A group of people living in a specific territory sharing the common geographical, cultural, economic, and political landscapes is called a nation. So people living in that space must have the sense of being one nation one people that work for the common goals of the nation and stand together to fight against any kind of challenges faced by the nation, thus, can be addressed as nationalism. Until the colonization, South African Blacks were ignorant of the concept of nation and nationalism due to the absence of education. With the passage of time, western education enlightened them which aroused a sense of nationalism that led to the birth of national consciousness. This essay is an analysis of the loss of the colonial identity of the Whites and the reconstruction of the identity of the Blacks in South Africa during the post-apartheid era as depicted in John Maxwell Coetzee’s (1940 ) Disgrace (1999), and Nadine Gordimer’s (1923) July’s People (1981). According to Fearon (1999), “Identity refers either a social category defined by membership rules and characteristics attributes or expected behavior or socially distinguishing features that a person takes a special pride in or views as unchangeable but consequential.” I agree with Fearon’s idea of identity as it covers all the essential components of identity. In July’s People, Gordimer portrays the trivial colonial supremacy and power reversal between whites and Blacks during the interregnum through the characters, Maureen and her black male servant July. Coetzee’s Disgrace (1999) is a post-apartheid literary work that embodies the emergence of the new identity of South African Blacks and the diminishing power politics of whites. It deals with how the whites had to disregard their stereotyped colonial attitudes and construct a new identity in order to integrate with the Blacks of South Africa. Coetzee also reveals the power reversal of white and black through the characters such as David Lurie and his daughter Lucy with Petrus, the black African (Coetzee, 1999).
The authors have used these novels as a tool to arouse national consciousness among the Blacks toward political, economic, and social independence. Nadine Gordimer who lived in the period of the apartheid regime had witnessed the subjugation of Black South Africans. Despite being an Afrikaner she turned out to fight for the unjust apartheid laws imposed upon the blacks. She was the first white South African writer who won the noble prize in literature in 1991(Shima & Modiano, 2011). Coetzee is another Afrikaner who lived through post-apartheid and was also a noble prize winner in literature (Riding, 2003). This essay attempts to explore the policy of apartheid and its impacts, power reversal in post-apartheid, and analyze the birth of the new identities of whites and the reconstruction of identities for blacks.
The policy of apartheid was legally introduced in South Africa in 1948 by Pieter Willem Botha’s government (NP) where Blacks were subjugated in all spheres of human rights. Actually, South Africa was given political independence by the British sometime in the early twentieth century. However, being a settler colony, the power remained in the hands of the white minority in the form of a legacy. As a result, this policy fragmented South Africa and separated South Africans from the mainstream. They were deprived of their political, economic, and social rights for a considerable period of time. Soon after assuming power the government passed the bill called Population Registration Act in 1950 based on the race and color prejudice of people such as Whites, Coloured, Indian, and blacks. Grounded on this act “Group Area Act” was passed identifying ten homelands or nation-states where natives were placed. The reason for this act was to provide separate development for blacks as they were perceived as a distinct subhuman species and inferior to whites (Blakemore, 2019). Moreover, black South Africans do not have a profound historical claim over South Africa which helped the whites to take advantage of the blacks. Therefore, whites themselves occupied urban areas for their safety and privileges, relocating all the blacks into so-called nation-states. Such policy created a wider gap between the whites and the Black South African.
This policy of separateness aroused hatred in blacks against the government which led to the Sharpeville massacre in 1960 and the Soweto uprising in 1976. These movements were non-violent in nature, however, the government suppressed the crowd by killing a great number of blacks. The series of such events led to the eruption of political, economic, and social instability in the state. South Africa entered into an interregnum with the collapse of the apartheid government due to huge disparities imposed in the field of politics, education, and health upon the natives. The apartheid regime created a wider gap between the government and the black people by introducing cruel acts such as the Prohibition of Mixed Marriage Act (1949), Group Area Act (1950), and Population Registration Act (1950) are some of the reasons which made black people overthrow the ruling party. In this interregnum period, it was Fredrik William de Klerk, the new president of the state who played an instrumental role and consolidated law and order in the state by negotiating the series of agreements between the government and the native people (South African History Online, 2019). Then he called for a new society without apartheid and lifted all kinds of bans and ended many of the restrictions of the apartheid. The climax of the interregnum can be recognized from the line,
“…Riots, arson, occupation of the headquarters of the international corporation, bombs in public- buildings, the censorship of newspapers, radio and television left rumor and word-of-mouth as the only source of information about this chronic state of uprising over the country.” (Gordimer, 1981, p.5).
