South African Literature After Apartheid

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Written by Gonzalo Moreno

Last Wednesday, Dr. Rozena Maart, a former University of Guelph professor and now a "pretty much full-time" fiction writer, came back to UoG to discuss her experiences in her native South Africa and read passages of her book Rosa’s District 6.

Maart’s talk was loosely based on the premise of "[giving] a broad understanding of what South African literature means in the post-apartheid.” Going back to her childhood in Cape Town's District 6, Maart pointed out that "[the word] 'black' was never used in South Africa (...), and there was no South African literature read." Under this system, "if we [non-whites] were lucky, we would be educated to work in a bank."

Drawing heavily from the figure of Steve Biko, a black consciousness activist and apartheid casualty, Maart emphasized the role of language in “the relationship that colonialism has with the mind (…). If you think in a language,” Maart asked, "how can you think outside of it?” For Biko, Maart added, “liberation could only be found outside of the language in which he was taught.”

Maart then read excerpts from Rosa’s District 6, a loosely autobiographical collection of short stories that take place in Maart's home district but are connected by the presence of a small child named Rosa. The author read a few pages from "No Rosa No District Six," a tale of a child's discovery of lesbian love, and from "The Green Chair," a ghost story of sorts which was strongly influenced by Latin American magical realism.

Maart then discussed some aspects of her book. She overwhelmingly praised the role of women during apartheid, as they kept households running while they suffered from apartheid as much as anyone else. "Women have always worked," she said. "I was born on a Sunday, Monday was a holiday, Tuesday my mother went to work." She remembers being raised among neighbours, and in turn helping out when she was old enough and neighbours had their own children, a communal feeling that permeates Rosa’s District 6. She also explained the lack of male characters in the book: "uncles, fathers, grandfathers, died or were detained [in the apartheid regime], or were injured in World War II," which is why the book focuses so much on South African women.

Maart says that she’s not naïve about the emergence of black literature: “black writing is now seen as a commodity.” She still hopes that it will make a significant mark, and also praised the new black literature in Afrikaans (colonial Dutch), as it is now being appropriated by black South Africans as their own, being very different from modern Dutch.

| More
Bookstore First Year