Vol VIII, Issue 2 (Spring 2001): South Africa
Peter K. LeMaire
Bernice A. LeMaire
For more information
Editorial: South Africa
by Dr. Gloria Emeagwali - Chief Editor
In the Fall issue of Africa-Update we featured part of the First Steve Biko Memorial Lecture by Professor Njabulo S. Ndebele, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cape Town. We conclude this lecture in the current issue of AfricaUpdate, which focuses on the assassination of Steve Biko and the brutality of apartheid. Afrikaanerdom claimed "entitlement to land, air, water, beast and each and every black body," the celebrated writer points out. At the heart of it all, was a certain pathological depravity which shaped apartheid.
In this issue Toshiko Sakamoto of Ritsumei-kan Asia Pacific University, Japan, focuses on Nadine Gordimer's 1994 novel, None to Accompany Me, a work which, she argues, represents Black female characters in a more positive light than in her previous writings. The liberation movement moves beyond Gordimer's previous conceptualisations. It is no longer exclusively associated with masculine issues, argues Sakamoto. Black women are transformed into active agents of empowerment and change. To a large extent, therefore, this work is “a more enriching and convincing presentation of Black women.”
On February 17th 2001, four students of the African Studies Club of CCSU, Dr. Katherine Harris and myself left CCSU for Rutgers New Jersey to attend the widely publicised conference whose theme was “Fighting Back-African Strategies Against the Slave Trade.”
We were hoping for a fresh analysis and new perspective on the well-trodden issue of the Atlantic Slave Trade. We were expecting to explore new dimensions on the forced migration and enslavement of Africans in the Americas. However, the organizers, for reasons unknown, diverted attention from the Euro- American dominated commercial enterprise commonly called the Atlantic Slave Trade, a project which created capital for a host of Western financial institutions between the 15th and 19th centuries. The conference focused instead, almost exclusively, on internal production relations within Africa itself, primarily it may seem, to blame the victims of the atrocious system. Dr. Harris gives us some insights into the conference proceedings in her conference report.
The Editorial Board
of AfricaUpdate is grateful to the many contributors to this issue.
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in Nadine Gordimer's None to Accompany Me
By Toshiko Sakamoto, Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University
Nadine Gordimer's None to Accompany Me (1994) presents a definite shift of perspective in the way her work represents Black female characters. Here there is more concern than ever with the empowerment of Black women in politics. The novel explores both Black and White women's empowerment within South Africa's national transformation during the period of dramatic change in political power from White dominance to the first democratically elected government.
who has returned with her husband and daughter from their political
exile, joins the preparation process for a new government. She is
provided with more active roles in home politics: “Home for her was
the politics of home.” In Gordimer's previous novels, the whole idea
of liberation and the possibilities of liberation have been conceived
of as a masculine form, and liberation and nationhood have been contextual-ised
within men's domain. It is not until Gordimer comes to see the possibilities
of nation and what may be called “the arrival of home” that she can
also conceive of Black women's struggles, roles and redefinitions
as part of the new transformations of nation.
earlier works, a large group of Black women are left out of her vision
of social reality. She has been criti- cised for rendering Black women
silent and invisible in revitalising and liberating exclusively White
women through their attachments to African men as if to suggest thatthe
issues of liberation may only be explored between White women and
Black men, and as if to endorse the assumption that matters of liberation
within the non-white community are entirely masculine issues. Gordimer
sees the emancipation of Black women as secondary to national liberation
within which Black women's struggles are subsumed. She says:
As far as black
women are concerned, their concern is the oppression underwhich all
blacks live. The feminist battle must come afterwards....I feel that
if the real battle for human rights is won, the kingdom of...feminine
Gordimer appears to believe with Fanon
that in national liberation “truth is the property of the national
cause...that which hurries on the break-up of the colonial regime;
that which promotes the emergence of the nation.” However, her optimistic
view about “the feminist battle” lacks the vision of the particular
socio-historical and political context in which Black women have been
fighting. Jo Beall, Shireen Hassim and Alison Todes see “women's struggles
as a legitimate and integral part of broader struggles.” The real
battle for women must be fought continually along with national struggle
and even after national liberation since gender issues are an essential
part of social transformation and should affect the forms of national
liberation to the post-apartheid state.
The liberation movement is no longer a masculine business in None to Accompany Me. It presents a perspective of Black women's political roles and struggles within the actual progression of an emergent nation with both positive and negative implications. The possibilities, fulfillments and dangers of Sibongile's new power significantly affect and re-organise her relationship with her husband, Didymus, an old fighter in the liberation movement. Sibongile and her daughter, Mpho, are far more capable than male characters of creating a new home and adjusting themselves to home politics. Sibongile plays a more overtly political role as a deputy director of the Movement's regional redeployment programme for returnees. She is elected later as a member of the central executive of the post-apartheid movement.
