ISSN: 1570-016X

Volume 1, Issue 1 (29 June 2001)

"Our strength comes from poisoned wells"1: the literature of self-criticism in the South African resistance struggle

Priya Narismulu

University of Durban-Westville


School of Languages and Literature
University of Durban-Westville
Private Bag X54001
Durban, 4000
South Africa

© Priya Narismulu



The South African resistance struggle was not only counter-hegemonic but also transformative. Drawing on a powerful oral tradition a range of poets, dramatists and short story composers/writers developed a literature that questioned how people related to each other, and challenged state oppression and aspects of the liberation struggle. They challenged each other to be more critical of their own practices, with some engaging in self-critical satire about their own subject positions. Affirming the primary role of their audiences in the struggle for transformation, these activist artists demonstrate that the forgiveness that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and Jacques Derrida invoke has to be located within a culture that is sensitive to all the operations of power.

1. Introduction: the construct of the popular-democratic

2. Self-criticism

2.1. Challenging the way people behaved towards each other

2.2. Criticism of responses to oppression

2.3. Criticism of developments in the liberation struggle

2.4. Self-critical satire

2.5. Popular-democratic constructions of readers/audiences

3. Postscript: Derrida and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission



About the author

1. Introduction: the construct of the popular-democratic

The South African resistance struggle was accompanied by the development of a literature that anticipated and worked towards social transformation. Located between history, politics, society and art, popular-democratic South African resistance literature, whether in English or other languages, was in turn important to the development of the culture of resistance, the more so as many other spaces were closed off by the state.

Despite the challenges and obstacles that they faced, the volume, range and depth of the work produced by resistance writers in the 1970s and 1980s has been substantial, but remains largely unacknowledged as a corpus of South African literature. Activist writers and composers used their texts strategically to intervene in various discourses of power and to exert pressure that was otherwise impossible given the conditions of repression. Writers such as Serote (1972; 1978; 1982), Van Wyk (1979), Cronin (1983; 1985; 1988), Malange (1989) and Ndebele (1983; 1988; 1991) attempted to create new speaking places, enabling people who had been marginalised, fragmented, dislocated, excluded or otherwise silenced by apartheid to speak to, for and of each other.

Although the 1972 poetry anthology Cry Rage!, edited by James Matthews and Gladys Thomas, was banned, the genres of poetry, drama and the short story proved very effective in the transmission of resistance culture. This occurred through small literary journals, the longest surviving of which was Staffrider. In 1971 Oswald Mtshali published an anthology of his poetry with Oxford University Press (which was republished in 1972). In 1972 Wally Serote published an anthology with a new local company Ad Donker, which continued until the 1990s to publish a range of anthologies of resistance writing, including three more anthologies by Serote and four by Sipho Sepamla. Frustrated by the censors and the practices of some publishers, James Matthews established Blac Publishing House in 1974 and published a collection of poems that he edited, entitled Black Voices Shout!: An anthology of poetry. Another edition of the anthology was published in 1976 by Troubador Press in Texas. In the 1980s oral poets like Gcina Mhlope, Siphiwe Ngwenya, Alfred Temba Qabula, Nise Malange, Madlizinyoka Ntanzi and Mzwakhe Mbuli depended primarily on performances for the dissemination of their work although some of their poems were published in Staffrider magazine, or by the Culture and Working Life Project at the University of Natal, or the Congress of South African Writers. Some of the poems/songs of Mzwake Mbuli were also distributed by means of audio cassettes that were sold.

The earlier poets found that there was often a disjuncture between their intended audiences of fellow oppressed people and their actual audiences. This was most evident in the reception of their work as "protest", distorted by conservative-liberal editors and academics to signify a literature of complaint written for a sympathetic white audience (Narismulu 1998). The apartheid policy of Bantu education had blighted the educational development of the majority of people, publication in the indigenous languages was subject to even more control than publication in English, and in any event most people could not afford to buy poetry anthologies. To get beyond such problems and to celebrate indigenous traditions poets like Ingoapele Madingoane began to focus on oral performance. By the 1980s there were a range of oral poets who accessed their audiences directly, either at concerts or political or trade union rallies. This meant that they were not bound to use English, to fall in with the dictates of the minders of the canon, or to satisfy the conservative monopolies that tended to dominate publishing in the indigenous languages.2 They were able to switch between languages as the situation required. Neither were they limited to a single genre, as demonstrated by Mzwake Mbuli whose performances included songs, music, poetry and dance. With the rise of the resistance movement there were increased spaces for the use and legitimation of indigenous languages in public performances but English has remained dominant despite the recognition that it is neither politically nor ethnically neutral.

2. Self-criticism

The resistance movement was not geared only to achieving counter-hegemonic power. Its intent in the 1970s and 1980s was primarily transformative. The literature of self-criticism was central to such an outcome.

Self-criticism is pivotal to the development of an organisation, a struggle, and a society. The capacity for self-criticism is an indicator of a capacity for transformation. It is part of the process of self-assertion and it indicates the difference between the dominant culture and the incipient counter culture. In the 1970s and 1980s in South Africa it emanated from a strong sense of community and a belief in the necessity for collective struggle.

The ethos of self-criticism in the work of many resistance poets may be traced to the oral tradition, in which poets have been central to the lives of their communities:

The poet and storyteller stood at the centre of th[e oral] tradition, as the community's chroniclers, entertainers, and collective conscience. Their contribution to society was considered of the greatest significance (Jordan 1973:xi).

Poets such as Serote, Gwala and Madingoane took upon themselves the responsibility to raise for public scrutiny issues that could not be addressed in the political arena for they were too sensitive.

2.1. Challenging the way people behaved towards each other

The young resistance writers of the late 1960s and early 1970s produced work that was earnest and serious as they tried to discourage people from submissiveness and apathy towards the suffering of people around them. Serote's poem "What's wrong with people" (1972:17) depicts people either as sufferers or onlookers, who do not imagine that they can play a more instrumental role in a crisis:

I saw a man
Come. Walk. Limp,
Like a branch being sawn.

His eyes flickered like flame blown by wild wind.

People stood to look.
I was among them.

The poem "Just a Passerby" by Oswald Mtshali (1972:56) uses an interior monologue to convey the response of a township resident to the actions of local thugs:

I saw them clobber him with kieries [sticks]
I heard him scream with pain
like a victim of slaughter;
I smelt fresh blood gush
from his nostrils,
and flow on the street.

I walked into the church,
and knelt in the pew
"Lord! I love you,
I also love my neighbour. Amen."

