering the representation of diasporic identity in Coetzee’s writing and especially in his three fictional autobiographies (or autobiographical novels), Boyhood, Youth and Summertime, which deal with formative stages in the life of their common protagonist John Coetzee and were later published together as a trilogy under the title Scenes from Provincial Life (2011).1 The facts of his cultural filiations and affiliations are much more complex. Boyhood: (N)either Afrikaner (n)or English This complexity, which arises from a conflict in the protagonist between a desire to belong and a simultaneous recognition of provisionality in relation to both his native and adoptive cultures, is played out at the level of genre in the three memoirs, which are not rooted in the conventions of either straightforward autobiography or fiction, but reside uneasily in both. By representing himself in these three works in the third person as a fictional persona, whom in Youth and Boyhood he employs as a figural narrator (the narrative in Summertime is more complex), Coetzee achieves a generic cross-over between what Philippe Lejeune calls an ‘autobiographical pact’ with the reader, which is based on a relationship of identicalness between actual author, narrator and protagonist, a contract signed by the name on the title page, and its opposite, a ‘fictional pact’, which is based on a relationship of no more than resemblance between them (1989: 3–30). With their counterimpulses of biographical factuality and self-fictionalisation, Boyhood, Youth and Summertime exemplify Paul John Eakin’s argument that in autobiography ‘what we call fact and fiction [are] rather slippery variables in an intricate process of self-discovery’ (1985: 17). Coetzee has always emphasised the permeable border between biography and fiction. Biography, he says, ‘is a kind of storytelling in which you select material from a lived past and fashion it into a narrative that leads into a living present in a more or less seamless way’ (1992: 391). And what sets autobiography apart from other biography, he continues, is the even greater degree of imaginative selection and distortion: ‘On the one hand . . . the writer has privileged access to

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information and, on the other . . . because tracing the line from past to present is such a self-interested enterprise (self-interested in every sense), selective vision, even a degree of blindness, becomes inevitable.’ By means of the cross-over genre that he has called ‘autrebiography’ (394; see also Lenta 2003; Flanery 2009), Coetzee’s narratives in the trilogy of fictional memoirs combine the omniscience and objectivity of an extradiegetic narrator with the subjectivity of an intra- and homodiegetic narrator, thereby creating a narrative domain in which, as Coetzee himself puts it: ‘He . . . begins to feel closer to I’ and ‘autrebiography shades back into autobiography’ (1992: 394). Or, as he formulates this reciprocal relationship between fact and fiction in narrative: ‘All autobiography is storytelling, all writing is autobiography’ (391). Derek Attridge explains the effect, furthermore, of Coetzee’s choice of third person when combined with the present tense, as in Boyhood: The use of the third person implicitly dissociates the narrative voice from the narrated consciousness, telling us that this was another person – that we are reading, to use Coetzee’s term, an autrebiography, not an autobiography. At the same time, the use of the present tense both heightens the immediacy of the narrated events and denies the text any retrospection, any place from which the writer can reflect on and express regret about (or approval of) the acts and attitudes described. In other words, Coetzee achieves the same effect that we find in his works of fiction: the reader is refused the comfort of a metanarrative level or perspective from which authorial judgments (here, judgments on his earlier self) could be made. If anyone is to take responsibility for judgments on the boy of Boyhood, it is the reader, and the reader is thus implicated in the ethical web spun by the work (2005: 143).

In her summary of the attention paid by scholars to Coetzee’s use of the third person in his fictional autobiographies, Carrol Clarkson adds another important dimension by including also its use in interviews when referring to himself: The use of the third person in Coetzee is not only a straightforward matter of linguistic choice which has a distancing effect between narrating voice and narrated consciousness, neither is it reducible to


the separation of the narrating self from an immature consciousness posited as a different person altogether (the sense we might get from Boyhood and Youth). Instead, at a more philosophical level, it has to do with questions of the relation between thought and language, of doubtful sites of consciousness within the self, and the modes of effecting these sites in writing (2013: 23; see also 27).

Coetzee’s account in Boyhood of the three years from 1949 to 1951 that his family lived in Worcester in the Western Cape is presented in terms of a cultural conundrum as the young protagonist tries to gauge for himself where he belongs.2 He realises that the whole question of his family’s South African identity is a series of unravelling contradictions in the context of a culturally and racially conflicted society. In South Africa, a country in which belonging cannot in any event be taken for granted, his family seems to belong nowhere, and ‘ “is” nothing’ (Coetzee 1997: 18) and he senses that their tenuous cultural identity has a context in a much larger national division: ‘They are of course South Africans, but even South Africanness is faintly embarrassing, and therefore not talked about, since not everyone who lives in South Africa is a South African, or not a proper South African.’ From early on he registers the racial hierarchy that undermines any shared sense of a South African identity: ‘There are white people and Coloured people and Natives, of whom the Natives are the lowest and most derided’ (65). For the young John Coetzee every attachment is countered by a feeling of detachment and locatedness negatived by dislocation. He is acutely aware of his cultural ambivalence within the white stratum of South African society: despite his Afrikaans surname and extended Afrikaner family, the influence of his Anglophile mother, Vera Wehmeyer, who is from an Afrikaner farming background, but whose ‘English is faultless’ (106), who ‘uses words in their right sense’ and whose ‘grammar is impeccable’, has ensured an English South African upbringing for John and his younger brother. As John reflects on the cultural liminality that has resulted from this: Because they speak English at home, because he always comes first in English at school, he thinks of himself as English. Though his surname is Afrikaans, though his father is more Afrikaans than English, though

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he himself speaks Afrikaans without any English accent, he could not pass for a moment as an Afrikaner. The range of Afrikaans he commands is thin and bodiless; there is a whole dense world of slang and allusion commanded by real Afrikaans boys – of which obscenity is only a part – to which he has no access (124).

John dissociates himself from the Afrikaner culture represented by his family name. Although it is through the Afrikaner family farms, on both his mother’s and father’s sides, and the stories connected with them that ‘he is rooted in the past’ (22) and ‘has substance’, he is nevertheless scornful of Afrikaners and their nationalistic cultural strivings. As a schoolboy in Worcester he has a dread of being turned into an Afrikaner by the Nationalist education policy, distances himself from the singing of ‘their national anthem’ (24) at morning assembly and comes to hate the Afrikaans songs that they are made to sing ‘so much that he wants to scream and shout and make farting noises during the singing’ (70). Although in history class he duly learns the names of the colonial Dutch governors of the Cape and the leaders of the Great Trek, he is indifferent to their importance for Afrikaner nationalism: ‘Andries Pretorius and Gerrit Maritz and the others sound like the teachers in the high school or like Afrikaners on the radio: angry and obdurate and full of menaces and talk about God’ (66). He is afraid of the rage and resentment that he detects in the Afrikaans-speaking boys at school and is disgusted by their filthy language, ‘to do with fok and piel and poes, words from whose monosyllabic heaviness he retreats in dismay’ (57). He mocks the circumlocutions that Afrikaners like his father are driven to because of their cultural inhibition against using the second person when speaking to their elders and he ‘is relieved he is not Afrikaans and is saved from having to talk like that, like a whipped slave’ (49). At Voëlfontein, however, there is no escaping from the Afrikaans commonplaces of politeness, nor from the ‘tortuously constructed sentences’ (86) he has to resort to when the coloured workers speak to him respectfully in the third person. Yet, it is on the farm that he discovers that he has a natural affinity for the Afrikaans language: ‘When he speaks Afrikaans all the complications of life seem suddenly to fall away. Afrikaans is like a ghostly envelope that accompanies him everywhere, that he is free to


slip into, becoming at once another person, simpler, gayer, lighter in his tread’ (125). And it is at the family get-togethers there that he ‘drinks in the happy, slapdash mixture of English and Afrikaans that is their common tongue’ (81). It is on the farm, furthermore, that he is exposed to the Afrikaans of the itinerant coloured sheep-shearers, a variety of the language ‘so thick, so full of strange idioms, that he can barely understand it’ (93). The version of English culture with which John aligns himself from early boyhood derives partly from his diet of Enid Blyton, Hardy Boys and Biggles stories, the French Foreign Legion stories of P.C. Wren and Arthur Mee’s Children’s Encyclopaedia, partly from his enthusiasm about being a Boy Scout and partly from his passion for cricket, which for him ‘is not a game’, but ‘the truth of life’ (54). The England to which he is attached is a realm of heroic legend: England is Dunkirk and the Battle of Britain. England is doing one’s duty and accepting one’s fate in a quiet, unfussy way. England is the boy at the battle of Jutland, who stood by his guns while the deck was burning under him. England is Sir Lancelot of the Lake and Richard the Lionheart and Robin Hood with his longbow of yew and his suit of Lincoln Green (128).

And yet, the Englishness that John affects and to which he is so loyal – the English language, England and all that it stands for – is also a cultural identity for which he instinctively knows that as a colonial he fails to qualify fully. Coetzee has said about the colonial culture in which he was educated in South Africa that it was ‘a culture looking, when it looked anywhere, nostalgically back to Little England’ (1992: 209). To understand John’s belonging and yet not belonging to both Afrikaner and English South African cultures one needs perhaps to turn to what Rita Barnard has called his author’s ‘rather complicated and fraught linguistic background’ (2009: 90). In an interview with Attwell, Coetzee has conceded that he would never be accepted among Afrikaners as an Afrikaner. English has been his first language since childhood, he says, and not Afrikaans, nor is he ‘embedded in the culture of the Afrikaner’ (1992: 342). The term ‘Afrikaner’ is, moreover, not only ‘a linguistic/cultural label’; having been hijacked by an exclusionary

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Afrikaner nationalism as far back as the 1880s, it has also acquired an ideological charge. What then, he asks, is he ‘in this ethnic-linguistic sense’? He explains: I am one of many people in this country who have become detached from their ethnic roots, whether those roots were in Dutch South Africa or Indonesia or Britain or Greece or wherever, and have joined a pool of no recognizable ethnos whose language of exchange is English. These people are not, strictly speaking, ‘English South Africans,’ since a large proportion of them – myself included – are not of British ancestry. They are merely South Africans (itself a mere name of convenience) whose native tongue, the tongue they have been born into, is English (342).

The English language provides young John, as it has his author, with a national, and international, cultural domicile. Youth: ‘An attenuating endgame’ According to Kannemeyer, Coetzee had, from as early as 1957, decided to leave South Africa and settle overseas after he had completed his studies: He had had enough of the crushing disgrace his father had brought upon the family with his money laundering and his alcohol abuse; he was tired of the poverty to which they were reduced, and he was appalled at everything the government was doing to the country and its people in the name of apartheid (2012: 87).

Along with this was Coetzee’s desire to get away from the provincialism of South Africa and to enter the metropolitan world, ‘to escape from the periphery to the epicentre; to escape colonial restriction and become part of the mainstream of Western civilisation’ (75).3 Consequently, after having obtained Honours degrees in both English and mathematics at the University of Cape Town, he sailed for the United Kingdom in December 1961, where he was to live on and off until 1965, the first stage of what was to be an absence of nearly ten years from his home country. Youth, Coetzee’s second fictional memoir, deals with this period of his life. It has as its subject the young man John Coetzee, a student of


mathematics and English at the University of Cape Town around the time of the Sharpeville massacre in 1960, and his decision afterwards to leave South Africa for England. In a mise en abyme early on in the memoir, the reader is warned that this autrebiography once again owes as much to fiction as it does to biographical truth. In the awkward aftermath of his girlfriend’s having found his diary and reading his negative thoughts about their living together, John explains to the reader what he is unable to convey to her, that what she read in his diary was not the truth, the ignoble truth, about what was going on in the mind of her companion . . . but on the contrary a fiction, one of many possible fictions, true only in the sense that a work of art is true – true to itself, true to its own immanent aims (Coetzee 2002b: 10).

Coetzee himself, in a letter to his publisher in the United Kingdom about how to market Youth, insisted on maintaining its generic ambiguity: ‘Yes, if I absolutely have to choose between categorizing the book as fiction or as autobiography, I would go for the former; but the less absolute the categorization, from my point of view, the better’ (quoted in Kannemeyer 2012: 510).4 The narrative in Youth is no straightforward recollection of diasporic uprooting and relocation in a host country. John’s ambivalent relationship towards both his English and Afrikaner cultural roots in Boyhood is subsumed in Youth into a more fully considered ambivalence about his South Africanness and his alternating identification with and rejection of his South African background in turn influence his complex adoptive British cultural affiliation as the England of heroic legend is replaced by an England of immigrant reality in the 1960s. As a student in Cape Town with aspirations to become a poet he works his way through Flaubert, Pound and Eliot, wanting ‘to read everything worth reading before he goes overseas, so that he will not arrive in Europe a provincial bumpkin’ (Coetzee 2002b: 25). Resolutely international and contemporary in his cultural vision, he recognises that there are nevertheless also pockets of high civilization in remoter times that one cannot afford to neglect: not only Athens and Rome but also the Germany of Walther

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von der Vogelweide, the Provence of Arnaut Daniel, the Florence of Dante and Guido Cavalcanti, to say nothing of Tang China and Moghul India and Almoravid Spain (25–6).

He moves with a set of young artists and intellectuals who share his cosmopolitan views and whose hatred for the Nationalists and dismissal of South Africa as a ‘benighted’ (5) country reinforce his own growing unease about his position as a white person in the apartheid state. The schoolboy’s beginning awareness in Boyhood of racial division and injustice in South Africa has grown into the student’s realisation in Youth that the country’s segregationist laws have created an unbridgeable divide: Between black and white there is a gulf fixed. Deeper than pity, deeper than honourable dealings, deeper even than goodwill, lies an awareness on both sides that people like [his friend] Paul and himself, with their pianos and violins, are here on this earth, the earth of South Africa, on the shakiest of pretexts (17).

It becomes increasingly difficult to justify to himself that he belongs in, or to, the country of his birth. He recalls how as a schoolboy in Cape Town in 1952 he had watched the Van Riebeeck Festival parade in celebration of three centuries of colonial settlement and Christian civilisation in South Africa and now, less than a decade later, when he witnesses the protest marches after the Sharpeville massacre, he concludes that ‘he is watching history being unmade’ (39). His own personal concerns are overtaken by the turmoil in the country, the further tightening of the pass laws to which Africans are subjected and the brutal shooting by the police into crowds of fleeing protesters – men, women and children: ‘From beginning to end the business sickens him: the laws themselves; the bully-boy police; the government, stridently defending the murderers and denouncing the dead; and the press, too frightened to come out and say what anyone with eyes in his head can see’ (37). His resolve to leave South Africa for good is motivated by, on the one hand, a despairing sense that – as he later explains in a job interview with IBM in England – ‘the country is headed for revolution’ (45) and, on the other hand, his fear that he will be conscripted into


the defence force and find himself having to do his military training ‘behind barbed wire in Voortrekker Hoogte, sharing a tent with thuggish Afrikaners’ (40). In a review of Christopher Hope’s White Boy Running in 1988, Coetzee said that the sense of exile that young whites such as Hope and himself felt in their own country was something that had never left him: ‘We were a generation that went into exile before we left home’ (quoted in Kannemeyer 2012: 379). John’s ambivalent cultural affiliation in England needs to be seen in relation to his fraught relationship with his home country and its inhabitants. Having secured a job in the computer industry in London, his immediate feeling is one of relief that he has ‘escaped from the Afrikaners who want to press-gang him into their army and the blacks who want to drive him into the sea’ (Coetzee 2002b: 85) and he hopes that he soon might be able to ‘pass as a Londoner, perhaps even, in due course, as an Englishman’ (51). He is determined to cut all bonds with the past and to purge South Africa from his memory: ‘If a tidal wave were to sweep in from the Atlantic tomorrow and wash away the southern tip of the African continent, he will not shed a tear. He will be among the saved’ (62). And when he reads in The Guardian about apartheid atrocities, his feelings of horror are assuaged only by the smug conclusion: ‘As far back as he can remember, Afrikaners have trampled on people because, they claim, they were once trampled upon. Well, let the wheel turn again, let force be replied to with greater force. He is glad to be out of it’ (100). The obverse of John’s callowness is the assiduousness with which he strives to realise his vision of himself as a poet and world citizen through exposure to literature and the arts in London. From his early admiration of Pound, Eliot and Flaubert he graduates to Henry James, who, he says, in his novels ‘shows one how to rise above mere nationality’ (64). John also conscientiously begins to learn other European languages. Through his knowledge of Latin he picks up Spanish fairly easily, although he finds French difficult, while he has a real feeling for German and is therefore able to read Ingeborg Bachmann, Bertolt Brecht and Hans Magnus Enzensberger. His Afrikaans gives him access to Dutch, but he condescendingly dismisses its literature: ‘Of all nations the Dutch are the dullest, the most antipoetic’ (77). In London he discovers the poetry of Joseph Brodsky, Zbigniew Herbert and Pablo Neruda, the music of Anton von Webern, the paintings of Robert Motherwell and the films

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of Michelangelo Antonioni, Ingmar Bergman and Satyajit Ray. His ear for music develops to the stage where ‘he can at least, when he switches on the radio, tell the difference between Bach and Telemann, Haydn and Mozart, Beethoven and Spohr, Bruckner and Mahler’ (135). For all the European refinement that he has acquired, however, his South African identity continues to dog him and he remains entangled with the country of his birth in a familiar dynamic of denial and attachment. South Africa, he says, ‘is like an albatross around his neck. He wants it removed, he does not care how, so that he can begin to breathe’ (101). The country that he has tried so hard to put behind him remains ‘a wound within him’ (116) and he asks himself: ‘How much longer before the wound stops bleeding? How much longer will he have to grit his teeth and endure before he is able to say, “Once upon a time I used to live in South Africa but now I live in England”?’ Paradoxically, in London he becomes even more conscious of the South Africanness that he has tried to shed. In Dillons bookstore he discovers The African Communist, with articles on current conditions in South Africa written by people who were his fellow students at the University of Cape Town. When he writes his first prose story in London, he is disconcerted to realise that he has set it in South Africa: ‘He would prefer to leave his South African self behind as he has left South Africa itself behind. South Africa was a bad start, a handicap. An undistinguished, rural family, bad schooling, the Afrikaans language: from each of these component handicaps he has, more or less, escaped’ (62). He may mentally caricature Afrikaners as ‘big-bellied, red-nosed men in short pants and hats, [and] roly-poly women in shapeless dresses’ (121) and their language as having the effect of spoken ‘Nazi’ (127) in England, but when his cousin Ilse and her friend Marianne visit London, he finds himself anticipating the ease of being together again with people with whom he has ‘a history in common, a country, a family, a blood intimacy from before the first word was spoken’ (126). For the first time in years he reverts ‘to the language of the family, to Afrikaans’ (127) and ‘can feel himself relax at once as though sliding into a warm bath’. And when in the British Museum he reads early travellers’ accounts of their ventures by ox wagon into the interior of South Africa, he is transported by the Afrikaans place names back to his home country: ‘Zwartberg, Leeuwrivier, Dwyka: it is his country, the country of his heart, that he is reading about’ (137).


John’s existential ambivalence applies equally to his experience of England. He regards London as one of the few cities ‘where life can be lived at its fullest intensity’ (41), but the life that he is leading here ‘is without plan or meaning’ (59). He is initially beset by doubts about whether coming to London has not been a huge mistake, is conscious of having an ‘air of colonial gaucherie’ (71) and is plagued by loneliness and bouts of misery. He is cringingly aware in particular of the stigma of being a South African in England; the British, he says, have had enough of their former colony and of what the Boers have done to it: ‘They would be content if South Africa would quietly vanish over the horizon. They certainly do not want forlorn South African whites cluttering their doorsteps like orphans in search of parents’ (87). (The extent of Coetzee’s fictionalisation of his own history is apparent from his having elided from his narrative in Youth the fact that in the spring of 1963, after fifteen months in London, he actually returned to South Africa, settled in a flat in Cape Town where he completed his Master’s dissertation on Ford Madox Ford, married Philippa Jubber in Johannesburg in July 1963 and returned to England with her only at the beginning of 1964 – see Kannemeyer 2012: 130–2).5 Coetzee resorts to his characteristic rhetorical pattern of doubling and reversal to explain John’s cultural conundrum as an émigré in the British capital: ‘He has not mastered London. If there is any mastering going on, it is London mastering him’ (63). He knows that, despite everything he might share with other Londoners, ‘not in a month of Sundays would Londoners take him for the real thing’ (102); on the contrary, to them he will always remain a foreigner, someone who does not belong. Although the people with whom he works are polite towards him, from certain of their silences he nevertheless ‘knows he is not wanted in their country, not positively wanted’ (104). He asks: ‘How long will he have to live in England before it is allowed that he has become the real thing, become English? Will getting a British passport be enough, or does an odd-sounding foreign name mean he will be shut out forever. And “becoming English” – what does that mean, anyhow?’ (103). John’s assessment of his situation in England is that he is neither a temporary resident like other young South Africans, Australians and Canadians, nor can he claim the status of refugee – the Home Office would hardly entertain an appeal for permission to remain in England

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on the grounds that he is fleeing from boredom, philistinism and moral atrophy in South Africa. This, coupled with his sense of his own essential ‘meanness [and] poverty of spirit’ (95) in his personal relationships and of himself as being someone whose ‘sole talent is for misery, dull honest misery’ (97), leaves him with an even more precarious sense of his identity.6 The Englishness that he aspires to is as tenuous an identity as the South Africanness that he has abjured: ‘He belongs to two worlds tightly sealed from each other. In the world of South Africa he is no more than a ghost, a wisp of smoke fast dwindling away, soon to have vanished for good. As for London, he is as good as unknown here’ (130–1). Having achieved no more than a toehold in Britain and having deliberately cut himself off from his South African roots, he finds himself ‘locked into an attenuating endgame, playing himself, with each move, further into a corner and into defeat’ (169). Emigration Feeling that he had reached a dead end in his work as a computer programmer as well as his creative writing in England, Coetzee left for the United States with his wife in August 1965, where he was to spend the next three years as a doctoral student and teaching assistant at the University of Texas in Austin, followed by another three years lecturing in the Department of English at the State University of New York in Buffalo. It is clear from Kannemeyer’s biography that the ambivalence that Coetzee felt towards South Africa and later England also characterised his American sojourn. To begin with, the countryside around Austin could no more replace for him the special beauty and emptiness of the Karoo than the English countryside had been able to; as he once explained in an interview with Folke Rhedin: ‘I do believe that people can only be in love with one landscape in their lifetime. One can appreciate and enjoy many geographies, but there is only one that one feels in one’s bones’ (in Penner 1989: 20; quoted in Kannemeyer 2012: 208). And as much as he admired the energy and industry of Americans and was to remain appreciative of the University of Texas in Austin as one of the American institutions where he had been formed intellectually, he nevertheless felt estranged from the students he taught there: ‘Their whole way of life – their culture, their choice of recreation


and their expectations – was inaccessible and incomprehensible to him’ (Kannemeyer 2012: 149). This feeling of alienation was aggravated by his not having access to their particular American idiom; it ‘seemed to him that Texas speech lacked nuance, or if indeed there were nuances, he could not pick them up’ (156). Coetzee expanded on his sense of cultural detachment in the United States in a letter to another South African expatriate writer, Sheila Roberts, in 1985: In the six years I spent continuously in the US I never ceased to feel like a stranger. I connected it with (a) having utterly different childhood memories from theirs, and so lacking a certain cultural thickness that one gets from growing up in a culture, and (b) having no feel whatsoever for the American landscape (quoted in Kannemeyer 2012: 208).

Paradoxically, and perhaps predictably, in Austin he became even more immersed in the journals of early travellers to the Cape and in the history and languages of its indigenous peoples. Coetzee left Austin in 1968 to take up a teaching position at the State University of New York in Buffalo. In 1969 he applied to the Department of Justice for permanent residence in the United States and experienced the bureaucratic difficulties familiar to many economic migrants and political refugees. His application was based on three main grounds: first, that his children, who were United States’ citizens by birth, would ‘be handicapped for the life that their country of birth offers them by being exposed to the noxious racial atmosphere of South Africa’ (quoted in Kannemeyer 2012: 192); secondly, that his capacity to provide for them would be ‘significantly diminished’ if he had to return to work and earn in South Africa and, thirdly, that his ‘publicly expressed political views’ would render him ‘liable to prosecution or banning’ should he return to South Africa. The Department of Justice remained unconvinced, however, that these grounds constituted exceptional hardship as stipulated by law and refused his application. Coetzee’s arrest on a charge of trespassing and his overnight imprisonment, together with 44 colleagues, on 15 March 1970 for having participated in a sitin protest in the office of the president of the State University of New York against the University administration’s handling of the students’

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anti-Vietnam War demonstrations on campus, finally put paid to his chances of being allowed to remain in the United States. In May 1971 he returned to South Africa, with the half-completed manuscript of what was to become the novel Dusklands. In 1972 he was appointed to a lectureship in the English Department of the University of Cape Town, which became his academic base for the next 30 years, during which period he also held a number of shortand longer-term visiting professorships at various prestigious American universities, most importantly at the University of Chicago, which he came to regard as his intellectual home and where, as a member of the Committee on Social Thought, he spent a quarter of every year. According to Kannemeyer, Coetzee has repeatedly declared that although he lived and wrote in South Africa, ‘he did not regard himself as in the first place a South African writer’ (2012: 214); nor, on the other hand, had he wanted to go into exile, despite the turmoil in the country, ‘if only because I have seen what exile does to writers’ (quoted in Penner 1989: 19). Eventually, however, after a number of visits to Australia during the 1990s, Coetzee became part of the present-day South African diaspora and immigrated there in 2002, settling in Adelaide, a move of which he said at the time that he ‘had not left South Africa . . . but come to Australia’ (Kannemeyer 2012: 541). Slow Man: Immigration At least as far as a preoccupation with migrant identity goes, I would agree with Mike Marais that Slow Man, Coetzee’s first fully Australian novel, which is set in Adelaide, alters the concerns, themes, and motifs of Coetzee’s oeuvre by quite intentionally forming a new context that both enables their repetition and ensures that they change in being repeated. As Derrida is aware, there is alteration in every repetition. In turn, the new context constituted by this novel alters the overriding context of the oeuvre it joins (2009: 225).

The narrative events in Slow Man are precipitated by a cycling accident that causes the protatogist, Paul Rayment, a retired portrait photographer, to lose his right leg. Despite the advice of his


physiotherapist to close the old chapter of his life, to ‘re-program the body’s memories’ (Coetzee 2005: 60) and to accept his disabled state as the beginning of a new life, he struggles to come to terms with the amputation, feeling that ‘a man with one leg is a lesser man, not a new man’ (113). That the physical and psychological trauma also has a symbolic significance in the narrative is emphasised when the Australian novelist Elizabeth Costello enters Rayment’s life as a kind of metafictional visitant and, speaking for her author, tells him that his missing leg ‘is just a sign or symbol or symptom, I can never remember which is which’ (229). Although she chooses to interpret it as merely another sign ‘of growing old, old and uninteresting’, the loss of his right leg has wider connotations for Rayment from the outset: ‘But in his case the cut seemed to have marked off past from future with such uncommon cleanness that it gives new meaning to the word new. By the sign of this cut let a new life commence’ (26). The amputation may also be seen to symbolise the severance of a rooted identity as a result of migration and the consequent loss of linguistic and historical continuity.7 Rayment reminds Costello that he has had ‘three doses of the immigrant experience, not just one’ (192) and is deeply imprinted with it. He was born in France and brought to Australia at the age of six by his immigrant French mother and Dutch stepfather, so he knows what it is to have been uprooted from his country of birth. As a young man he returned briefly to France and tried to recover a native French cultural identity, but discovered that he was no longer at home there. He eventually came back to his adoptive country, Australia, not to any kind of ‘true home’, however, but accepting instead a place where he has ‘a domicile, a residence’ (197) – the difference being, as he explains to Costello, that in Australia: ‘ “I am not the we of anyone” ’ (193). Although Rayment can pass among Australians in a way that is no longer possible for him among the French, he defines his essential cultural detachment to Costello in terms of his command of the English language, which provides him with, at best, a linguistic abode, a domicile, although he can never have full ownership of it: ‘As for language, English has never been mine in the way it is yours. Nothing to do with fluency. I am perfectly fluent, as you can hear. But

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English came to me too late. It did not come with my mother’s milk. In fact it did not come at all. Privately, I have always felt myself to be a kind of ventriloquist’s dummy. It is not I who speak the language, it is the language that is spoken through me. It does not come from my core, mon coeur.’ He hesitates, checks himself. I am hollow at the core, he was about to say – as I am sure you can hear (197–8).

Costello later returns, with some irony, to the topic of Rayment’s uneasy tenancy in a language that is not his own: ‘Ever since you reminded me of your French past, you know, I have been listening with pricked ears. And yes, you are right: you speak English, you probably think in English, you may even dream in English, yet English is not your true language. I would even say that English is a disguise for you, or a mask, part of your tortoiseshell armour. As you speak I swear I can hear words being selected, one after the other, from the word-box you carry around with you, and slotted into place. That is not how a true native speaks, one who is born into the language’ (230–1).

A native, she says, picking up on Rayment’s earlier word-play on coeur/ core, speaks ‘ “from the heart” ’ (231), whereas he speaks English ‘ “like a foreigner” ’, even ‘ “like a book” ’. It is from the background of his own English language competence ´ that Rayment describes the English spoken by his nurse, Marijana Jokic, a recent immigrant from Croatia, as ‘a rapid, approximate Australian English with Slavic liquids and an uncertain command of a and the, coloured by slang she must pick up from her children, who must pick it up from their classmates’ (27). In the course of the narrative the relationship between the immigrant caregiver and her immigrant patient is dialogically articulated through various exchanges conducted in her approximate Australian English, his formally correct language and Costello’s more assured English metafictional commentary. The narrative in Slow Man overtly stages what Clarkson says is the way Coetzee achieves Bakhtinian dialogism in his writing: he ‘raises a countervoice, producing a discourse inflected by an invisible interlocutor. An ultimate and unitary authorial voice is thus no longer assured’ (2013: 8).


