This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
Louise Vijoen Department of Afrikaans and Dutch University of Stellenbosch Private Bag X1 7602 Matieland Stellenbosch South Africa
2 Postcolonialism and Recent Women's Writing in Afrikaans 1 Postcolonialism and Afrikaans literature Although cynical words have been spoken about the current popularity and academic marketability of postcolonial theory, it cannot be denied that it has provided valuable new perspectives on the world’s so-called ‘marginal literatures’. One’s understanding of postcolonialism is largely determined by the way in which the prefix post- in postcolonialism is read. If it is read as a reference to temporal succession and even supersession, the term postcolonialism applies to that which follows after colonialism. If however colonialism is defined as the way in which unequal international relations of economic, political, military and cultural power are maintained, it cannot be argued that the colonial era is really over. Moreover viewing colonialism as “a homogenuous thing of the past” (Thomas 1994: 13) in the hope of achieving a break with a blameless present, poses the risk of obscuring the historical, geographical and political specificity of totally different forms of colonization. Anne
McClintock has also argued that the reading of postcolonialism as that which follows after colonialism divides history into a series of teleologically-directed phases that progresses from the pre-colonial via the colonial to the post-colonial. This description of history as a linear march of time falls into the same trap as the metanarrative of western historicism by arranging world history around the single binary opposition of colonial/postcolonial (1993: 292-293). The writers of the well-known book on postcolonialism The Empire Writes Back (1989) seem to avoid these pitfalls by defining postcolonialism as that which undermines colonialism rather than that which follows after colonialism. They extend the use of the term postcolonial to cover “all the culture
affected by the imperial process from the moment of colonization until the present day” and assert that literatures are made distinctively post-colonial by the fact that they “emerged in their present form out of the experience of colonization and asserted themselves by foregrounding the tension with the imperial power, and by emphasizing their difference from the assumptions of the imperial centre” (1989: 2). Emphasising attributes like synchretism, hybridism, disruption and polyglossy in
postcolonial texts, they see postcolonialism as a potentially subversive presence within the colonial itself. They also declare that “South African writing clearly demonstrates that the political impetus of the post-colonial begins well before the moment of indepedence” (1989: 83).
3 The objections most frequently raised against the theory of postcolonial literature proposed by the writers of The Empire Writes Back, are also those which affects its applicability to Afrikaans literature. Their totalising view of postcolonial literature as a homogenuous category disregards the differences between highly diverse geographical, historical and cultural contexts like those of the African countries, the Carribean islands and former settler colonies like Australia, New Zealand and Canada (Williams & Chrisman 1993: 13). Even though it is conceded at the outset of The Empire Writes Back that the focus will be on the literature produced in English or ‘english’ in the former British colonies, criticism has been levelled at the exclusivist embeddedness of its postcolonial theory in English. It soon becomes clear that this English-based definition of postcolonialism cannot adequately describe the full variety of literatures produced in languages and literary traditions other than the English. Because of its rootedness in English The Empire Writes Back’s account of South African literature is limited to that written in English which is then described in terms of a simplistic binary division that obscures the heterogeneity of the languages and literatures in South Africa. It is argued that the white English literature of South Africa can be compared to the literature produced in settler-colonies like Australia, Canada and New Zealand while the black English literature in South Africa can be more fruitfully compared to the literature of other African countries (1989: 27), thus revealing a nostalgia for the ‘apartheid’ of binary divisions between black and white (Jolly 1995: 21). By disregarding the literature produced in the black languages and Afrikaans, the writers of The Empire Writes Back paint an incomplete picture of the literary scene in South Africa (a country in which eleven languages have been given official status since the advent of democracy in 1994). Their description also ignores the interaction between the different literary systems in South Africa. This is an important oversight in the South African situation in which the Afrikaans and English literatures were institutionally privileged because these languages had official status in pre-democratic South Africa while black languages were not afforded the same status and means of literary production. Presenting writers who use English as the sole representatives of South African literature (albeit implicitly) also leaves the nonEnglish reader of The Empire Writes Back with the impression of a theoretical imperialism Ahmad argued against in another context. From this it becomes clear that a variety of “historically nuanced theories and strategies” (McClintock 1993: 303) will have to be developed to describe the specific position of Afrikaans literature in the context of postcolonialism. Recent attempts to describe the history of white supremacy and racism in
4 South Africa draw attention to the fact that its complex origins can be found in the long drawn out process of colonization first by the Dutch and then the British, the subjection of different peoples in territorial victories and the subsequent enslavement of black people (Worden 1994). In South Africa this developed into a systematic and legalized racial discrimination in the course of the nineteenth century that finally affected the economical, social and political structures of the whole country. Although white supremacy was also prevalent in other colonial territories such as the British colonies in Africa, Asia and America, it started declining after 1945 with the rise of the independence movements. In contrast with this white supremacy became stronger in South Africa from the late forties onwards under the apartheid government established with the coming into power of the Nationalist Party in 1948 (Worden 1994: 65-120). Because of apartheid’s entrenchment of the white supremacy associated with colonialism, some writers on colonial discourse and postcolonial theory refer to South Africa under the apartheid regime as a colonial regime (Ashcroft e.a. 1989: 83) while others describe it as a neo-imperialist system (Carusi 1990: 96). It must however also be taken into consideration that many Afrikaners (Afrikaans-speaking whites) regarded themselves as a people colonized by Britain because of the mythologisation of events like the Great