The idea for this special issue of Research in African Literatures was first raised during a visit by Ruthmarie Mitsch to the University of Botswana in 2006. After looking at the output of the journal over the years, Mitsch had noted that Southern African writing was not as well represented as other literatures of Africa. Peter Mwikisa, of the University of Botswana Department of English, suggested the idea of a special issue on this topic and asked Mary Lederer and Leloba Molema (formerly and currently of the UB English Department) to work with him.
As work for the issue got underway, a number of problems revealed themselves. Firstly, none of the editorial team members had ever done such an issue before and were often unfamiliar with the processes involved in advertising the call for papers, assembling articles, etc. Encouraging people to submit articles for the topic (Southern African literature outside South Africa) proved to be more difficult than anticipated. We had assumed that scholars from these countries would be anxious to send their work in for consideration, but as deadlines came and went, we had to scramble to pull together sufficient material for an issue. Promises of articles came from Malawi, London, Botswana, Zimbabwe, the United States, and Zambia, but in the end many authors pulled out, frequently citing overwork as the reason.
Secondly, once we had a set of papers assembled, we had difficulty finding reviewers. Again, promises to review came from a number of places, but again, as deadlines came and went, we became increasingly desperate to find people to review the material we had. In spite of promises to complete the work by first one deadline, then another, then a third, many reviewers simply dropped out of the picture. This review process took us significantly longer than we had anticipated. Nevertheless, and in spite of nagging email problems, we finally got all the papers, reviewers’ comments, and revised papers together, and this special issue of Research in African Literatures is the result.
We preface these introductory comments with an indication of the problems we encountered putting together this special issue because of two things [End Page v] that became clear to us as we read through the submissions. The first was that the problems we encountered appeared, at least in part, to be responsible for the scanty representation of literature and scholarship from Southern Africa not only in issues of Research in African Literatures but on the global stage in general. Lack of intimate familiarity with the technologies, processes, and protocols that go into getting published means that many writers and scholars from the region, but outside South Africa, are not able to get their work into the global commodity system. In fact, so crucial is this knowledge that because of the lack of it, local writers and scholars have often been hard put to get their works included even in local institutional syllabi and academic discourses. The second point that became clear to us in the course of reading the submissions to this special issue is that these problems in fact frustrate a cosmopolitan impulse that is common to both the literature and scholarship represented in this issue as well as in the desire on the part of the editors of this special issue to be associated with Research in African Literatures. The problems point to the ambiguous role played by South Africa, for centuries regarded as the regional source of a cosmopolitan outlook, in the regional search for a satisfactory conduit for entry into wider cosmopolitanism. Achille Mbembe suggests that “if ever there was an African form of metropolitan modernity, Johannesburg would be its classical location” (1). Yet the impression that emerges from the submissions we have received is that despite its metropolitan pretensions, South Africa is not a convincing source of a cosmopolitan outlook. Indeed, the whole subregion seems to be re-evaluating its long past of entanglements with South Africa, keen to stress the fact that these entanglements were a two-way process in which there was both a recognition of a regional cohesion that was not necessarily driven by South Africa’s political...