As the child of immigrants, Rayment also understands the double allegiance that comes from the migrant’s cultural and historical ´ have ties, as did his own dislocation and relocation – that the Jokics parents, to the old country and memories they have brought with them in the form of photographs of ‘baptisms, confirmations, weddings, family get-togethers’ (64), as well as to the new country with whose cultural icons they strive to identify themselves, just as they attempt to master its idiom. Immigrants have to acknowledge two histories, of the home country and of the new country, and own both pasts. This is symbolised in the narrative by Rayment’s collection of hundreds of historical ‘photographs and postcards of life in the early mining camps of Victoria and New South Wales’ (47–8), which he has bequeathed on his death to the State Library in Adelaide, where it will become public property and form part of the Australian historical record, not only of the descendants of the Irish and English miners, but also of more recent ´ Rayment corrects Marijana’s European immigrants such as the Jokics. perception that Australia disregards the different histories of its colonial settlers and later immigrants, being a country where they can start with ‘zero history’ (49) because ‘in Australia everybody is new’; as he puts it to her: ‘Don’t immigrants have a history of their own? Do you cease to have a history when you move from one point on the globe to another?’ (49). She comes to see how historical continuity is defined in terms of discontinuities in Australia and how her own story also forms part of the Australian national narrative. And conversely, when Marijana’s teenage son, Drago, goes through the photograph collection, Rayment tells Costello: ‘He must be feeling his way into what it is like to have an Australian past, an Australian descent, Australian forebears of the mystical variety. Instead of being just a refugee kid with a joke name’ (191–2). The joke is on Rayment, however, when towards the end of the narrative he discovers how Drago Jokic´ has inserted his own Croatian history into the Australian national narrative by digitally superimposing the image of his Croatian grandfather onto one of Rayment’s prized Fauchery prints of a group of Irish and Cornish miners and substituting this for the original in the collection, to confuse future researchers of the Australian historical record.

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Summertime and the livin’ is uneasy Summertime, the third volume of fictional memoirs in Scenes from Provincial Life, contains more verifiable biographical information about the actual author John Maxwell Coetzee than the earlier volumes, but also much more self-reflexive fictional tricksiness. The text is a consummate instance of authorial self-alienation, bearing out Coetzee’s statement that ‘a fully dialogical novel is one in which there is no dominating, central authorial consciousness, and therefore no claim to truth or authority, only competing voices and discourses’ (2001a: 144). Or, in the language of Clarkson’s thesis in Countervoices: in Summertime, ‘the protean “he” of Boyhood, Youth and several of the interviews, emerges as plural interlocutor in a dialogically refracted discourse of selves’ (2013: 42). The novel (which it is) is presented in the form of a literary project by an English biographer, known only as Vincent, who intends to write a biography of a Nobel Prize-winning South African novelist, one J.M. Coetzee, who immigrated to Australia and has since died there.8 Vincent proposes to concentrate only on the crucial years from 1971–2 when Coetzee returned to South Africa from the United States, to about 1977 when he first received public recognition for his work. According to the novel, this was the period in his life when, in his early thirties, he lived with his widowed father in a run-down house in the suburb of Tokai in Cape Town, eked out his existence by tutoring English on a part-time basis and published his first novel, Dusklands. Eschewing an approach to his subject through the novels, Vincent instead interviews five people whose lives intersected in the early 1970s with that of the man they knew as John Coetzee and who had been important to him: Julia Frankl, formerly Smith, born Kiš, a married woman with whom he had an affair; Adriana Nascimento, a widowed Brazilian dance instructor with whom he was infatuated, but who rejected his overtures while he was coaching her daughter in English; Margot Jonker, a favourite cousin since childhood; Martin J., a fellow English lecturer and friend, and Sophie Denoël, a married colleague in the French Department at the University of Cape Town with whom he also had an affair. At the centre of Vincent’s interviews is the fledgling writer John Coetzee, whose migrant career Martin J. sums up as follows: ‘John left South Africa in the 1960s, came back in the 1970s, for decades hovered


between South Africa and the United States, then finally decamped to Australia and died there’ (Coetzee 2009: 209). His cousin Margot tries to explain his initial departure from South Africa: ‘He and his younger brother became just two among thousands of young white men who had run away to escape military service, leaving an embarrassed family behind’ (131) – as well as his sudden reappearance among them nearly a decade later, but ‘under some cloud or other, some disgrace. One story being whispered about is that he has been in an American jail’ (89). Or, as her sister Carol expresses it more bluntly: ‘ “He ran away from South Africa to escape the army. Then he was thrown out of America because he broke the law” ’ (127). Tempting as it is to recognise the actual John Maxwell Coetzee hovering behind the figure of John Coetzee, the extent to which Coetzee once again fictionalises his own experience is apparent from the way he has killed off not only his family, but also himself for the sake of his art in Summertime. When he returned to South Africa in 1971 Coetzee was in fact married and the father of two children and during the period under scrutiny by Vincent his parents were both still alive. Nor had he as an adult ever shared a house with his father anywhere; in 1971 Coetzee and his family had lived in a cottage on the farm Maraisdal outside Leeu Gamka in the Karoo and afterwards in the Cape Town suburbs of Glencairn, Wynberg, Tokai and Rondebosch (see Kannemeyer 2012: 226, 233, 320, 440). And although John Coetzee is depicted as an unemployed intellectual reduced to tutoring school pupils, the fact of the matter is that Coetzee had already been appointed to a permanent lectureship at the University of Cape Town at the end of 1971 and was on the threshold of a distinguished academic career. The narrative of Summertime exemplifies the point he made in his inaugural lecture as professor in 1984 on the question of truth in autobiography, that in any imaginative revisiting of the past ‘the lies and evasions may be more interesting than the visit itself  ’ (1985: 4). The narrative is veiled in fictional ‘lies and evasions’ from the outset. The interviews with Vincent’s five informants are introduced by a set of dated extracts from John Coetzee’s notebooks from 1972 to 1975, which deal with aspects of his return to South Africa and present him, carefully unnamed, in the third person. These notebook entries – in effect first or early drafts of an autobiographical fiction – are followed by italicised

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memos to himself, such as ‘To be expanded on’ (6), ‘To be explored’ (9) or ‘Caution’ (13), which according to Vincent were added in 1999 or 2000 and convey Coetzee’s later thoughts on how the particular entry might be adapted or developed for a book.9 A set of undated fictional fragments dealing with John’s relationship with his father concludes the narrative. The first three of these each has a memo by the author to himself as a coda: ‘Theme to carry further’ (252), ‘To be developed’ (255) and ‘Query’. The fourth is actually presented as an ‘idea for a story’, which is about a writer who ‘keeps a diary’ (260) in which ‘he notes down thoughts, ideas, insignificant occurrences’. This metafictional fragment provides yet another degree of self-reflexiveness to the overall narrative as a notebookwithin-a-notebook-within-a-notebook in which the writer’s diary entries and notes to himself are recorded, including his feeling that ‘all of his intercourse with the world seems to take place through a membrane’ (261). The final undated fictional fragment has no concluding memo as such, but ends with John’s reflection on his inability to deal with his father’s final illness. These sets of dated and undated fragments about a work of fiction in progress frame Vincent’s five interviews, which are about a biography in progress and in each of the interviews the ‘membrane’ of fictionality (to pick up on Coetzee’s own metaphor) becomes more opaque, making it increasingly difficult for Vincent – and the reader – to establish the biographical truth of the celebrated author’s life.10 Prior to his interview with Julia Frankl, Vincent has sent her a copy of the dated extracts from John Coetzee’s notebooks to reflect on in preparation for his questions. In the interview itself, her candid admission about her inability to recall her exact exchanges with John Coetzee some 35 years earlier in 1972 corresponds to Coetzee’s own theory of autobiographical memory: ‘As far as the dialogue is concerned,’ she says, ‘I am making it up as I go along. Which I presume is permitted, since we are talking about a writer. What I am telling you may not be true to the letter, but it is true to the spirit, be assured of that’ (32). She admits that she does not have any literary expertise, but as a professional psychologist she offers a reading of Dusklands that might well serve for the whole elaborate fictional undertaking in Summertime itself: ‘The best interpretation I can give the book is that writing it was a project in selfadministered therapy’ (58).


In the interview with Margot Jonker the information undergoes multiple layers of fictional screening: Vincent had transcribed the tapes of their original interview, had the Afrikaans words in the transcript checked by an Afrikaans-speaking South African colleague and then recast it as an uninterrupted narrative, without his prompts and questions, spoken in her voice as the figural narrator, which he reads to her in this second interview for her approval. The text of Summertime reproduces the interview together with all her editorial interjections and objections, such as: ‘Now I must protest. You are really going too far. I said nothing remotely like that. You are putting words of your own in my mouth’ (119) and ‘You can’t write that. You can’t. You are just making things up’ (137). Vincent promises to attend to these in the final biography, thus giving the interview the provisional status of the notebook fragments in the introductory and concluding sections of the narrative. In the case of Adriana Nascimento, the interview is conducted via a Portuguese interpreter, so that her recollections present a complex exercise in cross-cultural translation. Translation, we are frequently reminded, is an act of interpretation, which, as Adriana herself states to Vincent, is sometimes involuntary: ‘I know how it is, being a translator. It looks easy from the outside, but the truth is you have to pay attention all the time, you cannot relax, the brain gets fatigued’ (173). Vincent begins his interview with Martin J. by reading him an account from Coetzee’s late notebooks of the interview for a lectureship in English at the University of Cape Town for which they were both candidates and asking him to comment on it (another falsification: in Summertime Coetzee presents himself as having been passed over for this position, although in fact he and ‘Martin J.’ were both appointed). Martin J. is reluctant to let himself be drawn into certain areas of John Coetzee’s personal life and elicits from his interlocutor the confession that ‘in biography one has to strike a balance between narrative and opinion’ (216). Martin J. is critical, moreover, of the seemingly arbitrary criteria that Vincent has employed for choosing his informants: ‘It sounds a peculiar way of selecting biographical sources’ (217). And when in her exchange with Vincent Sophie Denoël asks him why he is relying on interviews, rather than on Coetzee’s letters and diaries, for information about his subject, he responds by pointing out that they do not constitute a factual record since Coetzee was a fictioneer:

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In his letters he is making up a fiction of himself for his correspondents; in his diaries he is doing much the same for his own eyes, or perhaps for posterity. As documents they are valuable, of course; but if you want the truth you have to go behind the fictions they elaborate and hear from people who knew him directly, in the flesh (225–6).

Her reply to this is: ‘But what if we are all fictioneers, as you call Coetzee? What if we all continually make up the stories of our lives?’ (226). It is obvious that the truth resides uneasily in the biographical and fictional hall of mirrors that is the narrative of Summertime. The story of the diasporic subject at the centre of the narrative, John Coetzee, is both reflected and refracted in the stories of the five informants, each of whom is the product of the colonial and imperial diaspora identified by Coetzee in the quotation at the beginning of this chapter.11 Julia Frankl is the South African-born daughter of a Hungarian Jewish refugee from the Nazis and has, she says, ‘a second self to fall back on: Julia Kiš, or even better Kiš Julia. Of Szombathely’ (53). It is her archetypal diasporic identity that enables her to see through the fallacy of white South Africans thinking of themselves as ‘the Jews of Africa, or at least the Israelis of Africa’ (54), for, as she puts it: ‘It takes a Jew to know a Jew.’ Adriana Nascimento, who first emigrated from Brazil to Angola and then came to South Africa with her husband and two daughters after the Angolan Emergency of 1973, represents what Julia refers to as ‘scatterlings from the ex-Portuguese empire’ (52). Their experience in obtaining residence permits in South Africa and her struggle with the authorities after her husband’s death have led her to regret bringing her daughters to ‘this strange country where they were not at home, on a continent where [they] should never have come’ (158). Reminding him that ‘France had been a major colonial power’ (222), Sophie Denoël explains to Vincent that she had come, via Madagascar, to Cape Town where her husband had run the Alliance Française and she taught French at the university, specialising in francophone writers of the African diaspora – as she says, ‘La Francophonie was the new name we invented for the old empire.’ According to Martin J., he and Coetzee both cultivated a deliberate provisionality in their feelings towards South Africa and they were equally ‘reluctant to invest too deeply in the country’ (211); they knew that sooner or later their ties to it would


have to be cut, since their ‘presence was grounded in a crime, namely colonial conquest, perpetuated by apartheid’ (209). And finally, John’s cousin Margot Jonker is also presented in the narrative as an uprooted person of sorts, since she and her farmer husband had both been obliged through economic circumstances to work away from their farm in the Roggeveld during the week, returning only at weekends. In her interview with Vincent, furthermore, she tells of the efforts of her sister Carol, an Afrikaner who ‘has broken completely from her roots’ (101) and her German husband to gain entry to the United States and of their relocation to St Petersburg, Florida, when their ‘visas for the Promised Land’ (143) come through. Interviewing his migrant informants causes Vincent himself to become a peripatetic researcher during the second half of 2007 and the first half of 2008. Although he is able to interview Martin J. in Sheffield in England, where he has been living for three decades since leaving South Africa, Vincent has to travel to Somerset West in South Africa twice to speak to Margot Jonker. To interview Adriana Nascimento he goes to São Paulo in Brazil, her native country to which she returned after the death of her husband in South Africa, and he goes to Paris to speak to Sophie Denoël. Julia Frankl has to be interviewed in Kingston, Ontario, in Canada, where she immigrated after divorcing her husband in South Africa. Together with the widely travelling stories of Vincent’s informants reflecting aspects of the history of John Coetzee (one need only note Margot Jonker’s and Martin J.’s initials, which mirror his, as well as the surnames Nascimento and Denoël, which echo the account of his Christmas visit to Voëlfontein), the question is regularly raised in the interviews about the primacy of the story being told in Vincent’s much-travelled text. On whose life, under the sign of migration, is the real focus of the interview? Margot Jonker asks Vincent in genuine bewilderment about his providing so much detail about her family life: ‘I still don’t understand: if it is a book about John why are you including so much about me?’ (152), to which he responds rhetorically with a sentence that syntactically enacts the mirroring of intersecting lives and overlapping histories: ‘You were part of your cousin. He was part of you.’ For Adriana Nascimento her own story of refugee hardship in South Africa, especially after the brutal attack on her husband and his subsequent death, is the significant one

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and she is not prepared to have it reduced to an account of herself as being just another one of the women in the life of a famous writer. On the contrary, she detested John Coetzee for his ineptitude and says to Vincent: This is not the story you wanted to hear, is it? You wanted a different kind of story for your book. You wanted to hear of the romance between your hero and the beautiful foreign ballerina. Well, I am not giving you romance, I am giving you the truth. Maybe too much truth. Maybe so much truth that there will be no place for it in your book. I don’t know. I don’t care (185).

Julia Frankl is just as forthright about the relative importance of their respective stories. She cannot give Vincent any intelligible picture of John Coetzee in the 1970s and of their relationship, she says, without providing some background – this being a detailed account of her marriage to her husband Mark, his infidelity and of the breakup of their marriage, which she prioritises: Mr Vincent, I am perfectly aware it is John you want to hear about, not me. But the only story involving John that I can tell, or the only one I am prepared to tell, is this one, namely the story of my life and his part in it, which is quite different, quite another matter, from the story of his life and my part in it. My story, the story of me, began years before John arrived on the scene and went on for years after he made his exit (43).

She elaborates on this: the difference between the story that Vincent wants to hear and the one he is getting is not just a matter of perspective: the same facts cannot simply be manipulated from a different point of view into ‘a story about John and one of the women who passed through his life’ (44). She insists to Vincent: ‘I really was the main character. John really was a minor character’ and she also claims the authority to decide where and when the story should end – at least ‘the part that matters’ (45) for her. John Coetzee’s contingent role in the stories of these informants is related to the theme of provisionality in the novel. Martin J. identifies


provisionality as the ‘certain style of mind’ (211) that he and John shared and that he attributes to their common colonial and South African origins. It also applies, as in the case of the immigrant subjects in Slow Man, to John’s uncomfortable position not only in relation to the Afrikaans language, but also to English. When challenged by a client about the interpretation of a word in a contested will, he feels obliged, notwithstanding the fact that he is an English-speaking South African, to provide her with a copy of ‘the degree certificate that makes him an expert commentator on the meaning of English words’ (11). He also defends himself against Adriana Nascimento’s charge that with his Afrikaner surname he cannot be ‘a proper English teacher’ (157), by saying that he is qualified to teach the language by virtue of having ‘ “passed University examinations in English” ’ (161). These unsettling confrontations about his English competency are counterbalanced by Sophie Denoël’s gratuitous reassurance that John ‘wrote in English, very good English, and had written in English all his life’ (237). In the interview with Margot Jonker, John’s awkward position vis-àvis Afrikaans needs to be seen in the context of the Afrikaans linguistic saturation of the text, which emphasises the Afrikaans cultural world of Voëlfontein and the Coetzee family. Throughout this section of the narrative, Afrikaans words are translated in the text (‘the plattelandse meisie, the country girl’, 101), as are special concepts (‘meegevoel, feelingwith’, 97), colloquial expressions (‘slapgat: slack, spineless’, 116), forms of greeting (‘Totsiens . . . Goodbye’, 135), idiomatic expressions (‘Dit raak jou siel aan, nè, dié ou wêreld . . . It touches one’s soul, this landscape’, 129), forms of address (‘oom . . . sir’, 128) and terms of endearment (‘my tortelduifie, my little turtledove’, 150). In contrast to all these translations that have been integrated into the narrative by Vincent, some terms are translated by means of glosses inserted in square brackets in the text (‘oujongnooiens [spinsters]’, 130), raising the question as to why, and by whom, these additional translations have been supplied: the Afrikaans editor? the implied author? Occasionally the Afrikaans formulation is transliterated in the text (‘ “Now Ma must rest. I’ll be right here if Ma needs me” ’, 146) and a few Afrikaans expressions are left untranslated, the English meaning left to emerge from the context. Against the background of this heightened awareness of the Afrikaans language

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in the narrative, John’s mistakes when he speaks serve as signs of his deracination – for example, when he addresses coloured children in Merweville with the archaic ‘jongens’ (105); or uses the Afrikaans word ‘jok (fib)’ (122) when he means ‘grap’ (joke) in speaking to the coloured farmworker, Hendrik; or commits the solecism in Afrikaans, ‘In ’n minuut’, for the English ‘in a minute’ (93), or when his Afrikaans idiom falters as he tries to explain his vegetarianism to members of the Coetzee clan around the supper table. The word ‘uneasy’ is the common denominator in all five informants’ descriptions of John Coetzee, the failed South African émigré who feels in the opening fragment that he has returned to a brutal and oppressive society, one whose contingency, moreover, is the obverse of his own, but writ large. It has ‘no appreciation of the scale of the forces that had since 1945 been sweeping away the old colonial world’ (5); it has moved into a political ‘endgame’ (12) and its corrupt National Party leaders are calculating behind ‘a smokescreen of patriotism’ (5) how long they can survive before they will need to pack their bags, shred any incriminating documents, and fly off to Zürich or Monaco or San Diego, where under the cover of holding companies with names like Algro Trading or Handfast Securities they years ago bought themselves villas and apartments as insurance against the day of reckoning (dies irae, dies illa) (5–6).

In a concluding fictional fragment John comes to realise that the friends of his youth ‘are by now dispersed all over the world’ (245) and he wonders how he would have turned out had he succumbed to his Worcester schoolteachers years ago and been educated as a regular South African with ‘a family and a home within a community within a homeland’ (254). Instead of which, he asks himself, ‘he has – what?’ He has no sense of belonging in the present South Africa, but rather nurtures what Sophie Denoël calls his Utopian vision of a South Africa whose inhabitants would ‘call themselves nothing, neither African nor European nor white nor black nor anything else, when family histories would have become so tangled and intermixed that people would be ethnically indistinguishable that is . . . Coloured’ (233).


The full extent of Coetzee’s authorial self-alienation in Summertime can finally be seen in the dispassionate and critical representation of the figure of John Coetzee. True to the spirit of the dialogical novel, Coetzee claims no special authority for himself, but instead allows his diasporic subject to emerge from the competing discourses of the text and through the voices of Vincent and his informants. Martin J. locates John’s unease about his South Africanness in the feeling that they shared as descendants of colonial settlers about not truly belonging to the land, ‘an uneasy sense that it belonged not to them but, inalienably, to its original owners’ (210; emphasis added). He goes on to describe John as ‘a misfit’ (215) in the teaching profession. The first impression that Julia Frankl formed of John was that he was a socially inept ‘loner’ (20) and that he and his father were both ‘incompetents, two of life’s failures’ (37). In the course of their relationship she realised that she could not love somebody ‘as radically incomplete as John’ (59), who was incapable of human connection and who ‘was not human, not fully human’ (83). Even his lovemaking, she says, had an autistic quality; being in bed with John was like ‘two inscrutable automata having inscrutable commerce with each other’s bodies’ (53). Margot Jonker continues this motif of social awkwardness when she says of her ‘alleenloper’ (loner, 133) cousin, whom she perceived as ‘prickly, opinionated, incompetent, ridiculous’ (113), that his presence on the farm was ‘a source of unease’ (89; emphasis added). To Adriana Nascimento he was a solitary, immature and ‘ill at ease’ (160; emphasis added) person, a description she returns to when she tells of his attempts to learn to dance: ‘He was not at ease in his body’ (183; emphasis added), so much so that she goes on to say that he was ‘disembodied’: ‘He was divorced from his body’ (198), like a puppet, soulless and ‘not human’ (199), so that for all his supposed greatness as a writer, she cannot find him ‘a great man’ (195); on the contrary, he was ‘a little man, an unimportant little man’. Sophie Denoël’s response to Vincent’s question about whether John Coetzee was ever at ease with his black students or with black people generally, provides the fullest description of his unease: ‘Was he at ease with anyone? He was not an atease person . . . He never relaxed . . . So: Was he at ease with black people? He was not at ease among people who were at ease. The ease of others made him ill at ease’ (231; emphases added). Nor, she says, did he strike her as having the kind of special sensitivity or original insight into the human

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condition that a great writer would need: she never had the feeling that she was with ‘an exceptional person, a truly exceptional human being’ (242). On the contrary, ‘he was just a man, a man of his time, talented, maybe even gifted, but, frankly, not a giant’. Vincent tells Sophie Denoël that in his interviews he has been trying to probe a different side of his diasporic subject, in order to find ‘not necessarily a warmer person, but someone more uncertain of himself, more confused, more human’ (235). For this more human side of John Coetzee, one might in conclusion return to Margot Jonker, who perhaps comes closest to understanding the diasporic dilemma of her cousin, whom she describes as ‘the failed emigrant, the poet of melancholy’ (141). Notes 1. J.C. Kannemeyer points out that the title of the trilogy, Scenes from Provincial Life, which is also the subtitle of Boyhood and of Summertime, is borrowed from William Cooper’s 1950 novel, Scenes from Provincial Life. It also echoes Moeurs de province, the subtitle of Flaubert’s Madame Bovary. The titles of Coetzee’s first two volumes refer, furthermore, to Tolstoy’s Childhood, Boyhood and Youth, a fictional trilogy, which is rooted in autobiography (2012: 505). 2. For an earlier discussion of Coetzee’s representation of his ambivalent AfrikaansEnglish cultural identity in his writings, see Jacobs (2011) and also Rita Barnard’s essay, ‘Coetzee in/and Afrikaans’ (2009). 3. In discussing Coetzee’s historical consciousness, David Attwell says that ‘Coetzee is peculiarly sensitive to the sociology of culture, although it does not seem to interest him as a field of inquiry: he is sensitive to it in that it provides an inescapable horizon for his work. It is a sensitivity learned on the bone, in which the history of colonialism and its aftermath have been central and definitive. Where Coetzee has brought this consciousness to the surface of the nonfictional writing, it has often been, as I have suggested, through a Foucauldian reading of power’ (2006: 31). Attwell explains the particular, provincial susceptibility of colonials brought up in the culture of the mother country to the ‘high culture of the metropolis’ (32) and says that ‘Boyhood and Youth . . . handle this matter with relentlessly self-deprecating irony’. 4. Kannemeyer suggests that ‘Youth can be seen as a Künstlerroman, in the tradition of Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man’ (2012: 506). 5. In this connection, Derek Attridge observes: ‘In both Boyhood and Youth the power of this exposure of the self, of this drive for the truth, can be felt only if the author of the words we read is identified with the “he” of the narrative. This power is not reduced by the undismissable possibility that Coetzee has woven fictional episodes into a framework of autobiography, carrying out, that is, the experiment outlined


in Youth of writing a work with the “aura of truth” that will get it “into the history of the world” ’ (2005: 161). 6. Attridge finds in Youth ‘an unflinching admission of the faults of self-centeredness, cruelty, ineptitude, and callousness – most painfully evident in a series of disastrous sexual encounters. The most that can be said in the young Coetzee’s defense is that these failings are born mainly out of naiveté, timidity, and an agonizing incapacity to open himself up to others’ (2005: 158). 7. Donald Powers (2010) also identifies the emigrant experience as a theme and the connection between emigration and writing in Slow Man. 8. See also the account by Robert Eaglestone, Elleke Boehmer and Katy Iddiols (2009: 1–3) of the distinction between J.M. Coetzee and JC, the protagonist of Diary of a Bad Year. 9. Anne Haeming has highlighted ‘Coetzee’s technique of writing against the background of seemingly verifiable authenticity’ (2009: 174). ‘In doing so,’ she says, ‘he establishes textual spaces which explore the relationship between experienced “reality” and documented experience. Through these textual spaces, Coetzee draws attention to the edges of texts and, consequently, the edges of fact and fiction’ (175). 10 . Carrol Clarkson says about Coetzee’s strategies of authorial refraction in general that they ‘on the one hand seem to run counter to the aspiration to speak in one’s “own voice”, but on the other hand, they enable Coetzee to present the idea of voice itself as a series of countervoices, interpellating in ways which challenge assumptions about a supposed unitary and transcendent “I”. This, in turn, is consistent with what Coetzee considers to be the mark of a serious writer, and is consistent also with his view that fiction, when it provides the means of interrogating an existence, has an ethical impetus’ (2013: 80). In this connection see also Jacobs (2009a). 11 . I am mindful here of Marais’s caveat, offered alongside his own thoughtful and perceptive critical practice in Secretary of the Invisible, about the danger of close reading and attention to the formal features of a text resulting in a kind of literary fundamentalism: ‘By scrutinizing the word on the page, one invokes the word of the author in support of one’s necessarily questionable assertions’ (2009: xv).

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Double Negatives: Exile and Homecoming ´ Double Negative and Ivan Vladislavic, Michiel Heyns, Lost Ground

Exile and homecoming After the Sharpeville massacre of 1960 thousands of South Africans, especially white, Indian and coloured professionals, immigrated to countries such as the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia. In the decade after the 1976 Soweto uprising thousands of black South Africans went into exile abroad to join the South African liberation movements in Eastern Europe, the former USSR and various African countries. Large numbers of whites also left South Africa during this period, to escape military conscription, or for political reasons, or out of fear of the rising tide of black resistance to the apartheid state. When the liberation organisations – the African National Congress (ANC), the Pan-Africanist Congress and the South African Communist Party – were unbanned in 1990, it was the signal for South Africans in exile, black as well as white, to come home again, often from very different experiences of exile. Various diasporic subjects have been configured in contemporary South African fiction from these out- and in-migrations. In Nadine Gordimer’s 1994 novel, None to Accompany Me, Didymus and Sibongile Maqoma’s return from a life of resistance in exile to the country of their birth is presented as being part of a national homecoming, which is symbolised in the novel by the planeloads of returning exiles, ‘those who come from wars, banishment, exile, who have forgotten what home was, or suffered not being able to forget’ (Gordimer 1994: 44). Ironically, Didymus, the former freedom fighter, is sidelined by the new dispensation, while his wife Sibongile is elected into the executive 237


hierarchy of the ANC. Camagu, the protagonist of Zakes Mda’s novel, The Heart of Redness (2000), returns to South Africa in 1994 after 30 years in the United States, only to find that he lacks the struggle credentials to be admitted to the inner circles of the new South Africa, where, he learns, the ruling elite consists of the ‘Aristocrats of the Revolution’ (Mda 2000: 36) and black empowerment means the enrichment of an elite clique of black businessmen, trade union leaders and corrupt politicians. Kristien, the Afrikaner narrator of André Brink’s Imaginings of Sand (1998), returns from London, where she has been working for eleven years as a teacher in self-imposed exile from South Africa, to be with her dying grandmother on the family farm in the Eastern Cape, in the week before the historic first democratic elections in South Africa on 27 April 1994. With a revised sense of her own and the country’s history, she decides not to return to England after the elections, that moment of the nation’s homecoming, but to remain and work in South Africa. In Marlene van Niekerk’s novel, Agaat (2006), the 70-year-old narrator, Milla de Wet, is in the final stages of motor neuron disease and attended to by her caregiver Agaat. Milla’s narrative is framed by a prologue and an epilogue, both narrated by her son Jakkie, who deserted from the South African military in 1985 and fled to Canada. The prologue tells of his journey from Canada to his mother’s deathbed on the family farm in the Western Cape in 1996 and the epilogue tells of his having arrived too late and returning to Canada after the funeral. And in Zoë Wicomb’s novel October the protagonist, Mercia Murray, like her author an expatriate university professor of English in Glasgow, where she has been living for nearly three decades, returns to her home village of Kliprand in Namaqualand in response to a letter from her brother Jake asking her to come and take his young son to Scotland. Suspending the academic study that she is busy with, Mercia begins to compile notes towards writing her own memoir as she engages in Kliprand with her coloured relations and the memory of their authoritarian father, Meester. As she learns the real truth about him, she also reflects on the ideas of home and homeland in the light of his legacy to his children, in which the notion of home was revised and ‘decoupled from location and belonging, and crucially from community’ (Wicomb 2014: 95). For the returned exile, the home country is no more simply the place of filiation with a natal culture than the host country of exile was

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simply the place of later affiliation with another culture or cause. Rather, they are places where the exile is doubly relocated, doubly dislocated. Edward Said’s description of the exile existing ‘in a median state, neither completely at one with the new setting nor fully disencumbered of the old, beset with half-involvements and half-detachments, nostalgic and sentimental on one level, an adept mimic or a secret outcast on another’ (1994b: 36) applies both abroad and at home. This may be seen in two South African novels that appeared at more or less the same time and whose comparable concerns with diasporic homecoming allow them to be read in conjunction: Double Negative by Ivan Vladislavic´ and Lost Ground by Michiel Heyns. Double Negative In Double Negative, originally published in 2010 as a sleeved set together with David Goldblatt’s TJ: Johannesburg Photographs 1948–2010 (2010) and in 2011 as a separate novel, Vladislavic´ presents the tenuous social connections of his self-deprecating narrator, Neville Lister. Having dropped out of university in Johannesburg during the early 1980s, he has gone back to living at home with his parents, largely for economic reasons. His desire to experience ‘the real world’ (Vladislavic´ 2011: 12) leads to his taking a menial job as an assistant to Jaco Els, who paints lines and arrows in parking lots and who is given to telling particularly vicious stories about his military service. As far as the ‘real world’ is concerned, Neville says that the hinged, folding stencils he has to set out in preparation for Els’s spray gun, look, ironically, like oversized versions of the books that he is trying to get away from – although, amid all the ambiguities of a country in conflict both externally and internally, the stencils at least come from ‘a library of unambiguous signs. Turn left, turn right, go straight’ (10). Nevertheless, he cannot deceive himself about his own posturing in this job and confesses: ‘I was a solitary actor on a stage: a white boy playing a black man’, adding: ‘In a small way, I was a spectacle. Yet I felt invisible’ (13). At university his social conscience was awakened by the injustices of apartheid, but this was not enough to propel him into any meaningful action beyond painting slogans and going to demonstrations against detention without trial, forced removals and the pass laws. From his undergraduate readings in radical sociology and political philosophy he recognises that he is living in a perverse social order that cannot be


improved, but only overthrown; he is not inclined, however, to follow the example of other people he knew on campus and join the liberation movement, but resorts instead to the wisdom of the wisecrack: ‘The Movement. It sounded like a machine, not quite a juggernaut but a piece of earthmoving equipment for running down anyone who stood in the way, crushing the obstacles pragmatically into the churned-up demolition site of history’ (23). He is, despite his flippancy, a serious young man who cannot escape from the feeling that he has been ‘dumped into history’ (37) and that he will never be out of it again; his sense of himself is that he is ‘like some object left on the shoreline, toyed with by a rising tide’.1 Apprehensive about being conscripted for military service, he removes himself to London. (Vladislavic´ has said in an interview that when in his university years he was facing the same dilemma as his narrator Neville, a few of his friends left South Africa for Britain, ‘because they had ancestral ties to the country’ (Trundle 2013: n.p.), and that he drew on their stories for his novel.) Neville describes his subsequent English affiliation in similarly negative terms. On the one hand, he records the different stages of his detachment from South Africa: after initially wanting to stay informed about his homeland through newsletters and attending the occasional rally in London, he then deliberately avoids any news about the atrocities of apartheid, of which he has had enough to last him a lifetime. ‘History,’ he says, ‘would have to get by without me’ (86). The only way the country has ‘kept its shape in [his] heart’ (86) is through the enclosures in his mother’s letters: newspaper cuttings, photographs, recipes – ‘This ragbag of fragments, collected over a decade,’ he says, ‘finally held me together. It became the jagged seam where the ill-fitting halves of my life touched’ (87). On the other hand, his purchase on his host location is equally insecure: he masters its grammar, but not its idiom. Working as a commercial photographer – ‘a foreigner, a South African nogal, and toting a camera’ (92) – and armed with an A to Z, he gets the layout of London, he says, ‘in broad sweeps and primary colours’ (93), although its more subtle aspects elude him: ‘I learned the basic English of the city, I followed the simple arguments of avenues and squares, especially when they were underlined by the river, but the things it was saying under its breath, the cryptic conversations of unfashionable neighbourhoods were always beyond me.’2

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His self-imposed exile as a draft-dodger in England leaves him with an even more attenuated sense of self. Not having had the courage to be a conscientious objector in South Africa, he is no more able to dignify his ten-year absence from the country with the term ‘political exile’. He is inclined rather to think of himself as a caricature of the English-speaking South African who has sought refuge in England, when his situation in South Africa became too uncomfortable, ‘the hensopper in the sevenleague boots’ (75), for whom there is no excuse. Throughout the decade of his rupture from South Africa he is nagged by the awareness of an alter ego who is leading the life that he might have been leading there: In another place, unfazed, a potential me was going about his business as if I’d never cut him short. Once apartheid fell . . . I could finally look squarely at this phantom who was living under my name. And then I got used to the idea that we could change places. A clean swap: your elsewhere for mine (145).

