Complicit Refugees and Cosmopolitans: Khaled Hosseini’s ‘The Kite Runner’ and Romesh Gunesekera’s ‘Reef’ in conversation with texts on xenophobia in South Africa

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In the aftermath of the brutal xenophobic attacks in parts of South Africa against ‘other’ Africans between March and May this year, a fairly sustained (if repetitive) public debate has emerged in the local press. The aim is to extend this discussion to recent South African literary production and to stories from elsewhere – in this case, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka. The distinction between complicit refugees and cosmopolitans draws on some of the arguments of Mark Saunders and Anthony Appiah as a framework for comparing Hosseini’s popular The Kite Runner (2003) and Gunsekera’s lyrical Reef (1994). These will be read in relation to Sello Duiker’s Thirteen Cents (2000) and Magnet Theatre’s Every Day Every Year I am Walking (2007). Establishing a ‘conversation’ between these texts is associated (from Appiah) with calls for re-thinking terms such as citizen and cosmopolitan. This, in turn, has implications for the current expressions of, and about, xenophobia in South Africa.


Keywords: Complicity, Refugee, Cosmopolitan, Xenophobia, Nationalism, Identity, Transformation
Stream: Literature, Literary Studies
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: Complicit Refugees, Cosmopolitans and Xenophobia


Miki Flockemann

Extraordinary Professor, Department of English, University of the Western Cape
Cape Town, South Africa

My primary research interest is the aesthetics of transformation. Other research interests include theatre and performance in South Africa, comparative studies of diasporic writings, especially by women.
I am co-convenor of the interdisciplinary Humanities programme at the University of the Western Cape, and also teach a topics in theatre option in the department of English. I have an interest in the 'performativity of knowledge' and attempt to foreground this in my teaching and research, particularly in terms of reading shifts in current cultural trends. I live in Cape Town.

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