The novel's very complex conflation of many issues in both locations of gender and political struggles indicates that political struggle is also women's struggle.
The process we see in None to Accompany Me is a struggle of Black women as well as Black men back home within the context of the creation of a new nation. The conventional subordinate position of Black women is subverted in the relationship of the returnee couple not only in politicizing Sibongile but also in the actual delineation of this process of her empowerment. The representation of Sibongile in the process of her political growth makes a structural contrast to those of Aila and her daughter, Baby, in My Son's Story where the “coloured” women's political identity is a given statement without providing any process of their individuation. Sibongile, on the other hand, is represented in a gradual process of discovery for the reader that recognises the anxieties, worries, and dangers that delineate her political life.
This level of representation is a crucial dimension in South Africa because women's oppression assumes specific forms which provide an insight into the ways in which women have become politicised. It is as if the novel's context of change, negotiations, empowerment and reconciliation spurs a similar negotiation in Gordimer's own conception of world and relationships in the novel.
Gordimer's creation of the parallel view of Sibongile and Oupa's wife in the village is a way of showing us the evolution of how far the Black woman has come to empower herself within the struggle. Oupa, who works in the city as a clerk at the Legal Foundation, is an inheritor of the old struggle. He embodies the masculine activity of the struggle: “something of the unacknowledged self that came into being in prison still existed within him.” In contrast to him, his wife, who stays in his old village, embodies a conventional African life and represents Black women in their traditional place. Cherryl Walker observes that the traditional tribal and economic status of Black women at the time of industrialisation and urbanisation was not only racialised but also gendered. To keep African women in traditional junior roles and to tie them to the rural areas, state control worked to stem the tide of African women's migration and perpetuated their subordinate position. In None to Accompany Me, the two women's roles are paralleled in the way that Oupa's wife is in the same marginalised position as Sibongile's in exile. We can see by looking at the two women's lives within the new context to measure how far the African woman has come to the centre of the new political arena.
The relationship between Sibongile and Didymus is where Gordimer explores the re-organisation of power relations between men and women within the transitional political circumstances. While Sibongile is provided with productive political action and a new attitude of political intercourse, Didymus is caught, like Oupa, in his old self as an old fighter and incapable of transcending the past. He is even dragged into inherited problems of violent interrogations of suspected spies during the old movements. He is now on the sidelines of the political scene and placed at home to write about South African history of the exile period whilst taking care of the daily tasks for which his wife has no time any more. One can recognise here an echo of the reversal of power and altered roles between the sexes from the “coloured” couple, Sonny and Aila, in My Son's Story.
Gordimer parallels the reversal of ascendancy and the consequential withdrawal of sexual attraction from the husband to his wife who has become a revolutionary without his knowledge. Sibongile's femininity and her sexual appeal to Didymus are also overshadowed by her political advancement: “This body beside him invaded the whole bed, lolled against him. His own felt no stir of desire for it.” Although Sonny and Didymus are free from the common male opposition to or reluctance in women's political activism, there are real delicate problems and new dilemmas for them within the new conception of women and their empowerment. The novel thus explores pressures and anxieties created when women are empowered and addresses the question of how men may reconcile with the re-organisation of gender relations occasioned with the politicisation of women.
The novel also explores the question of how the past of resistance may be reconciled with the present and future of negotiation, reconciliation and fusion. Though this negotiation in the novel is fraught with tension and danger, its ideal possibility is envisaged in the negotiation made by the young Black girl, Mpho, the daughter of Sibongile and Didymus. She was born in exile and educated in London. Gordimer creates her as another “departure from the parent stock,” a symbol of reconciliation created by the “cross-pollination” of history:
The Maqoma daughter was a six- teen-year-old beauty of the kind created by the cross-pollination of history.... Mpho was a resolution-in a time when this had not yet been achieved by governments, conferences, negotiations, mass action and international monitoring or intervention-of the struggle for power in the country which was hers, and yet where, because of that power struggle, she had not been born (48-9).
Gordimer creates in Mpho “a style of beauty that comes out of the clash between domination and resistance,” the result of boundary changes, of the merging of ideologies, sects, religions and philosophies (49). She is another mutation of a Black girl, who is a cultural hybrid between home and exile, Africa and Europe. She is able to negotiate these worlds because she doesn't have the encrustations of the past. Her understanding of her return and her acceptance of home are more honest and much less complicated by the insecurities of past histories than the return home of her parents and of most older exiles in the novel. In Mpho, Gordimer presents her ideal of a cultural merger for new South Africa, where cultural as well as social harmony is extremely difficult to achieve. Her ability to operate in both home and exile is the reconciliation that may be possible within new South Africa.