During his exile the worst years of apartheid pass Neville by, but he also wilfully excludes himself from the history of bringing it to an end. When the new democracy dawns and South Africa becomes an international symbol of hope, he cannot help feeling ‘left out of the club’ (75) and that he has squandered the chance to make his ‘small bit of history’. Nevertheless, sharing the general upsurge of South Africanness in 1994 in a euphoric climate of ‘togetherness, solidarity, engagement’ (76), he casts his vote at South Africa House in the first democratic elections and joins in the celebrations with thousands of his compatriots in London. Wanting to be part of the new South Africa, he finds himself back in Johannesburg in September 1994, with his ‘head in two places. In two minds’ (87). His decision to come home after the end of apartheid, and after the death of his father, has ‘not resolved a thing’, however, but has left him doubly absent from both London and his home country. He now has to relearn the map of the city as well as of the nation; so much feels unfamiliar, there is so much for him to recover. He realises that a gap has opened up between himself and the known world. In Bramley, where his parents’ house used to be, he is unprepared for the sprawling housing estate of Villa Veneto with its security entrance and dispiriting ‘rows of tiled roofs and empty balconies’ (79), which he describes as


‘matchbox houses for the middle class’. The suburbs of Yeoville and Berea have now become too expensive and also too unsafe for the student communes that he knew from the past. And when he revisits Bezuidenhout Valley, he registers everywhere the high walls, burglar guards and security gates on windows and doors, barbed wire and armed response signs on gateposts.3 Seeing everything with the double vision of present developments shadowed by his earlier recollections, he finds the new South Africa a bewildering place: ‘The parenthetical age had dawned, the years of qualification and revision, when the old versions of things trailed behind the new ones in brackets, fading identities and spent meanings, dogging the footsteps of the present like poor relations’ (90–1).4 In this present, parenthetical age the new political leaders who hold the future in their hands are ‘the former activists and exiles from humble homesteads and obscure postings’ (99), whose past lives of organising strikes, smuggling weapons and receiving military training or studying abroad ‘read like fictions’. And when he first hears a black cashier at Pick ’n Pay speak with a ‘northern suburbs drawl’ (91), he realises from the English of the young woman ‘whose accent could not be colour-coded’ that the new democracy is beginning to produce a society determined by class, rather than race. Nor, as over the years he makes a career for himself in commercial photography in Johannesburg, are the incongruities of the new South Africa lost on him, such as the figure of Eddie Ledwaba, according to the newspapers the ‘poster boy’ (165) of black economic empowerment, who has kept his Lenin cap from his trade union days ‘before the Cuban cigars and single malts’, but wears it only on public holidays. Or the depressing reality of the Home Affairs office in Randburg, formerly a symbol of segregationist bureaucracy, but now with its broken equipment and informal parking lot photocopier making the business of getting a passport renewed ‘so half-baked, so underdeveloped’ (187) that Neville is convinced that there is a racket going on. Or the thousands of Africans from elsewhere on the continent who have flooded into Johannesburg for the opportunities offered them in the newly free country and the xenophobic violence with which they have been received. As out of step back in Johannesburg as he had been in London, Neville eventually comes to ‘envy people who float around the world, resting their roots lightly on whatever soil they happen to be

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hovering above, dividing their time, and then dividing it again, until it’s so thin they can see through it. The global citizens. Epiphytes’ (145). Through the work of South Africa’s most celebrated photographer, David Goldblatt, who is figured in the novel as Saul Auerbach, to whom Neville’s father had tried to apprentice him when he was younger in the hope of instilling some discipline in his son, Vladislavic´ provides an ekphrastic way of understanding the persona of the South African exile come home. Vladislavic´ has said in an interview with Jan Steyn that both The Exploded View (2004) and Double Negative, as well as some of the texts that went into Portrait with Keys (2006), were written in response to visual images: In all these cases, I consciously set about working in the light of certain artworks without knowing where the process would lead. I started from my own ideas and concerns, but I was interested to see how working in close proximity to another imaginative world would reshape and invigorate my own. Although the fictions now have an independent life, they still comment on the images, and hopefully this commentary in fiction has some value precisely because it is sympathetically enmeshed with its subject. Maybe ‘sympathetic’ could be understood in a slightly technical way as ‘denoting an effect which arises in response to a similar action elsewhere’, allowing for a degree of antagonism as well as affinity (Steyn 2012a: n.p.).

The fictional intertextuality with Goldblatt’s work in Double Negative has been read in various ways. Neel Mukherjee concludes his review of Vladislavic’s ´ novel by saying that it is ‘a masterclass in making one art form – photography – speak within and through the containing vessel of another, the novel, and creating contrapuntal music out of it’ (2013: n.p.). Ralph Goodman suggests that ‘Double Negative draws on TJ in parasitic, rather than symbiotic ways’ (2011: n.p.), the first being that the chronological periods into which Goldblatt’s photographs are gouped in TJ have their counterpart in the settings of the narrative in Double Negative. In an interview by Bronwyn Law-Viljoen with both Vladislavic´ and Goldblatt in 2010, Vladislavic´ speaks specifically about the influences of, among others, the novels of W.G. Sebald, André Breton’s Nadja


and Michael Ondaatje’s The Collected Works of Billy the Kid on his use of photography in fiction. In Double Negative, he says, he desired to ‘write something that would have its own power and weight, that would hold together and have its own integrity, and not be sucked into the photographs as some kind of feeble commentary’ (Law-Viljoen 2011: 344). And he did not want to write yet ‘another book about Johannesburg’ (345). About the relationship between his text and Goldblatt’s images in their joint publication, he says: I do think there is a kind of magnetism between the novel and the photographs. If you’ve bought them in this package, you can’t read the novel without certain descriptions in it triggering memories of the photographs that you’ve seen. This was precisely the fascination of writing the novel – to create that uncomfortable fit. What I wanted to do was create a field of references to the photographs, to images produced by David or by other photographers, and in so doing generate in the reader a certain discomfort (353).5

According to Stephen Clingman, David Goldblatt’s and Ivan Vladislavi´ c’s TJ/Double Negative is valuable precisely where it is located at the intersection of documentary and invention, image and text, inside and outside views, the problematic play of subjectivities and viewing positions that both works, in their interactive and autonomous ways, evoke. Do we call this double production fiction or non-fiction? Does it matter? What matters occurs in the spaces, both within the two works and between them (2012: 56).

In Double Negative, aspects of the artistic co-operation between Vladislavic´ the novelist and Goldblatt the photographer are articulated in the exchanges between Neville and Auerbach on ways of representing the subject. Goldblatt/Auerbach is presented in the novel as both an authority on photography and an artist, as Neville first discovers when his father gives him a volume of Auerbach’s photographs, together with its review clippings, in preparation for their meeting. Years later, to illustrate Auerbach’s reputation, Neville, the lesser photographer, refers to Wikipedia, the dozens of photography sites on which he

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is featured, the blogs devoted to particular periods of his work, his photographs in museum collections, the numerous academic articles, as well as the sites offering his work for sale. Neville engages extensively with the discourse of photography throughout the narrative, beginning with his first impression of photography as an art form through which worlds can be compacted into black and white images that are both ‘familiar and strange’ (Vladislavic´ 2011: 26) and his speculation, on the day that he spends in Auerbach’s company with a British journalist, about the relationship between photographs and portraits and between copyists and artists working from life. From Auerbach he learns about composition and light and the paradox of choosing, and being chosen by, a subject – in Auerbach’s words: ‘The subject draws me, I don’t have words for it really, something strikes a chord, rings a bell. Sometimes it’s as if I’ve found a thing I’ve already seen and remembered, or imagined before, which may not be that different. Perhaps I recognize something in the world as a “picture” when it captures what I’ve already thought or felt’ (41).

It is when Neville, Auerbach and the British journalist look down from Langermann Kop over the houses in Bez Valley that the relationship between photography and fictional narrative is first raised, as regards their common problem of what to include and what to omit.6 Auerbach explains: ‘You think it would simplify things, looking down from up here . . . but it has the opposite effect on me. If I try to imagine the lives going on in all these houses, the domestic dramas, the family sagas, it seems impossibly complicated. How could you ever do justice to something so rich in detail? You couldn’t do it in a novel, let alone a photograph’ (45).

Jan Steyn suggests that ‘Double Negative is itself a response to this quandary of selection and exclusion, an attempt to ponder what can be done in a novel that can not be done in a photograph’ (2012b: n.p.). Neville keeps returning to the narrative dimension of photography. Auerbach insists that he is no storyteller, but Neville later says of the


photograph that he took on this occasion of Veronica nursing her two babies in her backyard room – a photograph widely recognised as one of Auerbach’s best and one that has special significance for Neville because he was present when it was taken – that any further ‘description is redundant, or worse, inadequate’ (Vladislavic´ 2011: 52). The photograph conveys in its own unique way the story of the woman with her two surviving infants, and of the third triplet who is present only in the small detail of a snapshot of all three babies within Auerbach’s photograph: ‘The third child, the dead one, irreplaceably absent in Auerbach’s photograph, persists in that smaller frame like an echo’ (54), Neville says. A second celebrated photograph, of Mrs Ditton in her living room, taken on that same day when Neville was also present, causes him to recall how Auerbach’s camera ‘looked like a detached observer, an expert on a fact-finding mission, with its chin up and its eye steady, drawing its own conclusions’ (67). Both photographs are provided with detailed explanatory captions when they are included afterwards in a volume of Auerbach’s photographs, Accidental Portraits, the captions also being made available at the exhibition of his work some years later at the Pollak Gallery in Johannesburg. Neville’s assessment that this overview exhibition provided ‘a more reliable record of the past than any history book’ (121) reveals his belief that the meanings of photographic images are determined by context and that photographs have a rhetorical function. The third section of the narrative, which updates Neville’s story to 2009 when he is interviewed and recorded on video by an ambitious young blogger, Janie, after a few of his photographs have been included in a group show, extends the discussion of photography into areas such as photographs and memory, the particularity and representativeness of photographic images and the photographer as sociologist, or contemporary urban explorer. Neville’s earlier ironic observations have grown markedly sharper in middle age as he himself essays into the world of art photography. The outside wall of the ‘Afrocentric chic’ (179) mansion belonging to the nouveau riche black businesswoman, Aurelia Mashilo, in a luxury estate is, he says, ‘a cubist assemblage of nut-brown plaster, corrugated-iron parallelograms and pale drystone panels, somewhere on the trade route between Mali and Malibu’ (168). And when Jaco Els from the early 1980s resurfaces on television more

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than two decades later, reinvented as Chef Giacomo to promote a range of non-stick cookware in ‘a postmodern kitchen, the kind made for deconstructive cooking’ (184), Neville is intrigued by the Texan twang he has acquired: ‘He sounded like a spray painter from Roodepoort who’s been to Bible School in San Antonio. It made his storytelling more compelling than ever.’7 The self-deprecating irony with which Neville depicts himself as occupying a liminal position, doubly displaced both in England and back home, has its visual counterpart in his own photographs of walls and of people in the doorways and on the thresholds of their homes. Neville offers two further, related symbols of his decontextualised self. The first is to be found in the clippings and other fragments on the pinboard in his studio; as he explains their meaning: ‘The awkward truths of my life take shape in their negative spaces. In the lengthening shadows of the official histories, looming like triumphal arches over every small, messy life, these scraps saved from the onrush of the ordinary are the last signs I can bring myself to consult’ (174).8 And the second graphic symbol of a life narrated from fragments is what he refers to as his ‘kind of extreme sport’ (181): channel-hopping among the different television channels with their ‘data, useless entertainment, dogma, edifying documentaries, reality shows, weather reports, travel advice, sport, opinions, views, news, views, news’ (181–2). From this vast amount of information, he pieces together his ‘own staccato sub-plots, ranging across the channels, leaping from one floe to another, taking as material whatever wildlife documentary or cookery show or courtroom drama’ (182) he lands in. Remarkably, he says, his ‘improvisations can scarcely be told apart from the scheduled programmes. Chaos is a kind of congruence’ – as in his own diasporic story constructed from bits and pieces of other narratives. ´ narrative with Most importantly, photography provides Vladislavic’s the conceit of the double negative. In photography, a positive image is a normal image and a negative image is a total inversion of a positive image, in which light areas appear dark and vice versa. When a negative image is created from a negative image, however, a positive image results – like multiplying two negative numbers in mathematics. Similarly, in rhetoric a double negative is an affirmative constructed from two negatives – for example, ‘Neville is never not ironic’. And, as Neville’s


wife Leora comments about his ironic responses to ironic questions by the persistent Janie, irony can also be ironised: ‘ “ The whole thing is ironic . . . Maybe they cancel one another out . . . like a double negative” ’ (181). Neville presents his own story, from Johannesburg to London and back again, as a double negative and the reader is invited into his narrative construct of mutually cancelling ironies to bring the diasporic subject at its centre more fully into view.9 Finally, Neville contrasts himself to Auerbach, the rooted artist who has dedicated himself to capturing images of South African life for 50 years: He had a body of work and it held him steady in the world. More precisely: he was a body of work. A solid line. I had wasted my energies on trifles. Layered on one another, they created the illusion of depth, but it was never more than an effect. Most of all, I envied him his continuity. He has soldiered on, one photograph at a time, leaving behind an account of himself and his place in which one thing followed another, print after print. My own story was full of holes (196–7).

´ art of narrative clippings and fragments It is, however, from Vladislavic’s that the holes and negative spaces in Neville’s story can be identified and an image of the returned exile developed in relation to its absences – the lost ground of exile. Lost Ground Michiel Heyns’s novel Lost Ground offers two metafictional critiques of the homecoming-from-exile genre in South African fiction. First, a black female psychologist and former activist, Nonyameko Mhlabeni, satirises the contemporary white expatriate South African writer who has trouble finding a subject in England and comes back to his mother country to write a novel about an ex-South African coming back . . . to be by the bedside of a dying parent . . . a man who is forced to revisit the past, or confront the past, more particularly his own tortured past . . . At the end of the novel he will go back to England vaguely defeated and strongly relieved (Heyns 2011: 28).

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These authors treat us ‘to their momentous return to the mother country and the examination of their own entrails and consciences’, but the plot of their works, she continues, ‘is standard ex-pat’: ‘The details may differ but the essence is the same: a mixture of self-examination and selfcongratulation, with poor tired old South Africa serving as both punch bag and security blanket.’ And second, Heyns’s narrator, Peter Jacobs, complains about the books that he has brought along to read on his own return visit to South Africa, Antjie Krog’s Country of My Skull and Rian Malan’s My Traitor’s Heart: ‘I am put off by the self-consciousness of it all,’ he says, ‘My Traitor’s Heart, Country of My Skull – why this solipsistic appropriation? Can’t I write the country’s story without first making it mine?’ (65). Ironically Peter turns out to be the kind of South African writer-protagonist that Nonyameko satirises: he returns in 2010 to the small Karoo town of Alfredville where he grew up, and he too is eventually forced to face his own betrayal of his country, his tribe and his conscience.10 Like Wicomb’s David’s Story and October, Patricia Schonstein Pinnock’s Skyline, Breyten Breytenbach’s A Veil of Footsteps and J.M. Coetzee’s Summertime, the narrative of Lost Ground is also framed by a writing project. Peter is a freelance writer who has come to Alfredville to write a piece – hopefully for The New Yorker – about the murder of a white Afrikaner woman, Desirée van Blerk, by her coloured policechief husband, Hector Williams, who is an ex-ANC cadre. Peter intends to focus on the murder in the context of race relations in the new democracy and although Desirée was his cousin, he wishes to keep his personal history out of it.11 As he puts it: ‘Of course I have a personal history, in the sense that everyone has one, certain things have happened to me since birth, other things haven’t, and sometimes I think the ones that haven’t are more significant than the ones that have, a kind of negative history, then’ (35). What has happened to him is that his English-born father shipped him off to England at the age of eighteen to avoid conscription into the South African army: ‘That ultimate act of parental concern and renunciation that has sent generations of young South Africans to seek security and opportunity elsewhere.’ He goes on to speculate about his ‘negative history’ – whether he might have had a more eventful existence had he stayed in Albertville, ‘a very small town in a very small country on a backward continent’ and asks himself: ‘Did


anything ever really happen to me here? Can anything really happen to anyone here?’ His cousin Desirée’s fate, he has to admit, gives the lie to his rhetorical question. The ironically amused tone with which Peter describes his home town after an absence of twenty-two years is established in the opening sentence, when he says of the redecorated hotel where he is staying: ‘The Queen’s Hotel has clung onto its name, but, like a widow cutting loose in middle age, has in every other respect gaily abandoned its former identity’ (5). Its decorative ensemble, he says, ‘escapes any attempt to classify it as to period or to style, unless Retro Camp counts as a category’ (8). Without being simply derisive or merely camp himself, he goes on to describe its stout gay owner, Joachim ‘Fairy’ Ferreira, who was at school with him, but now, with his ‘Burt Reynolds moustache, black shirt and tight trousers . . . looks like a seventies throwback’ (10) and his young black lover, Boris, as well as the receptionist, Joy Pakendorff, widow of the town clerk, but in her younger days the town tart, whose ‘very large very white teeth’ (141) when she smiles lead Peter to conclude: ‘The late Mr Pakendorff seems to have had a good medical scheme.’ Peter also includes himself within the ambit of his irony: while unpacking his suitcase he details the various chargers and adaptors for his laptop computer, mobile phone, camera, iPod and toothbrush (‘It seems that most of one’s functions are now rechargeable, except the bodily ones’, 14) and itemises the outer-, under- and footwear that he has brought along with him (‘What has happened to unaccommodated man, that poor bare forked animal?’, 15). The irony is unabating, whether he is describing new developments in Alfredville, such as the art gallery, the Memory Lane antique shop, the Time-for-T English tea-room, or the Café Rouge French restaurant, with its predictable red tablecloths and candles and Edith Piaf ‘moaning, heartbroken, in the background’ (94), or his old family home and his former school. All his experiences are humorously presented, from explaining the challenges of dunking a rusk in his coffee to describing his visit to his Afrikaner uncle and aunt, the irascible Blik and the distracted Dolly van Blerk, parents of the murdered Desirée – Dolly is still mortified at a magazine having published a photograph of the murder-weapon, a statuette of Michelangelo’s David, ‘full-frontal’ (90), leading people to ‘think Desirée had a statue of a naked man in her sitting room’. Peter’s ironic humour is best summed up when he says of

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any attempt to recover a lost past in the hometown of his youth: ‘Proust himself would have had a hard time with Alfredville’ (13).12 Peter presents his life in England, where he first arrived as a student at the University of Sussex in 1988, with a similar blitheness. At a time, he says, when South Africa ‘had sunk to its lowest point ever in international esteem’ (199), he was perceived at Sussex as a principled opponent to the apartheid regime, which enabled him to embrace Englishness, as well as various lovers, and to define his cultural and sexual identity. After making a modest name for himself working for The Independent, he became a freelance writer. He explains to Nonyameko, with whom he strikes up an acquaintance at the Queen’s Hotel, that his five-year-long relationship with his half-Jamaican actor partner, James, has come to an end, because of what James said was his lack of emotional commitment: ‘He said it was like trying to have a relationship with a traffic light, all go one second, all caution the next and then total no-go. He said he was in a state of perpetual exhaustion trying to catch the green light before it changed’ (111). An easygoing irony continues to characterise their exchange of e-mails between Alfredville and London. James cautions Peter against becoming too absorbed in the affairs of Alfredville: ‘Beware the embrace of the past – it’s a nostalgia trap’ (137). Peter concedes that his former partner, himself an immigrant in Britain from the age of twelve, had ‘sat through enough evenings of maudlin ex-South Africans sentimentalising over a country that they have no intention of returning to except for the annual family get-together at somebody’s beach house’ (62) to warrant his take on ex-pat nostalgia: ‘ “So you’ve left – so deal with it . . . We live in the age of emigration” ’ (62–3). James’s droll account of his having been cast as Iago in a new London production of Othello, set in Harlem, with an all-black cast, except the part of the Moor, who is to be played by a white, gay actor, so as to change ‘the symbolic logic of the play’ (113), offers an ironic correlative to the stark South African drama in which Peter has become interested. Although the plot of Lost Ground unfolds as a conventional murder mystery, its solution develops in tandem with the story that Peter proposes to write about Desirée’s death, a story that increasingly involves his own personal history, while also revealing his negative one.13 When he insists to Nonyameko, who becomes a sounding board for his ideas


as they discuss his project and whose irony is more deadpan than his own, that he has not come to Alfredville to write a whodunnit, but wants to find out what the facts of the murder mean – ‘what they tell us about the possibilities or impossibilities of a non-racial South Africa’ (103) – she asks him whether he is able to ‘separate the facts of the story from the personalities involved’. He later acknowledges that Desirée’s death has become the point at which her story intersects with his own; what he does not yet grasp, though, is that her death is also the point of intersection of a number of other Alfredville stories. As far as the facts of the murder, the prime suspect (Desirée’s husband Hector) and his motive are concerned, Peter is faced with the conundrum of ‘how to place the details of a pattern in terms of a pattern that will only emerge once the details have been placed’ (116); he says: ‘It’s like building a jigsaw puzzle without knowing what the final picture is going to look like.’ He tries to fit the pieces of the puzzle together from his various informants in Alfredville: from Joachim, that Hector killed his wife in a jealous rage when the rich farmer, Cassie Carstens, her rejected lover, tipped him off about his wife’s affair with the good-looking vet, Henk Pretorius; from Henk (who turns out to be gay), that he had been no more than a good friend to the restless Desirée and that Hector’s subordinate, Bennie Nienaber, now the acting police commander, had also been in love with her; from Joy, together with a colourful account of the interracial wedding of Desirée and Hector, that Desirée’s affair with Cassie was Hector’s motive for killing his wife; from Henk again (in confidence), that Hector must be ruled out as a suspect since he had seen him on the evening of the murder sitting alone in his police vehicle at the dam, where he (Henk) was meeting a schoolboy; from Cassie (in confidence), that Desirée had in fact scorned his advances, that she had been having an affair with Bennie, that on the night of the murder he had been to Desirée’s house only to overhear the two of them in heated argument – and, furthermore, that the forensic evidence against Hector had been fabricated by his white colleagues; from Nonyameko (in confidence) that one of her clients is expecting Hector’s child and is distraught at the thought of bringing a murderer’s baby into the world; and finally, from the Zairean car-guard, Vincent (in confidence), that he had seen the Nienaber dog, Kerneels, waiting outside Desirée’s house at the time of the murder. (An ornamental ceramic dog’s head in Peter’s

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hotel bedroom is an easily overlooked clue early on that the wire-haired mongrel, Kerneels, Henk’s black Labrador, Liquorice, and Desirée’s Maltese poodle, Cedric – the only actual witness to the murder – form part of a canine subtext in the final solution of the mystery.) All the leads to the true identity of Desirée’s murderer are negative, however, based on either speculation or circumstantial evidence and in his probings Peter is obliged to reject his original Othello-hypothesis about the murder, revise the racial ‘symbolic logic’ of this South African drama and eliminate as suspects not only Desirée’s black husband, but also the white Afrikaners Cassie and Henk.14 He discovers, moreover, that he is becoming increasingly embroiled in the events that he thought he had merely come to report and that the various confidential communications of his informants have imposed on him the burden of not only writing about the murder, but also solving it. He protests to Nonyameko that he is not so much taking a leading part in the story as having it inflicted on him; he comes to realise that he is, in effect, being written by his story. And the story into which he is being written as subject comprises such divergent other stories as Desirée’s life in Alfredville after her return from Stellenbosch University, her brother’s relationship with Hector’s sister, the murder of the foreigner Vincent by a rival applicant for the position of town clerk and not least Nonyameko’s own background of also having grown up in Alfredville, but in the township to which she takes Peter (he cannot resist remarking that it ‘looks like the cover of Disgrace’, 205), her activism and education abroad and her return to South Africa to work as a psychologist for a non-governmental organisation. The jigsaw pieces of Peter’s negative history begin to form a complex, but still not fully identifiable, picture. The most important piece of the puzzle is the story of Bennie, his old high school friend. As reluctant as Peter is to face the fact, all the evidence seems finally to point to Bennie having murdered Desirée. In contrast to Peter, who was the only child of loving, middle-class parents (his Jewish father was the town chemist), Bennie was one of four brothers, all the casualties of a poverty-stricken background with an abusive father and a downtrodden mother. When he unexpectedly encounters Bennie again in Alfredville, Peter recalls the close boyhood bond, with its homoerotic undertone, between the lively Bennie and himself, his recollections forming a substantial portion of the narrative.


The meetings between them are initially awkward and Peter realises that he cannot simply take up again where he had left off with Bennie, after not having spoken to him for more than two decades. Bennie’s story has been the opposite of his own exilic one: he has made the best of his life in South Africa, done his military service, joined the police service and later married and become the father of two children. His has been a regular existence, engaged with the everyday realities of life in South Africa. In Peter’s strained exchanges with Bennie, in which he is cautious about sentimentally idealising their past and Bennie too is at first guarded, declaring, ‘ “Forget it, I’m not going to spill my guts to you” ’ (135), he nevertheless senses that Bennie is trying to reach out to him and he comes to learn about Bennie’s frustration with his own unfulfilled life and also his hopeless love for Desirée. As Peter becomes increasingly and conflictedly convinced of Bennie’s guilt, the sardonic wit of James’s e-mails with their ‘sprightly gossip about the rehearsals, the in-fighting, the tirades and the tantrums’ (238) loses its appeal for him and the ‘petty intrigues of a group of self-involved actors’ now seem very far removed from ‘the pared-down passions’ that he is confronted with in Alfredville. In the light of Bennie’s ‘bleak hopelessness’, James’s scintillation begins to pall, together with its London context: ‘All the chitter and chatter and twitter and tattle purporting to be Culture, the flotsam of a civilisation sinking under the weight of its own pretensions, of a city that bought its own baloney and is now bankrupt.’ Peter begins to distance himself from the very irony that has enabled him to distance himself from Alfredville; however, having himself learnt in London to ‘wrap everything in irony’ (235), he is unused to dealing with unmediated emotion and also begins to realise the truth of his own words to Bennie: ‘Somebody who emigrates becomes a foreigner in two countries’ (237). Living in irony alone has become the condition of his diasporic dislocation. Peter’s decision to confront Bennie with his suspicions leads to the climax of the narrative. They meet on Kanonkop outside the town, the scene of their last meeting on matriculating in 1988 when Peter had broken the news to Bennie about his father’s plan for him to avoid military service by sending him to England. Peter relives Bennie’s shocked reaction at the time, his crude statement of the difference between Peter’s world of privilege and opportunity in contrast to his own

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(‘ “Why don’t you say what you mean, that I’m a fucking poor white and you want to get shot of me and your country all in one go?” ’, 262) and his painful accusation of being abandoned by the only person who had ever taken him seriously – in short, of Peter’s betrayal of their friendship. Twenty-two years later, in what will turn out to be another last meeting, it is with a bitter self-awareness that Bennie confesses to Peter his misery over his frustrated love for Desirée, who had reintroduced him to the world of music and books that he had first come to know through Peter when they were at school together. The confused intensity of his feelings is expressed by the ‘kind of sob’ with which he says to Peter: ‘ “She even looked like you” ’ (267). When Peter explains to him that he knows that he murdered Desirée, the irony of the double betrayal is not lost on Bennie: ‘ “So when did you come up with this brilliant reconstruction of the crime?” ’ (270), he asks. And saying that Peter leaves him no choice, he shoots himself. In an effort to come to terms with the horror of what has happened, Peter writes to James, setting out as collectedly as he can the ‘convoluted story’ (273) of how he has caused the death of someone whom he now acknowledges he has loved all his life. He explains what he has found from his return to Albertville, that James had teasingly referred to as his ‘recherche du temps perdu’: I lost something years ago that I haven’t been able to replace, and if that something isn’t altogether Bennie, it is what he represented to me then, though I had no idea of it at the time: the unfettered exploration of life, the life of the senses, the unexamined joy of daily companionship in that exploration. And then, the unconscious knowledge that I was giving as well as receiving, that I, too, represented something to him that was worth having, and that in that way we supplemented each other. He admired and perhaps envied the things of the mind that my upbringing had given me; I marvelled at the quickness of the life in him, the easy translation of instinct into action, the passionate obedience to the whim of the moment (274).

