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date: 30 March 2023

On Writing from a Postcolonial Perspectivefree

On Writing from a Postcolonial Perspectivefree

  • Sindiwe MagonaSindiwe MagonaIndependent Scholar


Sindiwe Magona started writing in pursuit of agency as opposed to victimhood. With no training in writing, she felt nonetheless she could paint a much better, more realistic picture than what she found in stories of her people written by white people, to say nothing of how history books represented black Africans or “Bantu” as the terminology of the day went. Another fact that pushed her to dare to write was the almost total absence of records left to her generation by the preceding one. She wanted to close that lacuna. Her first book, To My Children’s Children, was published in 1990 when she was almost fifty years old. Magona wrote the autobiography as a record of life lived in a specific period, by specific people, using hers as an example. The book references other lives, not only that of her family. The cultural milieu and the overarching theme, given the times, however, is of the oppressive system of apartheid—legalized racism. Memory represents not only what is remembered but the inescapable past as represented by the still felt, still visible, still “performing” insights, ideas, ideology, actions, and reactions of South Africans almost a quarter of a century since the end of apartheid came with the first democratic elections of April 27, 1994. Each of her books—four novels, two collections of short stories, two autobiographies, two published plays, three biographies, a book of poetry, as well as her articles, essays, and talks—gives evidence of Magona’s witness of what happens, how it happens, and its observed or acknowledged consequences. She takes the journey further, exploring the inner meanings of the observed. The inner lives of victims and perpetrators, of oppressed and oppressor, and all the other binaries of which she is aware concern her. She set out to write, to leave a record for all posterity, not only black posterity, for it is her firm belief, hope, and prayer that, ere long, humanity will find itself, regain its former oneness or sense of belonging, and understand there are no races but one, the human race.


  • Cultural Studies

What Is Postcolonial Literature?

Ato Quayson defines the term postcolonialism as something that requires a careful consideration of the experiences of colonialism and its impact on both the colonists and the colonized.1 He adds that those aftereffects of empire include experiences such as slavery, migration, suppression and resistance, difference, race, gender, and place as well as responses to the discourses of imperial Europe such as history, philosophy, anthropology, and linguistics. Because of these aftereffects, postcolonialism allows for a wide range of applications designating a constant interplay and slippage between the sense of a historical transition, a sociocultural location, and an epochal configuration.

Using a Postcolonial Methodology to Excavate the Past

As it relates to South Africa, postcolonial literature can be labeled post-apartheid literature, because the colonial experience dovetailed into apartheid to emerge a more stringent, more vicious, downright evil version of itself in its highly legalized system of racial oppression. Post-apartheid narrative in postcolonial interrogation enables the writer to embark on a voyage of excavation of the past in her attempt to better understand the fault lines. For a writer whose lifespan covers a pre-apartheid–apartheid–post-apartheid timeline, realism is the perfect means of reaching this understanding, because lived reality not only calls for her attention, it also recalls her own life experience during those differently demarcated periods of her life that, each in its specific way, engendered suffering of a specific kind. Memory is the deep, generous, and abiding well from which most creative artists draw the building blocks of whatever it is they wish to create, and this writer can attest to that practice.

It is a widely accepted fact that poverty in South Africa is race specific, the direct result of apartheid laws white South Africans piled on the heads of “nonwhites,” plunging them into inescapable poverty and despicable living conditions totally devoid of hope. The writer depicts the lived reality of lives thus thwarted, thus programmed, thus condemned, and then subsequently erased from the literature of the era, where, if at all represented, they were portrayed as smiling servants or brutes but seldom as ordinary human beings.

Recognizing the dehumanizing effects of apartheid, the United Nations Organization declared apartheid “a crime against humanity” at its General Assembly in 1973. Singling out a country—the Republic of South Africa—because of the iniquity of its domestic policies was unique; the declaration illustrates that apartheid resulted in the type of “trauma” the dictionary defines as “a violent emotional blow, especially one that has lasting psychic effect; a neurological condition from physical or emotional injury.” The oppressed people of South Africa were jubilant at this pronouncement—any blow to the regime was cause for celebration for them. It brought them comfort to know they were not alone in their suffering. More particularly, their joy sprang, inter alia, in seeing their oppressors thwarted and humiliated, their laws declared “unjust.” The writer recalls Grandfather Mcube’s declaration: “If, when I get to heaven, I find a white man there, I will tell God, ‘Let me out! Whites have their heaven here on earth. They make evil laws for us and treat us with less consideration than they do their dogs!’” The little girl of the early fifties wondered whether laws could be evil. But if this leading “African Congress” gentleman said it, it could not but be true. Four decades later, the writer explores the theme:

THE LAW. The greatest hardship we laboured under was not that we had no protection from the law. No! That was the lesser evil. The worse was that we were burdened with “protection” by the master race via an unwieldy plethora of laws, by-laws, rules and regulations passed by a parliament whose existence we had had naught to do and whose sole raison d’etre appeared to be our exclusive protection.2

The writer depicts the lived reality such laws birthed, telling stories from her life or her memory. With time, however, the writer wakes up to the realization that memory and all she knows are “time-stamped,” for, with changing times, ideas and beliefs revisited may be seen anew, altered, or even completely reversed.

She laments that she has nothing from her forebears to which she may refer, nothing written. But the old way of knowledge transference, orally, from one generation to the next, has died. The extended-family manner of living has disintegrated with urbanization, and apartheid-created poverty resulted in abbreviated life spans for Africans. Life expectancy, for black Africans, stood at thirty-eight years at the beginning of apartheid. She wishes the next generation would get testimony from hers and not suffer the same fate she and those of her generation suffer, with nothing tangible left to sift through, weigh, and evaluate—leaving them chasing rumors of rumors, strange, one-sided records by the oppressors with only the oppressor’s view, explanation, and evaluation. She would that her generation leaves its own footprints for those who will live after it has disappeared from this life of flesh. To ensure this eventuality, she begins to write, addressing them directly:

When I am old, wrinkled and grey, what shall I tell you, my great-granddaughter? What memories will stay with me of days of yesteryear? Of my childhood, what shall I remember? What of my young womanhood, my wifehood, and motherhood? Work has been a big part of my life. Of that, what memories will linger, what nightmares haunt me forever? How will you know who you are, if I do not or cannot tell you the story of your past?3

Four years after the publication of her first book, apartheid came to an abrupt, if much-celebrated, end. The entire world, especially South Africans, got caught up in a frenzy as apartheid did its death dance in preparation for the new South Africa. The process started with the release of Nelson Mandela from prison on February 11, 1990, after serving twenty-seven years of a life sentence for political crimes. That momentous event was preceded by the white government’s unbanning of political groups it had banned for “illegal political activity,” as all actions of the freedom fighters were labeled. Discussions and negotiations between the white government and the freedom fighters it had ostracized for decades began in earnest. Great was the excitement and expectation worldwide as the apartheid laws were felled: laws such as the Group Areas Act, which legally designated residential areas; the much-hated Pass Laws; and all the others. Those who had suffered for decades under these laws, enacted with the sole purpose of racial discrimination, oppression, and exploitation, were overjoyed. Not least, the indigenous people would regain citizenship, a birthright the UN holds “inalienable.” The writer recalled the cruel irony that apartheid South Africa’s Constitution began with the words “In God we trust.”

