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The Role of the Surreal in Postcolonial African Writing

The Case of Legson Kayira’s Jingala and The Detainee

Joshua Isaac Kumwenda


Creating a situation that is beyond the ordinary stems from the author’s desire to create utopia amidst the engulfing dystopia and the search for relevant aesthetics to satisfy that desire. It therefore requires the reader to unravel the illogical through which such texts create their meanings and assert their ideologies. Using the case of Legson Kayira’s writing, this paper observes that the surreal takes many dimensions and is the main vehicle for expressing ideology among many African writers in the sense that the dominant narratives and counter-narratives of the texts are aligned with it. As such, whether a text is wholly surrealist or merely informed by the surrealist mode of expression, there is a particular logic that is shrouded in the illogical, the extraordinary and the impractical. I draw on Legson Kayira’s Jingala (1967) and The Detainee (1974) to show how these texts rely on the surreal as the main vehicle for interrogating the postcolonial African reality and positing the author’s ideology.

Separating the Magical from the Real

The Representation of the Barwa in Zakes Mda’s She Plays with the Darkness

Michael Wessels


Zakes Mda’s novel She Plays with the Darkness has been characterised as a magical realist novel. It is notable, though, that the magical elements are reserved almost exclusively for the sections of the novel that relate to the major character, Dikosha, and her world of music, art and dance. Central to this world are the Barwa, better known as the Bushmen or San. This article is chiefly concerned with the novel’s representation of Dikosha’s relationship with the Barwa. It also examines the depiction of the Barwa way of life and the symbolic resonance they possess for the present.

Witnessing the Ruins of Apartheid

The Women’s Jail (Johannesburg) as a Site of Encounter

Marie Kruger


Constitution Hill, a unique and hybrid memorial site in the centre of Johannesburg, commemorates the violence of apartheid in the city’s infamous prison complex. Based on a series of workshops with former inmates and prison staff, the permanent exhibitions emphasize the importance of personal objects and testimonials for understanding the human rights violations of the past and their significance for the present and the future. In response to Yvonne Owuor’s appeal to remember the vulnerability of those human bodies who no one “[has] bothered to mention, to mourn”, my article attempts to map a new path towards responsible forms of spectatorship as we walk through the former Women’s Jail and listen to the witness accounts of Deborah Matshoba and Nolundi Ntamo.

Writing out of Ruins

Stories of District Six, Food and Home

Shaun Viljoen


This hybrid autobiographical/critical paper takes its cue from Yvonne Owuor’s paper in this volume, “Reading our Ruins: A Rough Sketch.” In her piece, Owuor combines a meditation on ruins—as physical, human, social and political—with the perspective of an autopsy, or “seeing for oneself”. In my paper I try to “see for myself” and in myself what it means to consider the ruins of District Six and the responses, individual and institutional, to its violent destruction. More specifically, I try to account for a recent oral history project completed by the District Six Museum which resulted in the writing of a food story and cookbook, District Six Huis Kombuis Tafel: Food and Memory Stories Cookbook (2016). My paper intersperses this critical account with italicised fragments of my own memoir (a work in progress) on District Six, apartheid’s psychic violence, home and food, that relate directly or tangentially to the critical segments. The memoir fragments provide a parallel tale of inner life that at times relates to and supplements the critical discourse, but also at times casts it into doubt.