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Research in African Literatures 36.1 (2005) 114-119

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Resistance, Reason, and Justice

Leeds University

Books Discussed:

Voices of Justice and Reason: Apartheid and Beyond in South African Literature By Geoffrey Davis Cross/Cultures 61. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2003. xxx + 376 pp. ISBN 90-420-0826-1 paper.
Writing as Resistance: Life Stories of Imprisonment, Exile and Homecoming From Apartheid South Africa By Paul Gready Lanham, MD: Lexington, 2003. vii + 340pp. ISBN 0-7391-0595-7 cloth.

The South African struggle for liberation and democracy was always and everywhere in exile, in prison, in the internal mass movements and in the underground—informed and inspired by the rich body of thought and creative work produced by our writers. Their work continued to demonstrate, even in the darkest years, that the South African voices of justice and reason would not be silenced.
—Nelson Mandela,
Preface to André Brink, Reinventing a Continent VIII-IX.

Geoffrey Davis derives the title for his study, Voices of Justice and Reason, from Nelson Mandela's acknowledgment of the crucial role of South African writers in sustaining the resistance movement and helping to bring about the end of apartheid. Mandela's [End Page 114] reference to "our writers" underlines the inextricable connection between anti-apartheid politics and writing during the years of the struggle, affirming the commitment of both to universal ideals of "justice and reason" while conversely implying the fundamental injustice and irrationality of the apartheid regime. Mandela's words form the epigraph to Davis's work but could equally well serve as the epigraph to Writing as Resistance, in which Gready refers to the apartheid era as "a regime of truth and power [in which] the law was inverted to the extent that it became lawless and criminal" (112). Davis, little concerned with "questions of contemporary literary theory" (19), clearly shares Mandela's faith in the universality of reason. Gready, whose study is indebted to the work of Michel Foucault, is rather less certain of any necessary relationship between justice and reason. Nevertheless, both works ultimately function as testimonies to the power of writing and other forms of creative work as modes of resistance.

As Davis himself disarmingly puts it, Voices of Justice and Reason was "put together in piecemeal fashion over the years" (xxviii) and the result is less a monograph than a collection of essays (most of them already published in some form) that testify to Davis's sustained engagement with South African literature and drama. The book reaches as far back as William Plomer's Turbott Wolfe, published in 1926, but the bulk of the essays concentrate on texts published from 1975 to 1990, concluding with three essays on the transitional period (1990-94) and literary and dramatic developments in the postapartheid era. The main focus is on the work of black South Africans, with one chapter on Richard Rive's Buckingham Palace, District Six, two focusing on the writing of Mtutuzeli Matshoba, and four chapters on the theater of Matsemela Manaka. These chapters are arranged chronologically and interspersed with more general chapters on apartheid mechanisms of literary censorship and theatre control. A preface details how the author came to be involved in South African literature and gives an account of the publication of South Africa—The Privileged and Dispossessed, designed "to make students of English at German schools aware of what was happening in South Africa" (xvii), which gained a certain notoriety after it was "banned in South Africa within six weeks of its publication in Germany" (xviii). Finally, there is also an appendix meditating on the process of compiling a bibliography of South African literature to include all that which had previously been banned

Voices of Justice and Reason was accepted in 1999 as Davis's Habilitationsschrift, or postdoctoral dissertation, while Writing as Resistance grew out of a PhD thesis, produced at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa and School of Oriental and African Studies, London. Gready's book is also arranged chronologically, focusing on the period from 1960 to 1990 while looking backwards to 1948, when the National Party...


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