Then in April 1994, with the first truly democratic elections in South Africa, apartheid officially ended. The euphoria that greeted the event is hard to imagine nowadays, as the bliss envisaged has slowly but surely dissipated to almost nonexistence for the majority of the country’s citizens.

But what has not dissipated for the writer has been the lessons that began to reveal themselves to her with the arrival of uhuru. Thanks, however, to time, her peculiar experiences, and the teachings of the masters of colonialism and postcolonialism, the writer has come to understand that all her shortcomings—undeniably part of her being—are not all entirely her fault. The environment in which she lived played a major role in their making. This inescapable fact emboldens her to search for meaning in her life—the why of it. That then leads to theories of subordination/dominance—and that is the realm of history land. The history she was taught, under the nefarious system of Bantu Education, designed to make “Bantu” children “hewers of wood and drawers of water,” she now interrogates, seen through an adult and discerning eye. She is subject as well as object.

But on that day, in 1994, the writer wondered: would the new order really change all that? How? Decidedly wary, the writer was nervous, hesitant to celebrate too soon. She wanted proof of change in the changed lives and living conditions of those apartheid had dehumanized. Freedom does not guarantee a good life, she knows. The situation and testimonies of the descendants of slaves in the United States of America attest to the truth of this assertion. Freedom from slavery did not guarantee them real freedom, nor did their winning the civil rights battle. Even as the “pillars of apartheid” fell one by one and the whole world rejoiced at their dismantling, her empathy or identification with the cause of America’s slave descendants informed the writer’s trepidation and led to the writing of “Fear of Change,” a cautionary poem regarding the coming freedom in her country.

The world has a memory Swifter than a blink. Give it a decade or two, if that; Then fast and full will questions flow. . . . Why are they not making it? What’s holding them back, now? After all, apartheid is gone!

Would her white compatriots ask these very questions about black South Africans? Would those questions come a decade or two after liberation, or would they come sooner? How and by whom would the transformation of wounded lives be engineered?

While all the disenfranchised were overwhelmed with joy that apartheid was ending, there was a whole range of emotions among white South Africans: not surprising, considering the enormous advantages they would lose. While most said they did not oppose ending the aberration that was apartheid, few expressed unreserved glee at the prospect of majority rule; many came out in outright opposition. For all, the narrative demanded a note of disquiet. The excerpt from “Fear of Change” foreshadows the impatience of white South Africans, who believe that they were victims of the political change, betrayed by their leaders. Would such people wish their former servants and subordinates well? These were people they scarcely regarded to be as human as they indubitably were. No psychologist, the writer nevertheless understands human nature . . . or, at least, seeks such understanding and hazards a forecast of some sort. She pours out her anxiety about what the future poses, complicated as it was by such polarization of expectations: fearful, resentful people who see 1994 as a loss, a disadvantaging of themselves on the one side, and, on the other, people who see themselves finally liberated, their prayers and their struggles vindicated.

But a poem is not a novel. It is not a biography. “Fear of Change” is one poem in a book of poetry, Please, Take Photographs!4 In this volume, the author hides but does not hide. Poems do not have the same expanse of ground or space, and very few people bother reading them. Where else can she hide what must be said but is considered “dangerous” or “unsavory”? Where can she shout what she fears to whisper in the open?

Writing Victimhood under Apartheid: On Being a Thing Barely Human

Even as a child, the writer understood that most of the suffering all around her was the result of the acts of white people who perceived her people as not quite human. Growing up, her whole environment screamed: YOU ARE INFERIOR, A THING BARELY HUMAN!


The writer was born in a mud hut in a village where she spent her early childhood. The next house in which she lived was a shack near Cape Town. In her child’s mind, she saw this as an improvement. No mud floor or thatched roof, and she believed she lived in Cape Town. However, she could not help drawing unfavorable comparison with “better people” who also happened to live in Cape Town. Theirs was a decidedly different Cape Town. And so was born a conscious sense of inferiority. Those better people lived in far better houses in much better areas. She had no conception of residential areas and what they meant but saw that the areas where the better people lived—“over there,” where she would look out of place, as a frog would on the seat of a princess—were much nicer, cleaner. And they had whole patches of ground for their children to play, and those places had gigantic swings, unlike the scraggy ropes she and her friends had tied to a gnarled old tree, if they could find one. Playgrounds that grown-ups had made for the children. Hard fact to imagine—a grown-up taking child’s play seriously, bothering to help children play!


The better people and their children were better dressed, every day of the week and just more so on Sundays. The children wore the dresses she saw in shop windows and knew she could never wear. They were too expensive, and Mama made her dresses. And those children wore shoes even when they were playing. The ugly pair of laced shoes she sometimes wore to church were part of her Christmas shopping. Very special. Why would she be allowed to wear them playing in the dirty sand outside?


Her school “uniform” did not include shoes: parents could not afford that, and even the uniform was not strictly enforced. Those other children wore complete uniforms to school, every day. Shoes too. Shoes with socks, ankle socks in summer and woolen ones in winter. School was important, for that is where a child would learn to be a better person. The writer had eagerly awaited the day she would go to school, a school much better than the one mud hut her brother went to back in the village she hoped never to see again. The building of this school is brick with glass windows. But her joy is not unmarred, for she soon sees schools that are much better. The ones where children called “Colored” go are better, but the very best are those for white children. But she knows she can never go to those schools, because she is neither “Colored” nor white. She does not know this as a child, but she is internalizing social stratification.


A child does not question what she sees all around her but accepts it as normal. Men of all ages lived in compounds, their wives and their children far away in the villages that were their home. Cape Town was not. It was their place of work, and they were migrants only there for a specific period, usually a year. They were called “single men” (amasoka). But the word means bachelors, and most of these men were not bachelors. The law did not allow their families to join them. Sometimes the wife of such a bachelor would get permission from the government and come visiting. Sometimes she would even come with a child or children. The writer remembers a few such intermittent visitors, for some stayed with her family, the couple sleeping on her bed—the bed she shared with her brother. Then the two of them slept on the floor. That was another “normal.” And visitors of that kind showed their appreciation in kind. The writer got spared a lot of chores, for which she was always happy. There would be trouble, though, if such a visitor had stolen into Cape Town, come without the requisite official permission stamped in her pass. Police raids were a frequent occurrence in her childhood. And in the storage of her memory there is no sorrier sight than seeing a loved one, bewildered and dejected, dragged to a police van in handcuffs. The look the woman gives the wailing children she leaves them behind has never left the writer’s bag of sorrows.

These glimpses into her past put meat onto the writer’s understanding of what happened to her under apartheid. For while, on the one hand, history books are fantastic, the details are not there; there is no heart in data. “This happened to these people” evokes little if any emotional reaction from a reader. Narrative, on the other hand, summons up a human face, fleshes out the bare bones of history; the reader can better understand, see, or feel what the life-like character is experiencing, and that provokes empathy.

