- Home, family and intimacy in recent writings on and from South Africa
In recent works on intimacy and home in South Africa, scholars question the assumptions about where 'home' ends, and who counts as 'family'. In [End Page 407] calls for curriculum change and the transformation of the university (discourses that were about access for both black students and black faculty), these questions of affiliation and 'home' have played a prominent role. In the student protest movement of 2015 and 2016, for example, a recurring discourse was to invoke 'our mothers, the domestic workers'. This was partly an attempt to forge links between the students' demands and those of casualized cleaning and catering staff on campus, but the invocation of 'our mothers, the domestic workers' also underlined the lineage of the university as one associated with 'the big house' and many black students' feelings of being tolerated, at best, in spaces that historically did not imagine them as full citizens, but instead as marginal to the home that is South Africa.
Writings about the home and familial intimacies in these works have not shown evidence of a retreat into the home secured against an imagined hostile other, but have instead developed the links between intimacy, home and activist scholarship. In this new thinking, we also see frequent references made to the role of the researcher, and to the ways in which she (or he) has gained access to the intimacy documented and analysed. These works are attuned to questions around privacy and access: who gets to write, who gets to see, who gets to be an expert on private and intimate matters. While these are questions germane to many studies of humans, South African scholarship has been particularly (perhaps uniquely) distorted in favour of white expertise, and at the cost of black subjects.
This year marks the centenary of the publication of Solomon Tshekiso Plaatje's Native Life in South Africa (1982 ). In her 1982 foreword to Plaatje's book, Bessie Head wrote that '[m]ost black South Africans suffer from a very broken sense of history. Native Life provides an essential, missing link' (ibid.: xiii). The nature of this 'missing link' is, in the first place, that the text is a document about the impact of the passing of the Natives' Land Act of 1913, through which black South Africans were excluded from power and divested of rights. Plaatje's analyses of the private and intimate lives of families he encountered while collecting material for his book make for the most memorable passages in Native Life and, I suggest, provide us with a template for scholarship on the 'missing links': histories of South Africa as 'home' to all, and histories of the black family in South Africa.
In Native Life in South Africa, Plaatje places himself inside and...