While the speaker registers the victim's suffering in these two stanzas, his only response is the avoidance of responsibility through prayer. The final stanza in the poem renders the speaker's discovery that the victim is his brother. Through the narrative Mtshali criticises the defensive and hypocritical use of religious platitudes as a substitute for appropriate action.

Mafika Gwala is very critical of the behaviour of people who destroy each other's lives, and particularly the lives of those weaker than themselves. In "Gumba, Gumba, Gumba" (Royston ed. 1973:53-55) Gwala suggests that the social breakdown that occurred is no less destructive than the machinations of the state:

You seen struggle.
If you heard:
Heard a man bugger a woman, old as his mother;
Heard a child giggle at obscene jokes
Heard a mother weep over a dead son

Addressing a similar problem, Serote's "Time Has Run Out" (1982:125-134) is compelling as critique because it takes a shared sense of responsibility as its starting point:

the cruel things we did to each other where, mad we killed each other
in styles that made the sun or moon blink in awe (131)

The poet will not gloss over the social problems:

inside this hour
many of us have gone mad
some killed with their bare fingers
some soaked their hearts in alcohol forever (133)

The alienation of sections of oppressed communities from each other is addressed by Mtutuzeli Matshoba in "To Kill a Man's Pride" (Mutloatse ed. 1980:103-127), which analyses the thoughtless complicity of township dwellers in the 'ethnic' (more correctly, linguistic) divisions that the state had sown between themselves and hostel dwellers.3

Serote's poem "My Brothers in the Streets" (1972:27) draws its critical power from the deep sense of community that accompanies the disapproval of the behaviour of tsotsis (township gangsters). The speaker interrupts himself twice when the imperative is used in expressions that anticipate the final appeal to fraternity and community. The inverted praise form emphasizes the depth of the criticism, while reinforcing the authority of the censure:

My brothers in the streets,
Who holiday in jails,
Who rest in hospitals,
Who smile at insults,
Who fear the whites,
Oh you black boys,
You horde-waters that sweep over black pastures,
You bloody bodies that dodge bullets,
My brothers in the streets,
Who booze and listen to records,
Who've tasted rape of mothers and sisters,
Who take alms from white hands.
Who grab bread from black mouths,
Oh you black boys,
Who spill blood as easy as saying "Voetsek" [get lost, from the Afrikaans]
Come my black brothers in the streets,
It's black women who are crying.

As a member of the Black Consciousness movement at the time Serote connects the social role of black intellectuals to the social function of the imbongi (praise poet). "My Brothers in the Streets" is a didactic poem for an audience of fellow black intellectuals, to encourage them to take responsibility for improving their communities. The expressions of solidarity reflect the Black Consciousness philosophy of political unity and action to challenge the divisions that apartheid sought to engender among the oppressed.

2.2. Criticism of responses to oppression

Poets like Parenzee, Serote and Matthews show a willingness to examine, in the first person, some of the painful contradictions victims of apartheid have experienced.

During the late 1980s, as a result of the deepening educational and political crises, more and more students began to believe that schooling was pointless. In "Then the children decided" (1985:57) Donald Parenzee, an activist and Peninsula Technikon lecturer, deals with the manner in which education struggles were played out at several institutions. Parenzee uses images of books and bodies to suggest that the most insidious consequence of apartheid education was apparent in the behaviour of some of its young victims. Lacking analytical skills and a political understanding of the situation they responded to the violence of the state with desperate rebellion, destroying whatever was within reach:

Then the children decided that
decades of words
having covered their pages,
grown from the spines
of decaying texts,
nourished on brain,
singed into skin,
that centuries
of so much print
would be edited,


burnt, if necessary
to free the heart
of the problem, and soon
screaming vowels,
dismembered paragraphs,
the bodies of essays,
whole crusts of theses,
littered the playgrounds, decaying
like the entrails of statues

and rearing
like some statue of liberty,
the heart,
stripped of skin,
pumped its desperate slogans
into the fetid air.

Serote's early poem, "Waking Up. The Sun. The Body." (1972:35-36), also addresses the pathological effects of oppression on the psyche, and suggests that liberation is not achieved without a struggle against the easier option of hatred:

For what do you do when, again and again,
Things around you and in you beg you with a painful embrace to hate,
And you respond with a rage and you know,
That you can never hate.

This is roughly the same point with which Derrida concludes his analysis in his talk "Forgiving the Unforgivable" (1998). However, the resistance writers go further because in a society given to extremes the converse is as much of a problem. Serote's speaker in "That's Not My Wish" (1972:41) weighs the diverging impulses of social and political propriety:

To talk for myself,
I hate to hate,
But how often has it been
I could not hate enough.

Several poets experimented with satire because the subtlety of the medium of poetry gave them scope to criticise the repressive state without exposing themselves unduly. In Serote's work satire is sometimes used as a form of self-criticism. A playful but ambivalent self-criticism is expressed in Serote's "Anonymous Throbs + A Dream" (1982:69-70). The amusement that the image of the obsequious dog evokes is intended, in a wry, reflexive twist, to shame and sensitise the reader into recognising the inadequacies of response to the hegemonizing power of the dominant:

I did this world great wrong
with my kindness of a dog
my heart like a dog's tongue
licking too many hands, boots and bums
even after they kicked my arse
voetsek voetsek
shit. I still wagged my tail
I ran away still looking back
with eyes saying please

The converse response to apartheid is expressed in the lines "but how can i forgive/ but how can i forgive" in Serote's "Behold Mama, Flowers" (1978:18). Both poems suggest the need for the rejection of the depredations of apartheid. The level of self-confrontation that occurs in these poems may, to a large extent, be attributed to the genre of lyric poetry.

In "A poem on Black and White" (1982:55), Serote's speaker seeks to initiate dialogue to address the phenomenon of inter-racial hatred and its consequences. The poem begins by pointing out that the oppressor does not enjoy any monopoly on terror, for the oppressed also possess a capacity for retaliation:

If I pour petrol on a white child's face
and give flames the taste of his flesh
it won't be a new thing
i wonder how i will feel when his eyes pop
and when my nostrils sip the smell of his flesh
and his scream touches my heart
i wonder if i will be able to sleep;
i understand alas i do understand
the rage of a whiteman pouring petrol on a black child's face
setting it alight and shooting him in a Pretoria street

In his articulation of subaltern rage the poet suggests that despite centuries of systematic dehumanisation the oppressed tend to retain possession of more humanity than most privileged South Africans have demonstrated. Part of the intent of the poem is to address those (particularly the intellectuals of both groups) who would pretend that the poison of the system has somehow passed them by. In the opening lines this is evident in the cool tone of appraisal which parodies the dispassionate and rational discourse that has failed to deal with such difficult issues. The clinical style reflexively questions whether such challenges, which have been part of the daily experiences of oppressed people for centuries, can be encoded in academic or literary discourses that avoid engaging with the political context. Serote's poems are particularly powerful in enabling the reader to see the gaps in Derrida's analysis in "Forgiving the Unforgivable" (which are considered in the final section of this paper).