Writing Women and Gender-Based Violence: Re-Tonguing Women and Remembering Their Lives

Empathy is the fuel that drives the writer; that empathy is never keener than when she enters the “woman’s zone.” Yes, she is at all times fully aware that she is nothing short of a small miracle; an “accident” of apartheid, one of the few who escaped its calculated nefarious design. But in this space, this sacred space, among womanhood young and old, any color or creed one cares, straight or LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, or queer), schooled seated at a desk or schooled at the School of Life, this sense is heightened immensely. After all, she stumbled on writing from no great learning except her life and the lives of those of whom she is a part. While for so long others had written about her and those who look like her, she writes about herself and her people, instead of moaning about what has come to be called “appropriation.” She writes, for she is painfully aware of the millions of women who look like her who will never—not because they are lazy, or brain damaged, or have nothing of import to say. That dream, the sacred dream of writing, stillborn, suffocated at birth by the circumstances into which these women were plunged—the color of their skin. But the writer, haunted by this knowledge, chooses not to harp on it or on the millions of other stumbling blocks, devious obstacles and cruel circumstances that make it virtually impossible for African women to write. Illiteracy alone effectively de-tongues African women—all wonderful, vibrant, and vivacious storytellers. Illiteracy may be the one avoidable or unnatural barrier they face, but it is also the gateway to many other barriers that effectively render African (and other poor) women voiceless and disabled by grinding poverty and unsupportive men, as well as harsh and unrewarding menial jobs. The result of all this deprivation, as far as narration goes, is that the world is robbed of the stories in these women’s hearts and minds. The world is the poorer for the poverty-murdered stories of African women writers who will never become authors, the writer maintains.

But these women lived, they live now, and they or their children will live. Their stories will be told, if this writer has anything to say about it. The stories in one of her books of short stories, Living, Loving, and Lying Awake at Night—voted as “[o]ne of Africa’s 100 best books of the twentieth century”—contains the stories of black women, domestic workers, who work in the kitchen as white homes were labeled.5

Through these stories, the women are rendered ordinary human beings with hopes and dreams, aspirations and fears. They have lives in which they function as fully fledged people, with a dignity that the women for whom they work do not even ever suspect they have, for most of these employers have designated their workers to the dustbin of humanity. The writer, who worked as a domestic worker for four years in her twenties, upends the norm of the narrative told from the “madam’s” point of view. Her narrative is told by the domestic worker—about her job, the woman who employs her, that woman’s family, and their quirks, fancies, and the side of their life they would not wish known by neighbors, friends, or family. The eyes of the domestic worker see all—which is doubly delightful, as the penetrating gaze she casts is beyond the comprehension of her supposed superiors.

These devalued, unrecognized lives concern the writer too, for their very invisibility in the news of the day and, more importantly, in the history that shall be told. All people write about what matters to them, themselves: men write about men, whites about whites. Who writes about the black woman? When her first book came out in 1990, the writer was shocked by the statistic that since writings by black African women were first published in her country, only five had attained the status of “author.” She writes, in part, to reverse that trend, for she firmly believes “people do as people do,” also known as role modeling. This is a task for which, she finds, she was not only enabled but also encouraged by her keen interest in postcolonial studies. History and the writing of books do not favor the depiction of the lives of women—a strange fact when one considers the role women play in society. They are mothers—biologically they ensure the continuation of the human race. The greatest leaders were children once, they lay inside women’s bodies once, drank life-giving milk from women’s breasts once, and yet, so little acknowledgment, to say nothing of applause, comes the way of women!

Gender-Based Violence: Abuse at the Hands of the Abused

The writer excavates women’s lives under apartheid where they were victims of racialism. However, she also casts her eye on their victimhood exacerbated by toxic masculinity, as shown in a story found in the first volume of her autobiography, To My Children’s Children. The picture of the writer’s poverty and victimhood is as clear today as it was then, for it has not for one day left her.

I had a pot boiling away on the primus stove. The children waited and waited. The pot boiled away on the stove. The children waited for the food to cook.

First, Thembeka, the eldest, always a sleepy child, dropped off. I scooped her up from the floor and put her to bed.

Sandile, the baby, was no problem. Mother’s milk is always there.

One by one, the children (her siblings) fell asleep.6

As the narrator of this story took occasional promising peeps at the pot, one by one, the children fell asleep. “They had fallen asleep unaware that nothing more than God’s clean water was in that pot busily boiling away on the primus stove.”

Male toxicity is also found in the husband, abused by the white man’s law, who not only succumbs but turns abuser. Poor mothers are unable to defend their children against premature death: toxic husbands add to the burden these women carry.

Gender-based violence is mostly a continuum in a woman’s life—from the “not-as-good-as” status of the girl child to arranged and impromptu ukuthwala marriages, an abomination that has reached its heights in post-apartheid South Africa, to unequal pay on the basis of skin color and gender. Woman’s status has always and still is that of the lowest in the double bind of skin color and gender. Zora Neal Hurston unerringly characterized black women as “the mules of the world” for what the world forces upon them and what they suffer.

“Kaffir!” hurled a young Colored man at the writer’s beautiful mother. The cruel irony of “the othering Other” is a characteristic the writer laments: classified “Colored” and othered by members of the master race—something that, no doubt, pains him—yet he has no qualms about inflicting the same pain on another. In the hierarchy of humanity, the African woman is at the very bottom. Child as she was, the writer knew had she been with her father, that boy would not have dared insult them. But the apartheid regime was nothing if not cunning, for even the oppression it visited on people of color was not uniform. Whites oppressed all people of color but did not do it in a similar fashion. Those they oppressed less saw themselves as better than the worst oppressed who, in turn, envied them their lesser oppression, as it afforded them some advantages; the worst oppressed resented the less oppressed for looking down on them, othering them. The writer is certain of one direct result the regime’s staggering oppression: lack of solidarity among the oppressed. For those interested in the history of South Africa, this is a detail that might help them better understand the cleavage between people formerly classified “Bantu” and “Colored”—a cleavage still evident nearly a quarter of a century into the post-apartheid era.

WHITE is best COLOURED is next BANTU nothing but hands for dirty work, useless appendages in the urban area when old, abolished to the Homelands!

Slaving for whites was for all blacks, men and women. However, as is the case for men in most of the world, the African man comes home to rest after a hard day at work. Not so the African woman: her man lords it over her. To this day, most African men consider housework and anything to do with child minding “woman’s work,” something beneath their dignity. Therefore, this much-loved wife returns from work to work at being wife, mother, and unpaid maid in her own home. The “mule of the world” is always bypassed by opportunity, including rest and restoration in her own abode. This, in turn, contributes to her absence on the world stage for, even had she any energy left after the two-jobs-or-more a day she is forced to shoulder, where would she find the time? Write books? Engage in political or any other activity outside the confines of home work? How?

So much hype has been made, particularly in the context of post-apartheid South Africa, about those who are perceived as having played a major role in the fight against apartheid. While not discounting the validity of such claims, the narrative is seldom about the king who won the war but about the soldiers who did battle on the ground. South Africa’s freedom did not come through the gun, and the anti-apartheid fight was always billed as one waged “On behalf of the majority of the oppressed people of South Africa!” This writer’s eye and heart has always been on and with that majority. She is still seeking to see what is happening, has happened, will happen, and how that shapes and will shape the lives of that majority, the formerly oppressed and supposedly emancipated. The poor have always been here in South Africa—they always will be, apparently. Women are in the majority of that unenviable group. It is noteworthy to remember that when women suffer, their children suffer.