Trek in the 1830’s and the wars waged by the Boer Republics against Britain in the nineteenth century. For these people the declaration of a Republic by the Nationalist government in 1961 signalled the beginning of postcolonialism in the historical sense of the word (Worden 1994: 87-88, Carusi 1990: 96). Using the terminology of colonial discourse one would be able to say that Afrikaans-speaking whites or Afrikaners had a ‘double’ status in the course of South African history, that of being the colonizers as well as the colonized. Another complicating factor with regard to Afrikaans literature is that precisly this moment in Afrikaner history (the advent of the ‘postcolonial’ Republic of South Africa in 1961) also marked the beginning of a tradition of dissent against Afrikaner nationalist power by Afrikaans writers (John 1995: 11). The situation is made even more complex by the peculiar situation of the Afrikaans language. Afrikaans is a separate language that developed out of the Dutch spoken by the first colonizers of South Africa (the Dutch East India Trading Company that established a refreshment station at the Cape in 1652) with demonstrable influences of Malay, Portugese, Khoi, High and Low German, French, Arabic, black languages and English (Ponelis 1993: 99-120). On the one hand it can be seen as a foreign language connected to the colonization of South Africa by the Dutch; on the other hand it
5 can be seen as an indigenous language that developed in Africa and carries a name that literally means ‘of Africa’. Since the turn of the century Afrikaans has been closely linked with the rise of Afrikaners from what they regarded as colonization and oppression by the British. The language was often used as an argument to culturally legitimate the right to existence and separateness of the Afrikaner nation in its rise to political power finally achieved with the electoral victory of the National Party in 1948. Afrikaans also came to be identified with the oppressive ideology of apartheid because of events like the Soweto riots in 1976 that centered around the enforced use of Afrikaans in black schools. On the other hand Afrikaans is not the exclusive property of whites in South Africa. More than half of all the speakers who use Afrikaans as a first language are coloured people (also referred to as black in the context of the political struggle, see Willemse 1987: 237) who were excluded by the racist basis of Afrikaner nationalism. It is therefore also the language of those who could be seen as the colonized because of racial oppression. Voicing the ‘double identity’ of Afrikaans, the black
Afrikaans writer Hein Willemse stated in 1987 that one had to accept “that Afrikaans is at once the language of the conqueror and the language of the oppressed” and argued for the continued use of Afrikaans as an instrument in the struggle against apartheid (1987: 239). In its earliest stages in the late nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century Afrikaans literature functioned as a tool in the political struggle of the Afrikaner against British rule. This process of decolonization partly effected through Afrikaans literature was at the same time a process of colonization because it excluded and oppressed Afrikaans-speaking people of colour as well as others. It is also known that the institutionalisation of Afrikaans literature was supported by the Afrikaner nationalist project and that it lent status and legitimacy to that project in its turn. Although Afrikaans literature has been called “a faithful bedfellow of Afrikaner nationalism and Afrikaner identity” (Willemse 1987: 241), it would be a mistake not to recognise the counter-hegemonic strain present in Afrikaans literature since the beginning of the sixties. Although Rosemary Jolly argues convincingly for the need to recognise the heterogeneity of the South Africa literary landscape, her own analysis tends towards a view of Afrikaans literature as the monolithic representative of Afrikaner nationalism thus constituting Afrikaans literature as the “other” of struggle literature in South Africa (1995: 22-23). Even though she implies the heterogeneity of Afrikaans literature by referring to the predicament of black Afrikaans writers, she mistakenly states of the well-known dissident writer Breyten Breytenbach that “writing against apartheid in his first language seems impossible” for him (1995: 22). Since his debut in 1964
6 Breytenbach often voiced his criticism of the apartheid government in literary texts written in Afrikaans. As such he formed part of a strong tradition of dissendence in Afrikaans literary texts from the early sixties onwards that counter-acted the Afrikaner nationalist nature of earlier Afrikaans texts. During the eighties this tradition became so strong that it became the dominant strain in Afrikaans literature rather than a marginal one. To undercut the confusing variety of different postcolonialisms Mishra and Hodge distinguish between two kinds of postcolonialism viewed as ideological orientations rather than historical stages. Although they make the mistake of racializing the distinction between settler and non-settler literatures as Jolly has pointed out (1995: 22), their differentiation between an oppositional and a complicit postcolonialism can be useful in a description of Afrikaans literature’s postcoloniality. Oppositional postcolonialism manifests most clearly in literatures striving for autonomy and political independence; concern with race, a second language and political struggle are the fundamental principles of this form of postcolonialism. Complicit postcolonialism is implicitly present in colonialism itself although not overtly political in nature; it refers to the always present tendency towards subversion in any literature subordinated by imperial power structures and cultural domination, tending to manifest in ‘postmodern’ features like fracture, interlanguage and polyglossia (1993: 284-290). Experience has shown that Afrikaans literature has functioned both oppositionally (in open support of the political struggle) and complicitly (in the tendency towards the rupture and decentering of all totalising discourses), thus tending towards the “fused postcolonial” in its construction of postcoloniality (Mishra and Hodge 1993: 288). The heterogeneity of Afrikaans literature thus necessitates the telling of several smaller
narratives which take into account local historical contexts in order to avoid obscuring generalisations and ever new forms of imperialism (whether it be on the grounds of language, race, gender, sexuality or theory). 2 Postcolonialism and women writing in Afrikaans The parallel between the relationship man-woman and the relationship empire-colony or colonizercolonized has often been cited in postcolonial theory as well as the “double colonization” of women in colonial situations (see Holst-Petersen and Rutherford 1986). Some writers even feel that imperial, colonial and postcolonial discourses can largely be seen as “allegories of gender contests” (Williams & Chrisman 1993: 18). Although this reduction of the one to the other obliterates historical specificity