2.3. Criticism of developments in the liberation struggle

The liberation struggle, however justified, is not a magical phenomenon "protected from examination" (Bourdieu cited by Barber 1987:6). While it was not easy for liberation organisations to practice self-criticism, particularly when the organs of the state were seeking to undermine or destroy them, this was a critical factor in the development of a strong counter-hegemony to apartheid.

In the interests of the national struggle it was tacitly understood that the demands for women's rights would be deferred until after apartheid had been defeated. The pervasive sexism in the liberation movements meant that questions of women's empowerment tended to be treated as a matter of private conviction until well into the 1980s. Gcina Mhlope's poem "Say No" (Lockett ed. 1990:351-2) supports the long struggles of organisations like the National Organisation of Women, through whose activism women's rights were gradually brought to the fore by the late-1980s:

Say No, Black Woman
Say No
When they give you a back seat
in the liberation wagon
Say No
Yes Black Woman
a Big NO

The impact of political turmoil on community life in the 1980s is addressed in "The Dancer" by Mhlope (Mutloatse ed. 1987:v; Lockett ed. 1990:352-3). Celebrating the relationship between the mother and daughter, the poet uses the differences in their experiences to suggest the distance the community travelled from innocence in the cause of liberation:

they tell me you were a wedding dancer
they tell me you smiled and closed your eyes
your arms curving outward just a little
and your feet shuffling in the sand;
tshi tshi tshi….

they tell me I am a dancer too
but I don't know…
I don't know for sure what a wedding dancer is
there are no more weddings
but many, many funerals
where we sing and dance
running fast with the coffin
of a would-be bride or would-be groom
strange smiles have replaced our tears
our eyes are full of vengeance, Mama

Dear, dear Mama,
they tell me I am a funeral dancer.

Beneath the recollection of the lost joy of a community is muted criticism that challenges the reader to take stock of the toll of pain and anger.

Nise Malange's poem "A Time of Madness" (Evill and Kromberg eds. 1989:14-17) deals with the inter-communal battles in the Cape, brought on as a result of divisions over the 1986 "Black Xmas" consumer boycott. As the speaker struggles to deal with the mayhem, s/he renders the physical and psychological destruction occurring within communities across the country:

the so-called Mpondos and Bacas, the migrants,
Started slaughtering people and burning their houses,
Angered with the urban people's ban on celebrations

And whatever they did not destroy the soldiers finished,
And we hurled petrol bombs,
And they sliced with their pangas,
And there was blood, too much blood
And our parents were killed coming from work,
Still sweated from the day's toil
That I am trying to banish from my memory,
Only to forget,
Only to remember that the wounds must not open again,
Because they have scarred our minds,
We are mentally ill,
We are the mad generation,
Born in the eruption of madness,
Raised when madness struck.

Like "A Time of Madness", the play Inde Lendlela (The Long Road) addresses an issue that many comrades found difficult to acknowledge publicly: the bitter infighting that developed within community organisations. Workshopped by the Cape Town-based Nyanga Theatre Players, Inde Lendlela represented an attempt to deal with what the director Phyllis Klotz (New Nation, 17.3.88:10) described as the "infighting between popular leaders, which often results in loss of life [and] makes the freedom road an unnecessarily long one." While literature offered an important medium for criticising the excesses of the resistance struggle, at the same time writers and performers had to take the risk that their work might be misunderstood or decontextualised, given the tensions in South African society.

The use of petrol-filled tyre "necklaces" to kill suspected collaborators began in 1986. During a television series on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) by the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) the journalist Max du Preez traced the origins of necklacing to the Rhodesian army's practice of practice of braaing the bodies of its victims (TRC Report, SABC Channel 3, 3.2.97). This was borne out by the testimonies of the death squad leader Eugene de Kock and the askari (former African National Congress soldier turned death squad operative) Joe Mamasela. "A Celebration of Flames" by Farouk Asvat (1987:67-9) addresses the intercommunal atrocities that occurred:

What are we
Reduced to?
What insanity
Now drives my people
From the fires
Of liberation

To the corpses of doom
In the dance
Of a final

Some of the victims of necklacing were activists who were killed by other activists. Such developments led to the escalation of tensions between different factions of the liberation struggle which sometimes resulted in witch hunts that had little to do with politics. Kelwyn Sole reacted to the atrocities in two poems that criticise the "necklace" murders. "Praxis" (1987:54-8) deals with the necklacing of an old black woman, while "Celebration" (1987:82-3) addresses the necklacing of an off-duty black policeman:

the national dance is a funeral
whirling round and round

Sole warned that such methods of "justice" retarded the development of the liberation struggle rather than advanced it.

One of most notorious cases of summary justice was addressed by the TRC. In July 1985 Maki Skosana was necklaced by her comrades. They believed that she had betrayed eight young COSAS activists on the East Rand to the security forces, who then killed them. The necklacing of Maki Skosana was filmed by the South African Broadcasting Corporation and frequently used by the apartheid state media in anti-resistance propaganda. In 1995 the askari (former African National Congress soldier turned death squad operative) Joe Mamasela told the TRC that Maki Skosana was working with him (SABC 1995). However, the situation was more complex. Upon investigation of the case the TRC made the following finding:

Ms Maki Skhosana was wrongly accused of being an informer and responsible for the death of the 'comrades' in the booby-trapped hand grenade incidents. The commission finds that Ms Skhosana was not aware of the fact that 'Mike' was Joe Mamasela, an askari. The commission finds that the necklacing was a gruesome act of extraordinary violence that cast a blight on the struggle for freedom. The commission finds the 'comrades' and the community at Duduza responsible for the necklacing of Ms Skhosana, and that the UDF [United Democratic Front] and the ANC [African National Congress] must accept responsibility for this gross violation of human rights (TRC 1998, vol 3: 667).