South Africa’s Infant Mortality Rate around 1994, for “Bantu” infants, was the highest in sub-Saharan Africa, while that of their white counterparts was comparable to the best in the world. Therefore, while all this hype was taking place, the nation’s children were dying from starvation and other poverty-related diseases. Imagining the soul of a child, the writer penned the poem below:

The Taste of Change Mandela in jail No milk in my bottle Mother at work to unequal pay on the basis of skin colour and gender I hungry De Klerk free Mandela No milk in my bottle Father at work I sick Mandela meet De Klerk People clap and dance Rain come through my roof I cold Change on every lip Father mother work Me and thousand others We die.

Writing the Realities of the Post-Apartheid State

Postcolonial narrative is most enabling. It guides and encourages the writer in her pursuit; it makes her see value not only in her own life and the lives of her people but also invigorates the seed long planted in her heart—affinity for all the oppressed peoples of the world. Was her mother not a “Nyanga”? Did she not “See” any and all who came seeking her help? Women and men, marriages or love arrangements gone sour, came. Did the writer not marvel at the anguished face her Mama would carry long after the client had left? Whether the client was male or female, black-black or not, white, Asiatic, or whatever, each person who crossed her threshold and came to “See” her was treated with the same respect and empathy. The writer learned that cruelty, just as goodness, is universal. She learned, much to her surprise, that apartheid is not the sole form of racism; the evil aberration is worldwide, uniform in its ruthless purpose: the annihilation of people Europeans consider inferior—mostly black and brown people—as well as the discrimination of Catholics against Protestants, Protestants against Catholics, both against Jews, Muslims against Hindus, Hindus against Muslims, and so on. The list goes on—those considered Others are always Othered.

Understanding the evil underpinnings of the monolithic system is important if those on whose necks it has for centuries sat are ever to heal. They and their offspring must understand why they daily waged lives of desperation and—perhaps more important—how all that was possible. Where and what was its source, its purpose, and its sustenance? Was there no opposition in the white political structure? Did ALL white people, to the very last, support the evil empire? What about the very struggle against apartheid?

Such analysis, the writer believes, is essential, for it enables the investigator to see how minds are manipulated into acceptance of things that ordinarily people might not accept. Ideas thrive and travel and, once accepted by a few, soon become pervasive, ordinary. The writer can still hear the anguished cry of the Afrikaner women in the dying days of apartheid: What have you done, in our name? That came after their leaders finally openly admitted to the evil of apartheid and the belief it was God-ordained, erroneous. Misled by their menfolk, throughout their lives, these women had wholeheartedly, blindly, supported apartheid. But where did the myth of race and racism begin? How did it spread and is spreading still? Can it be rebutted, reversed, or even stopped? What of groups such as the Afrikaner Resistance Movement that sprang up in 1996 under the leadership of the late Eugene Terre’Blanche?

It was understandable for white people to be apprehensive at the dawn of democracy. It was also understandable and unsurprising that white grief and white fear were in stark contrast to open and glaring black jubilation. The oppressed looked forward to shedding the yoke of servitude. Black people anticipated freedom with glee; they expected their lives would be the same or almost the same as those of their white fellow citizens who had not labored under apartheid as they had. However, having seen how the civil rights movement’s victory had not delivered real freedom to black Americans, this writer feared deep disappointment. She penned her poem, “Fear of Change.”

A bolder writer might have written a whole book on the consistent failure of victorious freedom movements to liberate the newly freed from poverty. Some of the African countries had been free for three or more decades by the time South Africa came to its independence. Zimbabwe, the breadbasket of the continent, exported food before independence. The economy of that country is shambolic, and those who have the money shop in South Africa—not for luxury goods but bare basics such as groceries. Why had these countries regressed after independence? But a more burning question for this writer was: could whatever had happened there also happen in South Africa?

The writer has often asked herself whether she has all her marbles about her. While she was worrying about possible derailments and disappointments of the newfound democracy, no one else, least of all the poor, seemed the least bit concerned that the poor might still miss out on getting out of poverty. Their eyes, burning with gleeful anticipation of their liberation from all strife, were as bright as newly minted Kruger Rands. However, the writer just could not see what and how any change, to say nothing of any remarkable change, was possible in the life of one such as a young man she knew, one of her son’s friends. Leo, twenty-one, had had three years of schooling by the time all these promises of all these freebies came. What could possibly change in such a life? How?

Writing a long piece denying the hopes all anticipated that this writer just could not see fulfilled would be seen as betrayal of the worst kind to the new government, with its promises to the “formerly disadvantaged,” of all manner of government support: houses, running water, electricity, free and equal education for their children, adequate health services—and more, so much more. The poor, “formerly disadvantaged” ate up the government promissory largesse as the desert soil laps up soft rain after a long dry patch. The writer contented herself with having written the poem “Fear of Change.”

Then, giving further credence to its being a miracle, the country amazed even the last disbeliever. In the history of modern times, no country had had the sense to impose on itself an enquiry into its own history. According to the late Dr Neville Alexander:

The TRC as it was done in South Africa was the first major attempt in the modern world where the elite looked back on forty-five years of contemporary history and asked very pertinent questions: “What happened? Why did it happen? What went wrong? Could it have been otherwise?”7

That much-acclaimed institution was yet another obstacle to a writer wishing to narrate history for posterity. How does one create satire or, indeed, any piece of literature that would appear to gainsay what the world not only applauded but, in several instances, emulated? As far as this writer is aware, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) only looked at the “stars of apartheid” and appeared to overlook the untidy detail that all the oppressed were dehumanized. Indeed, there are those who would go as far as saying all South Africans were dehumanized by apartheid. Yes, including the oppressing group—only a human not wholly human would not only fail to recognize the humanness of a fellow being but set out to destroy and annihilate the other for no reason at all except that of rapaciousness. On looking back, however, the writer has come to acknowledge that the TRC was commendable in that no one can ever deny the evil of apartheid or say the satanic events reported and admitted or confessed did not happen.

But, still, the writer was a little disquieted, for there seemed to emerge a distinction or differentiation between Victims and victims. If one had not been imprisoned on Robben Island or had a family member killed by the police or some other such, dealt directly by the hands of the government, they were a victim—but those to whom such atrocities happened were Victims, the real sufferers. But, wondered the writer, were not all the oppressed victims of the same system and thus all dehumanized?

Sadly, it was not long before the ugly realities of the post-apartheid state became undeniable, and the writer’s sense of foreboding was confirmed and became a terrible reality.


It was with shock the writer first saw the government housing for the poor, with inescapable overcrowding factored in—was there no architect? The writer instinctively knew these were well below substandard. She had believed one of the first things the new government would do was raze the township housing; freedom fighters and all who lived in them called them “matchboxes”—which are now palaces in comparison with what the ANC (African National Congress) government has built.


