Ethnicity and gender in South African writing : David's story and critical essays
Issues of ethnicity and gender, neglected in the discourse of South Africa's national liberation struggle, manifest themselves as problems in a variety of cultural expressions. These I examine in David's Story, a fictional representation of the period of transition from apartheid to democracy, as well as in two critical essays which I published some years before. In 'Identity and Shame: the case of the coloured in South Africa', the textual construction, ethnographic self-fashioning and political behaviour of Cape coloureds are discussed through the modalities of space and the body. Using examples from a number of literary texts as well as the case of Saartjie Baartman, the Hottentot Venus, I show how shame is imbricated in coloured ethnic identity, and how it constitutes a problem of representation. The failure, in coloured terms, of the grand narrative of liberation demands an interrogation of orthodox postcolonial theories of hybridity and the politics of location. The enquiry into identity necessarily intersects with gender. In 'To hear the variety of discourses', I question the notion of 'womanism' that is posited against the perceived inappropriateness of western feminist theories in the South African context. Textual analysis of Black women's writing shows how women have developed strategies for dealing covertly with gender issues that the dominant liberation discourse has disparaged in the interests of racial liberation. Whilst fiction is not simply a vehicle for expounding cultural theories, issues like gender struggles, the silencing of women, nationalism, and questions of shame and ethnicity are addressed in my novel, whether thematically or in terms of its structure and narrative strategies. The novel demonstrates how narrative as a generative system lends itself to fictionalisation, thus serving as an analogy for the narrative of nation-building and ethnicity. The postcolonial problem of representation expounded in the essays is a central concern.