The irony of this new identity of cultural hybrid, a product of history in South Africa, is that she also reveals some unreadiness and weakness about fitting into the social milieu of her homeland. She has been alienated from the social context and cultural ethos of South Africa. She speaks “a perky London English” (49) but does not communicate in an African language. She innocently accepts Africa as her home without a clear sense of what home is. Her unexpected pregnancy and the consequential trouble around her including the conflict with her mother may well imply the fragility of the process of reconciliation. The fact that the novel places the ideal of reconciliation within a symbol of such a young beauty devoid of the past of South Africa may be a reference to the fact that the realities of reconciliation and negotiation are still a complex and fragile process.
In None to Accompany Me, Gordimer has renewed her older conception of Black women by transforming them into new selves. Within the whole process of preparing for the new nation, Black women are provided with new possibilities for both personal and political lives. In South Africa where the public and the private are intricately interlinked, “perhaps the passing away of the old regime makes the abandonment of an old personal life also possible” (315). Empowerment has now become the new occasion, the new cliché. It shows that empowerment has in its practice redefinitions, reconceptualisations, as well as transformations of self. It also indicates that just as the empowerment of the nation is a fragile process the empowerment of women is also an uneasy process beset with tensions, anxieties and problems. It is for the varying complexity of the narrative structure that None to Accompany Me is a more enriching and convincing presentation of Black women.Works Cited
Bazin, Nancy Topping.
'Sex, Politics, and Silent Black Women: Nadine Gordimer's Occasion
for Loving, A Sport of Nature, and My Son's Story.' Bucknell Review:
Black/White Writing: Essays on South African Literature. Edited by
Pauline Fletcher, 1993, 30-45.
Bazin, Nancy Topping and Seymour, Marilyn
Dallman (eds.). Conversations with Nadine Gordimer, Jackson and London:
University Press of Mississippi, 1990.
Fanon, Frantz. The
Wretched of the Earth. First
published as Les damnes de la terre in France, 1961; translated
into English by Macgibbon & Kee, 1965; reprinted in London: Penguin,
An Interview with Nadine Gordimer about Burger's Daughter,
“A Story for This Place and Time”, 1980.
Kunapipi, III, Fall 1981, 99-112; reprinted in Bazin, et al.,
Conversations with Nadine Gordimer, 1990, 161-175.
Gordimer, Nadine. A Sport of Nature.
London: Jonathan Cape; Cape Town: David Philip; Johannesburg: Taurus,
1987; Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1988.
Claremont: David Philip, 1991.
Todes, Alison, Beall, Jo and Hassim
Shireen. ?'A BIT ON THE
SIDE'?: Gender Struggles in the Politics of Transformation in South
Africa.? Feminist Review,
33, Autumn 1989, 30-56.
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By Professor Njabulo S. Ndebele, University of Capetown, South Africa
(Continued from AfricaUpdate, Fall 2000)
On September 12, 1977, Steve Biko died in detention. It is twenty three years ago. Two days later, the then Minister of Justice, Jimmy Kruger, is said to have provoke[d] laughter among delegates to the Transvaal Congress of the governing National Party with remarks about the death. "I am not glad and I an not sorry about Mr. Biko-He leaves me cold.” The Minister also agreed with a delegate who applauded him for allowing the black leader his “democratic right” to “starve himself to death.”
Commenting to the press on his verdict after the inquest into Biko's death, presiding Magistrate Prins followed his political leader and declared some three months later: “to me it was just another death. It was a job like another.” Of course, the cause of death was not starvation. It was “head injuries” which led to “extensive brain injury.” This leads us to the memory of what must be one of the most imagined of events in South African history - imagined, because only four men witnessed it. Yet, the rest of us, who were deeply affected by the horror of the situation, the outrage it evoked, and the bonds of solidarity and empathy, which it strengthened, can still see it vividly in our minds, almost as if we were there in that journey through the night. I am reminding you of the naked, manacled, and lonely body of Steve Biko, lying in the back of a Land Rover being driven through the night from Port Elizabeth to a prison hospital in Pretoria, by Captain Siebert. It was a distance of more than 700 miles, which ended in his death. According to S.W. Kentridge, counsel to the Biko family, Steve “died a miserable and lonely death on a mat on a stone floor in a prison cell.”