The South African Childhood Review shows that children are more likely to be living in poor households than adults. About 53 percent of children under the age of six live in poor households; the vast majority of those children are rural African children. The results of malnutrition in children, very likely from these poor households, are well documented and include stunting and a failure to reach their potential. Child malnutrition is still a problem in South Africa in the early 21st century.8

That the plight of children in South Africa has not been much improved in the post-apartheid era despite thirty years of pro-poor policies is confirmed when one glances at two more of the important categories: South Africa is estimated to have the highest prevalence of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) (111.1 per 1,000) in the world. In education, it is in the pits. A 2017 international literacy survey reveals that 80 percent of Grade 4s cannot read, while almost four in five Grade 4 pupils cannot read above the lowest internationally recognized level of reading literacy. Tragically, South Africa is the last out of fifty countries in the Progress in International Reading Literary Study (PIRLS). There has been no significant progress in improving children’s reading skills since the last survey was conducted in 2012.

The children are the future of a nation. It does not bode well for South Africa that in the “good” categories of life, those that point to a life worth living, the children of this country are not doing well, and, conversely, they are overrepresented or leading in those categories nefarious to life and the living of it.

It is at such a juncture that narrative is very important in the interrogation of the inevitable linkage between the present, past, and future, that is, the pursuit of postcolonial studies. The writer would make the bold prediction that unless there is drastic change in the life of the children, particularly the children of the poor, the future of the nation is in peril.


Has the infant mortality rate changed now that apartheid is no more? To some extent, it has. However, “By the end of the 1980s, Blacks still had the highest infant mortality rates of 86/1000.” The same article compares that to 12/1000 for Whites in 1980.9 Although South Africa’s healthcare is not perfect, it is available to all. Well, theoretically, as is all else in the country, that statement is true. However, an engagement with people’s lived reality would definitely paint a different picture. It is also a given that the majority of infant deaths will be among the poor. As Melinda Gates quotes one of her collaborators in the work of upliftment she does, “[e]xtreme poverty produces disease.”10 Poverty kills. The poverty levels in South Africa are nothing if not extreme, and the meaning of poverty, the havoc it wreaks on the lives of people hopelessly trapped in it, is something the writer explores in her work.

The narrative for gender-based violence reveals many cracks, the yawning void between theory and practice. A glaring example is the much-praised constitution of post-apartheid South Africa. The world hails it as the best there is. How soon we forget! The constitution of apartheid South Africa was never condemned for its deficiency. However, narrative again succeeds in revealing the nonappearance of people who were not classified “White” under the Registration Act, of the overrepresentation of women in the terrible category of oppressed or violated or abused or murdered. In the novels Mother to Mother, Beauty’s Gift, Chasing the Tails of my Father’s Cattle, as well as When the Village Sleeps the engagement is not with racial oppression but violence, particularly gender-based violence.11

A critic has stated of Beauty’s Gift:

Beautiful writing, even if it is overtly political, can be incredibly powerful. If you are a feminist, you say the personal is political and the political is personal. Personal stories do convey political messages, and that’s exactly what Sindiwe Magona has done in her latest book Beauty’s Gift. It starts out a typical “chick lit” story: these five middle-class Black women friends argue and gossip about their husbands and their children. . . . It could be Sex in the City but set in Gugulethu and Muizenberg until one of them dies of AIDS. And then Sindiwe just launches into a polemic, but because it’s also a strong story, it works.12

South Africa boasts of the only constitution in Africa where the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQ) community is guaranteed equal protection. However, does it enjoy that protection? Toxic masculinity and self-serving traditionalism have spawned what the writer labels “rapder”—the rape and murder of lesbians that is quite rampant in the black townships, a gruesome tragedy. But prevarication abounds thanks to a psychic toxic cocktail of ignorance, false morality, and self-serving traditionalism.

What about the human rights enshrined in the United Nations’ Declaration of Human Rights the world remembers and celebrates each year on the tenth day of the twelfth month? They should not only be celebrated, they should be observed, for every human being is entitled to a decent life, free from fear.

The writer is disquieted once more. What is happening to the LGBTQ community is no different to what happened, seemingly only yesterday, in Rwanda. Evil flourishes because ordinary people allow it by doing nothing. Silence is the passport that gives murderers entrée to the slaughterhouse of the innocent. But the abuse of anyone increases the chances of the abuse of all, for ideas spread softly, silently, and innocuously as mist. “Inkungu ilala kwintaba ngentaba” warned our forebears—“mist covers various mountaintops.” For mist, read misfortune. The wisdom of the ages warns one not to ignore another’s misfortune—for you might be its next destination. In 1994 Rwanda burned; South Africa, giddy with the excitement of its freedom, paid little notice. But Othering has many faces, and gender-based violence, particularly that which targets the LGBTQ community, is, in a way, South Africa’s Rwandan phenomenon. Evil slogans such as “corrective rape” are no different from “clean the bush.”

A Challenge to the South African Citizen

The postcolonial debate appears to apportion all blame to the colonialist. This somewhat stumps the writer, for she believes that stance endows the victims with the cloth of angels. This is as erroneous as white superiority. Oppression does not make angels of the oppressed. They remain human with all the frailty to which all humanity is heir. But to query embedded victimhood and/or lack of agency on the part of the still poor is to risk being accused of a lack of empathy for the oppressed. She has been called “anti-poor.” But the writer knows she is anti-poverty and not anti-poor, for she is not unsympathetic to the people living in poverty. She knows poverty, first hand, hates it with all her being. Had she a magic wand, poverty would long have been a thing of the past. She has no wand, magic or otherwise. What she does have is the experience of rooting herself out of poverty, doing that as a young woman in her mid-twenties, single parent of three children, all below the age of five. And she did that at a time when her racial classification in South Africa deprived her of citizenship, which meant, inter alia, that she could not even apply for government aid. It is this experience that has convinced her that poverty can be overcome. She does not say clawing one’s way out of poverty is an easy row to hoe but knows not actively, knowingly, determinedly doing so is harder: poverty is no walk in the park. At that time, the only way out of poverty for someone like her was education. This is a road she still believes is the only sure way out of poverty for those born into it and not likely to inherit millions from anyone.

Another risk for the writer is to dare to write with even the slightest degree of empathy for a white South African—unless the person is politically sanctioned. To write about a black government’s abuse of power, excesses, and ineptitude is almost invariably seen as “selling out,” as though evil were color coded and inhumanity to others always and invariably tied to skin color. Surely this is a myth, and one this writer would gladly dispel! Heaven forbid one should dare speak of black complicity. But to this writer there would appear to be some of that complicity in any act that aided and abetted the oppressor; the absence of agency and critical thinking are such that they serve the oppressor and not the victim.