7 and difference, it can be said that the history and preoccupations of feminism show certain similiarities with that of postcolonialism. Early feminism, like the oppositional form of postcolonialism, tried to subvert structures of domination while both feminism and postcolonialism have tried to write back the marginalised into the dominant discourse (Ashcroft e.a. 1989: 175-176). These superficial similarities between postcolonialism and feminism should however not blind one to the fact that the feminist struggle is not neccesarily coterminous with the struggles for political freedom characteristic of oppositional postcolonialism. It has been shown that some post-colonial nationalisms have
entrenched rather than dismantled the power of patriarchy so that women’s struggle against domination often continues in these contexts. Much has been said and written about the continuous dialogue between race and gender which considerably complicates the discourse of postcolonialism as far as the situation of women is concerned. In the process considerable attention has been given to the need to avoid totalising strategies which eradicate difference and presume the unity of concepts like the ‘third world woman’, the ‘black woman’ and the ‘white woman’. Even more than elsewhere scholars in postcolonial feminism have been forced to elaborate their own subject positions in an attempt to establish the historical specificity of their discussions and to avoid the impression of a theoretical colonization. In contexts of oppositional postcolonialism (like the South African in the past decades) the dialogue between race and gender often centered around questions like: which comes first, gender or race? should one’s first loyalty be to gender issues or the political struggle of the racially oppressed? It was not uncommon for women writers to feel pressurised to give their political (racial) loyalties priority over their gender loyalties. The debate around this issue in South African literature has been lively with academic feminists sometimes arguing the case for feminism and the gendering of race against prominent writers (see Lenta 1988). Without discounting the fact that other categories of writers have contributed significantly to the establishment of a postcolonial discourse in Afrikaans, it is striking that previously marginalised discourses (women’s writing, gay writing and popular literature) have become increasingly important in interrogating the discourses of power in South Africa. It has been suggested by more than one critic that Afrikaans women writers can play an important role in transforming South African culture in the postcolonial context. André Brink maintains that Afrikaans women writers have already shown the ability to utilise feminism’s strategies for the subversion of fallocratic systems (1990: 4) while Kenneth Parker argues that their freedom from any obligations towards the masculinist discourse of the Great
8 South African Nation has already led to experimentation with ways in which to write the new South Africa (1994: 4-5). It must however also be noted that the category of mainstream Afrikaans woman writer does not as yet include coloured or black women despite the fact that more than half of the speakers who use Afrikaans as a first language are coloured people. Although one can point to a few Afrikaans texts by coloured or black women published in anthologies like I Qabane Labantu. Poetry in the emergency (1989), no novels, collections of short stories or volumes of poetry exist in mainstream Afrikaans literature. This silence can undoubtedly be read as an indication of the double colonization effected by Afrikaner cultural domination on the grounds of race as well as gender. Some of the other reasons for this silence have been pointed out by Beverly Jansen: the double oppression of coloured and black women in the apartheid society as well as in the family, an inferior education system, debilitating socio-economic conditions that sapped women’s creative energy, the preference for English because of political resentment against Afrikaans as language of the oppressor and the neglected status of the oral tradition used by many of these women (1985: 79-81). Although the category Afrikaans woman writer displays racial homogeneity (in contrast with that of the men writing in Afrikaans), this does not simplify the position of women writing in Afrikaans with regards to race. Afrikaans writing by women until the sixties was influenced by the ambivalent position of Afrikaans women who were part of a group who felt themselves colonized by white British imperialism but who also colonized black South Africans. Therefore it is not strange to find that Afrikaans
women’s writing up until the sixties displayed patterns of affiliation to Afrikaner nationalism and racial supremacy. It is also interesting to note that women writers achieved considerable prominence in the Afrikaans literary system despite gender oppression, although this does not necessarily imply a well developed feminist discourse (Van Niekerk 1994: 5). Since the sixties, but especially during the seventies and the political emergency of the eighties, Afrikaans women writers have occupied a strong place in the tradition of dissidence against the apartheid regime in Afrikaans literature. Although they are the racial ‘others’ of women of colour, most of those writing since the sixties have chosen to ‘betray’ (a term used by Trinh in referring to the “triple jeopardy” of writing women, 1989: 104) their own race in identifying with the liberation struggle of black people in their texts. Their position is therefore not unlike that of white settler women in previous centuries whose narrative stance was considerably complicated by their alignment with colonized blacks but simultaneous entrapment in the
9 discourses of imperialism and patriarchy implicit in the mere act of writing in a colonial context (Driver 1988: 12). My discussion of the following examples of Afrikaans women’s writing since the beginning of the eighties will try to demonstrate that an engagement with the problems of race, class, gender and writing constitutes a common element in the postcoloniality of Afrikaans women’s writing. The
complex social, historical and cultural positionality that emerges from these texts again indicates that it would be a mistake to regard even the small Afrikaans literature as a monolithic entity. The power of recent Afrikaans women’ writing writers lies in the multiple voices that enunciate a complex subjectivity and that enable their texts to speak to diverse audiences (see Henderson on black women’s writing in America, 1993). 3 Texts by Afrikaans women writers The texts by Lettie Viljoen, Antjie Krog, Emma Huismans, Riana Scheepers and Marlene van Niekerk I have chosen for discussion represent only a small sample of Afrikaans women’s writing since the eighties. Texts by writers like Elsa Joubert, Wilma Stockenström, Jeannette Ferreira, Reza de Wet, Welma Odendaal, Jeanne Goosen, Dalene Matthee, Marita van der Vyver, Rachelle Greeff and Johnita le Roux could just as well have been used to demonstrated the various forms of oppositional and complicit postcolonialism present in the Afrikaans women’s writing in the past decade. 3.1 Klaaglied vir Koos by Lettie Viljoen Lettie Viljoen’s first novel Klaaglied vir Koos [Lament for Koos] was published in 1984 during a time of increased militarisation and political repression by the South African government. The narrator in this short novel is a white woman whose husband unexpectedly leaves her and their four-year-old child to join in the armed struggle against apartheid. She angrily confronts the reader with these facts on the first page of the novel as she registers her fury at being left behind by her husband, declaring it to be the starting point of her narrative. (It is interesting to note that anger has been inspirational for more than one Afrikaans woman writer. A few years earlier the poet Antjie Krog declared in one of her poems: “Ek skryf omdat ek woedend is” [“I write because I am livid”] (1980: 23).) After spending time in hospital to recover from the shock caused by her husband’s departure, the narrator slowly puts her life together again. After living through a nadir of emotional estrangement and inertia, she slowly