Peter doubts, however, whether James with his London ‘default assumption that all experience is subject to ironic analysis’ (275) can possibly understand ‘something that in its primitive inarticulateness


is alien to him’ and his life there. In his grief, Peter puts together a picture in which he tries to understand how the past had reasserted itself through Bennie, how Bennie’s despair staked a claim upon his blitheness and how his suicide was a violent repulsion of Peter’s invasion of the ground he ‘abandoned so long ago’. The only way that Peter can deal with his grief is to conclude his e-mail ironically: ‘Othello was never like this.’ The picture that Peter has constructed is still incomplete, however. The ironies of his life are further compounded when he learns afterwards from Bennie’s wife, Chrisna, that he had been misguided about the identity of the murderer, that it was she who had killed Desirée out of jealousy and fear that she would take her husband away from her and the children and that Bennie’s suicide was his way of taking the blame and so safeguarding his family. By meddling in the story of the murder, Peter had left Bennie no other choice but to kill himself. Peter realises that irony, ‘the thin line between absolute control and a complete surrender to a horrific breakdown of reason’ (294), is all that he has left to cling to; only irony can provide some saving distance between himself and the events in Alfredville: ‘Cling to it like Perseus clinging to Ariadne’s clue in the labyrinth of the Minotaur, conscious of the terrible fate that awaits you if you let go’ (294). He tells Nonyameko that he is not going to write the story of Desirée’s murder because it is not his story to write: ‘ “It’s Bennie’s story, and Chrisna’s story, and Desirée’s story, and only then is it my story, and every story has its own truth and its own moral, and they all contradict one another.” ’ He adds, however, that in a different sense it is ‘ “too much [his] story to write” ’. In this sense, it is his own diasporic negative history: like Neville’s in Vladislavic’s ´ Double Negative, the truths of his life have taken shape in its negative spaces. When he realises that he left South Africa ‘originally not to get embroiled in the bloodshed and share in the guilt’ (295), but that this has been his lot nonetheless, in a country which is not even, and yet is, his home, the irony of his situation finally causes his defensive irony to disintegrate and overwhelmed by a ‘flood of inarticulate horror’ (297), he breaks down: ‘The shell cracks, my time-hardened carapace, defence against feeling too much and showing too much, and I am left exposed on some desolate shore, delivered over to the furies that attend on human misfortune or misdeed’ (297). Clinging to Nonyameko’s hand,

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he is engulfed by a sense of the cost of his exile: all that he is aware of is ‘the relentless pull of loss’, the losses he has caused and the losses he has suffered. Notes 1. Ivan Vladislavic´ has on various occasions explained his interest in marginality and in ‘engaging with something that makes no claim to completeness’. In an interview with Shaun de Waal in 1996 he gave as his reason for not writing big realist texts: ‘The world is already so overloaded with big stories and important information that the small and the peripheral have come to me to seem a positive value’ (De Waal 2011: 103). In an interview with Christopher Warnes in 1999, he spoke about, on the one hand, his ‘fascination with political and social questions’ and, on the other hand, his ‘apprehension about obviously political writing’ (Warnes 2000: 3). Although political issues were not peripheral to his life, he said, he was inclined ‘to shy away from the obvious, to be slightly obscure or tangential’ – although writing politically was ‘almost inevitable in this country’. Gerald Gaylard ´ concern with the marginal has proved to be of enduring states that ‘Vladislavic’s relevance’ (2011: 2). Describing his fiction as that of ‘decentralisation’, Gaylard says: ‘Decentralisation and the assertion of margins have partly been enabled by ´ writing.’ the satirical iconoclasm of Vladislavic’s 2. This is the condition of exile that Edward Said describes as ‘the state of never being fully adjusted, always feeling outside the chatty, familiar world inhabited by the natives, so to speak, tending to avoid and even dislike the trappings of accommodation and national well-being’ (1994b: 39). ´ narrator in Portrait with Keys as 3. See Ralph Goodman’s discussion of Vladislavic’s a wilfully marginalised, contemporary version of the nineteenth-century Parisian flâneur (2009: 228). 4. Sally-Ann Murray points out that ‘back in 2005, after the exhilarating highs of Rainbow Nationism had given way to the ambiguities of the postcolony, Vladislavic´ described South Africa’s situation as “a second interregnum, a parenthetical era, in which a provisional country asserts itself, but drags its history behind it in brackets” [Vladislavic´ 2005: 88]’ (Murray 2011: 71). ´ very interesting account of his writing process in an interview 5. See also Vladislavic’s with Andie Miller (2007). 6. Russell West-Pavlov points out that this episode satirically echoes ‘Michel de Certeau’s vignette of the view of New York from above’ (2014: 13). In the interview with Law-Viljoen, Goldblatt explains, however, that this event actually occurred: ‘I actually sat on a koppie with a friend looking out over the roofs of Bez Valley and Judith’s Paarl, and I said, wouldn’t it be fascinating to just pick out a place and then go down and see what’s inside it, which is exactly what we did’ (Law-Viljoen 2011: 350).

258  DOUBLE NEGATIVES: EXILE AND HOMECOMING  7. For discussions of Vladislavic´ as a postcolonial satirist, see Gaylard’s article, ´ (2005), as well as Goodman (2009). ‘Postcolonial Satire: Ivan Vladislavic’ ´ narrator in 8. See, in this connection, Ralph Goodman’s discussion of Vladislavic’s Portrait with Keys as a bricoleur (2009: 226).

9. In discussion with Mike Marais and Carita Backström about the way the reader’s

10 . 11 .

12 .

13 . 14 .

ironic detachment from Tearle in The Restless Supermarket is itself rendered ironic and the way in which the levels of irony in the novel then proliferate, Vladislavic´ responds that he resists readers wanting ‘some still point which enables them to say, “Okay, you’re being ironical about this, and we get all of that – but finally we want some kind of quiet space where we can stand and put it all together.” ’ He prefers, he says, ‘to keep an ironical movement going’ (Marais and Backström 2002: 121) – which Marais relates to Kierkegaard’s notion of the impossibility of suspending such a move of irony: ‘It doubles back on itself and renders itself ironic.’ Gaylard says that when ‘the ironic distance established between the writer, reader and protagonist is itself ironized . . . this leads towards a mise-en-abyme’ (2005: 146). Jane Rosenthal says: ‘That Lost Ground does read like an ex-pat novel . . . is one of Heyns’s ironic sleights of mind’ (2011: n.p.). Finuala Dowling says that ‘since Heyns’s narrator is, like him, a storyteller – well, a journalist – Lost Ground is also metafiction: a story about how stories are made and, most importantly, how in trying to tell these stories, we end up telling ourselves’ (2012: n.p.). ‘Heyns describes with utter precision the understated charm of this fictional town, which shares characteristics with Barrydale, Montagu and Riversdal’ (Dowling 2012: n.p.). Rosenthal says that Alfredville is ‘a sort of composite name for a dorp that is not exactly somewhere but is nonetheless perfectly platteland, or everydorp’ (2011: n.p.). Heyns has said that the novel began as a ‘whydunnit’, but turned into a ‘whodunnit’ as he wrote, with the focus ‘quite strongly on the narrator’s own plight, his sense of dispossession and loss’ (Meyer 2012: n.p.). Heyns first conceived the murder as an Othello story, he says, but then rejected the model (Corrigall 2012: n.p.).

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Diasporic Politics of Home Nadine Gordimer, None to Accompany Me, The Pickup and No Time Like the Present

In 1959, after the publication of her second novel, A World of Strangers, Nadine Gordimer confessed to fluctuating between a desire, felt with her head, to leave South Africa for some other country where her whiteness would not be the overriding determinant of her identity and ‘a terrible, obstinate and fearful desire to stay’ (1988: 27), felt with her guts. The child of Jewish immigrants, she chose to remain and make her home in the country of her birth where, over more than 60 years as a writer, she has told the story of South Africa ‘from the inside’ (to use Stephen Clingman’s classic 1986 phrase): what it was like to live through the rise of the apartheid state from 1948 to its fall in 1990, the time of transition after 1990 and also in the new democracy that came into being in 1994. From early on Gordimer acknowledged that she was formed as an author by her historical context. In the introduction to her Selected Stories in 1975 she affirmed ‘that in a certain sense a writer is “selected” by his subject – his subject being the consciousness of his own era’ (1988: 97). This consciousness of having been imaginatively shaped by her times underlies her special admiration for Ivan Turgenev, whose definition of ‘the man of real talent’ she quoted in her 1975 essay, ‘A Writer’s Freedom’: ‘The life that surrounds [such a person] provides him with the contents of his works; he is its concentrated reflection’ (1988: 91). The life, however, is not the art, as she has also repeatedly declared; she has in her novels and short stories remained true throughout to what in 1984 she called ‘the writer’s basic essential gesture’ (1988: 249), which is the ‘transformation of experience . . . the lifting out of a limited 259


category something that reveals its full meaning and significance only when the writer’s imagination has expanded it’. Although in her 1982 lecture, ‘Living in the Interregnum’, she broke her own inhibition on interpreting her country through her private life (‘I have to offer you myself as my most closely observed specimen from the interregnum’, 1988: 221), she nevertheless insisted: ‘Yet I remain a writer, not a public speaker: nothing I say here will be as true as my fiction.’ A decade later she found this point worth reiterating in her Nobel lecture, adding: ‘The life, the opinions, are not the work, for it is in the tension between standing apart and being involved that the imagination transforms both’ (1999: 7). J.M. Coetzee, speaking through the persona of Señor C. in Diary of a Bad Year, says that great authors, such as Tolstoy, are masters of authority. Authority cannot be achieved ‘simply by tricks of rhetoric’ (2007a: 151); it ‘must be earned’ (149) and Coetzee proposes that it might ‘be attained only by opening the poet-self to some higher force, by ceasing to be oneself and beginning to speak vatically’ (151). Such authority is manifest in Gordimer’s sustained engagement with the diasporic politics of home in her home country in all her fictional works and particularly in her novels, None to Accompany Me, The Pickup and No Time Like the Present. The ‘politics of home’ In The Politics of Home Rosemary Marangoly George argues that the ‘search for the location in which the self is “at home” ’ (1996: 3) features prominently in twentieth-century fiction in English. This literature, she says, is less concerned with drawing allegories of nation than with ‘the search for viable homes for viable selves’ (5). According to George, the subject is ideologically determined by home just as it is by gender or sexuality, race and class. Furthermore, the notion of ‘home’ is also a way of establishing difference because it is premised on select inclusions and exclusions: The inclusions are grounded in a learned (or taught) sense of a kinship that is extended to those who are perceived as sharing the same blood, race, class, gender, or religion. Membership is maintained by bonds of love, fear, power, desire and control. Homes are manifest on geographical, psychological and material levels. They are places that are recognized as such by those within and those without (9).

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Home, she elaborates further, is always doubly coded in terms of those who belong there and those who do not; it is a place that is flexible, that manifests itself in various forms and yet whose every reinvention seems to follow the basic pattern of inclusions/ exclusions. Home is a place to escape to and a place to escape from. Its importance lies in the fact that it is not equally available to all. Home is the desired place that is fought for and established as the exclusive domain of a few. It is not a neutral place.

Importantly, she continues, home forms the basis of community: ‘Communities are not counter-constructions but only extensions of home, providing the same comforts and terrors on a larger scale.’ Extending the notions of ‘home’ and ‘community’ still further to home country, George explains that home as a place both inclusive and exclusive lies at the heart of the term ‘home-country’, which ‘in itself expresses a complex yoking of ideological apparatuses necessary for the existence of subjects: the notion of belonging, of having a home, and a place of one’s own’ (2). The politics of location come into play, she says, ‘in the attempt to weave together a subject-status that is sustained by the experience of the place one knows as Home or by resistance to places that are patently “not home” ’. The word ‘location’ suggests that ‘the home’ and ‘the self’ are both variable concepts, ‘for both are negotiated stances whose shapes are entirely ruled by the site from which they are defined’ – or, as George also puts it: ‘Locations are positions from which distance and difference are formulated and homes are made snug.’ In their introduction to The Postnational Self, Ulf Hedetoft and Mette Hjort also take as their point of departure what they call ‘a foundational, existential, “thick” notion’ (2002: vii) of home that is interdependent with belonging: ‘Our home is where we belong, territorially, existentially, and culturally, where our own community is, where our family and loved ones reside, where we can identify our roots, and where we return to when we are elsewhere in the world.’1 Out of this notion of home come our feelings of ‘homeness’ (and homesickness when away), our sense of identity and national belonging. Hedetoft and Hjort then go on, however, to label such a harmonious conception of home and belonging as ‘organicist’ or ‘prepolitical’ (xii). They point out that the assumption


that ‘culture equals nation equals home equals identity’ is complicated by contemporary, transnational religious and ethnic alliances and globalising processes and ‘the new types of identity formation, boundary confusion, and ethnic politics that follow in their wake’ (xv). Gordimer’s ‘politics of home’ In contrast to any simplistic equation of home, culture, nation and identity, Gordimer has always regarded home and belonging as being contingent. In her essay, ‘Living in the Interregnum’, in 1982, in which she described her home country in terms of Antonio Gramsci’s notion of an interregnum between an old, dying order and a new one struggling to be born, she showed herself to be fully aware of the search, in George’s formulation, ‘for viable homes for viable selves’, of the organisation of home and home country around select inclusions and exclusions and of the nexus of filial and affiliative relationships in South Africa under apartheid, as well as in a future, democratic homeland. As Gordimer saw the politics of location – and relocation – then and after liberation: The interregnum is not only between two social orders but also between two identities, one known and discarded, the other unknown and undetermined. Whatever the human cost of the liberation struggle, whatever ‘Manichean poisons’ must be absorbed as stimulants in the interregnum, the black knows he will be at home, at last, in the future. The white who has declared himself or herself for that future, who belongs to the white segment that was never at home in the white supremacy, does not know whether he will find his home at last (1988: 226).

The possibility might well be, as she suggested in choosing the quotation from Turgenev as an epigraph for A Guest of Honour in 1971, that ‘an honourable man will end by not knowing where to live’. In her novels and short stories Gordimer has always foregrounded the idea of home, the physical and conceptual space that her characters occupy, the area of ‘organic order and aesthetic discipline’ (as she expresses it in My Son’s Story, 1990: 40), in which they construct their lives. The constructedness of their living space is a metonymy, at a deep narrative level, of the lives of these figures whose existence is shaped,

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one way or another, by apartheid, or the struggle against it, according to careful calculation. In Apartheid and Beyond, Rita Barnard explains what she says is a fundamental sense in which Gordimer’s understanding of domestic space is political: Her houses . . .  are clearly conceived of as ideological apparatuses, in very much the Althusserian sense of the term. They are the means by which individuals are ‘interpellated’ as subjects: the means by which individuals are trained so that they will ‘know their places’ in the social hierarchy, and so that, from these ‘places,’ they in turn will help to reproduce its structures (2007: 49).

No home is inviolable, however, and all living spaces are vulnerable to the forces of history. In The Conservationist (1974), the businessman, Mehring, finds that his weekend farm is symbolically reclaimed by the unknown African who is buried there and resurfaces in the course of the narrative. In Burger’s Daughter (1979), Rosa Burger finds herself unable to share her activist father Lionel’s political space and she moves out of his home, as well as his home country, to occupy first a guest room in the south of France and later a flat in London, before returning finally to inhabit the confined space of a prison cell – Lionel Burger’s legacy to his daughter. In July’s People (1981), social upheaval causes Maureen and Bamford Smales to flee from their suburban home in Johannesburg and seek refuge in the rural homestead of their servant, July.2 Gordimer’s characters are shown experiencing their expulsion from a secure sense of home in varying degrees, beginning with their awareness, to use Freud’s terms, of what was once heimisch, or familiar, becoming unheimlich, or uncanny. In the story ‘Something Out There’ when the Afrikaner estate agent, Mrs Naas Klopper, realises that she had unwittingly leased the old Kleynhans homestead to saboteurs to use as a hideout, she has a sense of the uncanny having entered her world and of her own ‘lovely home’ with its kitsch furnishings having become unheimlich: Something alien was burning slowly, like a stick of incense fuming in this room, Mrs Naas Klopper’s split-level lounge, which had been so lovingly constructed, the slasto fireplace chosen stone by stone by Naas


himself, the beasts whose skins covered the bar-stools shot by him, the tapestry made stitch by stitch by Mrs Naas in security against the rural poverty of the past and in certainty that these objects and artifacts were what civilization is (Gordimer 1984b: 198).

And in her short story ‘Once Upon a Time’ Gordimer self-reflexively confronts her own unheimlichkeit as a South African writer. Her narrator, a novelist, is awakened by a creaking floor and, after an initial feeling of panic, she realises that she is safe from external danger, but her Johannesburg dwelling is fundamentally unstable: There was no human weight pressing on the boards, the creaking was a buckling, an epicentre of stress. I was in it. The house that surrounds me while I sleep is built on undermined ground; far beneath my bed, the floor, the house’s foundations, the stopes and passages of gold mines have hollowed the rock, and when some face trembles, detaches and falls, three thousand feet below, the whole house shifts slightly, bringing uneasy strain to the balance and counterbalance of brick, cement, wood and glass that hold it as a structure around me (1991: 24).

The uneasy bedtime story that she then tells herself, about a little boy who becomes enmeshed in the protective razor wire around his house, dramatically symbolises the concept of home as a place of both inclusion and exclusion. The cautionary fable also suggests the stresses on the South African house of fiction brought about by the overdetermined historical narrative of a country moving towards transition. Beyond unheimlichkeit lies a more complex awareness of dislocation that Biddy Martin and Chandra Talpade Mohanty, in their essay ‘Feminist Politics’, describe as ‘not being home’ (1986: 197). In contrast to living within the safety of familiar and protected boundaries, ‘not being home’ is ‘a matter of realizing that home was an illusion of coherence and safety based on the exclusion of specific histories of oppression and resistance, the repression of differences even within oneself’.3 In Gordimer’s 1990 novel, My Son’s Story, for example, the narrator, Will, recounts how the domestic security of their home that his ‘coloured’ schoolteacher-turned-activist father, Sonny, created for his

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family in a racially ‘grey’ area of Benoni has been undermined, not only by the garden cottage love nest that Sonny maintained for his secret affair with Hannah Plowman, but also by his father’s political sidelining and the clandestine activism of his mother and sister. The extent to which these other histories have destroyed any previous sense of home is figured graphically in two different episodes towards the end of the novel. In the first, Will surveys the scene of dereliction in the abandoned cottage after the end of his father’s affair with Hannah and, in the second, he records his father’s words at the sight of their family home, which was burned down by reactionary whites while he was away. In Will’s reflection on Sonny’s bitter comment are contained the texts of the father who is no longer home in the Africanist liberation organisation, or in his family, and of the son whose ‘not being home’ is the result of his filial ties having become complicated by the various affiliations of his parents and sister: Your room, [Sonny] said, making a claim for me, my life, against destruction, making sure I wouldn’t forget. But there were no categories of ownership or even usage left. What had been the kitchen, the sittingroom, the places for sleeping were all turned out, flung together in one final raid, of fire and water, the last of the invasions in which our lives in that house were dragged and thrown about by hostile hands (1990: 273).

In The Location of Culture Homi K. Bhabha provides a fin-de-siècle context for his version of ‘not being home’ in his theory of ‘unhomeliness’. At the end of a century, Bhabha says, we become disoriented, finding ‘ourselves in the moment of transit where space and time cross to produce complex figures of difference and identity, past and present, inside and outside, inclusion and exclusion’ (1994: 1). At such moments we experience an ‘estranging sense of the relocation of the home and the world’ (9), which he calls unhomeliness. Unhomeliness is different from being homeless: to be unhomed is to find yourself suddenly ‘taking the measure of your dwelling’ in a state of profound unease. In such unhomely moments, the ‘recesses of the domestic space become sites for history’s most intricate invasions. In that displacement, the borders between home and the world become confused; and, uncannily, the


private and the public become part of each other, forcing upon us a vision that is as divided as it is disorienting.’ Such liminal states are important, Bhabha says, because while being disorienting they are also productive since they ‘provide the terrain for elaborating strategies of selfhood – singular or communal – that initiate new signs of identity, and innovative sites of collaboration, and contestation, in the act of defining the idea of society itself’ (1–2). In her works in and after the watershed year of 1990 Gordimer’s South African protagonists are shown becoming increasingly ‘unhomed’, literally, as well as in Bhabha’s sense of the term. Diasporic migration has always been a prominent factor in Gordimer’s various depictions of home and being unhomed in South Africa. In more general terms, for example, in her short story ‘Sins of the Third Age’ she offers a diasporic parable of how no home, however carefully constructed, is a guarantee against contingency. The protagonists, Peter and Mania, each having come from a different European country and having met in yet another during the Second World War, marry and raise their children in a fourth country. We are told: ‘It was a well-made life. It did not happen; was carefully constructed’ (1984a: 66). Their life together, unfurnished and unpeopled by the past, can conceivably be transferred elsewhere, but when they plan for attachment to a fifth country, Italy, all their practical preparations for setting up a home for their retirement nearly come to grief because of the unreckoned factor of Peter’s affair with a local woman. In their case, however, it is precisely the structure of their life together that, although modified, supports them over this rift in their relationship. And in more specific terms, in A Sport of Nature Gordimer conducts her reader into the complex and conflictual terrain of South African resistance politics and exile via the temporary domiciles of her protagonist, Hillela, in Africa, Eastern Europe and the United States, to the point where she finally occupies the State House in her position as wife, although no longer lover, of the president of an unnamed African country. Gordimer concludes her novel by anticipating the birth of ‘the new African state that used to be South Africa’ (1987: 337). Her narrative scenario foresees the historic moment in 1990 when ‘the black leaders were finally released from prison and brought back from exile, the liberation movements unbanned, and apartheid legislation abolished’.

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In her fictional conjuration of the independence ceremony of the new African republic Gordimer affirms the fully lived, historic moment of homecoming that makes reflection redundant: ‘There is a stage in middle life, if that life is fully engaged with the world and the present, when there is no space or need for reflection. The past is not a haunting, but was a preparation, put into use’ (341). Such a moment is one of historical consummation, when an individual life is identified with the liberation of a people and a nation is born. In the last of her Charles Eliot Norton lectures in 1994, ‘That Other World That Was the World’, Gordimer describes how her white colonial background meant that she grew up with ‘no national mould’ (1995: 120) and was not able to make the claim ‘my country’ because she could not also say ‘my people’ (128). Only through her writing could she endeavour to become ‘part of the transformation of [her] place in order for it to know [her]’ (130) and so that she could enter the commonality of her country. But until such time as the exiles returned, the legislative apparatus of apartheid had been dismantled and a government of the people was in power, she and others like herself were still held in the categories of the past. The election of the first democratic government in South Africa in April 1994 was consequently an historical fulfilment. Gordimer concludes her lecture with a profession of her new national identity: ‘My country is the world, whole, a synthesis. I am no longer a colonial. I may now speak of “my people” ’ (134). This is perhaps the closest Gordimer ever comes to what Hedetoft and Hjort call a ‘foundational’ or ‘organicist’ sense of home and nation. Her moment of personal and historical homecoming is, however, not a utopian one – neither as she prophesies it at the end of A Sport of Nature, nor as she recalls it in the Harvard lecture. Although she speaks of the national homecoming in terms of long-awaited arrival, she also views it in terms of complex transformation: ‘We know that we have to perform what Flaubert called “the most difficult and least glamorous of all tasks: transition”. This is the reality of freedom. This is the great matter.’ Homecoming and unhomeliness: None to Accompany Me None to Accompany Me, published in 1994, deals with the immediate history of the transitional stage after the release of Nelson Mandela when South African exiles were returning, the structures of power were


being realigned and the negotiations were underway that culminated in the 1994 elections.4 This was also the period when the formerly divided country began to narrativise itself in a process of self-examination that was to lead to the testimonies before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission about human rights atrocities during the previous four decades. How to bring the narrative of apartheid to closure as a condition for entering the future and how to acknowledge the past without being held in its categories: Gordimer’s theme in None to Accompany Me is spelt out by the three divisions of the narrative: ‘Baggage’, ‘Transit’ and ‘Arrivals’. The protagonist, Vera Stark, an elderly lawyer, is one of those South Africans in Gordimer’s fiction to whom she referred in her essay, ‘Living in the Interregnum’, as ‘the articulate outriders of the white segment, intellectuals, writers, lawyers, students, church and civil rights progressives who keep the whips of protest cracking’ (1988: 227) – the white South Africans who had never been at home in a white supremacy and who, without having any guarantee that they would find a place for themselves there, had nevertheless declared themselves for a future under a black majority government. As Vera Stark considers the ‘bare truth’ of her involvement in the Legal Foundation and in the new country she has worked towards realising, and the ways in which this has affected the lives of her husband, Bennet, their son, Ivan, their daughter, Annick, and their friends, she explains to Annick at the end of the novel that all her choices have been determined solely by one desire: ‘To find out about my life. The truth. In the end. That’s all’ (1994: 313). The lives of Vera and Ben are paired in the narrative with those of their black friends, Didymus (which means ‘twin’) and Sibongile Maqoma. ‘Didy’ and ‘Sally’ have returned, with their daughter Mpho, from a life of resistance in exile to occupy their rightful position in the country of their birth – a South Africa that, as Gordimer expressed it in A Sport of Nature, will be ‘all one country’ where ‘there are no homelands but only a homeland’ (1987: 338). Diasporic homecoming – mayibuye – is thematised at the personal and the national level in None to Accompany Me. It is enacted in the narrative in the account of plane loads of returning exiles, ‘those who come from wars, banishment, exile, who have forgotten what home was, or suffered not being able to forget’ (1994: 44) and who are now

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in transit to repossess their lives. Internally, homecoming is no less the dream of those communities who were forcibly removed from their homes under apartheid and are attempting to have ‘restored to them the village, the land, their place, which was taken from them and allotted to whites’ (13). The narrative foregrounds Gordimer’s familiar concern with the idea of ‘home’. Vera speaks for her author when, discussing with Ivan her involvement in building the new country, she reflects self-consciously on the trope she has used: ‘Typical that I’m using the old image of a building, while people have nowhere to live’ (220). ‘Home’ is figured in various ways throughout the narrative. The Maqomas first exchange the temporary shelters of exile for ‘accommodation’ (45) in a transit hotel in Johannesburg until they set up home in a formerly white suburb. For Mpho, who was born and raised abroad, homecoming also includes acceptance of her grandmother’s humble township dwelling, from an instinctive sense of ‘know[ing] what home is’ (51). For Zeph Rapulana, a spokesman for the homeless with whom Vera works, it involves acquiring a city base in a backyard cottage and later moving into a house in an affluent area vacated by emigrating whites. Gordimer’s narrative defines people spatially in terms of where and how they live and returns almost compulsively to the habitations of a South Africa in transition. The small mud-brick houses provided by black city workers for their rural families are described as being still ‘as much part of the features of the country as anthills in the veld’ (193). Working-class families live in garages while they construct their houses over a number of years. The narrative emphasises the reconfiguration of living space in the rapidly changing South African society. Houses stand empty and for sale, like ‘suburban museums, exhibiting a way of life that is ended’ (243). Apartments built for white people, ‘for their occupancy, their way of life, for the white millennium’ (103), now have black tenants who subdivide and sublet not only the flats themselves, but also the former servants’ rooms on the roofs and even the occupancy of beds. Living space is contested and seized. The displaced use ancestor worship as a reason to return to tribal land, from which their forebears were removed, and erect their huts there. Squatter camps sprout next to new middle-class developments:


Now on the horizon, a vast unloading of scrap without any recognizable profile of human habitations, now at the roadside, the jagged tin and tattered plastic sheets that are the architecture of the late twentieth century as marble was the material of the Renaissance, glass and steel that of Mies van der Rohe; the squatter camps, the real PostModernism: of the homeless (81).

When Vera sees the fire-blackened Odensville squatter camp after it has been destroyed by the farmer whose land had been occupied, she registers that this, too, has qualified as home: ‘To Vera’s eyes it had never seemed that the squatter camps she had been in could represent what anyone would be able to regard as home. Now in the destruction of the wretched erections of rubbish-dump materials she saw that these were home, this place had been home’ (119). Vera’s own home, the ‘half colonial bungalow and half modernist’ (293) 1940s house that she got out of the divorce from her first husband and into which Bennet had moved, is at the centre of the novel’s many projections of ‘home’. Here Vera has loved and worked and her children have been raised; here she has reorganised their rooms to accommodate first Annick and her visiting lesbian lover, Lou, then Bennet’s stricken father and eventually Ivan’s problem adolescent son, Adam, who is sent from London to his grandparents’ home. As the narrator puts it: ‘In every room the house retained the life lived there.’ In None to Accompany Me Gordimer conducts her reader into Bhabha’s historical ‘moment of transit’ (Bhabha 1994: 1) where complex figures of difference and identity, past and present, and inside and outside are produced and new individual and communal identities need to be elaborated. In Gordimer’s narrative the prospect of personal and national homecoming is, paradoxically, accompanied by a disorienting awareness of unhomeliness. The interpretive gaze that Vera turns on herself and others reveals the contradictions of her existence, as well as theirs. She feels instinctively that Ivan knows what she herself cannot be sure about: that he might not be Bennet’s son, but fathered by her first husband. Ironically, it was Bennet’s skill as a lover that first showed Vera the ‘possibilities of eroticism’ (Gordimer 1994: 61) – and that had led her years later into an affair with a young German, Otto Abarbanel, who turned out not to be, as his Sephardic name suggested, an orphan

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of the Nazis, but one of Hitler’s Aryan babies, bred for the Führer. The paradoxes in Vera’s married life extend also into her children’s lives: Ivan’s marriage founders because of an intellectual mismatch with his wife and Annick’s transgressive pairing with Lou leads eventually to their adopting a black infant. The life of the Legal Foundation clerk, Oupa, is described as an ‘anachronism’ (53): a boy-man who has lost four years of his life as a political prisoner on Robben Island, he is burdened with a wife and children in a remote rural area, while simultaneously pursuing the pleasures of a young man in the city. In the beautiful, sixteen-year-old Mpho Maqoma, Gordimer presents someone who has been ‘created by the cross-pollination of history’ (49) and who symbolises a new hybrid social identity: Boundaries are changed, ideologies merge, sects, religious and philosophical, create new idols out of combinations of belief, scientific discoveries link cause and effect between the disparate, ethnically jumbled territorial names make a nationality out of many-tongued peoples of different religions, a style of beauty comes out of the clash between domination and resistance. Mpho was a resolution . . . She was a mutation achieving happy appropriation of the aesthetics of opposing species (49).

