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At the Margin of One/Many Languages

Essays on South African Literature


Peter Horn

The essays collected here are responses to books of poetry and prose published during the transition period from the apartheid regime of the mid-1980s to the first democratic election in South Africa in 1994. The volume comprises a variety of texts written during the crucial mid-1980s – the time of the «Emergency» and the height of oppression – up to and including the installation of the first freely elected South African government in 1994.
In the years of anti-apartheid struggle, the immediate political conflict was pre-eminent in the minds of many poets but extended to broader concerns about race, writing and colonialism, such as the debate about the imbongi (African praise singer) as the true antecedent of the contemporary African poet. After the end of apartheid new challenges came to the South African book publishing industry and, thus, to South African writers, as they tried to make sense of the past and draw tentative lines into the future. The works of J. M. Coetzee, Njabulo Ndebele, Kelwyn Sole, Sandile Dikeni, Vincent Swart, Heather Robertson, Patrick Cullinan, Seitlhamo Motsapi, W. P. B. Botha and more are read against this changing social and political landscape.
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Orature, literature and the media


The wish that Africa may return, one of the most often repeated “oral poems” in the culture of resistance, signifies an absence, but the absence of a presence which nobody has ever experienced, a presence which thus cannot be invoked against that absence: the image of a pristine Africa before the rape of colonialism that absent present which is invoked by the wish “mayibuye” is thus not Africa as it has been but Africa as it should have been.1 The desire that it may “return”, like the wish for the return of the innocence and plenitude of childhood, can never be quenched and it thus moves through the realm of the imaginary for which any real “liberation” is only the inadequate supplement. There is – “in truth” – no source, no origin, no innocence, no plenitude. What is reflected in the image of that Africa which we implore to return is an image divided in itself, because any image and any speculation is a double, dividing into two what it doubles. The origin of that speculation which attempts to mirror what was before is a mere difference:2 the wealth of mother Africa, Africa imagined minus the colonisers; the Africa of the present imagined as the same Africa (the Africa that should return) from which the treasures have been subtracted by the exploitation of the colonisers so as to enrich the metropolis, and to which these treasures should now return.

Because we imagine our freedom under the call...

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