10 comes to terms with her feelings of rejection and inadequacy, regaining her independence and the confidence to live her own life. The psychic trauma that provides the stimulus for the writing of the novel foregrounds the narrator’s feelings of inferiority, guilt and inadequacy. The novel demonstrates that her trauma is related to the way in which her subjectivity is constructed in terms of gender, race and class relationships. Her gender identity is mainly constructed in terms of the differences between her and her husband. He is described as intellectual, capable of thinking in macro-political terms, intolerant of contradictions or ambivalence, prepared to go to war and sacrifice the safety of his bourgeois home and nuclear family to achieve his political ideal of freedom for the oppressed. According to her own analysis she is a vessel filled with ideological content by her husband who dreams of a whole that will accommodate ambivalence and contradiction, wants to entrench the confines of their nuclear family rather than break it open, thinks of opposing the regime but not of leaving their home and joining the war as he did. In comparison to his she finds hers a small life of no consequence (p.41), although she is subconsciously warned by an image of herself and her husband like siamese twins in a bottle that she should free herself from constituting herself as her husband’s ‘other’ (p.53). The narrator’s racial identity is constructed in terms of her relationships with black people and also manifests in feelings of inferiority and triviality. She feels that her own life as a white woman is less meaningful and
consequential than those of black men and women involved in the struggle against oppression. She sees their culture as more sustaining, their people’s history as richer in texture and less perverse than the sparse facts of her own history as a white person (pp.12,38). Relationships determined by class also feature in the construction of the narrator’s subjectivity. As the white owner of a solid bourgeois home, she stands in a relationship of economic as well as racial power towards the homeless couple Frans and Bettie, the destitute woman Sylvia whose house burnt down and the gardener Nevil who all knock at her door to ask for food or shelter and who depend on her goodwill for their survival. At first she hides from them in her house, frightened and silent (p.15), but eventually she is prepared to leave the safety of her bourgeois home to negotiate with them and even to join them: “Gaan ek voortaan nie meer van binne die huis onderhandel nie maar saam met die befoktes, die haweloses, die besittingloses, saans so my huis omsirkel, in waaragtige meelewing” [Henceforth I am not going to negotiate from inside my house, I am going to circle my house in the
11 evenings together with the fucked, the homeless, the possessionless, in genuine empathy] (p.66). She finally achieves the solidarity with the dispossessed that her husband so desperately desired: “Eén met die laagstes...die sosiaal uitgeworpenes” [One with the lowest... the socially rejected] (p.66). Thus she succeeds in breaking out of the constricting patterns preordained by gender, race and class in pre-democratic South Africa. The narrator registers her rebellion against the various forms of domination which gives rise to her feelings of inadequacy and inferiority on a narrative level. The novel disengages itself from traditional narrative patterns (interpreted by feminists as patriarchally determined) by subverting linear causality, closure and authorial control. The narrative outwardly follows the linear progress of the seasons but gives priority to the chaotic and unresolved inner life of the narrative as a structuring device. The novel also takes as its terrain the personal, the intuitive, the subconscious and the microphysical domain rather than the public. Whereas the narrator’s husband fights the political struggle on a public level, she conducts her struggle in a private domain (symbolised by the bourgeois house and garden). Whereas her husband analyses the political situation in South Africa on an intellectual level (p.18), she experiences it intuitively in terms of an image. While recovering in hospital she sees the image of an ant’s nest which she relates to the large number of oppressed workers in South Africa (pp.11,20,27) with whom she feels a subconscious solidarity when performing her domestic tasks (p.27). Thus image and fantasy often take the place of intellectual analysis and event in her narrative. At certain points in the narrative the concentration on the private and personal becomes a preoccupation with the microphysical. This is evident from the scientifically detailed descriptions of sexual organs during intercourse, especially the male organ during erection and ejaculation (pp.2, 7). The discourse of sexual submissiveness one finds elsewhere in the novel (she lies “down for” her husband, p.6) is subverted by these moments of masculine, scientific discourse in which the colonizing ‘male gaze’ is momentarily returned. Thus the construction of the narrating subject at the intersection of race, gender, class and writing is interrogated on a thematic as well as a structural level. 3.2 Lady Anne by Antjie Krog The established Afrikaans poet Antjie Krog’s seventh volume of poems called Lady Anne was published in 1989, at the end of a decade marked by such furious political resistance against the