It is as a result of the mismatch between the relative ages of Oupa and Mpho and their actual life experience – because he was in prison he missed out on his teenage years and her European upbringing has made her precocious – that she falls pregnant. The subsequent abortion, arranged by Vera, is used by Gordimer to bridge the dislocating narrative of apartheid and the narrative of relocation in the present. Conflicting discourses are brought into sharp contrast in the overlap between the segregated country of the past and the rainbow nation of the future. The long run-up to the first democratic elections saw negotiations for peaceful transfer of power paradoxically taking place while violence was becoming intensified in the country. Gordimer’s narrative presents, with a mixture of historical specificity and self-conscious allegorisation, both the assassination of Chris Hani in 1993 by reactionary whites attempting to halt history and the King William’s Town golf clubhouse massacre by reactionary blacks wanting to jump the present for an Africanist future. Oupa’s death, however, is – more typically of the new


country – not the consequence of his work for the Legal Foundation, but of an ordinary criminal hijacking during an excursion to visit his family. The novel’s political text shows the uneasy alliances being formed in the changing South Africa. Former black police infiltrators into the African National Congress (ANC) now claim the status of returning freedom fighters. Former homeland despots and other sell-outs to apartheid profess solidarity with the victorious democratic movement. The former apartheid bosses and their hit-squad thugs bargain for favourable conditions and special privileges to ease their exit from power. In the jockeying for position within the democratic movement, personal grudges are settled by heroes of resistance blocking positions on the new executive committee to those who were once their comrades. In the leadership a problematic balance has to be struck between recognising the sacrifices made by an older generation who went into exile to fight for liberation and satisfying the expectations of a younger generation who have struggled for it from within the country. The moral advantage of the ANC is seriously compromised by their acknowledgement that freedom fighters such as Didymus Maqoma had been involved in the past in the running of prison camps elsewhere in Africa, where ‘unspeakable things’ (128) were done to suspected spies. Zeph Rapulana has to accept his own implication in the embezzlement and corruption that are exposed as having been part of economic empowerment inside the country. All the contradictions are contained, finally, in the paradox by means of which Vera defines to Zeph their entry into the new country: ‘It’s some sort of historical process in reverse we’re in. The future becomes undoing the past’ (261). Or, put differently, homecoming is also a process of becoming unhomed, of being forced, however uneasily, to take the measure of dwelling and world and to redefine self and society. Unhomeliness is figured centrally in the narrative by means of the ironically mirrored marriages and careers of Vera and Ben, and Sally and Didy. Despite Didymus’s belief in ‘not occupying the past, not moving into it, but remaking our habitation, our country’ (184), he is sidelined by the movement and his contribution to the future amounts to no more than a commission to write a book about the exile period. Their domestic roles also change as Sibongile, not he, is elected into the executive hierarchy of the ANC and she becomes increasingly involved in

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forging the new nation’s links with other countries in Africa and abroad. She confides to Vera about Didymus: ‘He’s become history rather than a living man’ (132). Ben’s existence remains likewise rooted in the past – in his case solely in the love he has for Vera; he is temperamentally incapable of accompanying his wife into the country of the future and of sharing her belief that whereas the personal life is transitory, ‘it is the political life that is transcendent’ (305). When Ben leaves for London to live with his divorced son, Vera sells the house and moves into Zeph Rapulana’s annex. It is as the tenant of the African with whom she shares a deep friendship that goes beyond any sexual pull that the narrative leaves Vera: ‘They belonged together as a single sex, a reconciliation of all each had experienced, he as a man, she as a woman’ (123). In its androgyny, their relationship paradoxically also reflects something of the transgendering of Annick and Lou who have created a home for themselves in Cape Town as Vera has dismantled hers. The epithet ‘tenant’ defines her occupation of a transitional space of unhomeliness on ‘the home ground of the present’ (321), in which she becomes conscious of herself as ‘a final form of company discovered’. None to Accompany Me marks, too, Gordimer’s acknowledgement of her fictional tenancy: of a site both of pause for the past to be narrativised, so as to gain freedom from its structures, and of overlap, to prepare for arrival in the country that has been both dreamed and created into being. Unhomeliness and homecoming: The Pickup Gordimer’s novels published after 1994 engage still more fully with home, belonging and unhomeliness in a diasporic framework. In The House Gun, for example, the narrative contrasts an immigrant white South African identity to an autochthonous African one. The former is represented by the bisexual main character Duncan Lindgard, who is charged with the murder of his former homosexual lover. Duncan’s father, Harald, a businessman and practising Catholic, and his mother Claudia, a medical doctor and secular humanist, were culturally mismatched, we are told, and their son was born of incompatibilities. By means of a synoptic account of the mixed immigrant strains that have produced Duncan, the narrative also provides a sketch of the colonial diasporic experience:


For those whose ancestors went out from their own [country of birth] to conquer, or quit their own because of persecution and poverty, ancestry begins with the grandfathers who emigrated. There is an Old Country and a New Country; the heredity of the one who is conceived there begins with the New Country, the mongrel cross-patterns that have come about. The Norwegian grandfather was a Protestant but Harald’s father, Peter, mated with a Catholic whose antecedents were Irish, which is how Harald comes to have a Scandinavian first name but was brought up – his mother’s duty to do so, according to her faith – as a Catholic. Claudia’s parents had been to Scotland only once, on a European holiday, but her father, the doctor whose disciple she was, was named for a Scottish grandfather who emigrated on a forgotten date, and so Claudia’s son has received the genetically coded name of Duncan Peter Lindgard (Gordimer 1998: 65).

In contrast to these immigrant ‘mongrel cross-patterns’, a rooted African identity is represented by Hamilton Motsamai, the lawyer who defends Duncan and who, we are told in essentialist terms, ‘can no doubt trace his [ancestry] through a language spoken, through oral legend, song and ceremony lived on the same natal earth’. In The Pickup Gordimer elaborates further on migrant ‘mongrel crosspatterns’ in her examination of contemporary South African identity in the context of global migration, or the ‘new diaspora’. Clingman points out that while her ‘novels have gone beyond a South African setting before, this marks a different kind of transition, into a more overtly transnational domain’ (2009: 232). The novel announces its general theme of migration in the lines from William Plomer’s poem ‘Another Country’ that Gordimer uses as an epigraph, which are quoted twice again as a refrain in the narrative: Let us go to another country . . . The rest is understood Just say the word (Plomer 1936: 23).5

The narrative depiction of unhomeliness is focused mainly on the two protagonists and is structured in terms of the opposite diasporic

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trajectories of immigration into and emigration from South Africa – historical and contemporary, legal as well as illegal. Julie Summers is introduced as someone who has disidentified herself from white, middle-class South African culture and her unhomeliness is presented in literal as well as metaphorical terms as Gordimer activates her customary trope of the home. Julie no longer lives in ‘The Suburbs’ (capitalised in the text), the zone of white affluence in Johannesburg where she grew up, but as a tenant in a backyard cottage that has been adapted from former servants’ quarters, the kind of place that young blacks have moved to from the old township life of their parents. This ‘small, all-purpose room’ (Gordimer 2001: 50) serves as her ‘pad’ (27), an abode of sorts. She no longer has any link to the home of her childhood; she has never lived in the house that her father Nigel had built in ‘The Suburbs’ for his second wife, Danielle, or that of her mother, who has remarried and is living in California, so that Julie is in a sense exiled from both their lives. She has acquired instead, as a substitute family, a group of friends who frequent the downtown L.A. Café. Her ‘elective siblings’ (23) all have in common that they ‘have distanced themselves from the ways of the past, their families, whether these are the black ones still living in the old ghettoes or white ones in The Suburbs’ (23). Essentially a place for the young, the ‘EL-AY Café’ (17) also includes among its habitués ‘old survivors of the quarter’s past, ageing Hippies and Leftist Jews, grandfathers and grandmothers of the 1920s immigration who had not become prosperous bourgeois’ (5), as well as prostitutes from Congo and Senegal and vagrants from the rural areas begging outside. The narrative takes Julie’s unhomed state as a point of departure for its presentation of colonial and postcolonial dislocation, relocation and identity. We are told in passing early on that Julie herself is of English and Irish immigrant extraction and when she attends a Sunday luncheon party given by her father and stepmother in honour of a business colleague and his wife who are immigrating to Australia, the narrative offers a more extensive reflection on the concept of ‘relocation’ in relation to a sense of self. This passage, in which various meanings of the word are teased out, deserves to be quoted at some length for the insight it provides into Gordimer’s post-1994 diasporic politics of home and belonging:


‘Relocate’ they say. The couple are ‘relocating’. If one were to overhear this – do they know what they’re talking about? When in doubt go to the dictionary. ‘Locate: to discover the exact locality of a person or thing; to enter, take possession of.’ To discover the exact location of a ‘thing’ is a simple matter of factual research. To discover the exact location of a person: where to locate the self? To take possession of – a land-claim, a gold mine, etc.? The landclaim, the gold mine . . . may be gained by a take-over or merger. To discover and take over possession of oneself, is that secretly the meaning of ‘relocation’ as it is shaped by the tongue and lips in substitution for ‘immigration’? ‘Relocate’ they’re saying. It’s the current euphemism for pulling up anchor and going somewhere else, either perforce or because of the constrictions of poverty or politics, or by choice of ambition and belief that there’s an even more privileged life, safe from the pitchforks and AK-47s of the rebellious poor and the handguns of the criminals. It’s not a matter of unpacking furniture in new premises. Some of the dictionary definitions of the root word ‘relocate’ give away the inexpressible yearning that cannot be explained by ambition, privilege, or even fear of others. Promised land, an Australia, if you like (47–8).

Gordimer then goes on to spell out the range of colonial immigrant experience that has typically shaped the identities of all of Nigel Summers’s friends at the luncheon party, the list of names providing a catalogue of ancestral origins in England, Germany, Italy, Central and Eastern Europe, Scotland, Wales and France: A farewell is also a celebration of immigration as a human solution. No-one here brings to mind it’s not the first time. Giles Yelverton. Hein Strauss. Mario Marini. Debby and Glen Horwitz. Top (nickname) Ivanovic. Sandy and Alison McLeod. Owen Williams. Danielle (née Le Sueur) and Nigel Ackroyd Summers and his daughter Julie. Generations have buried this category of theirs along with the grandfathers but all these are immigrants by descent (48).

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Here too, as in The House Gun, Gordimer contrasts the immigrant identities of these descendants of European settlers to what she says – again in essentialist terms – is the rooted identity of Hamilton Motsamai, the African senior counsel from The House Gun now turned financier in The Pickup, who is singled out as the one exception among the guests: ‘He was here; he is here; a possession of self . . . his name remains in unchanged identity with where his life began and continues to be lived’ (48).6 The relationship between Julie and the garage mechanic ‘Abdu’, an illegal immigrant from an unnamed North African country, further develops the theme of dislocation and relocation in the novel. Julie’s unhomed state has its counterpart in that of Abdu. In contrast to Julie who, although alienated, is legally South African by birth, and to people such as her mother, who has legal residence in the United States through her second marriage, and her father’s friends, whose wealth facilitates their Australian immigration, Abdu is a member of that international underclass of immigrants who have overstayed their visitors’ permits. In response to Julie’s reference to ‘our country’ (12), he reminds her that it may be hers, but is not his; as he puts it: ‘They don’t want you, say it’s not your country. You have no country’ (12). In Johannesburg, where the first half of the novel is set, Abdu belongs to the larger community of illegal aliens – Congolese, Senegalese, Côte d’Ivoireans, Nigerians, Zimbabweans, Mozambicans – who have surrendered their identities, gone underground and assumed false names, to become victims of xenophobia and live under constant threat of being deported. Abdu is presented as being doubly unhomed, in South Africa, as well as in his country of origin, about which he says to Julie’s friends (in a formulation that echoes Gordimer’s own about her home country under apartheid): ‘ “I can’t say that – ‘my country’ – because somebody else made a line and said that is it. In my father’s time they gave it to the rich who run it for themselves. So whose country I should say, it’s mine” ’ (15). Abdu’s unnamed Islamic home country is represented by Gordimer typically as one of those partitioned by colonial powers on their departure, or seceded from federations cobbled together to fill vacuums of powerlessness against the regrouping of those old colonial powers under acronyms that still brand-name the world for themselves. One of


those countries where you can’t tell religion apart from politics, their forms of persecution from the persecution of poverty, as the reason for getting out and going wherever they’ll let you in (12).

Abdu – or to give him his real name, Ibrahim Ibn Musa – comes from one of those ‘benighted’ (14) places that people from more privileged countries can only think of in composite terms of ‘desert, corrupt government, religious oppression, cross-border conflict’. When he is finally expelled from South Africa and Julie decides to return to his home country with him, Nigel Summers tells his daughter in angry despair that she is going to live in ‘ “one of the worst, poorest and most backward of Third World countries . . . the place is dangerous, a country of gangster political rivals, abominable lack of health standards – and as for women: . . . there women are treated like slaves. It’s the culture, religion” ’ (98). By presenting this country, where the second half of the narrative takes place, as a casualty of colonialism, Gordimer brings her argument about colonial migrations producing ‘mongrel cross-patterns’ full circle. The second half of the narrative mirrors and reverses the first half. In the first half the centrifugal trajectory of the present-day South African exodus to greener pastures in Britain, Australia and the United States is contrasted to the centripetal aspirations of the influx of illegal aliens seeking some kind of haven in South Africa, but in the second half these contrasted trajectories are reversed: in his home country Ibrahim is presented as being alienated from his culture, his thinking centrifugal, whereas Julie’s becomes centripetal.7 Gordimer conveys the provisionality and cultural cross-over of migration through Julie’s perceptions of the airport through which they arrive in Ibrahim’s home country (recalling also the airport metaphor from which the three-part structure of None to Accompany Me is derived): ‘An airport in a country like this is a surging, shifting human mass with all individualism subsumed into two human states, both of suspension, both temporary, both vacuums before reality: Leaving, Arriving. Total self-absorption becomes its opposite, a vast amorphous condition’ (109). The idea of identity as being based on shared cultural codes that can provide an imaginary cohesiveness is associated in the narrative with the right to permanent residence. Permanent residence is what

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Ibrahim could not obtain in South Africa; it is what Julie forfeits when she leaves South Africa with him. Permanent residence is what he is entitled to in his home country and is precisely what he does not want there: ‘Permanent residence, under no matter what government, religious law, secular law, what president in a keffiyeh or got up in military kit with braids and medals – that was not for him’ (179). He desires permanent residence anywhere other than at home. Permanent residence is, however, what Julie begins to experience and appreciate as she is received and eventually integrated into Ibrahim’s family home and into the lives of his parents, brothers, sisters and wife of the brother who is working across the border at the oil fields. Perhaps the most telling symbol of Ibrahim’s family home for the purposes of the argument here is its family room that ‘the whole family lived in, every chair and cushion moulded to their weight, worn places on the carpet designed by the concourse of their feet’ (251). Julie learns from the way Ibrahim slips back into his home language and role – however much resisted – as son of the family and member of the extended clan how, in his community, ‘family was a graph of responsibilities to be traced, a tree not of ancestry but the complexity of present circumstances’ (134). Ibrahim, however, spends most of his time back home in applying officially to immigrate to various countries that ‘he had not yet entered and been deported from’ (137).8 The humiliations of his having been an illegal alien in South Africa are matched in his home country by the humiliations of constant applications and refusals – Canada, New Zealand, Australia – and of having to haunt the visa sections of consulates and the offices of honorary consuls and be exposed to their Islamophobia and fear of HIV and AIDS. And when he does finally obtain the precious entry permit to the United States, there is, in what he can understand only as opportunity, the further humiliation in store that Julie is aware of: securing a room in the basement of some decaying building in the slums of Chicago or New York, ‘where emigrants “of colour” find lodging, a bed-space, along with the black American poor, born down-on-their-luck’ (225) and doing the work ‘that real people, white Americans, won’t do themselves’ (230). With a new ‘consciousness of self’ (117) that she registers ‘with an intrigued detachment’ (117), Julie has entered an entirely different time frame, one measured by the voice of the muezzin five times a day. The


village, with its extreme poverty, its market with squatting, black-garbed women and tethered goats, where the rubbish of the world is dumped to be sold alongside religious texts, Ibrahim’s uncle’s house and motor workshop, the measureless desert from which she sees a Bedouin woman apparently conjured up with her flock of goats and into which she herself walks, testing the limits of her present habitation – all these come to constitute a new home for Julie. The ‘cursed village in the sand, his home’ (173) that claims her husband and from which he so badly wants to get away, provides her with the ties to other people that she had not known in South Africa. She realises that she has never lived in a family before and that the community of the EL-AY Café with their supposedly simple life had been ‘playing at reality; it was a doll’s house, the cottage; a game, the EL-AY Café’ (164). Dislocation and relocation, both enforced and desired, become the separate and joint condition of their lives and it is on this note of rupture that the novel concludes when Ibrahim leaves for America, after Julie has told him that she desires neither to accompany him nor to return to South Africa: ‘ “I’m not going anywhere. I’m not going back there, I’ve told you, told you. I’m in your home” ’ (261). In contrast to Ibrahim’s acceptance of his being unhomed, Julie recognises for the first time in her life a place where she might belong and call home. It is this awareness that she tries to convey to her husband when she says, repeatedly: ‘ “I am not going” ’ (248). Unhomeliness and emigration: No Time Like the Present No Time Like the Present was published in 2012 when Gordimer was 89 years of age. It can be read as a companion piece to both None to Accompany Me and The Pickup in the way it updates and further develops the theme of national homecoming and also engages more comprehensively with issues of unhomeliness and emigration. The novel once again reveals Gordimer’s enduring subject to be ‘the consciousness of [her] own era’ (1988: 97) and herself to be, as she described Turgenev, the ‘concentrated reflection’ (91) of the life that surrounds her. This is announced by the novel’s epigraphic quotation from Tolstoy’s War and Peace: ‘History has to do with manifestations of human freedom in connection with the external world, with time, and with dependence upon causes’ (Gordimer 2012).

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In No Time Like the Present Gordimer shows that unhomeliness can also become a condition of the nation – and of the house of fiction, too. Her schematic characterisation and often-elliptical style have been criticised for the ‘gnarled and knotty prose’ (Tonkin 2012: n.p.), the ‘impacted syntax and unsettling, even opaque diction’ and the ‘murky’ metaphors (Prose 2012: n.p.). It might be more useful, however, to see these alleged ‘outbreaks of an abrupt, careless style’ (Rubin 2012: n.p.) rather as features of what Edward Said calls an artist’s ‘late style’ (2007: 7), that is, to view ‘artistic lateness not as harmony and resolution but as intransigence, difficulty and unresolved contradiction’. Coetzee says in Diary of a Bad Year that, instead of regarding schematically presented action and character and cryptic expression as evidence of waning creative power towards the end of a writer’s career, they might better be viewed in terms of ‘a liberation, a clearing of the mind to take on more important tasks’ (2007a: 193). In the classic case of Tolstoy, for example, this enabled him ‘to face directly the one question that truly engaged his soul: how to live’. Get a Life (2005) was, after all, the title of the novel that preceded No Time Like the Present and the question of how to live underlies the various meanings of the title, the maxim No Time Like the Present: ‘seize the moment’ or, ‘there has never before been a time like this’ or, ‘there is no such thing as present time’. The urgency of the question is further signalled by the novel’s second epigraph, a quotation from the South African poet Keorapetse Kgositsile’s poem, ‘Wounded Dreams’: Though the present remains A dangerous place to live, Cynicism would be a reckless luxury (Gordimer 2012).

The main characters in No Time Like the Present are studiedly overdetermined: Steve Reed and his wife Jabulile – he white, she African – are a cross-racial couple in the new South Africa and also former freedom fighters. They met during the struggle: his training and work as an industrial chemist were useful for manufacturing explosives, whereas she had been educated at a college in Swaziland, where she was recruited into the ANC and later imprisoned without trial. The hybridity of their respective cultural backgrounds forms part of the overall narrative design. Steve’s mother was Jewish, his father an Anglo


‘gentile, secular, nominally observant Christian’ (3); one brother is a practising Jew, the other is gay. Jabu’s Zulu grandfather was a pastor in the Methodist Church, where her father, headmaster at a local high school for black boys, is still an elder; her siblings and extended family are semi-rural people. Jabu, we are told, ‘has multiple identities in living; in her convictions, ethics, beliefs, along with the congenital’ (238). The narrative further applies the Indian economist and philosopher Amartya Sen’s notion of identity to both Jabu and Steve: identity as ‘made up of the activities, genre of work, skills, shared interests, environments you are placed and place yourself in . . . Multiple in one’ (55–6).9 Steve obtains a teaching position in the chemistry department of the local university and becomes involved in issues of academic transformation and the politics of educational funding; Jabu retrains as a lawyer and works for the Justice Centre, a human rights organisation. Their homecoming back in South Africa is presented in different stages. At first they occupy a flat in a block incongruously named Glengrove Place – (‘It isn’t a glen and there isn’t a grove’, 1) in Johannesburg’s flatland where their mixed marriage, although still unlawful, is tolerated. They come to think of Glengrove Place as ‘our place’ (15). Afterwards, following the example of their fellow ANC excombatants, Jake and Isa Anderson and Peter and Blessing Mkize, they rent, then buy, a house in what used to be a white Afrikaner suburb. The house in the Suburb (once again with a capital S) not only signals a final emergence from ‘the underground of struggle and defiance of racial taboos’ (18), it also introduces into the narrative a conception of home in contrast to a shelter: ‘A house. It implies home, not a shelter wherever you can find one. Home is an institution of family’ (20). Having come from an era where, because of the demands and dangers of political activism, it was understood that ‘the nuclear family was not, could not be, the defining human unit’ (99), Steve and Jabu now organise and furnish their home in the Suburb to suit their needs as a family, so that it becomes for them ‘the core of the personal living state’ (123). Later they have a separate room with bathroom built outside for the elderly Zulu female relative, Wethu, who is brought in to assist with the children, Sindiswa and Gary Elias. The newly middle-class Reeds, Andersons and Mkizes (‘The Suburb is the bourgeoisie of the comrades’, 393) now become, together with the Dolphins, the hospitable gay men who have

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turned the former Dutch Reformed church building into a commune, part of a suburban community that symbolises the equalities of race and gender in the new South Africa. Behind the Reeds’ suburban home lies what Hedetoft and Hjort call the ‘foundational, existential, “thick” notion’ (2002: vii) of home, described in Gordimer’s narrative as ‘that definition of home as where you come from, no matter home has become somewhere quite else’ (56) and which is symbolised by Jabu’s father’s red-brick house in a rural area outside a mining town in KwaZulu-Natal. It is this Zulu home with which especially Gary Elias, named for his grandfather, identifies himself and where he learns isiZulu and is assimilated during his periodic visits there with his mother. Although Jabu is linked to her Zulu traditions through her childhood home, Gordimer does not present this cultural background in essentialist terms. When Jabu speaks to her headmaster father, who was determined to have his daughter educated, she uses their native isiZulu ‘without being aware of it’ (84) and he ‘as unconsciously often speaks to her in English’. The narrative says that this ‘synthesis of communication: cultural authority of the natal, and the other one taken of right, freed of the colonialism it signified’ represents an intimacy that they have with no one else. Steve and Jabu are also exposed through their work to other, very different, manifestations of home in South Africa. In the overflowing Methodist Church in Johannesburg where shelter is provided for hundreds of African asylum seekers and where the refugees continue with their ‘ordinary small pursuits’ (194), there is, unexpectedly, ‘an atmosphere of some sort of home in the organised squalor’ (193). Opposite a walled, upmarket townhouse complex with guards at electronic gates, Zimbabweans who have fled from the violence against them in Alexandra township have created ‘some sort of organised shelter’ (196), a shack settlement, ‘makeshift of board, plastic sheets, planks, old rugs, like something organic, a wild creeper grown out of the dust’. When Steve later enters a shack where a Zimbabwean is hiding in fear of his life, he perceives that a ‘shack is a dwelling-place all purpose in one’ (403). At the other end of the spectrum, the president’s state residence is being turned into a palace at a cost of millions at a time when ‘the housing target promised for . . . people living in shacks doesn’t show any sign of being met’ (368).


No Time Like the Present provides a fictional compendium of social problems in South Africa in the period from the mid-1990s to 2009, when a new democratic identity and state were being fashioned out of the divisions and inequalities of the apartheid regime. It is during these years that, in the words of the narrative: ‘Everything in what’s known as the country’s new dispensation erupts, and then drags on, become somehow everyday life’ (260). The educational system is characterised by short-sighted policies, collapsed standards and students demanding funding, while trashing university campuses. The narrative records that the majority of schools have no computers, libraries or even functional lavatories. The official unemployment level stands at 25 per cent and unofficially at 40 per cent. The country, we are told, ‘born of Struggle . . . is the most unequal in the world’ (381). Millions of impoverished South Africans exist as refugees from their own economy, ‘unemployed, unhoused, surviving by ingenuities of begging’ (212), alongside the growth of a millionaire class of so-called ‘black diamonds’ and the spectacular enrichment of a billionaire such as Patrice Motsepe and of former ANC cadres such as Tokyo Sexwale. Massive corruption in the awarding of government tenders and a general looting of the nation’s coffers are endemic. During a discussion with their friends in the Suburb about the infamous multibillion-rand arms deal, Jabu says scathingly that the African philosophy of community and solidarity known as ubuntu has been reinterpreted to mean ‘that because those comrades were in the Struggle they can drive their Mercedes and buy palaces for their wives with bribe millions from foreign crooks’ (111). The narrative catalogue of social ills is unrelenting. Nationwide strikes by municipal cleaners, doctors and nurses, transport workers and teachers bring the country to a standstill. Protest marches for housing and the delivery of basic services regularly turn violent, as in the town of Piet Retief where, the narrative also records, two are killed as a mob round pyres of burning tyres, brandishing ‘traditional weapons’ clubs and pangas not out of date, protest against what’s dubbed ‘service delivery’, a non-existence for them, their needs, water, electricity, refuse removal ignored with promises for fifteen years.

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In frustration they rage indiscriminately destroying what they do have, what’s passed for a clinic, a library (356).

Crime is out of control, while increasing numbers of police officers of all ranks are in the pocket of criminal syndicates. The widespread abuse and rape of women and children, in what is described as ‘the commingling in South Africa of culture of impunity with one of masculine sexual entitlement’ (353), is a matter of national shame. Regular outbreaks of xenophobic violence against foreign Africans, mainly Zimbabweans and Somalis, result in shops being looted and torched and hundreds of deaths. The narrative suggests that in South Africa xenophobia, whatever its source in impoverished people having to compete for scarce resources, has paradoxically come to mean ‘African hating African’ (204). And stirred into this national scenario there is always the ongoing battle against the HIV and AIDS pandemic and drug-resistant tuberculosis.10 The main symbol of the national malaise in Gordimer’s narrative is the figure of Jacob Zuma, dismissed as vice president for corruption in 2005, elected president of the ANC in 2007, president of the country in 2009 and re-elected in 2014. His full name, Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma, is intoned throughout the narrative as a reminder of the moral blight that he represents: he is a Zulu tribalist, polygamist, father of at least twenty acknowledged children, a shameless populist and profoundly corrupt politician, who has had charges of fraud, racketeering, tax evasion and rape brought against him. At Zuma’s rape trial, Jabu is appalled by his female supporters outside the court setting photographs of the complainant alight and shouting, ‘ “Burn the bitch!” ’ (134). The paradox of tribal loyalty becomes apparent to Jabu when she expects her father to share her feeling of shame at the way Zuma has disgraced the Zulu people, but the headmaster instead defends Zuma, accusing the white press and his political rivals of a smear campaign against him. How then to live what Gordimer’s narrative calls ‘a normal life After the Struggle’ (218), as envisaged by those who, like Steve and Jabu, had fought for freedom in South Africa? What kind of future in view of such a present time? Steve and Jabu increasingly find themselves unhomed in the society that they dedicated their lives to achieving, in a country whose liberation struggle has been betrayed by its incompetent and corrupt


ANC government under Zuma, who has declared that ‘the ANC will rule until the Second Coming’ (350).11 The narrative asks rhetorically: ‘Who would have had a prescient nightmare of ending up sickened, unmanned of anything there is for you to take on, a luta continua’ (351). Like Turgenev’s ‘honourable man’, Steve and Jabu end by not knowing where to live, especially after their comrade Jake is shot and badly injured by hijackers who seize his car and robbers force their way into the Reed home and ransack it, assaulting the grandmotherly Wethu. Immigration to Australia seems to be the rational choice for Steve and Jabu and their biracial children, despite their strong ethnic, cultural and political ties to their South African homeland. Emigration will at least enable Sindiswa and Gary Elias, their ‘children in whose very conception there was faith in a present that hasn’t come’ (381), to grow up ‘in a second freedom, in another country’ (345), without the ‘burden of the past’. In these words may be heard an echo of Plomer’s lines, ‘Let us go to another country, / Not yours or mine, / And start again’. The second half of Gordimer’s 420-page narrative describes Steve’s and Jabu’s decision to ‘get out’ (207) or, to use the euphemism, to ‘relocate’ (239) or, as Steve’s Struggle conscience suggests to him, to ‘defect’ (263), to Australia. The process is presented in detail: collecting newspaper advertisements about Australian immigration, attending seminars and gathering information about Australia before the official application and screening. Steve secures an academic post at an Australian university; Jabu will have to acquire additional qualifications before she is allowed to practise law in Australia; they organise schools for the children and arrange accommodation for the family. As Steve and Jabu consider their prospects ‘Over There’ (307) in comparison with a future in South Africa, an extensive diasporic discourse is activated in the narrative. They become aware of being part of a larger exodus from South Africa to Australia – as Jabu formulates the paradox of her postcolonial emigration to herself: it is a ‘reversal of what brought foreigners to take the continent’ (240). Steve comes to realise, when his Jewish nephew goes abroad to study with the intention of not returning to South Africa, that ‘home is transferable. It always has been’ (273) and, furthermore, that his home country has always been under the sign of immigration:

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Long before tribes coming down from the equatorial North, the Dutch following the reconnaissance of the Dutch East India Company, the French and their viniculture, the English colonial governors, the indentured Indians for the whites’ sugar plantations, the Scottish mining engineers, the Jews from Czarist Russian racism and later Nazi Germany’s persecution, the Italians who took a liking to the country during their spell as prisoners of war here, the Greeks whose odyssey launched by poverty brought them – all these and others of distant origins made home, this South Africa (273).

