The Power of Literature

The character of Refilwe in Phanaswe Mpe’s Welcome to Our Hillbrow drew the significance of literature as a critique to the post Apartheid regime in South Africa. As the publishers’ reviewers forced the use of euphemism to mask the fragmented and controversial political and cultural lives of South Africa, Mpe best described how the power of literature in African language could break the devil chains of “grief and prejudice” (59). Through Refilwe’s point of view, it was clear how the ignorance and complicity regarding the Apartheid system by banning the writers to write in Sepedi language would create a “scarecrow state” (58). Meanwhile, the use of African language would be helpful for the South Africans to understand the complexities of the country’s politics. The major question that, how are people then able to contribute in fixing the corrupt government if “artistic skill and honesty could be compromised in the name of questionable morality?” (58).

This problem seems to be confirmed by the article “Post-Apartheid Fiction” in The New York Times that claims how the post-apartheid regime still leaves South Africa under the white minority rule. To that extent, the most major issue concerning the legacy of this regime revolves around racism. While racism in the past is strongly correlated with politics, today’s African writers touch on much broader focuses, such as “the AIDS pandemic, poverty, crime, xenophobia, unemployment,” that are believed as more susceptible with regards to racial boundaries. With that being said, this also seems to strengthen the issues brought up in Dog Days by Patrice Nganang, regardless of the fact that the novel is centered in Cameroon.

Mpe’s novel and the article point out how the power of literature has played a great role in pointing out that the consequences of the Apartheid system still exists to date. Looking at how literature brings us back to reflect the regime’s legacy in daily lives, I do believe that it also reminds us that ignorance and complicity along resulting in increasing prejudice will only cause more fragmented South African societies. What do you think?

Here’s the link:


About monicatham

My name is Monica Tham, and I am originally from Indonesia. I've spent the last two years of community college in Seattle. So this will be my second year here in the capital, and I'm so excited to finish my senior year strong. I am majoring in International Studies at SIS with a concentration on Global Inequality and Development in Asia. This is my second class-related blog - but I hope you'd enjoy the content. I love short getaways to places I've never been to - I'm proud enough to call myself a travel buff and foodie :) Thanks for visiting my blog. Cheers, Monica

Posted on November 6, 2014, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. In this short novel, there are two discussions of this highly censored culture of literature publishing. The first is Refentse’s novel, whose main character writes a novel in Sedepi on life in Hillbrow, touching on themes of love, xenophobia, and AIDS. The second is from the point of view of Refilwe, who becomes and editor and is told that “good books were only those that could get a school subscription,” and we can assume that these “good books” would be written in English and would not attempt to portray the life and struggles of a poor black South African (94). This academic censorship belies the many ways that whites continued to have minority rule in South Africa. One of the ways they retained power was by controlling the institutions of higher education, thereby monopolizing the information granted to the top minds of South Africa and determining the bounds of appropriateness and vulgarity. Not suprisingly, these bounds become delineated by racial, ethnic, and class lines. Yet if literature is so censored, why is it that “it was a very different story with other creative forms,” like music and television? (94) Music and television are certainly harbingers of culture, yes, but they do not lend themselves to academia quite like literature can. Literature is seen as a highbrow art, and therefore is not allowed to be for Hillbrow.

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