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Post-apartheid transnationalism in black South African literature: A reality or a fallacy?

L Rafapa


The quest of this paper is to probe whether globalising post-nationalism impacts on post- apartheid black South African English literature in a manner that suggests a blurring of distinctive African identities. This is done against the background that black South African literature right from its written beginnings in the early 19th century has coalesced into a taxonomically distinct entity forming a non-negligible component of South African literature written in English. I first analyse two post-apartheid novels
written by the black writers Niq Mhlongo (Dog Eat Dog 2004) and Sindiwe Magona (Beauty’s Gift, 2008). Secondly, I consider three post-apartheid novels by the black writers Phaswane Mpe (Welcome to Our Hillbrow, 2001), Kgebetli Moele (Room 207, 2009) and Kopano Matlwa (Coconut, 2007). I approach an examination of the five post-apartheid novels by separating them into two categories, as a way of indicating that black  South African literature of this era remains as stylistically varied as that
of earlier periods, albeit broadly within a mould continuing to characterise it as black. In order to justify an underlying common allegiance to localised identity cutting across the two categories in which I place these five  post-apartheid novels, evidence of such a pervasively black feature is explained inter-categorically, even as intra-categorical affinities are demonstrated. I trace these two levels of typology within the conceptual framework of two main groups of theorists. The first group consists of commentators such as Carrol Clarkson in her assertion that the identity of black Africans in the post-apartheid era as portrayed in the fiction of writers
such as Phaswane Mpe is such that “educated and urbanised individuals should no longer identify” with and share beliefs having to do with African identity and “a common and accountable response to that which the community represents.” The attitude of these critics has led to Leon de Kock seeing both black and white post-apartheid literature warranting interpretation with a “sense of a post-national configuration—indeed, now a transnational constellation.” I demonstrate in this paper that post-apartheid fiction written by blacks not only defies theorists’ subordination of imaginative writers’ centrality in social discourse, but goes further specifically to chafe against normative characterisation as  transnational. The second main category  constituting the theoretical matrix within which I examine the discourses of the five selected novels includes theorists such as Rob Gaylard, in his observation that Es’kia Mphahlele “can be seen as the founder of a tradition of black writing that runs through writers like Miriam Tlali, Mtutuzeli Matshoba, Njabulo Ndebele and Zakes Mda to Phaswane Mpe,” with the thread splicing them together being a grounding of these authors’ writings in the philosophy or worldview of Afrikan Humanism.

Keywords: Black South African English literature, consciousness, identity, post-apartheid, transnationalism.

Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 2309-9070
print ISSN: 0041-476X