n English in Africa - Communities of mourning and vulnerability : Zakes Mda's and Phaswane Mpe's




Arguing that "postcolonial narrative, structured by a tension between the oppressive memory of the past and the liberatory promise of the future, is necessarily involved in a work of mourning" ( 1), Sam Durrant has analyzed J. M. Coetzee's novels as "testify[ing] to the suffering engendered by apartheid" (24). But what if the "liberatory promise of the future" (1) has finally arrived in the form of a new, post-apartheid, democratic order, and yet that order is characterized by still more suffering, seemingly giving rise to an endless work of mourning?

That seems to have been the order of things in South Africa in the last two decades, certainly as it is depicted in Zakes Mda's (1995) - which deals with the period of transition to democracy - and in Phaswane Mpe's (2001), which focuses on life in South Africa under the new political dispensation. Both Mda and Mpe depict a society in which death and violence are omnipresent - with pervasive inter-ethnic conflict, the marginalization of people affected by HIV/AIDS and hatred toward foreigners coming from other African countries - so that the project of "a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world," as Mandela put it in his inaugural address as President of the Republic of South Africa, has, at least partly, collapsed.


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