The diasporic lesson from this, he concludes, is: ‘You can make of somebody else’s your home anywhere. It’s human history.’ The narrative provides wide-ranging reflections on various issues related to migration, such as the treatment of indigenous South African and Australian peoples by their respective colonisers. It even quotes Breyten Breytenbach’s open letter to Nelson Mandela in which he says that, if asked by young South Africans whether to stay or leave, his ‘bitter advice would be to go’ (290). The point is also made that the term ‘emigration’ – what Jabu thinks of as ‘rejection of home, country. Place’ (364) – has acquired different meanings in the lives of black people in South Africa: for generations of migrant workers who have left their rural homes to labour in the gold mines of South Africa; for the doubly displaced Zimbabwean immigrants who suffer rejection in South Africa and for the new black bourgeoisie, who, as Gordimer formulates it, ‘indigenous, homeborn, homeskin, emigrated from poverty to the status of money and political power, the indigenous mass left behind, below’ (362). The narrative concludes on an ambiguous note, with the conflict unresolved between, on the one hand, the Reeds’ rational decision to leave for Australia, as free citizens of the world, and, on the other hand, the gut claims of their home country. Matters come to a head at a party at their home in the Suburb where the comrades again rehearse all the problems of the present and Jake denounces the way the culture of ubuntu has been turned into a culture of corruption. With all the arrangements for their departure finalised and on the point of vacating their South African home, Steve suddenly declares, in the final words of the narrative, like his author 50 years earlier: ‘ “I’m not going” ’ (421).


Notes 1. It is this ‘image of “home” as the site of everyday lived experience’ that Avtar Brah describes as follows: ‘It is a discourse of locality, the place where feelings of rootedness ensue from the mundane and the unexpected of daily practice. Home here connotes our networks of family, kin, friends, colleagues and various other “significant others”. It signifies the social and psychic geography of space that is experienced in terms of a neighbourhood or a home town. That is, a community “imagined” in most part through daily encounter. This “home” is a place with which we remain intimate even in moments of intense alienation from it. It is a sense of “feeling at home” ’ (1996: 4). 2. See, in this connection, Rita Barnard’s discussion of The Lying Days and July’s People in the chapter ‘Leaving the House of the White Race’ (2007: 41–69). 3. See also the section ‘Problematizing Home’ in Jopi Nyman’s book, Home, Identity, and Mobility in Contemporary Diasporic Fiction (2009: 24–7). 4. Barnard sees the main focus of None to Accompany Me as being ‘the transformation of sexual and domestic arrangements during the years of the transition, and the emergence of a gradually integrating and increasingly commodified urban scene’ (2007: 92). Ileana Dimitriu regards the transition to the new dispensation in South Africa in Gordimer’s novels after 1990 as forming ‘the social backdrop for the unfolding of private transformation, which is now pushed to the foreground’, which Dimitriu interprets in spiritual terms: ‘Gordimer’s post-apartheid novels are bold fictional representations of intimate, spiritual rites of passage, with her protagonists either transgressing or subverting social and psychological boundaries, and thus entering liminal zones, border-crossings’ (2013: 14). See also Jacobs (2003b, 2006). 5. This epigraphic quotation is actually a composite culled from the opening verse of William Plomer’s poem, ‘Another Country’, from his 1936 volume Visiting the Caves, ‘Let us go to another country, / Not yours or mine, / And start again’ and from the third verse, ‘Hope would be our passport, / The rest is understood. / Just say the word.’ In a later version of the poem, included in his 1960 Collected Poems, Plomer left out the line, ‘Just say the word’. 6. Stephen Clingman suggests, however, that Hamilton Motsamai ‘has “migrated” out of his profession into a sphere of the corporate elite in South Africa’ (2009: 233). 7. J.M. Coetzee suggests: ‘Had James Baldwin not already annexed it, Another Country would be a fitting title for Gordimer’s book, capturing the animating concern of her duo – how to make a new life – better than The Pickup’ (2007b: 246–7). Coetzee, however, identifies Ibrahim’s home country as being somewhere in the Arab Middle East. 8. See Clingman’s discussion of the migrant nomadism encoded in Ibrahim’s full and colloquial names (2009: 235–6). 9. In Chapter 2, ‘Making Sense of Identity’, of Identity and Violence (2006: 18–39), Amartya Sen argues against tying people down to one simple identity and maintains that we should think rather in terms of multiple identities: we choose our identity, differently at different moments, from among our various selves.

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10 . On 21 March 2014, Robert L. Rotberg reported in The Wall Street Journal the findings of a new study for the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences, for which the research and interpretation was conducted by South Africans themselves: ‘South Africa suffers from shockingly underwhelming leadership, worsening governance, rampant official corruption, corrosive levels of crime, weak educational attainments and a deadening loss of hope among young and old. South Africa has lost its moral authority’ (2014: 13). 11 . Jacob Zuma’s legacy at the end of his first term as president in 2014 is summed up by the political analyst Max du Preez as ‘five years of rampant corruption, gross inefficiency, abuse of power and privilege, the massive enrichment of the Zuma clan, thousands of service delivery protests, the breakup of Cosatu, the Marikana massacre and other incidents of police brutality, the public dissidence of many ANC struggle heroes and the growth rather than reduction of inequality and unemployment’ (2014: 7).



Embracing Chaos Njabulo S. Ndebele, The Cry of Winnie Mandela

After 1994 past divisions between various social groups in South Africa were brought into sharp relief and necessitated a discourse of national reconciliation. The process of fashioning a multicultural, multilingual democracy also brought deep divisions within each group to the fore and the conflicted nature of South Africans became increasingly evident. In Njabulo Ndebele’s novel The Cry of Winnie Mandela, one of the narrators, Marara Joyce Baloyi, describes incomprehensible contradictions in the behaviour of her fellow South Africans during this time: South Africans have an intriguing capacity to be disarmingly kind and hospitable at the same time as being capable of the most horrifying brutality and cruelty. So much killing went on after Nelson [Mandela] returned home. Home? We saw strange armies of black men terrorizing townships, hacking children’s heads with machetes. We abandoned patients to their deaths in hospitals because we were on strike; we held hostage people doing their work; trashed university campuses; blocked highways; burned to death old women we accused of being witches; abused our children and raped our women; engaged in brutal taxi wars . . . All this while we celebrated the advent of democracy, human rights, and victories in sport; abolished the death sentence; were working on the best constitution in the world; declared free medical care for pregnant women, and continued to receive and welcome guests into our houses with legendary hospitality and generosity (Ndebele 2003: 70).


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How, then, should one try to understand the paradoxical character of a newly liberated nation, with an exemplary Constitution and a model Bill of Rights, which is apparently so divided and (self-)destructive? Contemporary developments in diaspora theory may provide a useful way of interpreting the conflictual cultural dynamics presented by Ndebele in The Cry of Winnie Mandela, as well as insight into the novel’s depiction of a national South African identity. Ndebele’s text approaches its eponymous subject through a number of narrative frames, each identifying an aspect of dislocation or migration in the context of South Africa. In some ways this resembles the structure of Coetzee’s fictional biographical project in Summertime, but the main difference lies in Ndebele’s dialogic structure having an essentially African origin. A symbolic frame: Saartjie Baartman A first, paratextual frame is provided by Ndebele’s dedication of his novel to the symbolic figure of Sara Baartman, ‘who endured the horrors of European eyes, was desecrated beyond her death, and finally returned home, to rest’. The historical Khoisan woman Saartjie Baartman (as she was originally and more commonly called) ‘is South Africa’s most famous and revered national icon of the colonial era’ (Holmes 2007: xiv).1 She was born in the Gamtoos River Valley in the Eastern Cape in 1789 and taken in 1810 by a British military surgeon, Alexander Dunlop, and his free black servant, Hendrik Cesars, first to England and later to France where she was exhibited as the ‘Hottentot Venus’. With her steatopygy and extended vaginal labia, she entered the popular culture of the time as an object of exotic curiosity and erotic fetishism. When she died in Paris in 1815, her body was dissected, a plaster cast made of it and her brain and genitals preserved in alcohol in bell jars. These, together with her skeleton, were later placed on public display in the Museum of Natural History in Paris, where they remained for more than a century. Her remains were eventually repatriated to South Africa on 6 May 2002 and buried in her native soil on a hill outside Hankey in the Eastern Cape on 9 August 2002. Whether Saartjie Baartman should technically be regarded as an exile or as a working immigrant in Europe is perhaps less important than the fact that for Ndebele she obviously symbolises African diasporic experience. As an emblem of (South)


African dislocation, relocation and belated homecoming, she features as the cover illustration of the first edition of his novel (published by David Philip in 2003), in the form of a photograph of Willie Bester’s modern sculpture of Saartjie Baartman, on display at the University of Cape Town Library.2 A mythical frame: Penelope Contained within the frame of Baartman’s emblematic story, the first part of the narrative of The Cry of Winnie Mandela begins with a second, mythical frame, ‘Penelope’s Descendants’, in which Ndebele explains his intention to invert the usual paradigm and to examine the diasporic subject by focusing not on the figure of the wanderer abroad, but rather on the effect of his wanderings on the wife who remained behind at home. Homer’s Penelope provides Ndebele with a classical example of the woman who was fated, because of Odysseus’s adventures away, to an ‘inescapable condition of living in the zone of absence without duration’ (6).3 Penelope’s legendary fidelity, despite being beset by insistent suitors, dramatises her paradoxical situation in an androcentric world. As Ndebele explains her predicament: had any of her suitors succeeded in winning her over, her fidelity to the new partner to whom she changed her allegiance would be based on her infidelity to Odysseus – for which she would be morally condemned. Her purity could then only be an illusion; her new husband would never entirely trust her faithfulness to him and she would be subject to his various controls. Any woman in such an untenable position, Ndebele says, is no more than transferable sexual merchandise, ‘a thing-person without agency’ (4), a woman in ‘a damning condition of depersonalization’. Ndebele develops, with reference to the figure of Penelope and the unbearable tensions of her existence, a thesis about the black South African woman: ‘Departure, waiting, and return: they define her experience of the past, present and future. They frame her life at the centre of a great South African story not yet told’ (1). His novel tells ‘the stories of four unknown women, and that of South Africa’s most famous woman, who waited’ – Winnie Mandela. The story of Penelope has special resonance in South Africa where migration and forced displacement have so overwhelmingly shaped the history of black people. Ndebele says that the lives of African women in this country have been overdetermined by the impact of their husbands’ migrant lives:

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For over a century, millions of [Penelope’s] South African descendants have unremittingly been put to the test by powerful social forces that caused their men to wander away from home for prolonged periods of time. Their fate is the product of one of the most momentous social transformations in world history. Modernism, in its ever-expanding global manifestations, took its own form in South Africa. It took the form of massive male labour migrations to the mines and factories of South Africa. In the process, an entire subcontinent witnessed massive human movement that still continues to this day (4–5).

A historical frame Within his thesis about Penelope and her South African descendants, Ndebele identifies, in a further, contextual narrative frame, four main historical waves of migration that have collectively made up what may be seen as the diasporic dispersion of African men in and from the southern African region for more than a century. The first of these was when men ‘from all parts of Southern Africa’ (5), forced off their land by colonial laws, ‘left on voyages of discovery’ to ‘Kimberley (the Diamond City) and Johannesburg (the Golden City)’ to seek work on the mines. ‘Although these were voyages of discovery prompted by impersonal forces of world history,’ Ndebele says, they assumed a personal dimension as each of the travellers developed their own story to tell. It was a story of how the internal landscape expanded as they undertook long journeys over valleys, rivers, and mountains. Many returned, richer for the experience of having left. Preferring not to depart again, some settled down to the indulgence of memory. Many never returned home, leaving behind waiting women. Some women followed their men, others simply waited.

These migrant mineworkers, especially from neighbouring countries whose economies were heavily dependent on the earnings of their nationals on the South African mines, were the forerunners of the present-day Basotho, Mozambican and Malawian diasporic communities in South Africa. A second wave, of intranational migration, came with the growth of the professions as the South African economy expanded and an ‘army of teachers, civil servants, priests, and salesmen [were]


deployed from one post to another across the land’. A third wave of international migration took place after 1960, following the banning of major political organisations by the apartheid government, when women once again watched their men disappear as they went abroad to join the liberation movements and become part of the South Africa in exile. And the fourth wave was ‘another form of exile . . . the internal exile of detention without trial and long sentences in jail for political resistance; or for acts of criminality generated or exacerbated by the many conditions of oppression’.4 It was not until 1990, when the liberation movements were unbanned and political prisoners were freed, that these two South Africas in exile could be reunited. The question arises whether Ndebele’s exposition of the successive waves of migration into, from and also within South Africa from the latter half of the nineteenth century onwards can be regarded as southern African instances of a larger African diaspora. It would not be difficult to classify the large-scale migrations of workers from Lesotho, Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe in the twentieth century to the mines of South Africa as belonging to the tradition of labour diasporas. Similarly, the mass exodus of political activists from South Africa during the 1960s and 1970s, those who had little choice other than to flee the country and together form South African liberation organisations abroad with the collective dream of one day returning home to freedom, would meet most of the generally accepted criteria for diasporic dispersion. Furthermore, the generations of black people who have left South Africa to improve their professional qualifications, especially in the United Kingdom and the United States, would fit into notions of ‘new diasporas’. As for the thousands of political detainees, banished people and prisoners of the apartheid government in South Africa, ‘internal exile’ has become the received term for their shared experience. A biographical frame: Penelope’s descendants In its inverted focus on the figure of the woman whose existence has been constrained by her husband’s experiences, and whose life has been spent waiting for his return, Ndebele’s narrative presents, within its historical frame, four fictional biographies. Individually and together, they bear out his thesis about black women as the subjects of dislocation in southern Africa. And importantly, all four protagonists share with

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Homer’s Penelope not only the fact that their lives have been defined by departure, waiting and return, but also that the conflicting pressures they experienced have led to a sense of profound turmoil. Penelope’s first descendant is ’Mannete Mofolo, whose husband Lejone was driven by drought to leave his home in the Lesotho highlands to seek work on the mines around Johannesburg. As he became increasingly urbanised, like so many other African men, he was eventually completely estranged from her and their five children, set up an alternative home in Benoni with a woman from the Northern Transvaal and started another family. ’Mannete’s fruitless journey from Lesotho to Johannesburg to search for him brought her to the point where, Ndebele says, she had paradoxically to accept both his permanent physical absence, as well as his moral presence through the bond of marriage; for her, ‘gone is the peace of mind that is built around the expectation of continuing mutual commitments between husband and wife’ (12). The narrative makes it clear that hers is a typical case: ‘She, her husband, and her children add the weight of their experience to the enormous social tensions that make our society potentially explosive.’ Penelope’s second descendant, Delisiwe Dulcie S’khosana, a teacher and mother of two, devotedly supported her husband, who went to Scotland on a scholarship to study to become a doctor, for fourteen years. When he made his belated return to his home in an East Rand township and found that she had a four-year-old child, he divorced her, married a nurse, settled down to a successful medical career and moved with his new wife into a formerly white suburb. The ‘tense endlessness’ (14) of Delisiwe’s wait for her husband’s constantly postponed return from Scotland had brought her to the point where, after he had been absent for ten years, she felt: ‘If only she could burst! Explode!’ (17) and it all culminated in the rage of her husband’s rejection of her when he eventually did return and found the child that was not his. Unlike the other three, whose stories are told in the third person, Penelope’s next descendant, Mamello (Patience) Molete, tells in the first person how she married her childhood sweetheart shortly after graduating, only to have him disappear unannounced into political exile abroad after five years. Ten years later she read in the newspapers about his arrest while on a military incursion back into South Africa and his subsequent sentence to fifteen years’ imprisonment and years


later she again had to read in the newspapers about his release from Robben Island. When he then divorced her and married a white, former comrade, joining the ranks of the new political elite, the shock and pain of being obliterated from his life caused Mamello to suffer a series of nervous breakdowns. Her despair at being abandoned by her husband for a white woman led her to consult a traditional sangoma and also to confront her own insanity, which, she says, is the intensity of consciousness of one’s own mental and emotional anguish. It goes with an equally intense knowledge of one’s incapacity to do anything about it. It is living in a never-ending cycle of questions without answers. It is living with the knowledge of one’s own confusion and one’s own inability to escape from it (27).

When the philandering travelling salesman husband of Penelope’s fourth descendant, Marara Joyce Baloyi, finally lost his job and became penniless, she did not throw him out, but in the end when he died provided him with a decent burial in an expensive casket. For Marara, her own turmoil came from trying to maintain a semblance of dignity around their marriage, while having to watch her errant husband deteriorate, ‘saturated with corruption’ (30). Diaspora as chaos It is possible to view the multiple migrations described in the stories of Penelope’s four descendants as overlapping diasporas in the history of black South Africa and to understand the protagonists’ sensibilities as representing different aspects of a South African diasporic consciousness. Besides the structure of departure and waiting in these women’s stories, however, the common factor of sustained and unbearable psychological turbulence points to a newer way of interpreting diasporic migrant flows – in terms of chaos theory. In his essay, ‘Nonlinear Dynamics and the Diasporic Imagination’, Minoli Salgado, following cultural critics such as N. Katherine Hayles (1990), Nikos Papastergiadis (2000), Antonio Benítez-Rojo (1992) and Arjun Appadurai (1996), argues that ‘the analysis of diasporic migrant flows has until recently been dominated by a monologic discourse of spatial fixity and temporal and geographic linearity’ (Salgado 2003:

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183); however, migrant movements have become increasingly complex and therefore, he says, ‘demand a corresponding paradigm shift from the linear to the multidirectional’ (183–4). Like Papastergiadis, BenítezRojo and Appadurai, Salgado turns to ‘the structural and ideological paradigms of chaotics’ (184) in order to understand modern migration and formulate an appropriate critical language for the cultural conditions it creates. He examines ‘the imaginative and structural affinities between the emergent sciences of chaos complexity theory and the theoretical and literary paradigms of the diasporic experience’ and argues that ‘the fundamental principle of chaos, that of generative disorder, lies at the unstable core of the diasporic experience and has a variety of divergent repercussion in the texts of postcolonial writers’ (185; emphasis added). The principles of chaotics, he maintains, are ‘systematically embedded’ within the diasporic experience and are ‘internal to the logic of the diasporic imagination’. In The Cry of Winnie Mandela, I would suggest, Ndebele views his subject from a perspective that corresponds to the chaotic model of diaspora; the different life stories contained in the narrative show how – to borrow Salgado’s neat formulation – ‘causality gives way to casualty’ (189). Chaos, Salgado says, ‘is a form of generative disorder that has structural correspondences with the diasporic condition of flow, flux and entropic disintegration, encoded with the power for generative complexity’ (186). Just as entropic disorder creates new kinds of order, jumping to a new level of order and contributing to ever-increasing complexity (he owes his explanation here to Hayles), so diasporas engage in ever-more complex ways with existing cultural formations, interrupting, unsettling and transforming them. Further identifying the principles of chaotics consonant with diaspora, he says that like chaotic systems diasporic trajectories are nonlinear; they are not simply unidirectional from home country to host country, but are in reality multidirectional, consist of endless motion and ‘are difficult to trace to a stable originary point’ (187) or, for that matter, to any static endpoint. Each bifurcation point in a chaotic system opens multidirectional and labyrinthine pathways to multiple possibilities. Like a chaotic system, the diasporic trajectory is irreversible: it is unforeseen and unpredictable, uncontrollable and unstoppable and all pervasive. There is no real going back to a native land: imaginatively revisiting a lost home is stepping


back in time, which is not the same as reversing time. Salgado argues that the disjuncture between past and present resulting from the spatial and temporal dislocation of diaspora leads to what he calls ‘a bifurcated perspective’ (188), which in turn ‘results in irreversible ontological instability for the migrant, for whom home (the perceived point of origin) becomes displaced into a condition of possibility located in the future, creating a site of endlessly deferred desire’. A dialogic frame: Ibandla labafazi To approach the figure of Winnie Mandela, the ultimate South African waiting woman, at the centre of his fictional construct in The Cry of Winnie Mandela, Ndebele further frames her by means of an elaborate dialogic engagement with the four fictional descendants of Penelope in an ibandla labafazi, or African women’s social gathering.5 Ndebele’s choice of the occasion is apposite, since it paradoxically combines a customary supportive meeting of African women with the colonial ritual of taking tea, which has become a feature of black middle-class life. It is Mamello who suggests that they venture beyond their usual conversations and invite Winnie Mandela – Winifred Nomzamo Zanyiwe Mandela, also known as ‘Mother-of-the-Nation’, ‘Mummy’ or ‘Leleidi’ (The Lady) – to join them in their ibandla. Unlike themselves and the wives of other prominent South African political figures – such as Albertina Sisulu, Urbania Mothopeng, Veronica Sobukwe and Ntsiki Biko – who also waited for the return of their men, but in the privacy of their homes and in silence, Winnie’s waiting was spectacularly public: she ‘was history in the making. There was no stability for her, only the inexorable unfolding of events; the constant tempting of experience. The flight of Winnie’s life promised no foreknown destinations’ (40). In the year 2002, when these descendants of Penelope’s gather, Winnie’s waiting, like theirs, is actually over and, like them, she has to deal with its consequences. The four women propose to use their ibandla to ‘stop the train of Winnie’s life’ and ‘ponder the departures, the waitings and the returns’. Declaring her a member of their ibandla labafazi abalindile (gathering of waiting women), each of them enters into an imaginary conversation with Winnie, asking her something they deeply want to know about her thoughts and desires, or speculating with her about some aspect of her life. In their dialogue with the chaotic persona of Winnie Mandela a portrait of Nelson

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Mandela’s waiting wife emerges from the overlap between biographical and historical fact and symbolic, even mythical, meaning.6 The diasporic subject: Winnie Mandela The chaotic model of diaspora reveals how, in his work of fiction, Ndebele provides a way of understanding this famous woman who has defined herself not in terms of any kind of coherence, but in terms of fundamental contradiction. The historical Winnie Mandela, in Part of My Soul, an early autobiography before Nelson Mandela’s release from prison, describes herself paradoxically as ‘the most unmarried married woman’ (Mandela 1985: 85). Through Nelson Mandela she was, from the very beginning, wed involuntarily to the struggle for liberation. She had, she says, long ceased to exist as an individual: ‘My private self doesn’t exist. Whatever they do to me, they do to the people in this country. I am and will always be only a political barometer’ (26).7 In her introduction to Part of My Soul, editor Anne Benjamin says: It was this tension between the contradictions within her which fascinated me immediately: this closeness of laughter and sorrow, the obvious love of beauty, even though she had been through all the prison routine of interrogation and torture and had long given up all claims to a life of personal happiness (Benjamin 1985: 13).

Entropic disorder was the condition of Winnie Mandela’s married life from early on. Her autobiography includes, under the heading, ‘Harrassed, Banned, Detained’, a chronicle of the charges brought against her and the court cases by means of which the apartheid government hounded her for nearly three decades while Mandela was imprisoned, destroying any normal sense of coherence in her life. This chronicle provides an account of an existence that came to be defined in terms of extreme disruption under repeated and sustained onslaught by an illegitimate state. It begins in 1958 when she was arrested in the women’s demonstration in Johannesburg against the issuing of passes to women and imprisoned for two weeks. Four years later, in 1962, she was banned for two years under the Suppression of Communism Act and restricted to Johannesburg. The following year she was arrested for attending a gathering, but found not guilty and acquitted. A more stringent banning


order was imposed on her in 1965 in terms of which she was restricted to Orlando township, causing her to lose her job with the Child Welfare Society. In 1966 additional restrictions followed, prohibiting her from preparing, compiling, publishing, printing or transmitting any document, book, pamphlet, record, poster or photograph. In 1966 she was also accused of violating the regulations for a visit to Robben Island because she had to go by plane instead of by train in order to get there before her permit expired. The following year she was accused of resisting arrest (during a scuffle a policeman broke his neck, but recovered); she was, however, found not guilty and acquitted. In 1967 she was also accused of violating her banning order by failing to give her name and address to the Security Police in Cape Town, for which she was sentenced to twelve months’ imprisonment, suspended for three months, but having had to spend four days in prison. In 1969 she was detained (with 21 others) under the Suppression of Communism Act and accused of having promoted the aims of the banned African National Congress (ANC). She lost her job as a result of this, although the charges were withdrawn in February 1970. She was immediately redetained in solitary confinement under Section 6 of the Terrorism Act with virtually the same charges, but acquitted in September 1970. After only two weeks of being unbanned her banning order was renewed in 1970 for five years and, in addition to her being placed under house arrest each night and during weekends, visitors were forbidden. In this same year she was accused of violating her banning order by receiving visitors (five relatives, including two children, who had called at her house), for which she was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment, suspended for three years, but set aside on appeal. The next year, in 1971, she was once again accused of violating her banning order – this time for having communicated with a banned person in her house. The conviction and sentence of twelve months’ imprisonment, suspended for three years, were again later set aside on appeal. In 1973 she was yet again accused of violating her banning order – for having had lunch with her children in a vehicle in the presence of a banned person. The sentence of twelve months’ imprisonment, suspended for three years, was reduced the following year to six months, which she served in Kroonstad prison. When her third banning order expired in 1975, she was able to enjoy ten months of freedom after thirteen years of banning. On 12 August 1976, however, she was detained under Section 6 of the

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Internal Security Act after the Soweto uprising and imprisoned in the ‘Fort’ in Johannesburg until December. In 1977 her banning order was renewed for five years and on 17 May she was banished to Brandfort in the Orange Free State. From 1977 to 1979 she was arrested countless times – almost daily, sometimes twice daily – in Brandfort because of violations of her banning order. She was tried in court in 1978 on a charge of alleged incitement of the Soweto uprising, but was acquitted and awarded compensation for defamation. Two years later, in 1980, she was accused of assaulting a policeman while in Johannesburg, but was found not guilty and acquitted. The same year she was also accused of violating her banning order by having a friend of the family as a lodger in her house in Brandfort, but the case was postponed. In 1982 her banning order was renewed for another five years and during the next three years she was charged on numerous occasions with having violated it, but few of these charges were brought to court.8 Winnie Mandela’s most recent biographer, Anné Marie Du Preez Bezdrob, also turns to paradox to analyse the enigma of Nelson Mandela’s wife. Bezdrob suggests that in order to cope with the decades of harassment and victimisation by the state, Winnie developed two personalities, the public one becoming ever more brilliant and confident, the private one growing ‘increasingly anxious and lonely’ (2003: 112). The psychological syndrome of complex post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Bezdrob says, may provide some insight into her increasingly erratic behaviour and the paradoxical combination of regality and gangsterism in her personality when she returned to Johannesburg after her long banishment to Brandfort.9 Bezdrob points out that from 1986, Winnie’s world became increasingly contrasted to that of Nelson Mandela: whereas he was ‘the statesman-in-the-making’ (221), she was overtly ‘revolutionary, angry, defiant, and controversial’. The ‘Mother of the Nation’ was afterwards to be convicted of being an accessory to the killing of children: in 1991 she was sentenced to five years in prison on four charges of kidnapping and being an accessory to assault on the child activist Stompie Sepei, who was murdered by members of her own personal vigilante gang, the notorious Mandela United Football Club.10 In 1993 she was convicted by a Pretoria magistrate on a further 43 counts of fraud and 25 counts of theft. The victim of police violation for decades, she was later indicted before the Truth and Reconciliation


Commission (TRC) by the victims of her own violence. In 1990 she was at Nelson Mandela’s side as he emerged into freedom; in 1996 they were divorced on the grounds of irreconcilable differences. In their imaginary engagement with Winnie in Ndebele’s novel, each of Penelope’s South African descendants identifies an aspect of the chaotic trajectory of her life and its significance for South African society as a whole.11 Referring to a scandalously publicised letter from Winnie to one of her lovers after Mandela’s release, Delisiwe tries to understand how she is able to reconcile the intimate secrets deep inside her with the public clamour in her life. From her own experience Delisiwe recognises that a life of waiting is ‘a minefield of ambiguities’ (Ndebele 2003: 45), but Winnie’s life, with its incongruous combination of power and energy, and banality and depravity, has become reduced to ‘pure drama’ (43).12 The disturbing ‘loss of control’ (44) and crude sexual language in Winnie’s letter provide the occasion for considering the climate of violence and rape in the country. Fucking, Delisiwe knows only too well, is random and can be violent; it is ‘sex without the burden of consequence . . . sex breaking out of all social constraint’ (46). Rape, she argues, is ‘the invasion of the primal country . . . is the first form of violence and brutality’ (50). All other forms of violence are derived from it, ‘for rape is an onslaught on the territory of one’s origins’ and constitutes the ultimate betrayal; it is the perpetrator’s ‘ultimate, most horrible expression of despair and misery, arising out of a desire for annihilation’. Rape in South Africa, Ndebele’s narrative suggests, is metonymic of a larger impulse to self-destruction. Mamello analyses the elements of Winnie’s rhetoric and what she calls her ‘grammar of defiance’ (60). She traces the various unforeseen and irreversible trajectories of Winnie’s life ‘with all its twists and turns’ (57), from her rural girlhood in the Eastern Cape to her work as social worker in Johannesburg and from the initial expectations of glamour and political power as Nelson Mandela’s beautiful young wife, via the complexities of countless secret meetings and rallies, ‘charges, courtroom dramas, interrogation and torture, imprisonments, detentions, restrictions, bannings, banishment and the continued absence of [her] husband’ (60), to her eventual mastery of political posture with its ‘formulaic superficiality’ (62) and public image. Mamello suggests to Winnie that, like the sceptical shaman Quesalid of the Kwakuit Indians

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who saw through the trickery of shamanism, yet nevertheless exploited his mastery of it, becoming socially indispensable as a healer, Winnie too was unable to transcend her own contradictions and came to believe in them. Torn between love and admiration for Winnie and ‘profound doubts’ (65) and loathing for the ‘banalities and horrors’ associated with her in the name of freedom, Mamello calls herself Winnie’s ‘friend in insanity’, but asks her friend: ‘Who are you?’ In her address to Winnie, Marara wants to know why she failed to live up to the dream of Nelson Mandela’s return and, from her own compulsion to maintain the illusion of a normal married life, contributes an extensive discourse on the diasporic theme of home and dislocation in its particular South African context.13 Ndebele’s novel bears out the truth of Edward Said’s notion of exile as ‘the unhealable rift forced between a human being and a native place, between the self and its true home’ and his conclusion that ‘its essential sadness can never be surmounted’ (Said 2001: 173). ‘What on earth is a home?’ (Ndebele 2003: 66), Marara asks; in her own case the idea of home seemed ‘like a double deceit’ (67), through which she attempted to deceive society, as well as herself. While a home is premised on a house, she continues, a house is not necessarily a home. To what notion of home did Nelson Mandela return? Marara lists the traditional South African terms of endearment that signify ‘mutual identification and instant community among those who come from the same source when they meet far from home’ (67–8): ‘Home! Home-boy. Home-girl. Home-za. Homs. Homie. Mkhaya’. She then rehearses the South African narrative of upheaval and homelessness that has largely destroyed such bonds: Home and dislocation. That is the experience of millions of victims of forced removals. Sophiatown, Limehill, Dimbaza, Morsgat, Weenen, Stinkwater, Duduza, and many others across the land. Symbols of dislocation. Mass stories of people who built homes and communities and then watched them demolished by apartheid’s bulldozers. In a country where so many homes have been demolished and people moved to strange new places, home temporarily becomes the shared experience of homelessness, the fellow-feeling of loss and the desperate need to regain something (68).