In the mid-1980s although Winnie Mandela made a statement that supported necklacing, necklace murders were formally condemned by the ANC, the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) and the Azanian People's Organisation. The PAC's Johnson Mlambo referred to the

historical basis of a society established by violence and daily maintained by violence. This environment of violence has tainted some opponents of the system, who use the same means against the oppressed... they hate those among the oppressed who differ with them... some people don't know who their real enemy is, and abuse our noble principle of non-collaboration as a means of silencing other tendencies in order to quickly gain political hegemony within the oppressed community (Weekly Mail 12.12.86:10).

The difficulty that banned or restricted liberation organisations faced was that, for some of their rank-and-file membership, necklacing seemed to offer the prospect of summary justice for suspected collaborators in a profoundly unjust society. Although many activists deplored the necklacings as being counter-revolutionary, they were unable to deal with the spontaneous, highly-charged issue adequately for many were themselves on the run from the security forces.

In his collection of untitled poems, Poisoned Wells and Other Delights, James Matthews (1990:52) uses the expressivity of poetry to address the corrosive psychological contexts of the notorious necklace murders:

we are living in
spring's wasteland
man/woman stumble
their shoulders necklaced
with fire transforming them
into blazing crosses
their deaths recorded
by choirs of crows
mocking their pain
we have turned ourselves
into charnel houses
the reek of blood
heavy on our breath
our quest for freedom
make us night-stalkers
obscening the fields
with charred flesh
stunted souls we are
drinking too deeply
from poisoned wells

There is another poem from the same collection by Matthews that expresses a deeply felt sense of social responsibility for the necklacings:

will necklacing be our new
the burning of flesh freedom's
is charred meat our daily
to greet the dawn with
will we reach the depth of
by turning our being into
lighting the night with hideous
to satisfy our need for

The last four lines of the poem anticipate some of the workings and contradictions of the TRC:

we must seek absolvement in
drawn from deep, dank poisoned

A culture of self-criticism helped keep in check undemocratic practices and intolerance. By refusing to treat the oppressed only as victims, most popular-democratic forms of literature insisted on their status as full subjects, with the attendant rights and responsibilities.

While Kelwyn Sole the critic assiduously defended and advanced the culture of resistance, Kelwyn Sole the poet challenged the self-destructive behaviour within the movement, challenging sham democratic practices in sections of the liberation movement. The opening lines of "Organizing the People" (1987:77) expose repressive notions of unanimity that were sometimes in evidence:

We have no need to vote;
the answer's clear.
- Who was that coughing
in the thirteenth row?
Take her out.

In "My Countrymen" (1987:80-1) Sole addresses the need for South Africans to struggle against silences and hesitations:

the many lessons we haven't learnt
the courageous stands we never took
the synapse between pain and knowledge
of ourselves

Through his use of the word "we" Sole's critique is broadly inclusive of a range of South Africans, which increases its effectiveness in a divided society. Sole's poem "The Blood of our Silence" (1987:122-3), from which the collection takes its title, is a love poem that encompasses both the personal and the political as it renders the dilemmas of a disturbed society:

uses words these days
as a flag to stuff inside
the abscess of their skin,
a medal.

Without seeds to scatter,
without love,
lips gape apart as overripe fruit
still air
of mouths opening and shutting,
opening and shutting.

In the hatreds of us
between us in a history
made malignant in the heart,
where I seek you
seeking a lost harmony of tongues
avoiding my eyes
our bones creek
the choir of their massacre

In a review of Sole's anthology The Blood of our Silence (1987), Michael Chapman (1989:116) demands more from Sole when he criticises the liberation movement:

It seems to me that many white South Africans, especially the ideologically alert variety, must have continuing inner worries about the fact that whether they like it or not they cannot avoid the relative advantages of better education, better pay, better living conditions, etc., and I would have been interested to see more of the poems turning back, interrogatively, on the poet himself.

Chapman's sensitivity to need for the writer (whether poet or critic) to problematise his/her own role and authority resonates with Gayatri Spivak's contention that, "through a historical critique of your position as the investigating person .... you [earn] the right to criticize, and... be heard" (1990:62-3). However, while such caveats would strengthen Sole's critique, it is not the validity of Sole's analysis that is being questioned.

Within the liberation movement there were violations of democratic processes and human rights, such as the torture at the Quatro Camp of the African National Congress and Winnie Mandela's involvement in the death of the fourteen-year old Tumahole activist Stompie Seipei. The concluding stanza of Peter Horn's "Canto Ten: Power" (1991:118-9) is reminiscent of cautions raised by Paulo Freire (1972) to warn the oppressed against the abuse of power:

But beware: when you shoot the powerful
you have not shot power: power lives on
in the most secret windings of your cortex.

Horn's words resonate with Mattelart's position regarding the need for the exercise of vigilance in any society with a history of violence:

When the oppressor falls, it does not automatically follow that the experiences of cultural resistance are metamorphosed into a project of new social relations and a new hegemonic culture (Mattelart 1983:30).

However, given the history of polarization in South Africa Horn's use of the second person pronoun ("you") is less effective than the inclusive first person plural form ("we"), for it can give rise to an unnecessary defensiveness. Horn does not usually exclude himself from his social criticism, as is evident in the reflexive analysis (from the subject position of an activist-poet) in "Letter to a friend overseas" (1991:42-3):

words have turned blunt in the atmosphere
                                                of hate
that surrounds us. A corrosion, violating our
minds. Breeding violence (42).

Horn acknowledges that the horror of the interregnum has led to numbness:

We have grown accustomed
to the filth, disgust and fury. We no longer
feel it. We only move our lips. We mumble (43).

2.4. Self-critical satire

Some of Chapman and Horn's concerns have powerful precursors in the satirical poems of self-criticism in the late 1960s and 1970s. Indeed, the ANC activist Albie Sachs was by no means the first revolutionary to call in 1989 for openness and self-criticism (see De Kok and Press, 1990:19-29). By the late 1960s several resistance poets were attempting to create a climate of debate rather than defensiveness. While addressing issues of oppression and transformation many Black Consciousness poets questioned their own contradictions and the limitations of their speaking positions (ie., the generic and linguistic conventions of English poetry). They did so in ways that transgressed the discursive norms and proprieties of the conservative liberal literary establishment, registering "a certain unofficial view of the world" (Bakhtin 1984:188).

Chris van Wyk's poem "Beware of White Ladies when Spring is Here" (1979:28) challenges liberals' superficial notions of reform with the hard-earned confidence that had been developing within the resistance movement.

