Imagining the “forbidden” racial other: attitudes and approaches in the works of Antjie Krog, Marlene van Niekerk, Meg Vandermerwe and Zukiswa Wanner

  • Meg Vandermerwe
Keywords: Imagining ‘the other’, postcolonialism, taboo, creative writing, South Africa, ethics, Apartheid, prose, poetry


What are the potential ethical and creative limitations of seeking to represent, in one’s work, the experience of the black subaltern class? This was a topic at the forefront of my mind as I embarked on my novel, Zebra Crossing, in January 2010, a work which I knew would place a Zimbabwean immigrant with albinism at its fore. As an apparently empowered white writer and academic, South African-born but Europe-educated, I was well aware of the taboos; traditional postcolonial theory makes them explicit.

This paper, however, seeks to argue that an alternative discourse is slowly emerging within contemporary South African creative writing, one that offers a very different position to the one frequently posited by traditional postcolonial sensibilities and by the majority of South African authors who, I would argue, remain sceptical about the writer’s right and  literary ability to imagine with authenticity and integrity what Edward Said terms the “forbidden” other (2009, 295).

Although I make reference to my own work in this paper, my main focus is on the writings of Antjie Krog, Marlene van Niekerk and Zukiswa Wanner, all of whom were interviewed via email for this article.

Keywords: Imagining ‘the other’, postcolonialism, taboo; creative writing, South Africa; ethics, Apartheid, prose, poetry


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