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n Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe - Apokalips nou of later? Eben Venter se siening van die Suid-Afrikaanse samelewing in (2006)

Supplement 1
  • ISSN : 0041-4751

Abstract


In his latest novel, Horrelpoot (Club-foot) (2006), Eben Venter outlines a bleak view of post-apartheid South Africa. He gradually reveals a community on the brink of annihilation following large-scale destruction of infrastructure, devastation of the environment and rampaging illness literally killing off men, women and children at an alarming rate. In the closing paragraphs of the novel, a truly apocalyptic image is revealed, when the reader is informed that all evidence of a so-called civilised and supposedly civilising colonial presence of more than three centuries on the continent has disappeared, and, more pertinently, that no indication of any human occupation whatsoever could be discerned in an abandoned, though erstwhile grandiose, farmhouse to which the ants and jackals and other untamed animals had in the mean time returned.
As opposed to daily reporting on factual events in South Africa pointing to general decline in basic services and infrastructure, uncontrollable criminal activities or epidemic illness, Eben Venter's futuristic vision is fictionalised by deliberately evoking a constant comparison of the general deteriorating situation in post-apartheid South Africa with the threatening impenetrability of the African landscape as depicted in Joseph Conrad's . More subtly than is the case in Zakes Mda's recent novel (2000), with its unambiguous reference to Heart of darkness, the author explores both the semantic and phonological entities of the title "horrelpoot / club-foot" to refer to present conditions in South Africa while simultaneously conjuring up images resonating with a Conradian "darkness". Semantically the main character's disability as concretised in his club-foot is repeated, in an intensified form, when it becomes clear that his nephew, whom he is supposed to rescue from the South African mayhem, is dying from gangrene, being bedridden as a consequence of a rotten foot, thus leaving him entirely incapacitated. Debilitating illness in the face of general deterioration symbolises the utter powerlessness of the narrator, Marlouw, and the main character, Koert, to effect any difference whatsoever, if not as representatives, then at least in their capacity as descendants of a "white" or "colonised" presence on the African continent. This impression is enforced by skilfully using the phonological similarity between the Afrikaans "horrel" (as in "horrelpoot") and the English word "horror". The phonological link enables the author to relate the Afrikaans words of a dying Koert, "o die horrel, die horrel" in Horrelpoot with Kurz's "oh, the horror, the horror" uttered on his deathbed in Conrad's text. Given the fact that "horror" supposedly refers to the ultimate threat and evil hidden in the depths of the African landscape with its overwhelming giant trees, Eben Venter thereby skilfully manipulates the title of his text to conjure up the Conradian darkness.
However, where it is the wilderness itself that appears life-threatening in Conrad's depiction of an impenetrable, hence "dark" forestation in colonial Africa, it is the large-scale destruction of habitation in post-apartheid South Africa that results in the uninhabitable, thus life-threatening, situation depicted in Venter's futuristic vision in the closing paragraphs of the novel. It is especially in the wilful destruction of the environment that the consequences of crime may best be discerned. On the one hand the prolonged exploitation of the environment is caused by people who have been forced to resort to criminal activities (corruption, theft, even murder or large-scale killing) as a form of survival; on the other hand, wilful destruction of habitation itself constitutes a crime against the environment resulting in an irreversible ecological disruption. And it is this wilful and senseless destruction, then, that in Venter's view will inevitably effect the erasure of mankind in a dysfunctional environment.
While depicting an alarmingly familiar outline of the visual signs of epidemic illness, utter decay and uncontrollable crime in post-apartheid South Africa, the significance of Venter's text should be sought at a deeper level of meaning. It gradually becomes clear that a physical disability, such as a club-foot, and its more aggressive, "criminalised" version of a rotten foot, are symbolic of the ingrained inability and powerlessness of the last remnants of white presence on the African continent to effect meaningful change when faced with the ultimate "darkness" associated with pre-colonial Africa in the Conrad-text. The fact that this erasure of any human presence on a South African farm is situated in a time-frame thirteen years after democratisation and the dismantling of apartheid (as the ultimate form of colonialism) naturally constitutes, at the same time, a critical assessment of the present government and its apparent unwillingness to prevent, or even alleviate, the dire consequences of illness, crime and annihilation as outlined in the Venter novel.

Soos afgelees kan word uit die slotparagraaf hierbo, skets Eben Venter in sy jongste roman, (2006), 'n ontstellende beeld van 'n post-apartheid Suid-Afrikaanse samelewing, waar grootskaalse vernietiging van die infrastruktuur, verwoesting van die omgewing, en epidemiese siekte van mens en dier onafwendbaar afstuur op 'n vernielde en vernietigde landskap, ontdaan van sigbare Europese invloed, maar uiteindelik ook gestroop van enige menslike nalatenskap hoegenaamd. Die algehele verval wat uitgebeeld word, is ten minste gedeeltelik te wyte aan 'n samelewing wat gekenmerk word deur ongebreidelde misdaad in verskeie gedaantes, van gesofistikeerde korrupsie tot brute geweld; van individuele uitbuiting en bedrog tot kollektiewe moord. Kortom: 'n kombinasie van siekte, verval en misdaad wat vir die oorgrote meerderheid Suid-Afrikaners vandag na déjà-vu sal klink.


Wat hierdie uitbeelding egter anders maak as die grustories wat in 'n hedendaagse Suid-Afrika daagliks die fokus van rapportering of die onderwerp van gesprekvoering uitmaak, is dat die toekomsvisioen van 'n gestroopte omgewing belig word vanuit 'n verledeperspektief op die ondeurdringbaarheid van die oerwoudlandskap in sentraal Afrika. Eben Venter se apokaliptiese visioene in (2006) word naamlik eksplisiet gekoppel aan, of selfs geïnspireer deur, Joseph Conrad se veel gelese (1995 [1902])1 - 'n teks wat dateer uit 'n tydperk van meer as 'n honderd jaar gelede, gesitueer in 'n oorweldigend-misterieuse en nog grotendeels ongekarteerde Afrikalandskap, waar die invloed van Belgiese kolonialisme op daardie tydstip beperk was tot slegs 'n paar handelsposte vir die verskeping van ivoor.

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/content/akgees/47/sup-1/EJC20071
2007-01-01
2019-08-18

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