Interrogating black complicity is not a condemnation of the oppressed or formerly oppressed but rather the pursuit of understanding how and why the oppressed find it difficult or are unable to free themselves from their shackles. This is not in condemnation of the subject but a probing into conditions that are socio-cultural-economic in nature, aspects of oppression that help mold the human being into such total subjugation that it becomes impossible for anyone to see any way out. Indeed, those who identify with the oppressor become him. Can the oppressed identify with the oppressor without assuming that she not only accepts her inferior status but has no inkling that it is not God designed and there might be a way to escape it? Such escape is not possible until the germ or seed is in the brain. No one escapes any danger or untenable situation or condition without that volition. Volition is the product of thought. To the writer, the horror of never becoming that which one was meant to be is an unpardonable evil, a sin and a loss of unimaginable magnitude not only to the individual but to society and, indeed, the whole world. It is through the coming to fruition of such talents that each and every human being is endowed with at birth, followed by the successful nurturing and use of those talents as they grow and blossom, that the world develops too. Without such use by ordinary people of their remarkable talents, development would just not happen. Each time that humanity has taken a step, never mind a leap, forward, someone’s ingenuity was at play. But what of those whose talents never stand a chance to develop? What, exactly, has been lost to humanity by such neglect or, worse still, deliberate stunting? That was the expressed mission of apartheid, and the loss to the world will never be known.

Yes, circumstances are not always favorable, but it is in the nature of the human spirit to transcend whatever obstacle is in one’s path. Yes, there may be and often are situations over which one has little or absolutely no control at all. Even so, history has examples of people who transcended terrible and atrocious situations. Anne Frank and Rholihlahla Nelson Mandela (Aa-aa Dalibhunga!) come to mind.

She is an ecofeminist and a homophile, but the writer admits she is also a coward. “When good people do nothing, evil will flourish.” These are words she believes, words that haunt her, for she has not always stood up for the outsider. Yes, hate is foreign to her nature and her heart means well to all, even those who may or do regard her as an Other. But it took her almost half a century to become a homophile. She lives with the horror of the relationship between marginality and the political. However, the writer takes courage in the knowledge of growth, for each individual has the capacity to learn, relearn, and unlearn. While no one has choice regarding what they will be taught as they become and come to know as little children, upon attaining maturity it is incumbent they take it upon themselves to interrogate what it is they have been taught. As they look afresh at the world in which they live in inescapable relationship with other life, human and nonhuman, animate and nonanimate, they must unlearn or discard that which is toxic. Should all humanity embrace the simple guideline to “do no harm,” peace would reign. Should some even go a step further and obey the injunction to “do good,” the world would thrive.

Challenging the Constitution

Perhaps optimism was warranted. Two years after the Big Elections, the country once again surprised the world with a constitution all described as ‘stellar’—for it “… enshrined human dignity, recognizing 11 home languages and dismantling racist legal structure.”13 President Mandela promulgated it in the same year as the TRC was established. However, the constitution has also been criticized for what it does not do, especially not enabling a direct vote. This is seen by many as encouraging laxity in whichever party happens to govern, for the individual civil servant does not have to be accountable: as long as the party is popular, her or his job is secure. The party itself, assured of its popularity, tends to be less civic-minded than would be the case were there, indeed, a system whereby the voter could cast her vote for the candidate of her choice. Sadly, South Africans are forced to vote for a party. The ruling party, the ANC, was popular at the moment of liberation, very popular, because, not only did it boast as leader the charismatic Mandela and have a host of other illustrious members in its leadership, it also claimed for itself the role of liberator—although, during the struggle for liberation there were other groups, like the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania (PAC). The myth of sole liberator persists into the post-apartheid era, and the party ensures it is not and will not be forgotten. Therefore, even though freedom has not really delivered on its promises, enticing the majority of the population—who happen to be the formerly oppressed—with the “shared” history and always harping on apartheid diverts attention from the inadequacies of the performance of the ruling party. Even with endemic corruption, the ANC has been voted into power again and again.

Challenging the Majority Government

Way back in 1993 and 1994, as the country geared itself toward what was then called “the Big Elections” (for the miracle of their even happening), all those canvassing for election promised the people, especially the majority who happened to be black, everything short of the moon. The operative phrase “We will give you . . . ” was followed by glowing promises from the main contestant, the ANC, followed closely by those from the outgoing National Party, as well as all the other contenders. Fiercely did these parties compete in the promises they gave as they gunned for the hearts of the electorate, the majority of whom were the country’s forever desperately poor. Housing, jobs, good schools, clinics—all these and more would come with the now-ensured freedom. In short, the promises were nothing short of answers to the hunger of centuries.

Perhaps, given the history of the country and its population demographics, it was a foregone conclusion that the ANC would win the elections. It has been in power ever since. Is that because it has kept the promises it made before the Big Elections?

This it has not done, not when all the provinces under ANC governance fail in their annual evaluations. Not when, using the usual indicators of a good life—standard of living and life expectancy, infant mortality, education, health services, and so on—the lowest expectations or goals are not reached and the poor are constantly in an uproar, demanding better services, more and better-paying jobs, better education for their children, better housing: in short, a better life for all. This was the promise of freedom.

South Africa’s freedom surprised the world, the ruling party included. The government may have been a good and disciplined freedom fighter, but it does not appear to be very good at governance. After more than two decades governing, there is little achievement of which the ANC could boast. Crime and xenophobia are both high; poverty is widespread, despite a major rollout of social security benefits from as early as 1997. Unemployment, especially that of youth, is very high. South Africa is among the top three countries, if not the leading country, with the highest gap between rich and poor, and, sadly, that inequality is highest in education—meaning inequality will continue. Although, under Mandela, the government came out with a National Development Plan, lack of organizational capacity and very weak local government have led to the plan’s collapse. Jobs for pals or relatives is another cancer, also ensuring, if unintentionally, the failure of any “plan” by the government. The gap between rich and poor, there during apartheid, has grown in the democracy—the only difference is the nuwe riche, mostly government officials or, via the popular graft, associates.

A frightening possibility is the return to nuclear pursuits, after declaring Africa a nuclear-free zone, to the admiration of the entire world. Greed and conspicuous consumption seem to rule the rulers of the land, hence the gross corruption.

What Africa Needs

Leaders with vision, whose platform is not the blame game but the work that must be done to heal the wounds of history and build a new nation, united and at peace with itself: that is freedom. When all the people in the country feel a sense of belonging, all equal and enjoying what the country offers: that is freedom. Blaming the oppressor marries one to the past, to the pain, to the thing one hates and wanted to leave. Leave it, run for glory! Policies and pronouncements mean naught when the complementary action does not follow, with leaders on the gravy train and the path of self-aggrandizement via conspicuous consumption.

The year 2019 saw South Africa, like the rest of the world, hit by a pandemic. What Covid-19 has done is bare the cruel injustice inflicted on the poorest of the poor in the country—not only during apartheid but even in the democratic era. Freedom has not delivered relief for them, as can be seen on television and in newspapers: throngs lining up for food parcels in the cold of winter. Although delivery is announced for 9 or 10 am, some arrive at the sites as early as 4 am: the young, the elderly and infirm, pregnant women, and mothers with babies and children among them. They do so because they want to make sure they will be among the lucky ones who end up with a parcel in their hands, for there never is any guarantee that everybody will. Invariably, demand always surpasses supply.

To almost all those who find themselves in such dire straits, poverty is a familiar if unwelcome reality. They were poor during apartheid; they are poor in the post-apartheid era. What is new is the sense of betrayal they must surely feel, for freedom promised them much. Narrative enables the writer to capture this betrayal by drawing parallels, contrasts, contradictions, and comparisons between the now and the then—hope and reality.

