English in Africa

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“All Futures are Bred in the Bellies of their Past”: Siphiwo Mahala’s, Zukiswa Wanner’s and Makhosazana Xaba’s Intertextual Dialogues with Can Themba’s Short Story “The Suit”

Raphael d’Abdon


In his exploration of the intertextual strategies employed by contemporary African novelists, Ewan Maina Mwangi (2009) moves beyond the discourse that views African literature as, mainly, a reaction to the colonial experience. He argues, instead, that African novels are primarily engaged in conversation with each other, particularly over gender issues such as the representation of homosexuality and the disenfranchisement of women by male-dominated narratives. Drawing from this argument, and shifting the focus towards the short story in post-1994 South Africa, this article maintains that, by engaging critically with Can Themba’s “The Suit” (1963), Siphiwo Mahala, Zukiswa Wanner and Makhosazana Xaba have created an unprecedented “literary case” in the history of South African literature. It offers a comparative analysis of the six short stories (which represent a unique example of intertextual dialogue among South African writers), and contends that Mahala’s “The Suit Continued” and “The Lost Suit” (2011), Wanner’s “The Dress that Fed the Suit” (2011) and Xaba’s “Behind The Suit” and “The Suit Continued: The Other Side” (2013) should be considered pivotal texts in the South African literary palimpsest, since they deconstruct some of the most controversial features of Themba’s story, and infuse it with ground-breaking feminist and queer narratives.

Keywords: Can Themba, Siphiwo Mahala, Zukiswa Wanner, Makhosazana Xaba, short story, feminism, queer narratives

AJOL African Journals Online