Beware of white ladies
in chemise dresses
and pretty sandals
that show their toes.
Beware of these ladies
when spring is here.
They have strange habits
Of infesting our townships
with seeds of:
geraniums pansies poppies carnations.
They plant their seeds in our eroded slums
cultivating charity in our eroded hearts
making our slums look like floral Utopias.
Beware of seeds and plants.
They take up your oxygen
and they take up your time
and let you wait for blossoms
and let you pray for rain
and you forget about equality
and blooming liberation

The poem addresses the mixed feelings with which the oppressed respond to the attractive but inconsequential offerings of privileged do-gooders, which could confuse and distract the unwary from their primary aim of liberation. This is clear in the speaker's concluding caution that liberal intervention merely helps the oppressed adapt to the conditions of their oppression (expressed through the image of the plant-lover) rather than deal with the problem that challenges both liberals and oppressed people. The thread of mock paranoia that runs through the poem is not just there to taunt the liberal critics who frequently complained about the grimness of resistance poetry. It is also in the text to nudge activists to take themselves less seriously, drawing from Bakhtin the idea that "Laughter liberates not only from external censorship but first of all from the great interior censor" (1984:94). The poet's confident treatment of the suspicions of oppressed people explains the success of the poem in a desperate and polarized period.

As activists most of the resistance writers had some faith in the instrumentality of the word. They were alert to the fact that literature represents a complex embodiment of persuasive language, even as they recognised that the relationship of literature to politics is highly mediated. They used their hard-won public voices to challenge the dominant political and cultural discourses, opening up new possibilities in literary form and language as they reconceptualised the relationships between power, communication and art:

In South Africa the role of language as used by the ruling classes is to maintain and reproduce the existing order of apartheid and exploitation. It is also in and through language that the existing order is contested (Meintjies 1989:25).

Many resistance writers seized the space that literary discourse offered and challenged its boundaries and assumptions, recognising that while language is a medium of art, it has a more widespread function as a medium of communication.

In "They Do It" (1972:23) Serote addresses the political and social contradictions of black intellectuals who interacted with white liberal intellectuals. The poem echoes Steve Biko's treatment of the problem of tokenism in the Frank Talk article "Black Souls in White Skins?":

the black-white circles are almost always a creation of white liberals. As a testimony to their claim of complete identification with the blacks, they call a few "intelligent and articulate" blacks to "come around for tea at home", where all present ask each other the same old hackneyed question "How can we bring about change in South Africa?" (Biko 1988:36).

Serote uses parody to criticise both the liberal academic milieu and to challenge black intellectuals, reproving the petit bourgeois charades of integration which left the race and class bases unchallenged:

They have everything. Earthly.
Their ways are woven wide,
Only small 'cause they're the same;
There's a party
There's a study group
Or some such thing;
What's important is
They meet;
The same people everyday
At every other house or occasion,
The same people; tea and cheese-cake, or coffee,
Or milo: or whatever you want.
To change the monotony,
They dapple the house

With the black of an Indian or the black like mine,
Then they smile.

The disaffection suggested by the title is neatly countered in the simple inclusiveness and directness of the final line, which demands substantive action from both black and white intellectuals. This is a significant development from the alienation and lethargy suggested by most of the poem and the (ironic) title. Like Van Wyk, Serote also addresses both parties directly, as the only way of dealing with the contradiction:

To repeat is when I continue
Poetry of monotony
So let's stop, we need a change.

Serote and Van Wyk go further than Biko, to treat the intersection of black and white intellectuals as a conjuncture that can produce change.

In "What's in this Black Shit?" (1972:16) and "A Poem on Black and White" (1982:55) Serote parodies the formality and impersonality of the academic essay to challenge the prescriptions of the conservative liberal academic establishment regarding the style and content of South African literature. "What's in this Black Shit?" is a double-sided attack, on the racist epithet, and on intellectuals who made a fetish of sanitising cultural and intellectual discourse while the majority of South Africans have been subjected to appalling conditions. Parodying the style of serious, disinterested and "objective" intellectual inquiry, Serote (1972:16) mocks intellectual hypocrisy by focusing upon a patently "unacademic" subject, suggesting that poetic discourse and intellectual work is not too precious to address such issues:

It's not the steaming little rot
In the toilet bucket,
It is the upheaval of the bowels
Bleeding and coming out through the mouth
And swallowed back,
Rolling in the mouth,
Feeling its taste and wondering what's next like it.

The speaker is insistent about the content of his subject: "Now I'm talking about this", is followed by suggestive elaboration: "This shit can take the form of action". This leads to ironic self-affirmation: "I'm learning to pronounce this 'Shit' well", which is reinforced by the meticulous conclusion: "That's what's in this black 'Shit'". The poet will not tolerate any evasions of the subject. In contrast to "The Actual Dialogue" (1972:9), "What's in this Black 'Shit'" sets out to offend intellectuals, both black and white, into recognition of their complicity (whether conscious or unconscious) with conservative values.

By relating cultural practices to other forms of social and political activity, and by challenging the cultural apparatuses themselves, such works tend to challenge the ruling concepts of literature as fetishes of class or subculture. In turn, such expressions of popular-democratic literature do not seek to be objective, neutral, trans-historical or trans-geographic, for they take their bearings from their temporal and spatial location as well as from the history of repression and marginalisation of the majority.

Several poems register problems with the material distance produced by cultural and class factors. In "The Uprising" (1990:20-22) the ANC exile Zinjiva Winston Nkondo's speaker describes the polarization of South African literature in metapoetic terms, beginning with the words "here is a bare trench/ of metaphors" (20) which is in contrast to the "singing of broken lips (20)". This characterises the postmodernist crisis of the postcolonial speaker of Serote's "Black Bells" (1972:62), who struggles to express him/herself in a genre patrolled by neocolonial authorities:

Make pain
Like poverty can make pain.
Like thought are elusive,
Like life,
Where everybody is trapped.
I wonder who trapped me,
For I am trapped,

The lines "For I am trapped / Twice" suggest that not only is the persona trapped by the regime, but when s/he tries to articulate that experience in the medium of English s/he becomes ensnared for the second time. By dramatising the crisis the poet tries to fracture the monologic discourses of power. Nevertheless, "Black Bells" is the final poem in a collection that demonstrates that Serote, among other resistance writers, did not believe that his discursive options were limited only to knowing how to curse like Caliban.