12 apartheid government that it resulted in the unbanning of the ANC in February 1990. In this volume of poems, conceived as a postmodern epic, Krog interrogates her own situation as a white Afrikaansspeaking woman in the politically turbulent South Africa of the late eighties by using the historical figure Lady Anne Barnard as a “guide” (p.16) for her own life. Lady Anne Barnard (1750-1825) was a Scottish noblewoman who married her husband Andrew, a former soldier twelve years her junior, in 1793. Because she was a friend of Sir Henry Dundas, then Secretary of State for War, she procured for her husband the post of Colonial Secretary at the Cape during the first British occupation from 1795 to 1803. Unusually for a woman of her time and class she accompanied her husband to the Cape in 1797 where they lived until 1802. The letters, journals, diaries and drawings she produced during her stay at the Cape and travels into the interior have become an important source of information about the people, events and social life of the time, because she recorded particulars male writers considered beneath their notice. She is also retained in popular memory as a socialite, known for entertaining at the Castle at the Cape of Good Hope as the official hostess of governor Macartney (Lenta in Robinson 1994: x-xix). Krog’s Lady Anne is a collage of poems supplemented by quotations, drawings, an ovulation chart, a property advertisment, an electoral poster and extracts from a diary. Some poems are written from the perspective of Lady Anne while other poems are written from the perspective of an I that can be autobiographically linked to the poet. Still another set of poems place the two women together in situations that imaginatively overstep the boundaries of time and space. Similarities as well as
dissimilarities in the way the subjectivity of both these women is determined by race, class and gender in different historical contexts emerge from the poems. Lady Anne’s position at the Cape of the late eighteenth century is determined by the fact that she is a member of a privileged race (a European in Africa), a privileged class (of noble descent) and a power that colonized the indiginous peoples as well as the Afrikaners in South Africa (a British subject). She looks at South Africa from the perspective of a temporary inhabitant and voyeuristic traveller, as demonstrated by the poem describing her consciousness of being an outsider who looks at the country as if through a windowpane (pp.56-57). The volume also refers to the fact that Lady Anne lived in a time of political upheaval. Some of the poems show her in Paris during the time of the French Revolution feeling guilty about the fact that personal sorrow stands in the way of political concern (pp.65-66) while others depict her agitation about the inhumanity of slavery (pp.81-82). The poet Antjie Krog’s position in South Africa in the
13 nineteen-eighties is determined by her being a member of a privileged race (white in apartheid South Africa), a privileged class (the bourgeois middle class) and a group who colonized black people in South Africa but were also colonized by the British (an Afrikaner). She looks at South Africa from the perspective of a permanent inhabitant who feels morally compelled to take part in the establishment of a just society in that country. Her writing is decisively influenced by the context of political emergency in which she finds herself. She questions the validity of poetry about private emotions written from a privileged perspective in an unjust society in the poem “parool” [parole] (pp.35-38) and remains conscious of the fact that even her most innocent words cannot be detached from the context of political violence in which they were produced (p.32). She also acknowledges that her poetical project entails a measure of violence towards her subject Lady Anne, when she admits in the final line of the volume: “onder my duim lê die fyn sintaksis van jou strot” [under my thumb lies the delicate syntax of your throat] (p.108). Because the epic usually traces the history of great men and nations, the mere fact that Krog chose a woman as subject of her postmodern epic makes a statement about the importance of gender issues amid the struggle for racial equality in South Africa. Krog’s artistic portrait of Lady Anne ventures further than the conclusion of literary historians that she was both caught up in traditional gender stereotypes and anxious to escape them (Driver in Robinson e.a. 1994: 7). Krog represents her as a strong-willed person, fully conscious of the power play between men and women as in the poem “ballade van die magspel” [ballad of the powergame] (p.76). One of the poems even depicts her as expressing a militant erotic desire to grow a penis and to possess her husband sexually in the manner of a man (p.24). The poems referring to the poet Krog herself show the way in which she struggles to reconcile different facets of her gendered position (sexual partner, wife, mother, daughter, domestic manager) and how they interact with her writing as well as political and religious consciousness. Despite the fact that the “bard” and her “epic hero” (p.108) are both women and share many similarities, Krog experiences ambivalent feelings about Lady Anne. These feelings emerge in several poems self-reflexively charting the course of her project of writing about Lady Anne. Her elation at finding a woman she can use as “guide” (p.16) soon makes way for frustration when she discovers that this British Lady cannot easily be accomodated into her own scheme and has to conclude: “as metafoor is jy fôkol werd” [as metaphor you are worth fuckall] (p.40).
14 Because Krog is aware that her perspective on the South African situation is a limited one, she inserts quotations into her text that confirm, supplement or contradict her own poems. One of these
quotations describing a black working class woman (p.97) is juxtaposed with a poem in which the poet expresses her affection for Lady Anne but also refers to her “totale stralende nutteloosheid” [total radiant uselessness] (p.96). By inserting this reference to the black working class woman the poet questions her own position as a privileged white woman writing about another priviliged white woman. The quotation also deliberately exposes the class and racial divides present in the gender consciousness evident in the volume’s focus on women. Krog’s brutally honest interrogation of her own subject-position as a white Afrikaans woman writer in the late eighties is another example of the fused postcoloniality of Afrikaans literature in which elements of oppositionality (the political struggle) and complicity (the postmodernist subversion of dominance and centrism) are combined. 3.3 Berigte van weerstand by Emma Huismans Berigte van weerstand [Reports of resistance] by Emma Huismans was published in 1990 shortly after the unbanning of the ANC, but looks back on the author’s experiences during the political struggle in Cape Town in 1985 and 1986 when she worked as journalist for the publication Crisis News (Odendaal 1990: 45). These stories with their strongly factual content focus on the issues of political struggle, race and language that are usually associated with the oppositional phase of postcolonialism. The narrator in this collection of interconnected stories takes an active part in the political struggle, writing newspaper reports about the political crisis, carrying guns, nursing the wounded and doing paper work like taking down statements from victims of political violence. Huismans’ stories bring to light several complications in the dialogue between race and gender in the South African context. Although she is a privileged white, the narrator identifies herself actively with the struggle of the racially oppressed in South Africa. This does not however mean that her position as a white woman in the struggle is unproblematic. This can be deduced from remarks like: “Nog ‘n jaar van swart en bruin agterdog oor wie is wie in die struggle en freaked out whiteys wat iets probeer doen” [Another year of black and coloured suspicion about who is who in the struggle and freaked out whiteys trying to do something] (p.11) and “My usefulness as ‘n whitey in die local townships het uitgedien raak. Wit is ‘n opvallende kleur” [My usefulness as a whitey in the local townships was wearing thin. White is a conspicuous colour] (p.12). Some of her assignments are also the direct