In the bewildered mind of the writer, the Covid driven crowd dances with the hope-drunk 1994 crowd. That recalls what drove her to pen the poem “Fear of Change.” Was her trepidation justified?

Even a cursory glance at the faces of the Covid-jettisoned people begging for food on the street, making newspaper headlines and television news, would say “YES!” The “crime against humanity” survived the death of legal apartheid and continues to batter the flesh and soul of even the children of the “formerly oppressed,” just as it battered them when they were children. No one has thought to “rehumanize” the people apartheid dehumanized. Moreover, systems perpetuate themselves, and poor people give birth and raise poor people. Poverty is systemic and, in South Africa, it is also racialized. During apartheid, the majority of poor people were black; the majority of poor people in post-apartheid South Africa are still black.

It is painful to see on television and in newspapers pictures of plump government officials coaxing hordes of desperately poor people assembled at one of the seasonal imbizos. Vulnerability is painted on their bodies without tone, their limbs gangly, faces gaunt, pierced by two hunger-burnt, listless eyes. The writer remembers times of strife when a glance, a word, a casual reference about possible assistance was enough to set her heart aflutter, her body trembling with anticipation—only to be thrown down into the gutter of utmost despair. She had read the signs incorrectly. That had not been any promise of relief to her. Her eyes go back to the hopeful mass of humanity waiting for food from the hands of relief workers or others touched by the desperation everywhere around them. She reads the thoughts in the hearts and minds of the waiting; their desperation drives words out of her sorrowing heart, a heart at one and the same time furious that this should be so. This desperate situation is uncalled for . . . not twenty-six years after the death of apartheid!

Perhaps, this time . . . the government will give us something real. Perhaps, I will be one of the lucky ones, this time What human is forever marked by bad luck? Perhaps, this time, this government person won’t think only of his own But pass on to us . . . fulfil their ever-ready promises. The government official is there on a hunt. Elections are coming Recruitment is the name of the game Reaffirm those already in the stable Reaffirm the promises of yesteryear Grocery bags at the door Each one, take one . . . and only ONE, please! Each bag given; each bag taken Taking hands give heart and head Reconfirmed body swells the numbers Through the stomach, voter rolls are swelled.

A criticism of early 21st-century African leaders does not imply that the colonial leaders they toppled were any better. Different times call for different leaders for the different challenges they (the people) face. Evil is not color-coded. It is in the hearts of people with pink skin. It exists in the hearts of people with black or brown skin.

Apartheid education infantilized and bonsai’d black people; the ANC government has done little to make sure that situation is speedily remedied. An educated population might just begin to think and question its reality; there is no hoodwinking a critical population. The post-apartheid government, guaranteed its majority by a voting populace singularly lacking critical analysis, is happy to “let sleeping voters slumber.” For people who cannot read, the printing press might as well not have been invented. It is a well-known fact that one of the consequences of that invention and all that followed it is that it allows the reading public to hold their ruling government to account and criticize its actions. One very prominent leader in South Africa called the few who dared “clever blacks” in denigration, because they refused to join the herd mentality the ruling party promotes and religiously nurtures. However, the majority have become voter fodder. Humanity is frail; error is part of our common heritage and make up.

Skin color is no achievement; how you relate to it is—neither black skin nor white skin is a determinant of character or ability. The oppressor is always there—is there NOW. What has changed is the language of oppression. This writer hears the voice of the former oppressor closely echoed by that of today’s ruler. Same ploy: “Depend on me! I am your savior!”

We come to civilise you! We bring you Light! We give you Freedom! We give you Grants!

For the poor in South Africa, freedom is an illusion—a cruel illusion. The only real change is that of the skin color of the oppressor and some of the tactics. The poor remain outside the house of plenty.

Yes, colonies have been given back to the original people of the land, but there is no going back in time. History is not changeable. In the meantime, generation after generation of parents have socialized children into the status quo, the normal of the time. But this writer fears that as long as Europe and its descendants, scattered throughout the globe, have not come out with a proclamation as strong as that of the learned men of history who stratified humanity into categories of “superior” and “inferior,” the root of colonialism has not been extirpated.

Postcolonial literature arms this writer with a terrible and cruel insight: the well-nigh impossible inescapability of our being who we are, as we are, as South Africans. However, at the same time, it provides her with illustrious examples of heroines and heroes of her land, people who transcended the curse of the evil aspect of their inheritance. Neither racism nor complicity with wickedness is inescapable. Yes, she decides, says to her readers, “By all means, blame the past and its crushing cruelty, its evil. However, that does not absolve you from doing your part to ensure you will leave a country that is a more worthy inheritance than what you were bequeathed.” Any and all social ills, the greatest of obstacles, can be overcome if people commit to identifying the root cause; are outraged over the ramifications on life, whether human or nonhuman; and endeavor with all their might, through collaborative effort, to work for the total eradication thereof. She believes in the inherent good of people and lives in hope that humanity will find direction toward “a good life for all” before it destroys the entire universe—an alternative too horrendous to contemplate.

Challenging Reverse Racism

The writer would that her people, all South Africans, take a long look at themselves, at who they are and why they are that. Whites have accepted the inevitability of their being racist in attitude if not in heart. That comes with the skin they are in. Blacks accept the inevitability of their complicity in attitude if not in heart. That comes with the skin they are in. Intent removed; each works to rid the self of what toxicity they have imbibed through no fault of their own. No one chooses lineage, but everyone can choose what of their inheritance they want to keep and what they want to rid themselves of. This is the work before the people of South Africa in their inescapable diversity.

This is her prayer. It underscores her writing and her thought. Using narrative, she hopes to awaken in her readers an understanding of who they are, who they were, who they could be as humanity. Understanding is crucial in the affairs of humanity. It not only precedes transformation; its absence categorically precludes it.

Discussion of the Literature

The birth of race hate was born in minds of great learning who happened to be European. In pursuit of knowledge, they started by classifying all living things, animate and inanimate. Some of these intellectuals’ findings and stipulations are elegantly captured in Sven Linqvist’s extraordinary and brilliant book of exploration entitled Exterminate All the Brutes—described as “a unique study of Europe’s history in Africa, written in the form of a travel diary. (He) takes us on a daring intellectual trip to ‘the Heart of Darkness’ of the European mind and its attitude toward the ‘Dark Continent’” (back cover).14

The robust studiousness of these men is aptly captured in the titles of their works. William Petty asserts (quoted in “Exterminate All the Brutes,” p. 100) “There seem to be several species even of human beings” in his book The Scale of Creatures, and he then goes on to assert that difference in color means difference in attributes.15 William Tyson (quoted in “Exterminate All the Brutes,” p. 100), in his book Orang-Outang: Or the Anatomy of a Pygmie, classified the pygmie as an animal.16 Charles White (quoted in “Exterminate All the Brutes,” p. 100), in his extensive and illustrated hierarchy of race An Account of the Regular Gradation in Man, and in Different Animals and Vegetables, “proves” the superiority of the European.17 The trend of studiousness was just beginning, and it continued for centuries, fostering a spirit of the rightness of European superiority, motivating colonialism, and giving birth to such aberrations as apartheid. All this great learning impacted the belief system of the men and women of Europe and was in their hearts and minds when they came to the lands of people they labeled “barbarians.” Attitude determines action. This truth is borne in the vivid horrors that characterize colonialism, which still impacts those on the receiving end of the “superior” Europeans and their civilizing mission.