The speaker in "Black Bells" registers a contradiction that many resistance poets experienced: while they felt compelled to produce poetry, they found the discourse to be a trap. The poems render alienation and disempowerment, which could not just be addressed internally, for any literary resolution to systematic oppression could only be very limited, temporal, individual and fictional, as Serote's No Baby Must Weep (1975:60-61) suggests in a longing for transcendence:

i can say
i have gone beyond the flood now
i left word on the flood
it echoes
in the depth the width
i am beyond the flood

This is deflated by the wishful but self-defeating notion: "one day the word will break".

In an earlier poem "High and Low" (1972:27), Oswald Mtshali offers a reflexive critique of the subject positions that the resistance poets constructed to deal with their material and existential crises:

Black is the hole of the poet,
a mole burrowing from no entrance to no exit.

Poems such as "High and Low" and "Black Bells" register profound doubt about the value of poetry in the "slaughter house" (Serote 1972:6). The poets seem more susceptible to despair when they construct their speakers only as individual voices. That the wholesale adoption of the first-person pronoun (a convention that dominates the literature of western high culture) can have political ramifications is borne out by the ANC exile Keorapetse Kgositsile's poem "Mandela's Sermon" (Soyinka 1975:204), which warns about artistic choices:

False gods killed the poet in me. Now
I dig graves
With artistic precision.

"Words, Words, Words" (1984:104) by Sipho Sepamla registers another resistance writer's concerns about the medium:

we are talking of words
words tossed around as if
denied location by the wind
we mean those words some spit others grab
dress them up for the occasion
fling them on the lap of an audience
we are talking of those words
that stalk our lives like policemen
words that no dictionary can embrace
words that change sooner than seasons

we mean words
that spell out our lives
words, words, words
for there's a kind of poetic licence
doing the rounds in these parts.

In the changing political climate after 1976 the poet-activists grew increasingly concerned that their poetry was tolerated by the regime because it was not much of a threat, but served as the classic petit bourgeois safety valve, defusing rather than increasing pressure against the system. Sepamla's "In Search of Roots" (1984:106), shows a reflexive cynicism attendant upon the relative "success" of satirical literature:

we will have to laugh hard
even if it is at our own illusions

As the political situation worsened, and they were obliged to ask more demanding questions about their identities, their social projects and their relationships with their audiences, most resistance writers tended to give up the margins of satire for more engaged literary and cultural work. Making critical opposition part of the general opposition was key to the development of the popular-democratic struggle.

2.5. Popular-democratic constructions of readers/audiences

As the struggle evolved resistance writers recognised that they had to offer more than a language of analysis. They explored the constructive and liberatory capacities of their medium as they committed skills and other resources to the political resistance. At the same time the struggle rescued South African literature in English from its colonial dependencies, from being fragmented and marginalized and gave content and materiality to that which had been inchoate:

South African writers have begun to forge a genuine literature of the people: a literature in which the spectator and the reader have acquired an importance that is perhaps unprecedented in the history of literature: a literature which reflects back to its readers their struggle for emancipation, and at the same time reinvigorates them for that very struggle (Watts 1989:37).

The literature of resistance tended to articulate a "criticism and transcendence of literary individualism" (Vaughan 1986:213) as resistance writers searched for ways of constructing and relating to their intended audiences. Many poets and playwrights chose to forego the privilege of literary distance, despite their manifest skills, and began to use voices that were recognisably their own, as they tried to develop the cultural and political agency of the oppressed. Owing to the problems of education, access and finance, many communities of readers had to be willed, strategised and imagined into being.

Mtshali, Serote and Gwala's poetry is closely based on the experiences of oppressed communities and is directed to those communities. However, Michael Chapman has disputed this, arguing that

Although the Soweto poet has tended to give his poetry a populist emphasis, the ideal of the "people" should be seen primarily as a mental construct (1984:198).

However, populism is quite different from the construct of the popular-democratic. Populism is not directed primarily at serving the majority of the people so much as determining how power is to be attained by capturing as much of the spectrum of public opinion as possible. (Populist structures tend to be identified with a charismatic leader, and they tend to elevate individuals to speak for everyone, as there are no mandates and little sense of accountability.) Functioning as part of a politics of knowledge in which social justice for all citizens is the primary objective, a consistent goal of popular-democratic literature has involved making critical opposition part of the general opposition.

Indeed, much of Serote's experimentation arises out of his concern with how well he, as a writer, is able to reach his intended audience. By leaving his poems manifestly open and incomplete, Serote placed great responsibility upon his audience as active participants in the production of meaning. Serote understood the role of the artist to be that of a co-developer of his/her culture. This inclusive sense of development has to do with the poet's recognition of the role of intellectuals and cultural activists in the larger scheme of the struggle for liberation, which is quite different from didacticism or vanguardism. In this Serote, Sepamla, Gwala, Mtshali, Madingoane, Manaka, (the early) Ngema, Mhlope and Malange seem to have been guided by the role of the poet in the indigenous oral tradition.

One of the best examples of popular-democratic culture is Wally Serote's early collection Behold Mama, Flowers (1978). In the anthology Serote fuses the techniques of jazz music and the oral traditions, as is evident from his use of a declamatory style and refrains, choruses and chants to give structure to the performance poems. In the lengthy title poem, "Behold Mama, Flowers" (1978:11-61), the progression of refrains first advance the themes of memory and forgetting ("how can I forget"), injury and forgiveness ("how can I forgive"), and then engender the future ("what do we want") and envision it ("what will happen now"). The open-ended nature of the refrains suggest Serote's intention to engage the audience in a dialogue that anticipates development. The impetus of these refrains is contested by a refrain that suggests the delays and frustration of the interregnum: "inside this hour/of intensely long and dragging movement". Some relief is offered in the refrain "the bright eye of the night keeps whispering", which suggests the support of natural elements in the drama of liberation. The concluding refrain "I can say" does two things simultaneously: reflexively it offers a model for assertive subjectivity; and, built upon a ritualised set of declamatory questions, it carries the poem into the realm of prophecy.

Poems such as "Behold Mama, Flowers" depended upon the responses of their audiences for closure. Writers eschew the writer-reader hierarchy and affirm their faith in their audience. This is a public and mobilizing form of art, closely involving and representing its audience in its process. Such poems constructed spaces where voices that have been fragmented, dislocated, marginalised and silenced in South Africa could find a forum, in this way anticipating the developments in the labour and the mass democratic movements of the 1980s. At the same time Serote showed how literature could be invigorated and directed by the struggle for political and cultural freedom: "this is a communication which is not just content to bring communication to the masses, but seeks to liberate their speech" (J. Martin Barbero, quoted in Mattelart 1983:22).