For millions of people in South Africa home has paradoxically become synonymous with exile and building with demolition. ‘Is a country of so much dislocation a home?’ Marara asks. Rootlessness, as the result of internal displacement as with diasporic dislocation, is the condition of black South African life: ‘There must be relatively few South Africans who can still point to a home that they associate with rootedness’ (69). The failure of the Mandela marriage, she suggests, made South Africans vulnerable again at precisely the long-dreamt-of moment of national homecoming, when they could refer, hopefully, to ‘South Africa, my new home!’ (70). Marara elaborates on the contradictions in the South African national character (that this chapter began with) and, in trying to find a reason for this fundamentally conflictual South African identity, asks rhetorically: Has this got anything to do with the dislocating traumas of ‘interrupted experiences’? How has the growth of the imagination or the nurturing of new values been affected by the dramatic oscillation of individuals and communities between comfort and discomfort, between home and homelessness, home and exile, between riches and poverty, love and hate, hope and despair, knowledge and ignorance, progress and regression, fame and ignominy, heroism and roguery, honour and dishonour, marriage and divorce, sophistication and crudeness, life and death, returns and departures? Have dislocation and contradiction become part of the structures of thinking and feeling that may define our character? (70–1).

If South Africa has indeed become a nation of such extremes, Marara continues, is it possible that the traditional notion of home as a specific locus of family and community experiences going back many years has now become obsolete? Is the lesson to be learnt then from the inability of Winnie and Nelson Mandela to find each other that South Africans have henceforth to earn their freedom ‘through the conscious embracing of uncertainty and contradiction’ (71) – and that this is where the ‘vitality of our newness and creativity’ lies? Can there, however, be any society ‘without private lives – without homes wherein individuals can flourish through histories of intimacy’? Marara says that the rebuilding of homes and communities is now the most compelling factor in enabling South

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Africa to sustain its nationhood and to prevent its democracy ‘from being a system in which extremes of behaviour, that may constantly seem to break away from the restraints of transcendent goals, wreak havoc on our capacity to sustain our freedom’ (72). Marara’s discourse turns into a threnody for the idea of home in South Africa, which has been debased by apartheid into hostels, railway stations and bus depots for migrant workers, backyard quarters for domestic servants, hovels on white farms for workers, places of banishment such as Brandfort, prisons such as Modder B and Robben Island, places of forced removal such as Limehill and Dimbaza, the township homes of Duduza, Khayelitsha, Kwanobuhle and Kagiso, the black South African ‘homelands’ of Transkei, KwaNdebele, KwaZulu, Lebowa, Ciskei, Venda, QwaQwa, Gazankulu, KaNgwane and Bophuthatswana and homes of exile in Maseru, Gaborone, Mbabane, Lusaka, Dar es Salaam, Addis Ababa, Accra, Lagos, Algiers, Tripoli, Cairo, Havana, London, New York, Geneva, Moscow and Beijing – the catalogue concluding with cryptic reiterations of home as a diasporic signifier: Home. Dislocation. Home. Dispersal. Home. Wandering. Home. Homelessness. Home. Longing. Home. Desire to home in (73). The threnody begins and ends with ‘8115 Ngakane Street, Orlando West’, the Mandela home in Soweto, which was raided by policemen, which Winnie was confined to and then taken away from, which she herself had desecrated, which Nelson Mandela had dreamt of returning to from prison as ‘the centre point of [his] world, the place marked with an X in [his] mental geography’ (76) and which was finally burnt down by the local community. Despite the fact that 8115 Ngakane Street, Orlando West, has become a symbol of ‘the ultimate death of home’ (74), Marara nevertheless expresses the undying hope of all displaced South Africans:


I dream that my children may build homes of the kind that eluded me; homes that can never be demolished by the state in order to make memories impossible; homes that can sustain public life because they infuse into it the values of honour, integrity, compassion, intelligence, imagination, and creativity. This is the discovery of personal and social meaning through the pains and joys of belonging, participating, trusting, and just feeling at home, even without my husband (72).14

The symbol of the home is continued in the wisdom that Winnie’s last interlocutor, ’Mannete, shares with her: should her husband ever walk back into her life, she says, he would have to walk into her house first, the new home and life that she has built with her children. His journey back into her life has to pass through her house; she will never again enter his history at the expense of her own – and ‘his entrance into the house is only into the house’ (82), not back into herself. All the many places away that have become home to wandering husbands, the dots on the map of the world, are also legacies of the experience of their waiting wives, the multiple homes of the women who have since established their own location on that map as well. ’Mannete cannot understand how Winnie could have given away the opportunity to show Nelson Mandela her world, to affirm it and leave it ‘for him to decide to live with it or not’ (84). Instead of his walking back into her story, she walked back into his. Embracing chaos: Winnie The fictional Winnie Mandela explains to her four interlocutors that their questions have heightened her sense of chaotic disturbance, which she likens to watching a movie in which she is the main actor: Not only do I see myself in the past and the present all at once, but I am in the past and the present all at once, not knowing what the future will be, yet seeing it take shape in front of me as I watch, and inside of me as I live the drama of its becoming, while watching it becoming. All at once. It’s the feeling of being time itself, and being in time. All at once (86–7).

From this acute awareness of her ‘ontological instability’ (to borrow Salgado’s phrase for the diasporic subject), she explains to them the

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informing principle of her life. The systematic disruption of the order of her life by the security police over the years and of the order of her mind by her torturer during her detention led to what she calls her ‘law of resistance’ (89): to ‘embrace disruption, and then rage against order instead of longing for it’. She lived out this law of generative disorder and perfected it: Winnie Mandela, she says, ‘became the embodiment of disruption’ (90). Her brutalisation first began when she started to become used to the interruptions and internalised them. Narrative self-displacement is the way she decides to play the difficult game of self-exposure.15 Addressing herself in the third person, she describes Winnie as a character who is ‘mobile in every direction’ (92), retraces some of the many routes her life has taken and pursues the implications of her state of disorder, asking: ‘If one’s very life becomes a weapon of resistance, something designed to negate repressive intent, raging against an imposed order, is there a point at which self-negation becomes a permanent feature of identity?’ (94). Although Nelson Mandela’s imprisonment might have afforded her some space to assert herself as a person, she says, she experienced ‘a mixture of anger, anxiety, and the stirrings of vengeance’ (97), the anger assuming the shape of posture. The legacy of her own abuses, she acknowledges, came to include the abduction and rape of young girls by gangs of boys known as ‘jackrollers’, who sprang up in the shadows of the Mandela United Football Club and later graduated into carjacking and cash-in-transit robberies and the flashy affluence of former activists on stolen money. Self-distancing enables her to re-engage with her interrogation and torture by Major Theunis ‘Rooi Rus’ Swanepoel, together with Major Petrus Ferreira, during the sixteen months she spent in detention from 12 May 1969 to 14 September 1970. Swanepoel and Ferreira interrogated her for five days and nights from 26 May 1969, working in shifts around the clock and making use of a variety of techniques. Her physical and mental health began to break down: she suffered from palpitations, began to pass blood in her urine and had blackouts; exhaustion caused her to become disoriented and sleep deprivation led to hallucinations, until finally she capitulated and ‘confessed to everything they asked’ (Gilbey 1994: 79; see also Madikizela-Mandela 2013: 36–9). Solitary confinement eventually took its toll as well, as Winnie says in her prison memoir: ‘They destroyed your being; you were made to feel a nobody’


(Madikizela-Mandela 2013: 62). By the second week in April 1970 she could take it no longer and contemplated suicide. Bursting through her own third-person alter ego, the fictional Winnie says that she ‘never really recovered from what happened in that building’ (Ndebele 2003: 98); it changed her forever. She recognises that Swanepoel’s cruelty and violence stemmed from a contradiction in him ‘between his capacity to inflict pain and his fear of it, the capacity to kill against his fear of death, the capacity to punish those exposed to his power, against his own vulnerability to those with more power than he’ (100) and that he overcame this contradiction through sheer brutality – which in turn produced her and launched her into her anger. (Emma Gilbey identifies as another possible factor contributing to Winnie’s anger the fact that in the end ‘she had been broken in detention’ and had told the police what they wanted to know, despite having tried to hold out under interrogation: ‘Though she may, as she claimed, have been careful to place the blame on no-one but herself, by co-operating with the police at all she had sold out. By her own standards she was a traitor’, 1994: 91.) Recalling her banishment to Brandfort, Winnie elaborates on her ‘memories of rage’ that ‘carry her backwards on journeys of disintegration’ (Ndebele 2003: 102) to a time when she ‘raged against everything in sight’ and eventually against herself. She describes herself as radiating ‘unnerving strangeness, power and energy’ (103) and becoming the ‘quintessence of unstoppability’, but at the same time losing control of the direction of her life. Paradoxically, she says, she descended into depravity and banality while she was becoming a symbol of liberation: ‘I, the child of Major Theunis Swanepoel, born in his torture chambers, nurtured in Brandfort, and matured in Soweto, took on the world alone’ (104). Having narrated herself ‘through two degrees of distance’ (107), first ‘from the outside’ and then ‘from the inside’, as ‘two stages of a journey towards [her]self’, Ndebele’s fictional and fragmented Winnie reasserts herself in the ibandla in an account of her overnight journey in 1990 to Victor Verster Prison and back into the life of Nelson Mandela, a man whose ‘imprisonment had prepared him for a life of transcendence’ (109), whereas her own unruly life ‘was too grounded in the muck of folly’. There could be no reconciliation between these two people who ‘no longer lived in the same space of feeling, imagination, and desire’

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(109–10), however intense the love between them might once have been or whatever kind of love might have survived. The diasporic trajectories of their lives were irreversible; there could be no real returning to a lost home. Winnie’s response to the four waiting women concludes with her version of her appearance before the TRC in 1997, an event that held the nation spellbound when it was broadcast live on SABC 3 over three days.16 The spectacle of her performance is – accurately – described as a charade by Dirk Klopper in his analysis of the rhetoric of the lie in her testimony: ‘The Madikizela-Mandela hearing, with its lurid cast of what she herself calls “lunatic” characters . . . offers for contemplation a grotesque parody of the aims and methods of the liberation movement’ (2004: 205). Madikizela-Mandela, he says, ‘engaged doggedly in an elaborate hoax of deferral, evasion, displacement, and denial, finally apologising reluctantly and vaguely for whatever it was that had “gone wrong” ’ (196). Her so-called ‘apology’, with its ‘fragmentary qualifications’ (208), was ‘incoherent, perpetuating rather than retracting the denial that characterised her testimony from the start’.17 In the novel, however, Winnie regards her performance as having been magnificent: ‘I, the child of Major Theunis Swanepoel, Queen of Brandfort, and terror of Soweto, who mastered to perfection the art of technical denial, was intelligent, articulate, calm and easy, combative, reflective, arrogant, and beautiful’ (Ndebele 2003: 111). Her equivocation was a function of her conflicted nature, which she owned and asserted, even flaunted. Emphasising – perhaps relishing – the contradiction, she was, she says, prepared neither to accept responsibility ‘for events that arose out of multiple causalities’, nor to ‘deny that responsibility’. The hearing, she says, was both her hell and her heaven and, continuing in paradox mode, she declares: ‘I am not a politician. I am what politics made me. What politics made me, is not me. But what politics made me has become a part of me, a part of what I am’ (112–13). Klopper identifies the conventional narrative of the self that informed TRC testimonies as comprising ‘a temporal succession of events in which past, present, and future constitute a linear progression leading from disunity and conflict to unity and harmony . . . from fragmentation to wholeness, from what one might, in the context of the TRC, call disclosure to closure’ (2004: 209). By virtue of this linear teleology, he


says, ‘the TRC narrative seeks to bring about a transcendence of the fragmented body of the South African body politic and, as a logical consequence, the attainment of a unified humanity, conceived of as both the individual made whole and the nation reconciled in unity’. This chapter has shown how, in contrast, the diasporic narrative of Ndebele’s Winnie is non-linear, does not envision any transcendence of its chaotic state, remains unpredictable. Accepting Mamello’s point about the shaman Quesalid, Winnie tells the women of the ibandla: ‘The point about people like Quesalid and myself is that they are intimately in touch with their own folly, but choose to live with it. In time they find they are unable to live without it’ (Ndebele 2003: 112). It was therefore unthinkable for her to confess to her wrongdoings before the TRC and ask her victims for forgiveness, as the notion of reconciliation would have been a negation of her very being. The fictional monologue in which Ndebele’s Winnie claims to be the personification of the country with all its paradoxes, described at the beginning of this chapter, deserves to be quoted in full, for its explanation of a problematic national homecoming: There is one thing I will not do. It is my only defence of the future. I will not be an instrument for validating the politics of reconciliation. For me, reconciliation demands my annihilation. No. You, all of you, have to reconcile not with me, but with the meaning of me. For my meaning is the endless human search for the right thing to do. I am your pleasure and your pain, your beauty and your ugliness. Your solution and your mistake. Your hell and your heaven. I am your squatter shack and your million rand mansion. I am all of you who maim and rape. I am all of you who give love and succour. I am your pride and your shame. Your honour and humiliation. The journey to your future goes through the dot of loving me, despite myself, on the world map that lays out journeys towards all kinds of human fulfilment. Maybe you and I are the future of a new world on that journey. You and I, located in that delicate point of convergence between dream and desolation, are fellow travellers in history, no longer its orphans. All that has gone before and all that is yet to come are the burdens and joys of our responsibility. Give me the trust to accept it. You and I, in that country known by a cardinal point. A country known as a direction, but hopefully, as well, a destination. As the world carries us, so do we carry it too. We are here now, to stay. At home (113).18

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Ndebele has said that a major spin-off of the various stories told before the TRC is the restoration of narrative: ‘In few countries in the contemporary world do we have a living example of people reinventing themselves through narrative. Only now has South Africa succeeded in becoming metaphor, in becoming a true subject of philosophy’ (1998: 27). His story of Winnie Mandela leaves his readers with the metaphor of diasporic chaos for contemplation. For a truly new and ethical South African homecoming, his novel suggests, South Africans would have to identify themselves with the chaotic trajectories of their diasporic histories, to acknowledge division and to embrace difference. This would require reconciliation, not of these differences and divisions, but with the fact of a national identity defined in terms of them. Notes 1. See also Meg Samuelson’s discussion of the prominent place that Saartjie Baartman occupied in the national imaginary during the transition in ‘Sarah Bartmann: Recast and Re-covered’, in her book, Remembering the Nation, Dismembering Women? (2007: 85–118). 2. Samuelson says, from her feminist perspective: ‘This unexpected paratext for a novel ostensibly about women waiting for travelling men points to a tension between the book’s purported and subliminal aims, between freeing women from the home and returning women to the home in order to reconstitute it’ (2007: 212). My approach to the novel from the perspective of diaspora does not see a tension in Ndebele’s aims – for an earlier draft of this chapter, see Jacobs (2014). 3. Antjie Krog raises the question of ‘why Ndebele had not looked far and wide to find an African female ancestor for Winnie, instead of framing her in terms of the classic foundation of Western civilization’s notion of perfect womanhood? After all, Winnie has always been, and is still being, judged from a Western perspective’ (2009: 56). It might be argued, however, that Ndebele regards the figure of Penelope as archetypal and not as a culturally specific icon. 4. See Samuelson’s discussion of the state of ‘political widowhood’ in Ndebele’s The Cry of Winnie Mandela and Mamphela Ramphele’s autobiography, A Life (2007: 195–230). 5. I can only agree with Krog’s argument that in Ndebele’s narrative ‘this emphasis on the communal location of the individual suggests that Winnie’s story has no meaning on its own. No matter how powerful and fascinating she is as an individual, one can gather nothing from it on its own. Ndebele chose this specific form in order to suggest that to focus obsessively on Winnie as an individual is to miss the point completely . . . the story about Winnie is the story about every one of us and is at heart an ethical story’ (2009: 57).


6. Krog records her experience of reading the novel: ‘For nearly a third of the book, four women told their own stories. They did not pass a main storyline on from one to the other; in fact there was no linearity at all. There was no proper beginning to the novel, nor to the individual stories of these women; there was also no end, because the end of the book, like the conversation with Winnie, was imaginary. Four women were being presented as “real” and “realistic”, but then they moved into the “unreal” company of Winnie and Penelope’ (2009: 56). 7. In his essay, ‘The Historical and Literary Moment of Njabulo S. Ndebele’, Ntongela Masilela identifies a fundamental theme in all of Ndebele’s writings since his first collection of essays, Rediscovery of the Ordinary (1991): ‘The distortion of the complex social and historical relations between people or objects (that is, generic forms) occurs when politics intrudes disproportionately into culture, thereby subverting the proper relation between appearance and reality (essence)’ (2009: 26–7). 8. This synopsis reproduces, with minor modifications, the chronicle in Part of My Soul (Mandela 1985: 106–8). The chronicle is also included, in revised form under the heading, ‘Twenty Years in the Life of Winnie Mandela’, in her prison memoir, 491 Days (Madikizela-Mandela 2013: 241–3), together with a chronicle of her sixteen-month detention, under the heading ‘Sixteen Months in the Life of Winnie Mandela: 12 May 1969 to 14 September 1970’ (244–9). 9. In her biography of Winnie Mandela, The Lady, Emma Gilbey describes the effects of her banishment to Brandfort on Winnie: ‘If friends who visited her were amazed by her resilience and calm in the face of her exile, those who lived around her witnessed an ongoing active defiance, a refusal to surrender, to relinquish control of her life. They watched as her attempts became more and more imperious, hysterical and ultimately frightening’ (1994: 127). As her acts of violence increased, Gilbey says, ‘so did her paranoia’ (136). And when she was back in Soweto again, we are told: ‘There was something about her, some uncontrollable quality . . . ’ (154). 10 . As Gilbey describes this terrifying gang of boys and young men: Mandela United ‘were an active vigilante gang, summarily dispensing what they called justice – acting as arbitrators, mediating in domestic disputes and recovering stolen property. They expressed their opinions with the aid of fists and whips, and they arbitrated with AK-47s’ (1994: 157). 11 . Joe Napolitano makes the pertinent point that ‘for the ordinary South African woman, Mandela came to embody one particular aspect of the diasporic experience: the power and possibility of movement’ (2008: 348) and that therefore: ‘There emerges, in the conversations of the ibandla labafazi abanlindile a language of inner, or psychic, travel, as each of the “unknown” women navigates her experiences of Winnie and negotiates these experiences with her. More than idle chatter, these conversations become journeys in and of themselves, precursors – perhaps even necessary preconditions – to the literal, physical travel made possible by the transition to democracy. Each woman finds her own path into Winnie’s story, and ultimately a response from Winnie herself points the women on the “road”

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to “recovery” ’ (349). I would not agree, however, with the conclusion that their imaginary exchanges with Winnie lead to healing or wholeness. 12 . Gilbey explains Winnie’s involvement with various lovers as resulting from her isolation and vulnerability after Mandela’s imprisonment: ‘But instead of turning to the ANC for comfort and support, she turned to other men. Winnie never said that any of these liaisons were romantic. Sometimes she denied a specific allegation outright, usually she ignored the rumour. Men who were close to her often doubled as drivers, secretaries or factotums. It stood to reason that they should accompany her on trips or spend time with her at home when they worked for her. But some of these men had wives who resented Winnie for taking their husbands away from them’ (1994: 69). 13. In Marara’s section of the narrative Ndebele draws extensively from his earlier article, ‘A Home for Intimacy’, in the Mail & Guardian, about the general black experience of homelessness and the need for the restoration of home (Ndebele 1996). 14. This dream is expressed by Nelson Mandela himself in a letter from prison to his daughters Zenani and Zindzi Mandela, which is included by Winnie Mandela in her memoir 491 Days: ‘The dream of every family is to live together happily in a quiet peaceful home where parents will have the opportunity of bringing up the children in the best possible way, of guiding and helping them in choosing careers and of giving them the love and care which will develop in them a feeling of serenity and self-confidence. Today our family has been scattered; Mummy and Daddy are in jail and you live like orphans’ (Madikizela-Mandela 2013: 14–15). 15. Samuelson sees Winnie’s narrative self-displacement as Ndebele’s solution to the conflict between his ‘critical agenda and private longing, with its nostalgic desire for homes’: he ‘doubles Winnie, so that she might observe herself from a reflective critical distance. The wifely self is sent on a journey in which she revisits a homely self that was abandoned when Mandela’s imprisonment ushered her into the public sphere’ (2007: 216). 16 . Masilela identifies in Ndebele’s collection of writings, Fine Lines from the Box (2007), the importance of reconciliation in order to forge a democratic future: ‘To Ndebele the matter of reconciliation seems to have signalled the end of the era of the interregnum and the beginning of the era of reconstruction’ (2009: 33). In his essay, ‘Memory, Metaphor, and the Triumph of Narrative’, Ndebele says that ‘the stories of the TRC represent a ritualistic lifting of the veil and the validation of what was actually seen. They are an additional confirmation of the movement of our society from repression to expression’ (1998: 20). 17. See, in this connection, Dirk Klopper’s critical response to Krog’s assumption in Country of My Skull ‘that Madikizela-Mandela does assume personal responsibility in her apology’ (2004: 208). 18 . Krog relates Winnie’s identification of herself with all South Africans to Ndebele’s communal African mode of storytelling: ‘By not making Winnie the main character in the conventional way – the way in which Odysseus’s story is told – and in using a


third of the book to establish a community of ordinary women from which Winnie comes, Ndebele makes two points: first, he says very firmly that she is us, she is who she is through us, we made her and she us. (The “we” includes not only us women, but also Nelson Mandela and Major Swanepoel.) We made her. Secondly, Ndebele indicates that the classic narrative of the hero or main character is not the appropriate form in which to tell the ethical story of his community’ (2009: 58).

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Abarbanel, Otto (character in None to Accompany Me) 270–1 Abednego (character in Cion) 194, 197 Absinthe (painting by Edgar Degas) 138 Abyssinian Queen (character in Cion) 194, 197, 198–9, 201 Adam (character in None to Accompany Me) 270 Adam Kok I and descendants 85, 86 Adelaide (character in Skyline) 139, 148 Adhikari, Mohamed 76, 78, 82–3 The Adoration of the Magi (painting by Joos van Cleve) 154–5 Africa 160–1, 164–5, 192, 193 African National Congress 19, 28, 118–19, 161, 237, 238, 272, 286 Afrika, Jan see Breytenbach, Breyten Afrikaans language 43–4, 51, 53, 58, 210–12, 232–3 Afrikaner Bond 58 Afrikaner identity see South African identities, Afrikaner Agaat (Marlene van Niekerk) 238 Age of Iron (J.M. Coetzee) 187 Ahmed (character in The Lotus People) 109 Alfredville (Karoo) 249–50, 251, 252, 253, 254, 258 n.12 340

Alice the Spice Girl (character in Skyline) 139 Aliwal North 180 Amien (character in Another Country) 43 ANC see African National Congress Anderson, Emma (character in Isobelle’s Journey) 52, 55, 59 Anderson, Isa (character in No Time Like the Present) 282 Anderson, Jake (character in No Time Like the Present) 282, 286, 287 Angamma (character in Revenge of Kali) 120 Anglo-Boer War 52–3, 55, 57, 58–9 ‘Another Country’ (William Plomer) 274, 286, 288 n.5 Another Country (’n Ander Land, Karel Schoeman) 12–13, 20, 28–9, 30, 31–48, 51, 52, 56 April, Gert (character in Dog Heart) 167 Asiatic Land Tenure and Indian Representation (Ghetto) Act (1946) 116 Astarte Syriaca (painting by Dante Gabriel Rossetti) 139 Auerbach, Saul (character in Double Negative) 243, 244–6, 248

Index  341

Auntie Latifa (character in Isobelle’s Journey) 67 Australian national identity 16, 207, 224 autobiography 179–80, 181, 208–10 Baartman, Saartjie (Sara) 291–2 Baloyi, Marara Joyce (character in The Cry of Winnie Mandela) 290, 296, 303–6 banning of persons 28, 55, 117, 220, 300, 301 Barolong 7, 9, 10, 11, 12 Barry (character in Isobelle’s Journey) 69, 70, 71 Basotho 9, 10, 11, 33, 181, 185, see also Lesotho Bernard (character in Skyline) 136–7, 138–9, 141–2, 143–5, 146–7, 148–9 Bhabha, Homi K. 2–3, 4, 26, 265–6, 270 Biko, Ntsiki 298 Birdman (character in Cion) 195, 197 Black Sash 66 black South African identity see South African identities, black Blinkoog, Outa (character in Playing in the Light and Dog Heart) 95, 97 n.11, 167, 177 n.7 Bloemfontein 30, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 38, 41, 44, 45, 47 Dutch community 38–9, 42 German community 39, 42 Boris (character in Lost Ground) 250 Boyhood (J.M. Coetzee) 205, 206, 208, 209, 210–12, 214, 215, 235 n.3, 235–6 n.5 Breytenbach, Breyten 15, 16, 153–4, 162, 163, 164–5, 167–8, 169, 174, 287, see also A Veil of Footsteps

Brill, Johannes (character in Another Country) 34, 37–8, 39, 43 bunya 106, 111, 112–13, 115, 117 Burger, Lionel (character in Burger’s Daughter) 263 Burger, Rosa (character in Burger’s Daughter) 263 Burger’s Daughter (Nadine Gordimer) 263 Bushmen 155, 185 Camagu (character in The Heart of Redness) 186, 238 Campbell, Helen (Karelse/Charles, character in Playing in the Light) 91, 92–3, 94, 95, 96 n.9 Campbell, John (character in Playing in the Light) 91, 92, 93, 94–5, 96 n.9 Campbell, Marion (character in Playing in the Light) 90–5, 96 n.10 Cape Town 15, 29, 64, 65, 69, 74, 75, 90, 114, 129, 130, 133, 137, 140, 153, 154, 157, 173 Carol (character in Summertime) 226, 230 Carstens, Cassie (character in Lost Ground) 252, 253 Casbah (Durban) see Grey Street area (Durban) Catalonia 153, 154, 173 Cedric (character in Lost Ground) 253 Chizano, Cameron and Liberty (characters in Skyline) 137, 143, 146 Chris (character in Skyline) 148 Cilliers, Sarel 10 Cion (Zakes Mda) 16, 20, 179, 187–203 Claerhout, Frans 142, 186 Clingman, Stephen 4–5, 26


Coetzee, J.M. (John Maxwell) 17, 30–1, 32, 39–40, 46, 166, 205–6, 212–13, 225, 235 n.3 as fictional subject 218, 225, 226, 234, 235–6 n.5 marriage 218 move to Australia 221 return to South Africa 221, 226 and student protest 220–1 in the United States 219–21 at University of Cape Town 221, 226 writing technique 236 n.9, 236 n.10 see also Boyhood; Slow Man; Summertime; Youth Coetzee, John (character in Boyhood, Summertime and Youth) 16, 17, 20, 206–7, 208, 210–12, 213–19, 225–7, 228–30, 231–2, 233, 234–5, 236 n.6 collective memory 54, 59, 72 n.4, 197 coloured South African identity see South African identities, coloured The Conservationist (Nadine Gordimer) 263 The Conversation (painting by Henri Matisse) 139 Costello, Elizabeth (character in Slow Man) 16, 207, 222, 223, 224 Court Street Halloween parade (Athens, Ohio) 188–9, 190, 191 Couzens, Tim 8 Crowl, Sam 187 The Cry of Winnie Mandela (Njabulo S. Ndebele) 19, 290, 291, 292, 294–6, 297, 298–9, 302–7, 308–9, 310, 311, 311 n.2, 312 n.6, 313–14 n.18 cultural identity 2, 4–6, 79–80, 95, 134–5, 261–2, 278–9, 282

Caribbean 50–1 Jewish 6 post-colonial 2–3 of refugees and migrants 67–8, 140, 159, 176 n.1 South African see South African identities

dakus 106, 113–15, 116, 117, 119 Danielle (character in The Pickup) 275 Dante 42, 45–6 David’s Story (Zoë Wicomb) 13, 14, 73, 83–9, 94, 96 n.6, 249 Daya, Madhoo (character in The Lotus People) 111 De Kock, Leon 3, 26 De Oliveira, Sofia Isabel (character in Skyline) 143–4 De Villiers (character in Mhudi) 10, 11 De Wet, Milla (character in Agaat) 238 The Dead Will Arise (J.B. Peires) 204 n.7 death 46, 62, 152, 174, 187–8, 189, 200 Democratic Republic of Congo 161 Denoël, Sophie (character in Summertime) 225, 228–9, 230, 232, 233, 234–5 detention without trial 69, 70, 117–18, 294, 300–1, 307–8 Diary of a Bad Year (J.M. Coetzee) 260, 281 diaspora 1, 2, 5–6, 12, 21–6, 37, 38, 50, 84, 134–5, 158–9, 203, 208, 287, 296–7 African 7, 8, 15, 16, 20, 23, 131–4, 135, 141, 147, 150 n.3, 150–1 n.4, 155, 182–3, 187, 194, 197, 198, 203 n.1, 204 n.6, 204 n.8, 293–4, 296 and art 151 n.7, 151 n.9

