“My Version of it Matters Too”: Confession and Identity in Makhosazana Xaba’s Short Story “Behind The Suit”
Makhosazana Xaba’s “Behind The Suit”, a revisioning of Can Themba’s “The Suit”, takes the form of a letter written by Mbatha, ex-lover of Philemon (Themba’s protagonist), to his estranged daughter. In it, he tells her about their ancestors’ lives and he confesses his role in Philemon’s abuse of his wife, Matilda, which eventually led to her suicide. In this article, we examine Mbatha’s attempt to solidify his and his daughter’s sense of self through the act of confession – a confession that is not wholly true. Consequently, Mbatha’s false self prevails. Bearing in mind the dominance of this false self, we pay attention to the significance of the story’s epistolary form – how it enables Mbatha to build a bridge between himself (I) and his daughter (You). The letter also assists Mbatha in locating him and his daughter in time and place through repeated references to their ancestors to Johannesburg and Sophiatown. We determine that, ultimately, Mbatha’s project cannot succeed due either to his unwillingness or inability to access his true self, with the result that the meaningful connection he hopes to have created with his daughter is rendered impossible. In the end, the onus falls on his daughter to locate and assert her own identity through the information given to her in the letter.