Several dramatists tried to synthesise "creativity and social responsibility" (Gordimer 1988:243). In the late 1970s the community arts project, Soyikwa, was established under the directorship of Matsemela Manaka. Extending the socially committed role of cultural workers, Soyikwa worked in the rural areas from 1985. Zakes Mda did the same with the Maratholi travelling theatre that he set up in rural Lesotho.

The plays Woza Albert! (Mtwa, Ngema and Simon 1983) and Asinamali (Ngema 1985) were also based on the conviction that the transformation of society is not possible without the integral involvement of ordinary people. Both plays draw upon song, dance, mime, narrative, history, and didactic tracts to entertain, record and educate with the purpose of inciting people to struggle. Notwithstanding Ngema's subsequent work, these are not populist plays: the audience is affirmed and challenged by turns to take charge of their lives. Woza Albert! expressly challenges its audiences not to accept the state's construction of themselves as passive subjects and meekly await some distant and transcendental solution to their miseries (in the afterlife).

Asinamali also makes it quite clear that it has no interest in escapist theatre but seeks to engage with day-to-day struggles. At one point a character confronts the audience about its grasp of the scope of oppression:

Bhoyi Ngema: the problem... is not only about the language Afrikaans, not only about rent increases, not only job reservation or working conditions, not only about gold, not only about diamonds, not only about sugar cane in Natal, not only about winelands in the Cape, not only about bloody fucking passbooks, not only about the vote, not only about the bloody Immorality Act. What is it? What is it? Tell me, what is it? Talk! What is it? Eh? What is it? [Looking directly at the camera, he pauses.] You think I am playing games with you? You think I'm acting? I'm not playing games, man. My friend, you've got to look for it. You've got to look for it. It's deep down in your heart (BBC video).

Smal Ndaba's late-1980s play So where to also took the development of the audience seriously. The co-director Phyllis Klotz explained that the company sought to use theatre as a political and social tool to enable its audiences to examine "where we are, who we are and where we want to go (New Nation 17.11.89:15).

3. Postscript: Derrida and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission

It is easy for Mandela and Tutu to forgive ... they lead vindicated lives. In my life nothing, not a single thing, has changed since my son was burnt by barbarians (the mother of Sizwe Kondile, quoted by Krog 1998:109).

In his talk "Forgiving the Unforgivable", which he presented at the University of Natal (Pietermaritzburg) in 1998, Jacques Derrida concluded by arguing that people who have suffered transgressions simply have to forgive. However, FW de Klerk failed to acknowledge his own responsibility as the National Party leader and tried to distance himself from the atrocities of the death squads, stating "They are criminals and they ought to be punished" (Krog 1998:98). Who is there to forgive when many leaders and perpetrators refuse to take responsibility for their actions. Even if people forgive their transgressors, what does this change? The problem in Derrida's argument is that he assumes a privileged subject, a person unlikely to suffer transgression in the first place, so the arguments about forgiveness tend to have an abstract character. Little has changed for most of the people whose basic rights have been violated. Few achieve a position of sufficient security to be able to reconcile themselves to what happened, and many spend the rest of their lives dealing with post-traumatic stress. Often the transgressors continue to threaten, and treat reconciliation as part of a bargain over power. (The TRC arose as part of the compromise between the apartheid government and the liberation organisations and was intended to bring political and legal closure to past transgressions.) Poets such as Serote and Matthews foresaw the extent of the challenge facing oppressed South Africans in the 1990s:

to satisfy our need for
we must seek absolvement in
drawn from deep, dank poisoned
wells (Matthews 1990:69)

It is not that Derrida is entirely unaware of these problems, as is evident from his Janus-faced discourse. Derrida refers frequently to Jankélévitch's forthright statements about Nazi and subsequent German behaviour4 (Derrida is Jewish by birth). Derrida quotes Jankélévitch several times, yet each time that he quotes Jankélévitch he distances himself from him (1998). Such a fractured, dialogic way of speaking is familiar to South Africans who have suffered oppression but must continue to skirt "sensitive" issues so that they will be tolerated by the hegemonic formations that continue to retain power in various institutions.

Both at the end of his talk and in response to questions from the audience Derrida focuses on self-reconciliation. His final construction of forgiveness is individual and solipsistic, tenable only in a space far removed from the context of transgression. It seems ultimately a private matter, far from the public or communal domain. The unexpectedly transcendent conclusion from the deconstructionist seems to draw much from the gospel of Christ. (But its benefits are less attractive than the theological resolution.) More than this, as a result of the discourse of self-criticism developed by the resistance writers, it is difficult to accept the bi-millennialist tenor of Derrida's conclusion. The challenge addressed by the resistance writers, whose attitude of reflection and compunction during the struggle produced a literature of self-criticism (and not, at best, some grudging allowance to save themselves after the shift in power), is far more constructive and compelling. The differences between Derrida's argument and the literature of self-criticism confirm Volosinov's argument that the significance of a word "is determined by whose word it is and for whom it is meant" (1973:86).5

Contrast Derrida's position with the acuity of the young Serote's vision, as has been borne out by the TRC hearings almost two decades after the poem "Behold Mama, Flowers" (1978:11-61) was written. In January 1997, a group of Eastern Cape security branch officers, Gideon Nieuwoudt, Harold Snyman, Gerhardus Lotz, Barend du Plessis, Johan van Zyl and Johannes Koole, made an amnesty application to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. They admitted that they had abducted and killed a number of activists, including members of the Port Elizabeth Civic Organisation (PEBCO). They revealed that in May 1985 they had tortured, killed, burned and dismembered the "PEBCO Three", Sipho Hashe, Champion Galela and Qaqawula Godolozi, before dumping them in the Fish River (SABC 2.2.97; Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Vol. 3 1998:117).6

Serote's poem "Behold Mama, Flowers" was published in 1978, some eight years before these incidents. In the Foreword Serote explains the title:

once, a man chopped a body many, many times - he chopped this body into many, many small pieces and threw them into the flowing river. When the pieces, floating and flowing, began to dance with the rhythm of the river, a child, seeing this, said, "Mama, look at the flowers" (1978:8)

The dismembered body represents both the human sacrifices to apartheid, as well as the fragmented bantustans that were hacked from the minority superstate. Yoking the disparate iconography of blood and flowers, Serote renders the grim creativity of the liberation struggle:

i can say, behold the flowers
for their scent has taken other shapes (1978:60)

Drawing on "flowers", a stock image in poetry, "Behold Mama, Flowers" knits the dichotomies of death and life and fragmentation and cohesion, as it celebrates the possibility of fresh and creative responses to experience, notwithstanding the horror that has been endured. It is not insignificant that the speaker and visionary is a child: it was the youth in South Africa who, undaunted by history, fought for a liberated society. Written two decades ago, before some of the atrocities were revealed, "Behold Mama, Flowers" attests to power of the associated roles of the poet as seer and healer in the oral tradition. At the same time the poem demonstrates the power of the popular-democratic ethos of the liberation struggle.

