Narrating the past: Reflections on recent Black Afrikaans writing
van Wyk, Steward
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A return to the past has been a dominant feature of recent Afrikaans writing. This is evident in the many novels re-visiting the Anglo-Boer War or recounting incidents from the apartheid past. The approaches include the debunking of myths and a nostalgic longing for the good old days. Whether this is true of the small body of Black Afrikaans writing, given its ambivalent relationship to the canon, needs to be investigated. A number of texts that was published recently either had a clear autobiographical background or emanated from the desire and imperative “to tell our own stories from our communities”. A feature of the texts is also the way it engages with the past and makes use of diverse narrative strategies to recount circumstances and experiences and portray an image of how characters lived through the historical events during the apartheid years. The paper draws on David Scott’s distinction between romance and tragedy as two distinct narrative forms in which the past can be represented and narrated. Scott’s typology is applied to a critically reading of selected texts by inter alia Fatima Osman, Simon Bruinders, Ronelda Kamfer and Valda Jansen. In the case of the texts by the first mentioned authors the narrative is about survival, determination and the triumph of the human spirit in the face of a dehumanising system like apartheid. In the latter texts one finds elements of dystopia and disillusionment with the past as an ydill. It also gives an unsentimental view of the state of mind and events playing out in communities in the present. The texts furthermore grapples with textual strategies to represent history and the inability at times to comprehend the past.