Essays on South African Literature
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.
Trying to make sense of the past: W.P.B. Botha’s The Reluctant Playwright
On the surface this is another novel of white guilt, and the attempt to escape one’s destiny, a novel of extreme pessimism and fatalism, of the “familiar hopelessness of it all”: “You are white. So you are guilty,” says Alexia to Doyle, and she warns him against Abraham Dlamini, the old man and ANC leader who she says is using his guilt to involve Doyle in the struggle.1 Both of the main characters of the novel, Seamus Paeder Doyle and Alexia Xolile, are haunted by the past, Doyle by his father’s grave in the Lusikisiki district of the Transkei which at the end of the novel he rebuilds, Alexia by the desertion by her parents during the “struggle” and by the sexual abuse of her sister Revival by her policeman uncle which she witnessed as a child. Doyle portrays himself as a man who has no choices to make, no control over his destiny, a man who is merely an onlooker, but “the authorities are determined he should play a more leading role; the leading role in their hackneyed production of ‘A Liberal Hero’.” They cannot believe that he came to the Transkei as a migrant worker after having taught in Solomon Islands, Sri Lanka, El Salvador, Australia, “not only without ambition, but without choice in the matter.”2 He even sleeps like a mineworker with all his clothes on, as his friend Abraham Dlamini remarks. He has no other vision than that of a “crumbling stage and...
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