At the beginning of Tim Couzens's most sustained plea for the importance of archival research and oral testimony for South African literary studies, "Research in Southern African Literature" (1978), he tells an anecdote about finding a three-page letter by HIE Dhlomo in the Natal Archives in Pietermaritzburg.
The king who could not bow his neck took his people and departed towards the horizon of his own arrogance. Which was never going to be far enough. His enemies, of course, prayed that when he reached that distance it would find a way to trip him up. But even when this came about they could no longer see him, and became old themselves unsolaced.
In 1967, soon after Nigeria's civil war and six years after independence, Wole Soyinka famously declared that a "phase of disillusionment" had arrived in which the attention of the African writer had to be drawn to problems at home. A new order of vision was needed, he said, if writers were to have any influence in postcolonial African societies, in which the state seemed to provide no recourse against corruption and escalating violence. As a way of defining this programme, Soyinka declared the problems of settler-colonialism in southern Africa to be temporarily off the table. South Africa, especially, was "simply out of this world" ("The Writer in an African State" 15).
J.M. Coetzee's most recent novel has already generated a voluminous and various critical response, and - given the fertile indirections of its narrative style - it is likely to continue to do so for some time.
I can't remember the exact date, but it was sometime in the early 1980s that I was making my way through an autumn highveld dusk to a venue on the Wits campus in order to treat myself to one of the real pleasures of being associated with the then rather rag-tag collection of get-togethers that constituted southern African studies.
To read the process of the Africanising of Christian imagery as the 'natural' result of involving African artists in the production of religious art is to ignore the complex relationships between European missionaries and African converts. Such an approach does not take into account mission agendas in establishing Christianity in Africa, nor African agency in coopting Christian themes for new purposes. To negotiate a path through this complex terrain, I have chosen to focus chiefly on woodcarving developed in the earlier twentieth century in southern Africa, in the Transvaal, Natal and Rhodesia, today the Northern Province, KwaZulu-Natal and Zimbabwe, although I shall use the historical names which were current at the time.
At a crucial point in the unfolding of his new book, Tim Couzens quotes St Paul: "Behold, I shew you a mystery" and then he adds "Perhaps even a mystery within a mystery" (39). What the first of these mysteries is, is plain. It is the question of who poisoned the Reverend Édouard Jacottet and five other people at lunch at the Paris Evangelical Mission station at Morija, Basutoland on 22 December 1920.