15 result of her marginality in the struggle as a white person. In the story “Die verhouding” [The affair] she is ordered by her young black comrades in the struggle to eliminate a coloured man, suspected of defecting from the struggle. She realises: "Dis 'n swart-bruin ding hierdie en 'n whitey om die can te carry" [This is a black-coloured-thing with a whitey carrying the can] (p.14). Her conclusion illustrates the dilemma of the person who completes the cross-over between races in times of political upheaval: "Maar commitment is commitment. 'n Opdrag 'n opdrag. En waar sal ek, ex-Afrikaner, môre wees as ek dit nie uitvoer nie?" [But commitment is commitment. An order is an order. And where will I, exAfrikaner, be tomorrow if I do not carry out the order?] (p.14). The narrator’s position in the struggle is further compromised by the fact that she is Afrikaansspeaking. Some stories demonstrate that the perception of Afrikaans as language of the oppressor is transferred onto the Afrikaans-speaking narrator despite her commitment to the liberation struggle. She comments that her Boer-descent was “'n byna onuitputlike bron van wantroue” [an inexhaustible source of distrust] and her use of Afrikaans as “‘n persoonlike belediging" [a personal insult] (p.80) by one of her black comrades in the struggle. Her identity as an Afrikaans-speaking white is complicated by the revelation in another story that her familiy emigrated from Holland to South Africa when she was five years old. She comments ironically: "Verwoerd was vyf toe hy die eerste keer sy Hollandse voet op Afrikaanse grond gesit het, spot ek. Ek ook. Moet minstens nie ons Afrikanerskap in twyfel trek nie" [Verwoerd was five years old when he first set his Dutch foot on Afrikaans soil, I say jokingly. Me too. At least do not doubt our Afrikaner identity] (p.72). The stories also note the use of Afrikaans by the violent oppressors with devastating candour (p.18) and demonstrate to what extent English came to dominate the jargon of the liberation struggle. In contrast with this the mere writing and publication of these “reports of resistance” in Afrikaans testify to the fact that Afrikaans was also the language of the struggle. The collection also touches on the nature of the relationship between the political (commitment to the struggle) and the personal (commitment to a love affair). The story “Die verhouding” [The affair] describes an affair between the narrator and a woman who is not fully committed to the struggle (as is evident from bourgeois attributes like a state housing subsidy and two carefully groomed poodles). When the narrator is ordered to shoot the young coloured man they are taking leave of at Johannesburg airport, she shoots her lover’s two poodles instead. On the one hand this action is a
16 manifestation of sexual jealousy because her lover is flirting with the young man who is leaving and on the other hand it is an expression of political frustration with the intricacy of struggle politics and her lover’s superficial attitude to these issues. Without reducing the importance of either one, the story demonstrates the problematic interaction of the political struggle with personal relationships. The stories also raise questions about the prioritisation of race and gender issues in the political struggle. It is significant that gender is under-emphasised in these stories. The collection contains only three references to the gender of the narrator (pp.56,68,94) and only two references to the position of women in the struggle from which it is clear that the race gets priority before gender in the struggle, even if it is against the better judgment of the narrator (p.56,63). The relative lack of
attention for gender issues in these stories can be interpreted in different ways. It can either be read as an indication that race should get preference over gender in the political struggle or a powerful commentary on the undervalued position of women in the struggle. To my mind the problematic position of women is accentuated by the narrator’s choice to suppress references to gender, something that also has implications for the lesbian relationships portrayed in some of the stories. Thus the dialogue between race and gender is extended to include the issue of sexuality or gay rights. The struggle for the political rights of the racially oppressed were often given priority over the struggle for gay rights in pre-democratic South Africa, in the same way that the struggle against gender oppression was subordinated by the struggle against racial oppression (Gevisser 1994). The raising of these issues in Huismans’ text shows that marginalized discourses like that of women’s and gay writing can contribute significantly to a complex and heterogeneous postcolonialism in Afrikaans. 3.4 Die ding in die vuur by Riana Scheepers Like the collection of stories by Huismans, Riana Scheepers’ collection of short stories Die ding in die vuur [The thing in the fire] was also published in 1990. Whereas Huismans’ text is representative of the oppositional impulse, Scheepers’ stories show that these impulses co-exist with affirmative tendencies exploring new possibilities for postcolonial writing in Afrikaans. The collection combines a European narrative tradition (as manifested in the use of several postmodernist strategies) with an African narrative tradition (references to the Zulu oral narration as carried forth by women) to forge a new narrative strategy for the South African situation. Apart from this the difficult process of
17 transculturation is achieved through an intricate interplay of focalisations that leads to the dismantling of privileged and patronising vantage points. Most of the stories included in the collection are situated in rural KwaZulu-Natal where Scheepers grew up and later taught as a university lecturer at the University of Zululand. The title of the
collection of stories refers to the ‘thing’ that will give one horns on the head if one listens to stories before the day’s work has been done, according to the Zulu narrative tradition (p.76). It is also part of this tradition for the ‘ugogo’ or storyteller to spit in the fire after the story has been told to destroy all the fictional images called forth so that they cannot give her listeners nightmares (p.81). To further emphasise the influence of the Zulu narrative tradition on this collection of stories, it is preceded and concluded by traditional storytelling formulas in Zulu. In “Abantu oNgoye” [The people of oNgoye] several stories are combined to create a composite ideological picture of the oNgoye massacre that took place on the campus of the University of Zululand in the mid-eighties. The first story is told by an external narrator who describes the founding of the University of Zululand as an ethnic university by Verwoerd; the second by an ‘ugogo’ or traditional storyteller who recounts the massacre from the perspective of the rural inhabitants of Zululand; the third by the external narrator who tells the story from the view point of the students attacked in the massacre; the fourth by an I (reminiscent of the author Scheepers) who is trying to find out what really happened. The agile alternation between different narrative modes, ideological viewpoints and the author’s relinquishing of a controlling perspective are narrative strategies adapted to the multiculturality of the South African situation. Other stories in the collection chart the diverse forms of colonization still experienced by women in the remote rural regions of South Africa. In the story “Ruil” [Exchange] a white shopkeeper who