There is a continuum of indescribable insensitivity and callousness that begins as soon as Steve Biko and Peter Jones are arrested at a roadblock near Grahamstown on August 18, 1977. It starts with lowly police officers who make the arrest in the relative secrecy of a remote setting, and ends with a remarkably public flourish, when a minister of government, declares that Biko's death leaves him cold. This situation lets us deep into the ethical and moral condition of Afri-kaanerdom, which not only shaped apartheid, but also was itself deeply shaped by it. It strikes us now just how terribly unreflective Afrikaanerdom became once apartheid had wormed its way into the centre of its moral fiber.
When apartheid culture became both a private and public condition, defining a cultural sensibility, Afrikaanerdom significantly lost much of its sense of irony. In this situation, the combination of political, economic, and military power, validated by religious precept, yielded a universal sense of entitlement. Afrikaanerdom was entitled to land, air, water, beast, and each and every black body. At this point, the treatment of black people ceases to be a moral concern. Speaking harshly to a black person; stamping with both feet on the head or chest of a black body; roasting a black body over flames to obliterate evidence of murder (not because murder was wrong, but because it was an irritating embarrassment); dismembering the black body by tying wire round its ankles and dragging it behind a bakkie; whipping black school children; handing to “an illiterate [black] mother presenting her ailing infant for treatment-a death certificate in order that the [white] doctor should not be disturbed in the night,” when the infant dies-these are things one who is white, in South Africa, can do from time to time to black bodies, in the total scheme of things. No wonder the death of Steve Biko left the minister cold, and that Magistrate Prins could admit to have just witnessed another ordinary death, just as he would have had another glass of water. In all this, there is a chilling suggestion of gloating which borders dangerously close to depravity. Suddenly, “the heart of darkness” is no longer the exclusive preserve of “blackness;” it seems to have become the very condition of “whiteness” at the Southern corner of the African continent. Its expression will take various degrees of manifestation from the crude to the sophisticated. That is why such instances of the desecration of the black body have yet to evoke significant expressions of outrage from the educational, religious, cultural, and business leadership of this country, caught in the culture of “whiteness” which they built. Certainly, not to the extent of anything that signals an historic movement towards a new social and moral order. Indeed, the quest for a new white humanity will begin to emerge from a voluntary engagement, by those caught in the culture of whiteness of their own making, with the ethical and moral implications of being situated at the interface between inherited, problematic privilege, on the one hand, and on the other, the blinding sterility at the centre of the “heart of whiteness.”
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By Haines Brown, CCSU History Department, Emeritus
I would here like to summarize a re- report by Julie Jette on the "Digital Divide: Technology Transfer" seminar held at the Africa Business Conference. Let me start by noting that the original report was distributed by the Black Data Processing Associates (BDPA) BDPA-Africa@yahoogroups.com list (list is open to anyone interested in African IT).
Ms. Yussur Abrar, president and founder of a company that's trying to build a backbone for the African Internet in the U.S. suggests that cheaper technology and a loosening regulatory environment in many countries lowers hurdles to building telecommunications networks in Africa. “You now have opportunities to deploy networks at a fraction of the cost you would have [incurred] even a few years ago,” she said.“Across every single country, you see Internet cafes in every city, every town; young people 20, 30 years old at those computers, doing the same things that any teenager in the United States does: surf the Net, look for information, talk to their friends,” Abrar said.
Agreeing, Papa Madiaw Ndiaye, of MIDROC-BVI, an African investment vehicle for Saudi businessman Sheikh Mohammad Hussain Al-Amoudi; Ndiaye and director of the AIG Africa Infrastructure Fund, said, “As far as demand is concerned in Africa, there are substantial opportunities for investment in the technology sector.” But, he noted, finding the right opportunities is a complicated process, and the very large variations between the countries must be noted.Panelists agreed that investment in Africa made good business sense, and apparently its salutary effect on the African economy somehow compensated for the inevitable widening of the power and economic gap due to neoliberal policies.
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Dr. Katherine Harris, CCSU
The Conference – “Fighting Back - African Strategies Against The Slave Trade” exposed the tortured dialogue on the Atlantic slave trade. The Atlantic slave trade remains “one of the most important phenomena in the history of the modern world,” wrote historian Gary Nash (Red, White and Black, 141). Rutgers University's Livingstone College, hosted the two-day conference on the 16th and 17th February, 2001. Publicity emphasized the conference's uniqueness. The stated goal promised to consolidate scattered information about the dimensions of African people's resistance to the slave trade. Conference organizers promised to open new directions in African, Atlantic World, African American and African Diapora historical studies. The event's sponsors stated that the scholarly presentations would challenge widely held myths of African passivity and complicity in the slave trade utilizing history, literature, oral traditions, political science, and the expressive arts.