The popular-democratic project, developed by organisations such as the UDF, the ANC, the Congress of South African Trade Unions, and supported by various international structures, was largely interrupted by FW de Klerk's pre-emptive political manoeuvres in February 1990. Some of the consequences of this are apparent in the refusal of many perpetrators and leaders to take responsibility for their actions. This is part of a culture of bargaining, impunity and denial which has affected the responses of minorities and sections of the ANC leadership to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and its report.


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New Nation, 17.3.1988:10
Weekly Mail 12.12.1986:10


1 The quotation comes from an untitled poem, beginning "the tomorrows that are to be", from James Matthews' collection Poisoned Wells and Other Delights (1990).

2 Mazisi Kunene did not succeed in publishing the original isiZulu version of Emperor Shaka the Great and had to translate it into English and publish it overseas first.

3The etymology of the word "ethnic" ("pertaining to nations not Christian or Jewish") suggests an ideology of othering, given its application to subordinate groups and never to the dominant, which South African experience confirms. The ethnicity of the dominant minorities was never raised (even though they originate from different countries and cultures) while the apartheid state used linguistic differences to try to fragment the indigenous majority into ethnic groups. Through the operation of power the apartheid state orchestrated distortions. For instance, speakers of isiZulu, Xhosa and Siswati will confirm that these languages are mutually intelligible (a speaker of one language can understand the other two) yet many people maintain that these are distinct languages that reflect distinct cultural groups even though history and language suggests otherwise. While everyone (academics included) acknowledges that these languages form part of the Nguni group of languages it seems as though the differences constructed by colonialism and apartheid remain hegemonic. It is interesting that speakers of the Nguni languages comprise more that 40% of the South African population, which was clearly a great problem to the apartheid state, which created "homelands"/"Bantustans" to consolidate differences constructed on the basis of language as ethnic differences, and to exclude African people from "white" South Africa. That division, fragmentation and exclusion was the point of the apartheid policy is confirmed by the National Party government's curious creation of two homelands (Transkei and Ciskei) for Xhosa-speaking people, the better to control the rebellious eastern Cape.

4 [editor's note] The French philosopher Vladimir Jankélévitch published two influential books on the moral problem of forgiving: Le pardon (1967) and, posthumously, L'imprescriptible (1986). In a 1999 interview with Le Monde des Débats, Derrida explains in detail where he agrees and disagrees with Jankélévitch on this issue:

Malgré mon admirative sympathie pour Jankélévitch, et même si je comprends ce qui inspire cette colère du juste, j'ai du mal à le suivre. Par exemple quand il multiplie les imprécations contre la bonne conscience de « l'Allemand » ou quand il tempête contre le miracle économique du mark et l'obscénité prospère de la bonne conscience, mais surtout quand il justifie le refus de pardonner par le fait, ou plutôt l'allégation du non-repentir. Il dit en somme : « S'ils avaient commencé, dans le repentir, par demander pardon, nous aurions pu envisager de le leur accorder, mais ce ne fut pas le cas. » J'ai d'autant plus de peine à le suivre ici que dans ce qu'il appelle lui-même un « livre de philosophie », Le Pardon, publié antérieurement, Jankélévitch avait été plus
accueillant à l'idée d'un pardon absolu. Il revendiquait alors une inspiration juive et surtout chrétienne. Il parlait même d'un impératif d'amour et d'une « éthique hyperbolique » : d'une éthique, donc, qui se porterait au-delà des lois, des normes ou d'une obligation. Éthique au-delà de l'éthique, voilà peut-être le lieu introuvable du pardon. Toutefois, même à ce moment-là, et la contradiction demeure donc, Jankélévitch n'allait pas jusqu'à admettre un pardon inconditionnel et qui donc serait accordé même à qui ne le demande pas. (Le siècle et le pardon)
[ Despite my admiring sympathy for Jankelevitch, and even if I understand what inspires this righteous anger, it's hard for me to concur. For example, when he multiplies the imprecations against the good conscience of "the German" or when he rages against the economic miracle of the mark and the prosperous obscenity of the good conscience, but most of all when he justifies refusing to forgive by the fact, or rather the allegation, of the unrepentant. He says in sum: "If they had begun, in repenting, by asking for forgiveness, we would be able to see about giving it to them, but this was not the case." It's so much more difficult for me to agree here than where, in what he himself calls his "book of philosophy," The Pardon, published earlier, Jankelevitch had been more accepting of the idea of the absolute pardon. He assumed then an inspiration that was Jewish and ultimately Christian. He spoke even of an imperative of love and a "hyperbolic ethic": of an ethic, then, which would be carried beyond laws, norms or any obligation. Ethical beyond the ethical, that is perhaps the undiscoverable place of the pardon. Nonetheless, even in that moment, and the contradiction remains, Jankelevitch would not go so far as allowing an unconditional pardon, one which would be given even if it where [sic!] not asked for. (The Century and the Pardon, 1999)]

5 Volosinov offers a useful way of determining whether discourse is expressive of the popular-democratic. The insight resonates in the work of postcolonial writers like Wole Soyinka (1975), Karin Barber (1987), Trinh Minh-ha (1989), Gayatri Spivak (1990) and Edward Said (1993).

6 A month after they had killed the "PEBCO Three" many of these police officers were involved in the abduction, assassination and mutilation of the "Cradock Four": Matthew Goniwe, Sparrow Mkhonto, Fort Calata and Sicelo Mhlauli.

About the author:

Priya Narismulu did her PhD on the popular-democratic in South African resistance culture (1970-1990) and has published several articles on the subject, in addition to articles in her other areas of research: gender, development studies (urban shack settlements), postcolonial studies, sociolinguistics, and curriculum development. She is a senior lecturer based in the School of Languages and Literature at the University of Durban-Westville, where she teaches contemporary African literature in English, Postcolonial Theory, and two programme modules: Language and Power, and Language and Gender. In the Social Policy MA programme she has taught the programme core, Critical and Research Skills, and Community Empowerment. She also teaches in MA programmes in Curriculum Development and in Gender Politics.

© Priya Narismulu