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Africa Today 48.4 (2001) 132-134

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Farred, Grant. 2000. Midfielder's Moment: Coloured Literature and Culture in Contemporary South Africa. Boulder: Westview Press. 178 pp.

Grant Farred's book deals with the novels of Richard Rive and the poetry of Arthur Nortje and Jennifer Davids. More than a third of the book is dedicated to an extended article on the role of colored football in Cape Town/Cape Flats, including a short section on cricket. The chapter on football, in itself a medley of different articles, is written in a fast-paced journalistic style that does not match too well with the heavily theory-oriented style of the three chapters on literature. The book is obviously assembled from different essays, written on different occasions and for different purposes. To my liking, they are insufficiently integrated and harmonized to make a really coherent book with a consistent argument. The combination of football as an important phenomenon of popular culture and literature as a manifestation of elite culture is, in the first instance, intriguing and quite promising. After all, Richard Rive and Dennis Brutus (who is mentioned only briefly as poet and critic), were both involved in sports organizations: Richard Rive as trainer, Dennis Brutus as driving force of the boycott of the Apartheid team at the Olympic Games in Munich in 1972 (not mentioned in the book). The sports-literature combination could have been made fruitful if Grant Farred had elaborated on the relationship and the linkages in the given apartheid system between the working-class popular culture football and the colored middle-class cultural phenomenon of literature written in English, as opposed to the official national culture in either Afrikaans or English. As it stands, the two sections do not really reveal any commonalities or common cultural or political strategies beyond the colored status as it was defined in the racial arithmetic of apartheid ideology. Farred tries to construct a common bond that binds the two sections together with the image of the midfielder, taken from football. He wants us to read the midfielder as the archetypal image, incarnating the position of the coloreds who operate in the broad and fluctuating space on the playing field between the defense and the strikers. The midfielder image as icon is inventive and quite graphic, but I find it too simplistic, and it does not really help to bridge the gap between chapters on sports and the literary sections of the book.

My main critical objections are that the book is both too broad and too narrow: too broad in trying to span the wide field from sports to literature; and too narrow in that it limits itself to three authors only (one of them practically unknown). The title also evokes false expectations. "Contemporary" in the South African context today means the postapartheid period since 1990, while the books Farred deals with were all published in the early to mid-1970s; that is, the heyday of apartheid, today considered as history, though not forgotten.

Richard Rive and Arthur Nortje are certainly key figures in South African literature, and colored literature in particular, but they cannot [End Page 132] really represent colored literature in all its aspects. Farred touches on the very delicate issue of language when talking about voter behavior in the Cape, voting for the National Party rather than the ANC, and when he describes the social life in the Cape Flats football clubs. He rightly states that the mother tongue of the Cape coloreds is Afrikaans, but he does not mention a single name of a colored writer writing in Afrikaans. Although he uses the midfielder's image, he gives us practically no information and no interpretation on how his three writers relate to other South African literatures. Colored Afrikaans writers like Andries Oliphant, Hein Willemse, Ampie Cotzee, and Vernon February would correspond most closely to Farrad's midfielder image (Robert Kriger & Ethel Kriger 1994).

The author mentions James Matthews as a short story writer (his novel Schattentage, 1985, was published in German translation, because Matthews was banned...


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