Scientists such as Nina Jablonski—coauthor of Skin We Are In—states the probable motivation of scientists such as Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) and David Hume (1711–1776), whose theories contributed to the bigotry prevalent in the early 21st century.18 She not only refutes these racist theories but asserts the one-race theory as opposed to the classification of human beings under different “races” because of skin color. For Jablonsky, people are more similar than they are different. Melanin, which determines skin color, is but one-thousandth of a percent of one’s DNA; that and the discovery of remains of the earliest ancient common ancestor at the Cradle of Humanity, a World Heritage Site outside Johannesburg, South Africa, is proof. Scholar Francis Wilson, author of Dinosaurs, Diamonds and Democracy, also subscribes to the “common ancestor” of all humanity.19 He calls the coming of the European migration south “Europe Returns to Sub-Saharan Africa: 1488–1806,” illustrating the migrations from Africa to other parts of the world and “return” of the descendants of those who had left Africa in centuries past. These returnees, with superiority complexes in their hearts, came with exploitative agendas camouflaged as humanitarian undertakings. Wilson states that to the people “invaded” by these Europeans, the idea they were regarded as inferior was not immediately obvious but gradual and painful and then wrathful.

Literature attempts to capture these gradations in lived reality. In “Fine Lines from the Box” Njabulo Ndebele explores a range of issues, all pertinent to post-apartheid South Africa. One of his assertions, that “the oppressed must free the oppressor,” aligns well with Magona’s belief in the oneness of humankind and that when one debases another, the debaser is herself debased.20

In her novel When the Village Sleeps the writer affirms her belief in imagining people as embodying similar characteristics, irrespective of the skin they live in.21 One of the characters, Mrs Bird, who is white and Jewish, shows remarkable ubuntu toward Khulu, the woman who has worked for her for decades. This is an important characterization in South Africa, as it deviates from the stereotype of insensitive and exploitative white women employers of black women. Shattering stereotypes is another of the writer’s devices, for she believes in using her imagination and experience of lived reality to open the eyes of her fellow citizens to their oneness.

Further Reading

  • Alexander, Neville. “Vanities Antiatom: An Interview with Neville Alexander.” In Trauma, Memory, and Narrative in South Africa: Interviews. Edited by Ewald Mengel, Michela Borzaga, and Karin Orantes, 155–172. Amsterdam: Brill, 2010.
  • Biko, Steve. I Write What I Like. Johannesburg: Pan Macmillan, 2009.
  • Krog, Antjie. Begging to be Black. Cape Town: Random House Struik, 2009.
  • Lourens, Vivien, Peter Lourens, and Jodee Kelp. Living with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome: Our Journey with Tisha. Scotts Valley: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2012.
  • Magona, Sindiwe. Forced to Grow. Cape Town: David Philip, 1992.
  • May, Julian. The Conversation. 2021.
  • Ndebele, Njabulo S. Fine Lines from the Box. Cape Town: Umuzi, 2007.
  • Nomlomo, Vuyokazi, Zubeida Desai, and Jean September, eds. From Words to Ideas: The Role of Literacy in Enhancing Young Children’s Development, vol. 2. Cape Town: University of the Western Cape, 2019.
  • Ramphele, Mamphela. Dreams, Betrayal and Hope. Johannesburg: Penguin Random House, 2017.
  • Shober, Dianne. “Ecofeminist Invitations in the Works of Sindiwe Magona.” Literator: Journal of Literary Criticism, Comparative Linguistics and Literary Studies 38, no. 1 (2017): 12.
  • Simons, Ray Alexander. All My Life and All My Strength. Johannesburg: STE, 2004.
  • Sisulu, Elinor. Walter & Albertina Sisulu: In Our Lifetime. London: Abacus, 2002.
  • Sparks, Allister. Beyond the Miracle. Cape Town: Jonathan Ball, 2003.


  • 1. Ato Quayson, Postcolonialism: Theory, Practice or Process (New York: Wiley, 2000).

  • 2. Sindiwe Magona, To My Children’s Children (Cape Town: David Philip, 1990), 1.

  • 3. Magona, Children’s Children, preface.

  • 4. Sindiwe Magona, Please, Take Photographs (Cape Town: Modjadji Books, 2009).

  • 5. Sindiwe Magona, Living, Loving, and Lying Awake at Night (Cape Town: David Philip, 1991).

  • 6. Magona, Children’s Children, 180.

  • 7. Ewald Mengel, Michela Borzaga, and Karin Orantes, eds., Trauma, Memory, and Narrative in South Africa: Interviews (Amsterdam: Brill, 2010), 163.

  • 8. Julian May, The Conversation, 2021.

  • 9. Google, August 31, 2021. Orieji Cheiere-dan, “Apartheid and Demography in South Africa,” African Population Studies 1992, no. 7 (1992): 26–36.

  • 10. Melinda Gates, The Moment of Lift (London: Pan Macmillan, 2020).

  • 11. Sindiwe Magona, Mother to Mother (Cape Town: David Philip, 1998); Sindiwe Magona, Beauty’s Gift (Johannesburg: Pan Macmillan, 2018); Sindiwe Magona, Chasing the Tails of my Father’s Cattle (Cape Town: Seriti sa Sechaba, 2015); and Sindiwe Magona, When the Village Sleeps (Johannesburg: Pan Macmillan, 2021).

  • 12. Helen Moffett, “Gender Is a Matter of Life and Death,” in Trauma, Memory, and Narrative in South Africa: Interviews, ed. Ewald Mengel, Michela Borzaga, and Karen Orantes (Amsterdam: Brill, 2010), 245.

  • 13. Francis Wilson, Dinosaurs, Diamonds and Democracy: A Short, Short History of South Africa (Cape Town: Penguin Random House, 2017).

  • 14. Sven Linqvist, “Exterminate All the Brutes”: One Man’s Odyssey into the Heart of Darkness and the Origins of European Genocide (New York: New Press, 1996) (back cover).

  • 15. William Petty, The Scale of Creatures (quoted in “Exterminate All the Brutes” [p. 100]).

  • 16. William Tyson, Orang-Outang: Or the Anatomy of a Pygmie (quoted in “Exterminate All the Brutes” [p. 100]) (, 1708).

  • 17. Charles White, An Account of the Regular Gradation in Man, and in Different Animals and Vegetables (quoted in “Exterminate All the Brutes” [p. 100]).

  • 18. Sindiwe Magona and Nina Jablonski, Skin We Are In (Cape Town: David Philip, 2018).

  • 19. Wilson, Dinosaurs, Diamonds and Democracy.

  • 20. Njabulo Ndebele, Fine Lines from the Box (Cape Town: UMUZI, 2007).

  • 21. Magona, When the Village Sleeps.