Very little was actually presented on
“Fighting Back” the central topic of the conference.
One paper was available for the audience to read. It was presented Saturday and entitled “Resistance to the Slave Trade on the Guinea Coast in the Nineteenth Century.” The author, Professor Djibril Tamsir Niane insisted that African communities from Casamance to Sierra Leone and along the Senegal River resisted the trade by building watchtowers as lookout posts, fortresses and trading posts. Villagers organized and attacked warlords who conducted raids in search of “slaves” or formed alliances through marriage with the kings and lords' daughters as in the case of Rio Pongo. This paper mentioned that resistance took a religious form too. The Baga, Nalu and Landouma remained “fiercely Animists” against Christianity. In 1780, the Almamy of Futa Touro forbade the slave trade on the banks of the Senegal River, which were under his command. More information such as this would have enlightened the audience.
Professor Martin Klein's paper, acknowledged the work of Professor Thierno Bah and described the network of military architectural fortifications and walled cities. African communities avoided capture by retreating into marshy locations. These areas were difficult to reach and provided food for sustenance. Specific locations for these fortresses or walled cities would have helped in documenting the resistance. Professor Klein mentioned that captives jumped off slave vessels and this too was a form of resistance. Instead of pursuing the varied forms of resistance, however, the presenter offered two case studies-Wasulu and Masina. In these instances, Islam was a force in unifying communities against the slave trade and tearing communities apart through jihads. The slave trade he sought to highlight was the purportedly internal Africa trade, not the Atlantic slave trade.
In the examination of these two cases, Samory Toure was given attention though his political base, Kankan, was not discussed. The prolonged treatment of an internal slave trade diverted attention from the Conference topic. Between the 1860s and 1890s, Samory Toure and African statesmen were in playing off one imperial power against another through diplomatic and strategic manoeuvres. How relevant were these case studies to African resistance to the Atlantic slave trade?
Professor Joseph Inikori commented on the role of the state during the crisis of the slave trade. The slave trade began, according to this analysis, along certain African coastal areas where political fragmentation existed with at least 43 politically autonomous kingdoms. Specific names of these areas were not identified, but the powerful Ashanti, Dahomey and Kongo (Congo) states were yet to be formed. The thesis was put forth that the presence of a powerful state, that could defend its inhabitants would have made it difficult for slavers to acquire captives.
Despite episodic treatment of the Conference topic in papers on colonization, ritual art, problematic attempts to equate the Africa's colonial economy with industrial slavery in the United States, all of the Saturday presentations obscured the issue of African resistance to the Atlantic slave trade. Most papers focused on African enslavement of African people in discussions riddled with historical anachronisms, and linguistic distortions. One member of the audience pointed out that the term “slave” is derived from the term 'slav' and widely applied to subjugated ethnic communities of East Europe. The question was raised as to the term's historical and linguistic usefulness in descriptions of socio-cultural and economic conditions in Africa. Another member of the audience pursued the question of African servitude or slavery and asked if it was possible to distinguish the pre-slave trade African experience, the slave trade period and the period of colonialism?
The Conference, however, highlighted research of oral and written historical accounts. Had they been consulted, such sources could surely provide information on this critical question. In the late 15th century, as the slave trade began, much of Africa resembled the feudal societies of Europe or Japan and consisted of rulers, vassals and subjects. Some societies were communal and stratified with services provided individually or collectively. Vassals were free men who owed services to a ruler who provided general protection. Vassals in turn provided protection to common citizens in return for services, labor and goods. In precolonial Senegal, prior to the organized Atlantic slave trade maintained by European states, forms of subjugation were complex as they were throughout Africa. For example, the 'djam' were prisoners of war captured outside the national territory and used as the military infantry (Diop 2, 3).
Classes of people with virtually no freedom were community
outcasts, debtors, or persons convicted of witchcraft. But such individuals
had rights to marry, own property, maintain their family, worship,
and become military commanders or rulers of
kingdoms. Chattel slavery that defined the human being as property
by custom and law was generally absent. (Harris 81, 88) The
never made a distinction between the forced migration of African people,
captured and enslaved as chattel and the internal conditions in Africa.
Indeed research on African
resistance to the Atlantic slave trade remains an
important and unresearched
issue for 21st
Chiek Anta Diop, PreColonial Black Africa.
(New York, Lawrence Hill Books, 1987)
Joseph E. Harris, Africans And Their
History. (New York, Penguin Books 1972)
Gary Nash, Red White and Black The Peoples
of Early America. (New Jersey Prentice Hall, 1982)
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