Boer melancholia: Ingrid Winterbach’s Niggie
Based primarily on Winterbach’s novel of the Anglo-Boer War titled Niggie in Afrikaans and translated into English as To Hell With Cronjé, this paper examines the novel as a site of what I am calling “Boer melancholia.” I apply this term to grieving on the part of many Afrikaners, occasioned by a sense of cultural loss – loss of power, identity, linguistic hegemony – experienced with the demise of apartheid. I argue that in the novel and in broader Afrikaner culture, this loss revives the memory of prior loss (defeat) in the Anglo-Boer War. Niggie attests to a “melancholic” condition arising from what Freud called the loss of an abstraction, “such as fatherland, freedom, an ideal,” a loss analogous to that of a loved person. In the novel, abstract and personal losses are continuously intertwined with one another, as are individual histories of mourning and melancholia. I contrast this narrative of repeated, unredeemed loss with the fantasy of recovery – of the “liberating” comeback – embodied, for instance, in the popular music video De la Rey by Bok van Blerk (2006). Winterbach’s novel constitutes both a critical fiction of Boer resistance and defeat, and a reflection on Afrikaner history without any comeback.
Keywords: mourning and melancholia, Anglo-Boer War, post-apartheid, psychoanalysis, modern war novel, anti-romance