Monday, December 7, 2009

Aspects of South African Literature

Below are two excerpts taken from Aspects of South African Literature by Herman Charles Bosman. It is food for thought on the effects of racism and colonialism on Africa. Bosman's use of irony is, as always, in fine form.

"Some years ago it was fashionable for a European tourist to explore some part of Africa, and after he had spent a week or two on the Dark Continent, to return to Europe and to write an authoritative work on the tribal customs, etc., of the savages who allowed him to pass peacefully through their territories. Because they didn't ask to see his visa, or offer to kill him - as would have happened to a foreigner trying to walk through any part of Europe that way - the tourist always knew that he was dealing with a lot of savages.

And the funny thing is that Africa has been uncivilised like this for a very long time. Look for how many years Livingstone walked about all over Africa as a spy. And whenever he came to a village, the savages, with studied brutality, would set before him food and drink. When he got fever, the benighted heathen even nursed him back to health without pay - just so that he could go and spy on them some more. That's this continent for you, sunk in absolute abomination."


"Another thing: if I were a Native, and I had acquired a certain amount of culture, I wouldn't want to call myself a Bantu or a Native or a negro or an African. No, I would demand to be recognised and accepted as a plain kaffir. I would receive from the hand of the white man nothing less. I would never allow them to take away from me a name so rich in legend, sorrow and heavy with the drama of Africa.

Incidentally, the etymologists' tame derivation of the word 'kaffir' from the Arabic for 'unbeliever' must be rejected by anybody with a feeling for the significance of words. It is a strong, florid word, broad as the African veld, and in its disyllabic vehemence is a depth of contumely [Def: Rudeness or contempt arising from arrogance - Ed] that I am sure no Arab would ever be able to think up."