“Past and Present Histories: A look into Research in African Literatures: South African Literature a Priori“
By Cate McClure, Assistant Editor for Research in African Literatures and Spectrum: A Journal on Black Men.
Literature has been marked and sorted by time. However, when life-changing events affect a nation, continent, or the world, the writing of the region changes to reflect the new complications brought about by this event. One such shift can be seen in South African compositions published after the 2012 massacre in Marikana, South Africa. Research In African Literatures (RAL), a peer-reviewed journal focusing on the examination of worldwide African literature, hopes to examine how themes in South African literature have shifted in the ten years following Marikana within its special issue South African Literature a Priori, coedited by Ronit Frenkel and Sikhumbuzo Mngadi. This edition, vol. 53, no. 1, of RAL, will be published in December 2022.
The Marikana massacre, the first major government-involved massacre since South Africa’s liberation, has left a lasting impact on South Africa. During this massacre, the South African Police Service killed 34 mine workers on strike against the Lonmin platinum mine. The strikers were protesting for a living wage and to improve their poor housing and working conditions. In addition, police injured 78 protestors and arrested 250 strikers. In the days leading up to the massacre, ten people—including miners, police, and security—were killed. While police forces claimed they opened fire because the protestors started attacking, many eyewitnesses argued that police were not in danger from the miners. Following Marikana, the South African government opened the Marikana Commission of Inquiry to investigate the event; the commission absolved every key figure involved with the massacre of any crimes. However, ten years later, many strikers and families affected by Marikana have yet to receive justice or compensation for their losses.
To mark the decade that has passed since Marikana, RAL investigates how this massacre has impacted South African literature published within the last ten years. How have the themes that South African writing focuses on changed in the post-Marikana world of literature? Still, other essays focus on how the evaluations of South African literature have changed since the massacre. By recognizing that time and history must be considered as critical frameworks when evaluating these texts, it becomes apparent that Marikana has irreversibly impacted both earlier and current literature contexts. How have the evaluations of South African writings changed since 2012? This special issue juxtaposes before-Marikana literature with the texts written after this massacre. Ronit Frenkel notes, “This framework is constantly in dialogue with ‘from what is before,’ relating to the historicized term ‘South African literature a priori’ where the specter of the past continues to haunt the present, and where the present is no longer transitioning.” By examining how recent history has impacted the evaluations and constructions of South African literature, RAL predicts the future trajectories of South African writings.
The authors in this special issue tackle different issues relating to texts produced in South Africa. These researchers examine the mediums in which these writings were published. Some analysts focus on literature written by novelists, and others comment on pressing issues published in blogs. Many of the scholars hone in on the works of one author. Andrew van der Vlies examines Zoë Wicomb’s Still Life through transitional, post-, and post-post-transitional lenses. Danyela Dimakatso Demir also analyzes one author’s work in her essay featuring Lesego Rampolokeng’s Bird-Monk Seding.
Similarly, Minish Dash analyzes Thando Mgqolozana’s Unimportance in the context of the South African 2016 #RememberKhwezi protest. Still, other featured researchers focus on themes that have popped up in South African writings after the Marikana massacre. In their respective papers, both Janet Remmington and Rebecca Fasselt concentrate on mobility and migration in South Africa after 2012. Meanwhile, Chris Thurman investigates the absence of mine dumps in South African literature post-Marikana. In her article, Lucy Valerie Gharam examines the lack of leadership in the student movement Fallism in the context of post-apartheid literature. Other papers published in RAL’s newest issue relate past South African literature to present published texts. For example, Thabo Tšehloane’s article points out that the works written in the early 2000s by K. Sello Duiker predicted many current trends in South African literature.Similarly, Ronit Frenkel’s article dives into current patterns in South African literature concerning what was published before Marikana. Finally, Sikhumbuzo Mngadi also examines the past as a point of reference for South African literature about time throughout his paper. These articles all work together to discuss how the trajectory of South African literature has changed in the decade following Marikana.At its core, Research in African Literature: South African Literature a Priori uses time as a vessel for examining South African literature by placing published texts in relation to history shaped by the present. Our understanding of today is shaped by a changing comprehension of billions of moments that constantly interact with one another. Occurrences that happened hundreds of years ago work against current events to shape our future. We can understand how time influences writing by looking into the relationship between past and present histories.
Khumalo, Thuso. “10 years since South Africa’s Marikana massacre.” DW, 16 Aug. 2022, https://www.dw.com/en/10-years-since-south-africas-marikana-massacre/a-62824749. Accessed 20 Nov. 2022.
Kubheka, Thando. “The Marikana Massacre’s Effect on the Law and SA’s Union Landscape.” Eyewitness News, 16 Aug. 2021, https://ewn.co.za/2021/08/16/the-marikana-massacre-s-effect-on-the-law-and-sa-s-union-landscape#:~:text=SA%27s%20union%20landscape-,The%20Marikana%20massacre%27s%20effect%20on%20the%20law%20and%20SA%27s%20union,than%20stay%20with%20majority%20unions. Accessed 20 Nov. 2022.
“Marikana Massacre 16 Aug. 2012.” South African History Online, 31 Aug. 2022, https://www.sahistory.org.za/article/marikana-massacre-16-august-2012. Accessed 20 Nov. 2022.
Mgqolozana, Thando. Unimportance. Jacana Publishers, 2017.
Rampolokeng, Lesego. Bird-Monk Seding. Deep South, 2017.
South African Literature A Priori, special issue of Research in African Literatures, vol. 53, no. 1, 2022. Wicomb, Zoë. Still Life: A Novel. New Press, 2020.
Cate McClure is an assistant editor for Research in African Literatures and Spectrum: A Journal on Black Men. She currently studies at The Ohio State University and hopes to graduate with an undergraduate degree in English Literature, Film, and Popular Culture Studies in the spring of 2023.