n English in Africa - Longing and belonging : emancipation moments and Ubuntu in Claire Robertson's

Volume 42, Issue 3
  • ISSN : 0376-8902



Claire Robertson's 2013 novel, , consists of two alternating South African chronotopes, one a farm in 1794, the other a mission hospital in 1961. The first narrative unfolds shortly before the abolition of slavery. Robertson critiques the ideology of slavery and the effects of Enlightenment scientific experimentation on human subjects. The consequences of social engineering, violence and sexism are shown in the suffering of the characters. The second narrative is set at the time when South Africa becomes a republic. It concerns a white nun who is breaking away from her convent life and acting as a surrogate mother to a young black boy. The novel, which concludes in 1994, requires the reader to contemplate who has been given full subjecthood within the framework of the nation, according to which ideologies. In analysing this novel I employ Leonard Praeg's (2014). Ubuntu is an African concept of community through an imagined sense of belonging, both material and ethical. Praeg notes: "Ubuntu [...] can only play this role of positing past realities as future possibilities through a perpetual deconstruction of two essential building blocks of Western modernity: a linear conception of time and the binary separation of self and other, being and belonging" (248). I argue that Robertson's novel effectively and movingly exemplifies Ubuntu.

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