The Pull of the Ancestors: Slavery, Apartheid, and Memory in Zakes Mda’s Ways of Dying and Cion
Abstract

Abstract:

This essay reads Zakes Mda’s novels—Ways of Dying (1995) and Cion (2007)—as densely equivocal meditations on the relation between history and memory, the past and the present, and modernity and tradition. In doing so, it explores debates over the role of art in postapartheid South Africa in conjunction with narrative impasses in the genre of the neo-slave narrative. Mda emphasizes the haunting presence of the violent past of apartheid and slavery, and suggests that in mourning the past, memory might lead in unexpected, uncomfortable directions, rather than restoring a whole identity or healing the scars of the past. In stepping beyond redemptive forms of memory, Mda asks for new forms of politics that are equal to the task of imagining the possibilities of contemporary life. He thus offers a rich counterpoint to influential theorizations of memory, mourning, and temporality in discussions of contemporary fiction about slavery and apartheid.