Index  343

and chaos theory 297–8, 299, 311 colonial 28, 36–8, 44–5 Indian 14, 98, 99, 101, 106, 107, 110, 119, 125, 126 n.1, 126 n.3, 127 n.11 intra-African 20, 134 Jewish 6, 9, 22, 23, 140, 157 South African 7–12, 17, 18, 19, 20, 25–7, 84, 128 n.14, 157–8 Dikosha (character in She Plays with the Darkness) 185, 186 Dirkse, David (character in David’s Story) 83, 84, 85, 86–9, 93, 96 n.7 Dirkse, Dawid (character in David’s Story) 83 Dirkse, Sally (character in David’s Story) 83–4 displacement see exile; home and homelessness Ditton, Mrs (character in Double Negative) 246 Dog (character in Dog Heart and Woordwerk) 167, 168 Dog Heart (Breyten Breytenbach) 97 n.11, 165, 167, 176 n.1 Doggod (character in A Veil of Footsteps) 171–2 ´ 17, Double Negative (Ivan Vladislavic) 20, 239–43, 244–8, 256 Dougie (character in Playing in the Light) 94 Doulton Fountain (Glasgow) 74–5 Duchene (Durban) 121–2, 124, 128 n.18 Duke (character in Revenge of Kali) 122, 123 Durban see Casbah (Durban); Duchene (Durban); Grey Street area (Durban); Newlands (Durban) Durban riots (1949) 116, 123

Dusklands (J.M. Coetzee) 206, 221, 225, 227 Eibib, Heitsi (character in Dog Heart) 167 Ellapen (character in Revenge of Kali) 120 Els, Jaco (character in Double Negative) 239, 246–7 English-speaking South African identity see South African identities, English-speaking Eritrea 160 Espejuelo, Don Vecino (character in A Veil of Footsteps) 153, 173, 174 Eva/Krotoa 85, 96 n.7 exile 15, 16, 17, 18, 37, 38, 73, 86, 90, 143, 152, 177 n.3, 177 n.4, 181, 182, 216, 221, 237, 238–9, 240–1, 257 n.2, 294, 295, 303, 305 return from 6, 17, 70, 140, 182, 183, 186, 237–8, 241–2, 243, 248–9, 267, 268–9, 272, 282 ´ The Exploded View (Ivan Vladislavic) 243 Fairfield, David (character in Cion) 194 Farley, John (character in The Lotus People) 114–15 Farred, Grant 81–2 Ferreira, Joachim ‘Fairy’ (character in Lost Ground) 249–50, 252 Ferreira, Petrus 307 Fichardt farmhouse (Brandkop) 35–6, 41 The Fiddler (painting by Marc Chagall) 139 Flowers, Irene (character in Cion) 193, 194 forced removal 19, 55, 239, 303, 305


Foucault, Michel 162, 174 Four Dancers (painting by Edgar Degas) 143 Frankl, Julia (character in Summertime) 225, 227, 229, 230, 231, 234 Fred (character in Isobelle’s Journey) 63, 64, 69, 70, 71 Freek (character in Boyhood) 206 The Frugal Meal (painting by Pablo Picasso) 138 Gandhi, Mohandas 116 Gandhi Settlement 107 Gelmers (character in Another Country) 33, 39, 42, 45, 46 Genootskap van Regte Afrikaners (GRA, Society of True Afrikaners) 58 Geoff (character in Playing in the Light) 91 Get a Life (Nadine Gordimer) 281 Giovanni (character in Skyline) 148 Gladys (character in Revenge of Kali) 121, 122 Glassford, John and family, painting of 88–9, 90 Gogga (character in A Veil of Footsteps) 173 Goldblatt, David 243, 244, 257 n.6 Gordimer, Nadine 259–60, 262–3, 266, 267, see also None to Accompany Me; No Time Like the Present; The Pickup Gorée 153, 154, 155, 160, 161, 173 Gracie and Cliff (characters in Skyline) 139 Great Trek see Voortrekkers Grey Street area (Durban) 101, 103–5, 111–14, 121–2, 125 Greylinck, Agnes (character in Isobelle’s Journey) 55–6, 62, 64–6, 69

Greylinck, Agnes Valeria (character in Isobelle’s Journey) 65 Greylinck, Daniel (character in Isobelle’s Journey) 52, 55–6, 60, 64, 67 Greylinck, Iris (character in Isobelle’s Journey) 64 Greylinck, Irma (character in Isobelle’s Journey) 55 Greylinck, Jannie (character in Isobelle’s Journey) 52, 60 Greylinck, Piet (character in Isobelle’s Journey) 52 Greylinck, Valeria (character in Isobelle’s Journey) 52 Griqua 10, 14, 73, 83, 84, 85–6, 87, 96 n.7, 166 Guernica (painting by Pablo Picasso) 146 A Guest of Honour (Nadine Gordimer) 262 Gustav (character in Another Country) 39, 41 Hall, Stuart 2, 50–1, 134–5 Hannetjie (character in Mhudi) 12 Harloff, Guy (character in A Veil of Footsteps) 160, 174, 175 Hassim, Aziz 127 n.8, see also The Lotus People; Revenge of Kali The Heart of Redness (Zakes Mda) 185–6, 204 n.7 Helmond (character in Another Country) 38, 39, 41, 42 Hendrik (character in Summertime) 233 Hendrikse, Henry (character in You Can’t Get Lost in Cape Town) 77, 93

Index  345

Heyns, Michiel see Lost Ground Hillela (character in A Sport of Nature) 266 Hirsch (character in Another Country) 33–4, 35, 39, 42 Hirsch, Mrs (character in Another Country) 35, 39 La Hollandaise (painting by Walter Sickert) 138 Holtzhausen (character in Isobelle’s Journey) 68 Holtzhausen, Leonora (‘Leo’, character in Isobelle’s Journey) 63, 64, 66, 68, 69, 70–1 home and homelessness 12, 15, 19, 73, 140, 154, 182, 233, 238, 260–6, 267, 268–9, 270, 272, 273, 274–6, 280–1, 282, 283, 286–7, 288 n.1, 303–6, 309, 311, see also exile, return from Hope, Christopher 216 The Hour Glass (painting by Evelyn de Morgan) 139 The House Gun (Nadine Gordimer) 273–4, 277 Huntingdon, Colonel (character in A Veil of Footsteps) 173 Hussein (character in Isobelle’s Journey) 67, 68 iconotexts 140–1 Ida at the Window (painting by Marc Chagall) 139 If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller (Italo Calvino) 162–3 Ilse (character in Youth) 217 Imaginings of Sand (André Brink) 238 Immorality Act 68, 186 In the Heart of the Country (J.M. Coetzee) 94

Indian South African community gangsters and crime 113–15, 117, 118, 122, 123 history 99–101, 116 identity see South African identities, Indian indentured workers 14, 99–100, 101, 110, 116, 119–20, 124 and language 110–12, 119, 121, see also South African Indian English passenger immigrants 100, 101, 110 political resistance of 115–19, 125 irony 155, 223, 247, 248, 250, 251, 252, 254, 256, 258 n.9 Isobelle’s Journey (Die Reise van Isobelle, Elsa Joubert) 13, 14, 20, 51–2, 53–7, 59–71, 71 n.1, 71–2 n.2 and photographs 60–4, 65, 71 Jackson, George (character in Revenge of Kali) 119, 120, 128 n.17 Jacobs, Peter (character in Lost Ground) 17–18, 249–57 Jake (character in October) 238 Jakkie (character in Agaat) 238 James (character in Lost Ground) 251, 254, 255–6 Janie (character in Double Negative) 246, 248 Johannesburg 18, 19, 57, 64, 114, 117, 241–3, 245, 248, 257 n.6, 282–3 ´ Drago (character in Slow Man) Jokic, 224 ´ Marijana (character in Slow Man) Jokic, 223, 224 Jonker, Margot (character in Summertime) 225, 226, 228, 230, 232, 234, 235


Joubert, Elsa 49, 53, 71 n.1, 71–2 n.2, see also Isobelle’s Journey Jubber, Philippa 218 July’s People (Nadine Gordimer) 263 Ka’afir (character in Memory of Snow and of Dust and Return to Paradise) 166 Kader, Miley (Ismail, character in Revenge of Kali) 121, 122, 123–4, 125 Kader, Sarah (character in Revenge of Kali) 121, 122, 123 Kader, Yusuf (character in Revenge of Kali) 122, 123 Kaggen (character in Dog Heart) 167 Karan (character in The Lotus People) 114, 117, 118, 119 Karelse, Tokkie (character in Playing in the Light) 90, 93 Karoo 30, 206–7, 219, 226 Kellner, B.O. (character in Another Country) 34, 36–7, 39, 45 Kerneels (character in Lost Ground) 252, 253 Kilvert (Ohio) 187, 191, 192, 193–4, 195–7, 199, 200, 201 Kiš, Julia (character in Summertime) see Frankl, Julia Klopper, Mrs Naas (character in ‘Something Out There’) 263–4 Koba (character in Isobelle’s Journey) 69, 70 Kolapen (character in Revenge of Kali) 120, 124 Krause, C.J.G. (character in Another Country) 34, 39 Krisjan (character in Dog Heart) 167 Kristien (character in Imaginings of Sand) 238 Kunana (Barolong capital) 9, 10

Kwaku (character in Skyline) 137, 143 Lalloo, Mr (character in The Lotus People) 111–12 landscape 54, 219, 220, see also literary topography; South African literature, representation of African landscape Lappies, Outa see Blinkoog, Outa larnies 124–5 Latin language and literature 42 Le Fleur, Andrew (Andries) 85 Le Fleur, Andries Abraham Stockenstrom 85, 96 n.7 Leah (character in A Veil of Footsteps) 156 Ledwaba, Eddie (character in Double Negative) 242 Lesotho 181–2, 184, 185, see also Basotho Levels of Life (Julian Barnes) 60 Lindgard, Claudia (character in The House Gun) 273, 274 Lindgard, Duncan Peter (character in The House Gun) 273, 274 Lindgard, Harald (character in The House Gun) 273, 274 Lindgard, Peter (character in The House Gun) 274 Liquorice (character in Lost Ground) 253 Lister, Leora (character in Double Negative) 248 Lister, Neville (character in Double Negative) 17, 239–42, 244–6, 247–8, 256 literary masking 163–4, 165, 167–8, 171 literary topography 101–3 Little Girl in Blue (painting by Amedeo Modigliani) 138

Index  347

‘Living in the Interregnum’ (Nadine Gordimer) 268 Lola (character in A Veil of Footsteps) 173 London 17, 93, 216, 217, 218, 240, 248, 254 The Long Journey of Poppie Nongena (Die Swerfjare van Poppie Nongena, Elsa Joubert) 49 Lost Ground (Michiel Heyns) 17–18, 20, 248–57, 258 n.11, 258 n.13, 258 n.14 The Lotus People (Aziz Hassim) 14, 20, 101, 102, 103–10, 111–19, 125–6, 127 n.9 Lou (character in None to Accompany Me) 270, 271, 273 Mackay, Brenda (character in Playing in the Light) 93, 94, 95, 96 n.10 Mackenzie, Reverend 43 Madikizela-Mandela, Winnie see Mandela, Winnie Madonna and Child (painting by Giotto) 144 The Madonna of Excelsior (Zakes Mda) 186, 188 Mafeteng (Lesotho) 181 Malliga (character in Revenge of Kali) 120, 124 Mandela, Nelson 183, 267, 287, 299, 301, 302, 303, 304, 305, 306, 308–9, 313 n.14 Mandela, Winnie 19–20, 292, 299–302, 304, 305, 307–8, 309, 311 n.3, 311 n.5, 312 n.9, 313 n.12, 313 n.15, 313–14 n.18 as character in The Cry of Winnie Mandela 298–9, 302–3, 306–7, 308–9, 310, 312–13 n.11

Mandela United Football Club 301, 307, 312 n.10 Mania (character in ‘Sins of the Third Age’) 266 Mano (character in Memory of Snow and of Dust) 166, 170 Maqoma, Didymus (Didy, character in None to Accompany Me) 237, 268, 269, 272, 273 Maqoma, Mpho (character in None to Accompany Me) 268, 269, 271 Maqoma, Sibongile (Sally, character in None to Accompany Me) 237–8, 268, 269, 272–3 Marais, Miss (character in Isobelle’s Journey) 65, 66, 69 Margaret Harding (Perceval Gibbon) 30 Marianne (character in Youth) 217 Martin J. (character in Summertime) 207, 225–6, 228, 229–30, 231–2, 234 Mashilo, Aurelia (character in Double Negative) 246 Matabele 7, 9, 10–12 Mda, A.P. 181 Mda, Gugu 180 Mda, Zakes 15–16, 180, 181–2, 183–4, 190, 203 n.2, see also Cion; Sometimes There is a Void Meester (character in October) 238 Mehring (character in The Conservationist) 263 Memory of Snow and of Dust (Breyten Breytenbach) 166 Methodist Church (Johannesburg) 283 Mfecane 8 Mhlabeni, Nonyameko (character in Lost Ground) 248–9, 251–2, 253, 256–7 Mhudi (Sol Plaatje) 6–7, 8, 10–12, 13


Mhudi (character in Mhudi) 7, 9–10, 11, 12 Michael, Brother (character in Cion) 200 Michell, Lieutenant (character in Another Country) 42 Middle World see Notes from the Middle World; A Veil of Footsteps (Breyten Breytenbach) migrants and migration 15, 20, 23, 24–5, 26, 74, 79, 84, 143, 152–3, 154, 156, 177 n.5, 181, 182, 274, 278, 279, 287 military conscription 17, 237, 239, 240, 249, 254 Missionaris (Elsa Joubert) 49 MK see Umkhonto we Sizwe Mkize, Blessing (character in No Time Like the Present) 282 Mkize, Peter (character in No Time Like the Present) 282 Mo (Maganathan, character in Revenge of Kali) 122, 123, 125 Mofolo, Lejone (character in The Cry of Winnie Mandela) 295 Mofolo, ’Mannete (character in The Cry of Winnie Mandela) 295, 306 Mohideen (character in Revenge of Kali) 120 Moira (character in You Can’t Get Lost in Cape Town) 77 Molete, Mamello Patience (character in The Cry of Winnie Mandela) 295–6, 298, 302–3, 310 Monty (character in Revenge of Kali) 122, 123 Mossie (character in Skyline) 138–9, 145, 148 Motas 115, 117 Mothopeng, Urbania 298

Motsamai, Hamilton (character in The House Gun and The Pickup) 274, 277, 288 n.6 Motsepe, Patrice 284 Mozambique 160–1 Murray, Mercia (character in October) 238 Musa, Ibrahim Ibn (Abdu, character in The Pickup) 18, 277–8, 279, 288 n.7 My Son’s Story (Nadine Gordimer) 262, 264–5 Nabee Saib (character in Revenge of Kali) 120, 128 n.17 Namaqualand 73–4, 86, 238 Naran, Pravin (character in The Lotus People) 106–7, 108, 111, 112, 113, 116 Narkadien, Zahrah 80 Nascimento, Adriana (character in Summertime) 225, 228, 229, 230–1, 232, 234 Nathan (character in Cion) 193 nationalism 13, 14, 54 Natives Land Act (1913) 7 Naude, Marie (character in Revenge of Kali) 121, 122, 123 Ndebele, Njabulo S. 2, 312 n.7, see also The Cry of Winnie Mandela The Negro Scipio (painting by Paul Cezanne) 139 Nel, Braampie (character in Isobelle’s Journey) 55, 65 Nellie (character in Isobelle’s Journey) 66 New York 153–4, 173, 174, 175 Newlands (Durban) 120, 124 Nicodemus (character in Cion) 194, 197 Nienaber, Bennie (character in Lost Ground) 252, 253–6

Index  349

Nienaber, Chrisna (character in Lost Ground) 256 Nkosi, Lewis 177 n.3, 177 n.4 No Time Like the Present (Nadine Gordimer) 18–19, 20, 260, 280–7 None to Accompany Me (Nadine Gordimer) 18, 237–8, 260, 267–73, 278, 280, 288 n.4 Nongqawuse 185–6 Nortje, Arthur 73, 90 Notes from the Middle World (Breyten Breytenbach) 158–9 Nuttall, Sarah 3, 4, 26 October (Zoë Wicomb) 73, 249 Odensville squatter camp 270 Oliphant, Dulcie (character in David’s Story) 87, 88 ‘Once Upon a Time’ (Nadine Gordimer) 264 The One That Got Away (Zoë Wicomb) 73, 74–6, 78 ‘The Other World That Was the World’ (Nadine Gordimer) 267 Oupa (character in None to Accompany Me) 271–2 Outa Jaap (character in Boyhood) 206 ox-wagon trek (1938) see Voortrekkers paintings 142–3, 149, 175, see also pentimento Pakendorff, Joy (character in Lost Ground) 250, 252 Paktünwalï 106, 118 Papierblom (Jan Afrika) 168 Paris 153, 154, 155–6, 173 Parsons, Barbara (character in Cion) 193, 194 Part of My Soul (Winnie Mandela) 299 passing for white 14, 90, 91–2, 95

Paul (character in Youth) 215 Penelope (character in Homer’s Odyssey) 19, 292, 293, 295, 311 n.3 pentimento 89, 90 People’s Palace (Glasgow) 88 permanent residence 220, 278–9, see also home and homelessness Pessoa, Fernando 163–4, 165, 171 Peter (character in ‘Sins of the Third Age’) 266 Petit-Loup (character in A Veil of Footsteps) 174 photography 26, 60–3, 243, 244–6, 247–8 The Pickup (Nadine Gordimer) 18, 20, 260, 273–80, 288 n.7 Piet Retief 284–5 Plaatje, Sol 7 plagiarism 204 n.7 Playing in the Light (Zoë Wicomb) 13, 14, 73, 88, 90–3 Plowman, Hannah (character in My Son’s Story) 265 Population Registration Act (1950) see race classification Portrait of Madame Matisse with a Green Stripe (painting by Henri Matisse) 143 ´ 243, Portrait with Keys (Ivan Vladislavic) 257 n.3 Potgieter, Hendrik 10 Pretorius, Henk (character in Lost Ground) 252, 253 Princess (character in Skyline) 137, 143 Promised Land (Na die Geliefde Land, Karel Schoeman) 29 Pronk, Miss (character in Another Country) 38, 42 Purgatorio (Dante) 42, 45–6


Qoboshane (Eastern Cape) 180, 185 Quatro camp 88, 89 Quigley, Mahlon (character in Cion) 194, 199, 201 Quigley, Niall (character in Cion) 194–5, 200 Quigley, Obed (character in Cion) 191, 192, 194, 196, 200, 201–2 Quigley, Orpah (character in Cion) 192, 193, 194, 198, 199, 201, 202 Quigley, Ruth (character in Cion) 192–3, 194, 196, 198, 201, 202 quilting 197–8, 199, 202 Qukezwa (character in The Heart of Redness) 186 Quthing (Lesotho) 181

Reed, Sindiswa (character in No Time Like the Present) 282, 286 Reed, Steve (character in No Time Like the Present) 281–2, 283, 285, 286, 287 Return to Paradise (Breyten Breytenbach) 166, 169 Revenge of Kali (Aziz Hassim) 14, 101, 102, 103, 119–26 rhizomes (as trope) 169–70, 173, 175 Rive, Richard 79 Ros (character in Boyhood) 206 Rowinsky, Clara (character in Skyline) 139, 140, 143, 145–6, 148 Runga (character in Revenge of Kali) 120 Rushdie, Salman 26

race classification 66, 90–1, see also passing for white Rachel’s Blue (Zakes Mda) 203–4 n.4 Radisene (character in She Plays with the Darkness) 185 Ragel, Ouma (character in David’s Story) 85, 86, 87, 93 rainbow nation 1, 91, 195, 271 rape 66, 70, 116, 124, 285, 290, 302, 307 Raphael (character in Skyline) 139–40 Rapulana, Zeph (character in None to Accompany Me) 269, 272, 273 Ra-Thaga (character in Mhudi) 7, 9–10, 11, 12 Rayment, Paul (character in Slow Man) 207, 221–3, 224 Reed, Gary Elias (character in No Time Like the Present) 282, 283, 286 Reed, Jabulile (character in No Time Like the Present) 281, 282, 283, 284, 285, 286, 287

Said, Edward 1, 239, 257 n.2, 281, 303 SAIE see South African Indian English Sanders, Mark 3–4, 26 Sandy (character in The Lotus People) 115, 117, 118, 119 Sas, Koos (character in Dog Heart) 167 Scenes from Provincial Life (J.M. Coetzee) 17, 208, 235 Scheffler, Mr (character in Another Country) 39–40, 41, 45 Scheffler, Adèle (character in Another Country) 39–40, 41, 42, 43, 45 Scheffler, August (character in Another Country) 39–41, 42, 43, 45 Schoeman, Karel 29–30, 47 n.1, see also Another Country Schonstein Pinnock, Patricia see Skyline Schröder, Frau (character in Another Country) 33, 39, 42 The Sculptors of Mapungubwe (Zakes Mda) 203 n.4

Index  351

A Season in Paradise (Breyten Breytenbach) 163, 164 Selected Stories (Nadine Gordimer) 259 Sen, Amartya 282, 288 n.9 Señor C. (character in Diary of a Bad Year) 260 Sexwale, Tokyo 284 Sharisha (character in The Whale Caller) 186 She Plays with the Darkness (Zakes Mda) 185, 188 Shenton, Frieda (character in You Can’t Get Lost in Cape Town) 73, 76–7, 93 ‘Sins of the Third Age’ (Nadine Gordimer) 266 Sipho (character in Revenge of Kali) see Duke sirdars 120, 124 Sisulu, Albertina 298 S’khosana, Delisiwe Dulcie (character in The Cry of Winnie Mandela) 295, 302 Skyline (Patricia Schonstein Pinnock) 15, 20, 129–31, 134, 135, 136–40, 141–2, 143–9, 186, 249 slavery 16, 89, 133, 155, 157, 187, 192, 194–5, 197–9 Sleeping Gypsy (painting by Henri Rousseau) 137 Slow Man (J.M. Coetzee) 16, 20, 205, 207, 221–4, 232 Smales, Maureen and Bamford (characters in July’s People) 263 Snow, Simon (character in A Veil of Footsteps) 172–3, 175 Sobukwe, Veronica 298 Solomon Brothers (in The Lotus People) 108, 113, 117 ‘Something Out There’ (Nadine Gordimer) 263–4

Sometimes There is a Void: Memoirs of an Outsider (Zakes Mda) 15–16, 179–82, 183, 185 Sommer, Roy 6 Sonny (character in My Son’s Story) 264–5 South Africa emigrants from 18, 19, 20, 110, 237, 275–6, 278, 286, 287, 294 immigrants to 15, 18, 20, 129–31, 133, 136, 137, 139–40, 141, 143–6, 150 n.1, 157, 224, 242, 275, 277, 278, 283, 287, 293, 294 migrant labour 19, 293, 295, 305 post-liberation 266–8, 271–2, 284–6, 288 n.4, 289 n.10, 290–1, 304–5 South African identities 1, 2–4, 12, 37–8, 40–1, 46, 210–11, 213, 214, 215, 217, 219, 233, 241, 267, 273, 291, 304, 311 Afrikaner 1, 2, 13, 43–4, 51–2, 53–4, 55–7, 58, 65, 66–7, 68–70, 71 n.1, 71–2 n.2, 72 n.3, 72 n.5, 164–5, 166–7, 210–11, 212–13, 217, 233 black 1, 2, 55 coloured 13–14, 20, 74–5, 76–9, 80–4, 88, 90, 91, 92, 95, see also Griqua English-speaking 1, 212, 214, 216, 219 Indian 1, 14, 20, 98–9, 107, 108–10, 118, 125–6, 126 n.2 South African Indian English 110–11, 112 South African literature Afrikaans fiction 46, 72 n.3 and ekphrasis 15, 135–7, 140–2, 143–5, 146–8, 186, 243–4, 245


Indian 126 n.2, 127 n.11 and political activism 29–30, 47 n.3 representation of African landscape 30–1, 34, 35–6, 46 Spain 156–7, 176 n.1 Special Branch 117–18, 307 A Sport of Nature (Nadine Gordimer) 18, 266, 267, 268 squatter camps 269–70 Stark, Annick (character in None to Accompany Me) 268, 270, 271, 273 Stark, Bennet (character in None to Accompany Me) 268, 270, 272, 273 Stark, Ivan (character in None to Accompany Me) 268, 269, 270, 271, 273 Stark, Vera (character in None to Accompany Me) 268, 269, 270, 271, 272, 273 State of Emergency 28, 107, 117 Sterkspruit (Eastern Cape) 180 The Story of Painting (Wendy Beckett) 149 street children 69 Street Noises Invade the House (painting by Umberto Boccioni) 138 Strydom, Leon 142 Suleiman, Ayesha (character in The Lotus People) 109 Suleiman, Dara Yahya (character in The Lotus People) 107–8, 110, 111–12, 113, 114, 115–16, 117, 119 Suleiman, Hannah (character in The Lotus People) 109, 118 Suleiman, Jake (Yacoob, character in The Lotus People) 108, 109–10, 112, 113–14, 117–18 Suleiman, Salma (Sally, character in The Lotus People) 108–9, 118, 119

Suleiman, Sam (Salim, character in The Lotus People) 108–9, 110, 111, 113–14, 117, 118, 119 Suleiman, Yahya Ali (character in The Lotus People) 106–7, 108, 111, 112–13, 115–16 Summers, Julie (character in The Pickup) 18, 275, 277, 278, 279–80 Summers, Nigel Ackroyd (character in The Pickup) 275, 276, 278 Summertime (J.M. Coetzee) 16–17, 19, 205, 207, 208, 225–35, 249, 291 Swanepoel, Theunis ‘Rooi Rus’ 307, 308, 309 Sylvester (character in Skyline) 130 Take Leave and Go (Afskeid en Vertrek, Karel Schoeman) 29 Thaba Nchu (Free State) 10, 11, 12 theatre 153, 184, 199 The Third of May, 1808 (painting by Francisco Goya) 146 Thiru (Thiruvengadam, character in Revenge of Kali) 119, 120, 123–4 Tiena (character in Playing in the Light) 93 To Die at Sunset (Ons Wag op die Kaptein, Elsa Joubert) 49 Tobias, Margaret (character in Cion) 201 Toloki (character in Ways of Dying and Cion) 16, 185, 186, 187–92, 193, 194, 195, 196–7, 198, 199–200, 201, 202–3, 203 n.2, 204 n.6 travel 168–9, 178 n.10, 180 TRC see Truth and Reconciliation Commission Trevor (character in Revenge of Kali) 123 The True Confessions of an Albino Terrorist (Breyten Breytenbach) 162, 164

Index  353

Trung (character in A Veil of Footsteps) 174 trust 106–7, 108, 113 Truth and Reconciliation Commission 3–4, 268, 301–2, 309–10, 311, 313 n.16 ubuntu 181, 284, 287 Umkhonto we Sizwe 117 Van Blerk, Blik (character in Lost Ground) 250 Van Blerk, Desirée (character in Lost Ground) 249, 250, 251, 252, 253, 254, 255, 256 Van Blerk, Dolly (character in Lost Ground) 250 Van der Vliet, Mr (character in Another Country) 42 Van der Vliet, Mrs (character in Another Country) 35, 38–9, 41, 42 Van Velde, Arnold (character in Isobelle’s Journey) 63, 70 Van Velde, Belle (character in Isobelle’s Journey) 56, 62, 64, 65, 66, 67–8, 69 Van Velde, Benjamin (character in Isobelle’s Journey) 70 Van Velde, Frikkie (character in Isobelle’s Journey) 61, 62–3, 64, 66, 68, 70 Van Velde, Hendrik (character in Isobelle’s Journey) 66, 70 Van Velde, Hennie (character in Isobelle’s Journey) 52, 55, 62, 65 Van Velde, Jessie (character in Isobelle’s Journey) 55 Van Velde, Josias (character in Isobelle’s Journey) 52, 55, 59–60, 61, 65, 67

Van Velde, Leonora (character in Isobelle’s Journey) 56, 60, 61, 62–3, 66–7, 68, 71 Van Velde, Ozzie (character in Isobelle’s Journey) 56, 60, 67 Van Velde, Philip (character in Isobelle’s Journey) 66, 70 Van Velde, Robert (character in Isobelle’s Journey) 66, 70 Van Velde, Stuart (character in Isobelle’s Journey) 60, 65 Van Velde, Victoria (character in Isobelle’s Journey) 59 Vania, Nithin (Nits, character in The Lotus People) 105, 110, 112, 114–15, 117, 118, 119, 122 A Veil of Footsteps: Memoir of a Nomadic Fictional Character (Breyten Breytenbach) 15, 20, 152–3, 154–8, 159–61, 162, 168, 171–6, 249 Ventersburg (Free State) 180 Vercueil (character in Age of Iron) 187 Veronica (character in Double Negative) 246 Versluis (character in Another Country) 30, 31–2, 33, 34–6, 37, 38–40, 41–2, 43, 44–5, 46, 48 n.7 Vincent (character in Lost Ground) 252, 253 Vincent (character in Summertime) 225, 226, 227–9, 230, 231, 232, 234, 235 ´ Ivan 243–4, 257 n.1, Vladislavic, 257 n.4, see also Double Negative Voëlfontein (farm) 206–7, 211–12, 230, 232 Voortrekkers 7, 8, 10, 11, 12, 53, 57, 65, 211


war 67–8, 129–30, 139–40, 145–7, 148 War (painting by Marc Chagall) 146 Ways of Dying (Zakes Mda) 16, 184, 185, 191 Wehmeyer, Vera (character in Boyhood) 210 Wethu (character in No Time Like the Present) 282, 286 The Whale Caller (Zakes Mda) 186, 188 When People Play People (Zakes Mda) 184 Wicomb, Zoë 73–4, 96 n.1, see also David’s Story; Playing in the Light Will (character in My Son’s Story) 264–5 Williams, Hector (character in Lost Ground) 249, 252, 253 Winterbach, Herr (character in Isobelle’s Journey) 61 Woman of Algiers (painting by Auguste Renoir) 137 women 19, 52, 55, 59, 64, 69, 100, 120, 122, 186, 195, 278, 285, 290, 292–3, 294–5, 306

Woordwerk (Wordwork, Breyten Breytenbach) 167–8, 170–1, 178 n.11 Worcester (Cape) 52, 53, 55, 56, 59, 61, 210, 211, 233 Wordfool, Breyten (character in A Veil of Footsteps) 153, 171–2, 173, 175, 178 n.13 A World of Strangers (Nadine Gordimer) 259 ‘Wounded Dreams’ (Keorapetse Kgositsile) 281 xenophobia 277, 285 You Can’t Get Lost in Cape Town (Zoë Wicomb) 73, 76, 78 Youth (J.M. Coetzee) 16, 205, 208, 210, 213–19, 235 n.3, 235–6 n.5, 236 n.6 Zuma, Jacob Gedleyihlekisa 285, 286, 289 n.11

Index  355


Index  357