South Africa Literature and Theater

South Africa Literature and Theater

From the second half of the nineteenth century to the twentieth century

South African literature, which developed from the second half of the nineteenth century, does not possess a unitary character, as disparate and often antagonistic factors coexist in it, except that three major components, at the same time ethnic and linguistic, are kept in mind. One is that of Afrikaner, that is of the whites of Boer origin, which is expressed in Afrikaans. Another is linked to the Zulu, Sotho and Xosa ethnic groups, and uses their languages. A third is the literature of English expression, within which, however, two strands are distinguished, one consisting of the works of white authors and the other from those of black (black) or colored (colored) authors, without counting the presence of intellectuals of Indian origin.

If Afrikaans informed the educational institutions and the language of the Dutch reformist Church, culminating in the translation of the Bible (1933), there are no authors of great stature in this language in the first half of the twentieth century: suffice it to quote DF Malherbe. Subsequently, however, of considerable importance is the poet and narrator B. Breytenbach, who also expresses himself in English. The same can be said of A. Brink, to whom we owe at least one very significant novel in Afrikaans, ‘n droe wit seisoen (1979; trans. interpreter of white anguish and dilemmas in the South African context by adopting English (Rumors of rain, 1978; An act of terror, 1991; The first life of Adamastor, 1993; Before I forget, 2004; Other lives, 2008).

In Sotho literature, T. Mofolo stands out with the novel Chaka (1925). In the Zulu field, RRR Dhlomo, author of an English novel (An African tragedy, 1928), and CLS Nyembesi deserve particular attention; but the richest and most complex personality is that of BW Vilakazi, novelist, poet and essayist. The poet JJR Jolobe with his Omyezo collection (1936) is very significant in the xosa culture, while highly talented poets such as M. Zunene and OM Mtshali also use English.

The true progenitor of English-language South African literature is the writer O. Schreiner, who made a name for herself with the novel The story of an African farm (1883). After a long interval in which notable authors flourished, the so-called ‘new Africans’ imposed themselves, capable of freeing themselves from Western models: ST Plaatje, author of the first novel written in English by a black South African (Mhudi, 1930); P. Abrahams, son of an Ethiopian sailor, poet and novelist, who with the novel Mine boy (1946) was among the first to testify to the attempts of tribal peoples to deal with industrial society, also dominated by racial discrimination. Other important personalities are E. Mphalele and A. La Guma, but perhaps the most representative figure remains B. Head, witness-protagonist of the laceration between two cultures and two worlds. In poetry at least two names impose themselves: A. Nortje and the older D. Brutus, companion in prison of N. Mandela and then exile in the USA, refined poet and at the same time eloquent, broad popular breath (A simple lust, 1972).

The path of authors of European extraction is complex and often troubled. Both R. Campbell and W. Plomer are South Africans but rather entered the circle of English poetry of the motherland. A connecting link is represented by A. Paton, whose novel Cry the beloved country (1948), at the time discussed from an ideological point of view because it was considered paternalistic, experienced a strong revaluation after apartheid.

From the end of the twentieth century to the 2000s

The last part of the twentieth century presents a particularly rich literary panorama, as the South African writers of the generation born around the 1930s are still present on the scene together with the new authors and as they are engaged in the denunciation of abuses and in the search for strategies to cure the wounds of the country. The tragic events of the past inevitably have repercussions on literary production which, radically involved in political action, uses a colloquial language, close to the spoken language and more suited to reading in public. The boundary between poetry and propaganda is often uncertain, but over the years there is no lack of works and authors in which a natural and profound sense of art prevails over a socially engaged aesthetic: S. Sepamla (From Goré to Soweto, 1988; Rainbow journey, 1996); K. Kgositsile, supporter of the aesthetic values ​​of poetry; E. Patel, original experimenter of new linguistic and metric forms; NS Ndebele, one of the most significant narrator, poet and critic (South African literature and culture, 1994). Oral poetry takes on the character of a challenge to the establishment, as in the verses of A. Qabula and especially of M. Mbuli, defined as the ‘poet of the people’, who has been arrested several times and has seen the recordings of his poems censored.. A fascinating aspect of the more recent poem is the emergence of less and less distinguishable voices based on the color map drawn by the regime: P. Horn; the aforementioned Breytenbach, a poet who also distinguished himself for his narrative production in English and Afrikaans, characterized, like poetry, by political commitment and linguistic creativity (Dog heart: a travel memoir, 1998; Woordwerk: die kantskryfjoernaal van ‘n swerwer «Exercise of speech: marginal diary of a nomad», 1999; A veil of footsteps, 2008); S. Gray, who is also one of the most acute contemporary critics (Season of violence, 1992); J. Couzyn; J. Cronin, who paid for his political commitment with a long and harsh imprisonment; C. van Wyk, author of some of the best known protest poems (About graffiti). MO Mtshali in his agile and sharp verses exalts the continuity of the Zulu tradition in the liberation movement. B. Head has been confirmed as a very talented narrator, whose posthumous A woman alone: ​​autobiographical writings (edited by C. MacKenzie, 1990) and The cardinals: with meditations and stories (1993). Rich in original insights are the works of A. Essop (Hajji Musa and the Hindu firewalker, 1988; The king of hearts and other stories, 1997) and of the writer F. Karodia (Daughters of the twilight, 1986; Other secrets, 2000) . N. Gordimer, Nobel Prize for Literature in 1991, in most of his works he highlighted the limits placed on the writer by a society structured according to a system of rigid social divisions, maintained and regulated by a regime of racial segregation. Even the novels of JM Coetzee, Nobel in 2003, are pervaded by the awareness of the complex position in which the white writer lives, forced into a situation in which colonialism, postcolonialism, neocolonialism coexist, and in which the denunciation of oppression is never of the all free from the risk of complicity with the oppressor.

The recognition of numerous ethnic languages ​​as official languages ​​(together with English and Afrikaans) favors the emergence of new literatures and the revaluation of many Zulu, Xosa, Sotho works through re-editions, television and theatrical adaptations, translations. For South Africa 2015, please check

The theater

The theater was affected by the limits created by apartheid, which for a long time prevented the presence of a mixed audience, and the particular harshness of the censorship. For this reason, even talented authors have ventured into the theater only occasionally: RM Rive, B. Modisane, A. La Guma, L. Nkosi. The only one who was able to devote himself to it continuously is A. Fugard: his vast dramatic production, characterized by a crude denunciation of the regime’s inhumanity, then took on less corrosive tones to turn to explore the problems, fears and hopes of Nuova South Africa (A place with the pigs, 1988; Playland, 1993; My life, 1994; Valley song, 1995). The privileged theme of numerous theatrical works composed within the Bantu dramatic society is the celebration of African culture, while the protest theater has as its reference point the Market Theater in Johannesburg, which has benefited from the work of innovative authors such as the playwright, director and story teller G. Mhlope (or Mhlophe). The end of apartheid, the legalization of the ANC and other banned organizations.

South Africa theater

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