emigrated from Scotland to rural KwaZulu-Natal abuses the financial and sexual power he has over the black women left impoverished and alone in their villages by the migrant labour system, exchanging a small jar of Vaseline for the sexual favours of a black woman. Although this is a potentially degrading situation for the woman, the narrator recovers the dignity of the woman by stressing her nobility at the expense of the shopkeeper’s depravity. The story concludes with this image of the woman: “Haar nek en haar skouers het die trots en rysigheid van ‘n vrou wat weet dat haar inkope goed afgehandel is” [Her neck and shoulders are proud and tall like that of a woman who knows that her shopping has been well done] (p.17). In the story “Tweede kind” [Second child] the
18 wife of a white missionary and a thirteen year old black girl abandoned by her people on instruction of the Isangoma (witch doctor) give birth at the same time in a remote missionary hospital. Because the girl dies and her baby cannot keep down cows milk, the missionary’s wife is asked to breastfeed the black baby. She grudgingly gives her “borste vir die barbare” [breasts to the savages] (p.21), as she terms it, bargaining with God to make her own son even stronger than he would have been if she fed him herself. Although the black girl (condemned by the power of the male Isangoma) and the white woman (negotiating with a patriarchal God) are both subject to male domination, this story shows that gender does not necessarily unify them in a glorious sisterhood but that it is definitively intersected by race and class. The story “Dom Koei” [Stupid cow] describes the practice of female circumcision from the uncomprehending perspective of a white student who sees the victim of such a circumcision brought to the rural medical clinic where she is doing postgraduate research. The story forces the reader out of a position of cultural ignorance by placing him/her in the same position as the white student through a confrontation with a graphic word-picture of the circumcision-wound. While the black nursing sister is treating the mutilated girl, the student is sent to free a cow that got caught in a wire fence outside the clinic. She vents her feelings of incomprehension, shock, disgust and anger on the defenceless cow who becomes symbolic of the girl: “Jou simpel fokken dom koei” [you dumb fucking stupid cow], she screams at the animal. The narrative places the student, the narrator as well as the reader in a position of voyeuristic power in relation to the silent and defenceless victim, almost implicating them in this colonizing abuse of women. The story “Oor die pornografie van geweld in die Afrikaanse prosa: ‘n outbiografiese steekproef” [On the pornography of violence in Afrikaans prose-writing: an autobiographical sample] raises the question of literary violence as opposed to literal violence in pre-democratic South Africa. In this postmodernist collage of intertwining discourses a discussion about violence is conducted with two men, both Afrikaans writers who have written on violence. One of the stories included in the collage contrasts the situation of a white woman’s inexperience of violence with her black housekeeper’s daily exposure to violence. Another story in this collage describes an attack on the black woman’s kraal in which her little brother as well as the ‘ugogo’ or storyteller dies. Not only does this story reflect on its own implication as example of the European narrative tradition in the literary exploitation of violence, it also comments symbolically on the endangered position of the African oral tradition (the killing of the ‘ugogo’). As such Scheepers’ collection of short stories is not only aware of the variety of narrative
19 possibilities available for the creation of a South African postcolonial discourse but also of that which threaten to impoverish or destroy it. 3.5 Triomf by Marlene van Niekerk Marlene van Niekerk’s novel Triomf was one of the first literary texts in Afrikaans to be published in what can literally be called ‘postcolonial South Africa’. Incorporating references to the first democratic election in South Africa in April 1994, it appeared only a month or two after the election. The novel recounts the monotonous daily lives of a family of poor white Afrikaners, showing how apartheid failed even those it was ideologically designed to benefit. The family lives in the Johannesburg suburb ironically called Triomf (Afrikaans for triumph), built on the ruins of the black township Sophiatown that was demolished in the fifties by the social engineers of apartheid to create a suburb for the white working class. It is gradually revealed that the Benade-family of Triomf is a gross caricature of the nuclear family and all the values it embodies: the old man Pop, his ‘wife’ Mol and their ‘relative’ Treppie are actually siblings while the epileptic Lambert is their son (it is not clear whether Pop or Treppie fathered him). Treppie’s scheme to establish a refrigerator repair business having failed and Lambert not being able to finish school or hold down a job because of his epilepsy, they depend on welfare pensions for theri livelihood. The suspense in this novel comes from the buildup towards Lambert’s fortieth birthday and the election while the reader also waits for the unsuspecting Lambert to find out the truth about his father and mother. The family prepare themselves to escape to the North in their beat-up Volkswagen Beetle if ‘the shit hits the fan’ after the election, but the end of the novel shows the remaining members of the family (Pop has died in the interim) still caught in the same circumstances as before. Nothing has changed and the final moments of the novel depicts them looking at the constellation of Orion over the roofs of Triomf, without a north they can escape to. Underneath its naturalistic surface the novel is richly symbolic. On a political level the incestuous and inbred Benade-family becomes symbolic of the extremes to which the apartheid philosophy of racial exclusivity led. The novel also discloses the historical circumstances that led to their condition (their ancestors were landowners forced off their land during a depression to become impoverished workers in the railways and garment industry in the city). Their history and family set-up leads to a situation in
