Resisting Marginality: Cultural Politics in the Work of Selected South African Writers

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‘Marginality’ is one way of describing the condition of black South Africans who (prior to 1994) were systematically excluded from participation in South African society. Often this exclusion took material and spatial form (through their relocation to rural ‘homelands’ or to ‘townships’ on the peri-urban fringe). Marginality is thus a political, economic, psychological, ideological, legal and material condition which has defined the lives of generations of black South Africans. This paper looks at its particular impact on the lives of so-called ‘coloured’ South Africans, as illustrated in Alex la Guma’s A Walk in the Night (1962) as well as on the black South African ‘township’ communities in the 1950s, as seen in the work of two of the Drum writers, Bloke Modisane and Can Themba. The 1970s saw the rise of Black Consciousness, with its assertion of a common ‘black’ identity and its re-centering of the ‘black’ experience. What was the impact of this movement, with its political and cultural self-assertion, on a new generation of black South African writers? Here the short stories of Mtutuzeli Matshoba and Njabulo Ndebele (both post-76 writers) represent what seem to be diametrically opposed fictional strategies.


Keywords: Marginality, Culture, Politics, South African Writers
Stream: Literature, Literary Studies
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
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Dr Rob Gaylard

Lecturer, Department of English, Stellenbosch University
Cape Town, South Africa

I was born in Zimbabwe, studied at the universities of Natal, Rhodes and Exeter, and teach in the Department of Enlish at Stellenbosch University. I have published articles in the field of South African literature, with a particular focus on black writers and the short story. I am Treasurer of the Association of University Enlish Teachers of Southern Africa, and am involved in a number of community organisations in Cape Town, where I live.

Ref: H08P0170