On September 6, 1966, a parliamentary messenger named Demitrios Tsafendas stabbed to death Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd in full view of South Africa’s all-white House of Assembly. Tsafendas, the apartheid judiciary soon declared, was insane and without political motive: “a meaningless creature” who had acted on instructions from a tapeworm inside him. Often written off as a “freakish footnote” within the liberation story, his unsettled and complex life has nonetheless compelled a wide range of literary and artistic treatments: from memoir and microhistory to avant-garde fiction and filmic montage. Concentrating on Henk Van Woerden’s (auto) biography A Mouthful of Glass (1998, trans. 2000) and Penny Siopis’s short film Obscure White Messenger (2010) hope to explore what valence one can give to avowedly speculative or formally experimental encounters with the archive and to trace how such a “useless life” (in the words of a presiding judge) might disclose the uncanny remains of South African history.


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pp. 1-23
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