20 which anyone outside the family is regarded with the utmost suspicion, prejudice and contempt (as manifested in their crude racism towards blacks and their disgust with the ‘dykes’ who live across the road). On a religious level the family consisting of two brothers and sister together with their ironically innocent son can be read as a symbolic perversion of the myths of origin found in several world religions, the trinity and sacrificial lamb of Christian religion, the different images of the devil as well as the idea of an apocalypse. The novel also drives the idea of the Freudian family romance to
grotesque extremes, going so far as to have Lambert accidentally kill his ‘father’ Pop. Although this novel is not exclusively occupied with gender issues it demonstrates more eloquently than any feminist treatise could the position of women in such conditions. The objectification of Mol, the sister of Pop and Treppie and mother of their child Lambert, reaches atrocious depths. She is emotionally, verbally, physically and sexually abused, especially by her brother Treppie and her son Lambert. She is the sexual tool of all three the men and her status as a (sex) object is underlined by the fact that their beat-up car is also called Mol. Racially she is part of a group who considers themselves superior to blacks (her position is symbolic of the failure of the ideology of white supremacy); she is of a class looked down upon by other whites and Afrikaners (as is evident from the reaction of the young Afrikaans couple who tries to recruit their votes for the Nationalist Party) and she is of the gender oppressed by the patriarchal system prevalent in the race and class configuration in which she finds herself. Triomf, as well as a spate of other novels probing the hidden corners of the Afrikaner psyche in a process referred to as “Afrikaans literature’s own truth commission” (Swanepoel 1995: 102), signifies an important element in Afrikaans literature’s postcoloniality. In her paradoxical ability to evoke
feelings of revulsion as well as compassion for the degenerate Benade-family, the writer illustrates the intricate relationship between the colonial and the postcolonial that has to be negotiated when writing the new South Africa. Van Niekerk’s novel demonstrates an awareness of the fact that the colonial cannot be eliminated from the postcolonial in a simple act of political amnesia and that the past has to be confronted rather than evaded when constructing a postcolonial discourse in South Africa
21 The texts by Afrikaans women writers discussed in this article have shown different ways of engagement with the postcolonial problematic in South Africa. The texts by Viljoen, Krog and
Huismans demonstrate their commitment to the project of an oppositional postcolonialism as well as the complexities involved in such a commitment for an Afrikaans woman writer. Scheepers’ text shows an attempt to forge new narrative strategies appropriate for a multicultural situation and an awareness of the narrative subject’s implication in discourses of power while the text by Van Niekerk represents a preparedness to confront the colonial in the postcolonial. Afrikaans literature - including these texts written by women - has shown that it is willing and able to make a meaningful contribution to a postcolonial South Africa as well as the continuous process of defining a heterogenuous postcolonialism. References Adam, Ian & Tiffin, Helen (eds.). 1990. Past the Last Post. Theorizing Post-Colonialism and PostModernism. Calgary: University of Calgary Press. Ahmad, Aijaz. 1992. In Theory. Classes, Nations, Literatures. London: Verso. Ashcroft, Bill, Griffiths, Gareth & Tiffin, Helen. The Empire Writes Back. Theory and Practice in PostColonial Literatures. London: Routledge. Brink, André P. 1991. Op pad na 2000: Afrikaans in 'n (post)koloniale situasie. Tydskrif vir
Letterkunde 29(4): 1-12. Carusi, Annamaria. 1990. Post, Post and Post. Or, where is South African Literature in All This? In Adam & Tiffin 1991: 95-108. Coetzee, Ampie & Willemse, Hein (eds.). 1989. I Qabane Labantu. Poetry in the Emergency/Poësie in die Noodtoestand. Bramley: Taurus. Driver, Dorothy. 1988. Woman as sign in the South African colonial enterprise. Journal of Literary Studies 4(1): 1-20. Gevisser, Mark. 1994. A Different Fight for Freedom: A History of South African Lesbian and Gay Organisations fromt the 1950's to 1990's. In Gevisser & Cameron 1994: 14-86.
22 Gevisser, Mark & Cameron, Edwin (eds.). Defiant Desire: Gay and Lesbian Lives in South Africa. Johannesburg: Ravan Press. Henderson, Gwendolyn Mae. 1993. Speaking in tongues: Dialogics, Dialectics and the Black
Woman Writer’s Literary Tradition. In Williams & Chrisman 1993. Holst-Petersen, Kirsten & Rutherford, Anna (eds.). 1986. A Double Colonization. Colonial and Postcolonial Women’s Writing. Mundelstrup & Oxford: Dangaroo Press. Huismans, Emma. 1990. Berigte van weerstand. Bramley: Taurus. Jansen, Beverly. 1985. Swart Afrikaanse digters en hulle ambag. In Smith, Van Gensen en
Willemse 1985: 79-81. John, Philip. 1995. Resisting Totalisation: Afrikaans Literature and the Postcolonial Project. Paper read at CSSALL-conference, University of Durban-Westville, Durban. September. Jolly, Rosemary. 1995. Rehearsal of Liberation: Contemporary Postcolonial Discourse and the New South Africa. PMLA?: 17-29. Krog, Antjie. 1980. Otters in bronslaai. Kaapstad: Human & Rousseau.? Krog, Antjie. 1989. Lady Anne. Bramley: Taurus. Lenta, Margaret. 1988. The need for a feminism: black township writing. Journal of Literary Studies 4(1) March: 49-63. McClintock, Anne. 1993. The Angel of Progress: Pitfalls of the Term `Post-colonialism'. In Williams en Chrisman: 291-304. Mishra, Vijay & Hodge, Bob. 1993. What is Post(-)colonialism? In Williams en Chrisman: 276-290. Odendaal, Welma. 1990. Betrokke, besmet, gehawend...Huismans leef om die storie te vertel. Die Suid-Afrikaan 28 August-September: 45. Parker, Kenneth. 1994. In the ‘New South Africa’: W(h)ither Literature? Wasafiri 19 Summer: 3-7.
23 Ponelis, Fritz. 1993. The Development of Afrikaans. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang. Robinson, A.M. Lewin (ed.). 1994. The Cape Journals of Lady anne Barnard 1797-1798. Cape Town: Van Riebeeck Society. Smith, Julian, Van Gensen, Alwyn & Willemse, Hein (eds.). Bellville: UWK-Drukkery. Swanepoel, Eduan. 1995. Helende terapie. De Kat April: 102. Thomas, Nicholas. 1994. Colonialism's Cultures. Anthropology, Travel and Government. 1985. Swart Afrikaanse Skrywers.
Cambridge: Polity Press. Trinh, Minh-ha. 1989. Woman, Native, Other: Writing Postcoloniality and Feminism. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Van Niekerk, Annemarie. 1994. Vrouevertellers 1943-1993. Kaapstad: Tafelberg. Viljoen, Lettie. 1984. Klaaglied vir Koos. Emmarentia: Taurus. Willemse, Hein. 1987. The black Afrikaans Writer: A Continuing Dichotomy. Triquarterly 69
Spring/Summer: 237-247. Williams, Patrick & Chrisman, Laura. 1993. Colonial Discourse and Post-Colonial Theory. A Reader. New York, London etsc.: Harvester Wheatsheaf. Worden, Nigel. 1994. The Making of Modern South Africa: Conquest, Segregation and Apartheid. Oxford UK & Cambridge USA: Blackwell.
In: World Literature Today 70(1): Winter 1996. 63-72.