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Nadine Gordimer has presented an apocalyptic vision of a possible future in which South African whites must construct a new identity in the process of the emergence of new national consciousness. The whites were deeply rooted in the stereotyped colonial attitude that they enjoyed for a long period of time. Therefore, they were unable to come out of that shell easily to build and integrate their identities with the newly found identities of blacks in South Africa. Sales were confined, gripping on their own properties and power, and decided not to abandon their past; trying every attempt to create an economic balance within themselves. They were not convinced that the past was over and they were not aware that they need to create a new future. In July’s People, Maureen, the protagonist, depicts the negative image of the white liberals who appear dogmatic, not even willing to face reality (Shehabat & Zeidanin, 2012, p.134). “… given Wednesdays and alternate Sunday free, allowed to have his friends visit him and his town woman sleep with him in his room” (Gordimer, 1981, p. 6), this line suggests that Smales were liberal towards black servants when they were in Johannesburg, however, as the story proceeds and when they reached to July’s village they showed hypocritical nature by showing the sense of possessiveness over their bakkie and the gun. In July’s People, an apocalyptic vision of a possible future of whites is presented by taking the Smales family into July’s village where they had to face awkward and unexpected situations. They lose their material and the power possessions such as Bakkies and guns. July is in possession of the key of the Bakkie as his own and it is known from Bam’s remembrance, “As she came back into to the hut, he remembered, told her, told himself: – July’s got the keys.” (Gordimer, 1981, p. 26). Daniel, later on, takes away the gun and joins the fight against the whites also suggests overturning the power of blacks. At Jonesburg before the riots, Maureen as a master could order July but once they reach July’s village she could not order him instead lets him overtake the role of a master. On the other hand, the situation forced them to accept their new world and integrate with blacks. The rest of the Smales family could adjust among blacks in July’s community but Maureen could not adopt the new way of life. Maureen’s psyche such as the feeling of alienation, diminishing hope in life, and loss of responsibility could be explored from the line;
“She runs thrusting herself with all the suppressed trust of a lifetime, alert, like a solitary animal at the season when animals neither seek a mate nor take care of young, existing only for their lone survival, the enemy of all that would make claims of responsibility” (Gordimer, 1981, p.110).
Bam though tried to adjust his life but still has some traces of colonial hangover such as questioning regarding July taking the Bakkie without his consent. Bam did not expect July to take his belonging. He feels defeated when July takes his car without informing him. However, the three children and Bam could somehow adjust to the new environment. Maureen running away from July’s village towards the sound of an unknown helicopter, leaving her family behind indicates that she is not being able to adapt new life as she could not give up her colonial identity.
On the other hand, in Disgrace, Coetzee has intricately woven and presented the results of apartheid in the post-apartheid era through David Lurie the protagonist of the novel. David visits Soraya, the black prostitute in the town. Later he develops an illicit relationship with Melanie who was his student. These incidents conveyed to us that he is still in possession of the colonial mindset where he could do whatsoever he likes. David mentioned, “Melanie: the dark one” (Coetzee, 1999, p.18) which shows the color discrimination and dominance by whites in the apartheid era. David as a professor also violated the code of conduct of a professor by sexually abusing his student Melanie like the other white men using black women to satisfy their sexual urges during the apartheid government. Coetzee has judiciously depicted the repercussions of the apartheid colonial behaviors of the whites overturn in his Disgrace through the following sources: Petrus says, “I will Marry Lucy” (Coetzee, 1999, p. 202), this suggests that the black gaining power deal with whites. Melanie’s father Mr. Isaacs blurted that “We never thought we were sending our daughter into a nest of vipers. No, Professor Lurie, you may be high and mighty and have all kinds of degrees, but if I was you, I’d be very ashamed of myself” (Coetzee, 1999, p.16). Mr. Isaacs’s frustration depicts the growing voice of blacks over the colonial whites. The three intruders who have bitten Lurie and raped Lucy are another incident that implies the consequences of the apartheid behaviors of the whites. The faculty (chaired by Manas Mathabane) at Cape Town University says,
“… David, I can’t go on protecting you from yourself. I am tired of it, and so is the rest of the committee. Do you want time to rethink? ‘No’, ‘Very well. Then I can only say, you will be hearing from the Rector.” (Coetzee, 1999, p.58)
This statement concludes that Lurie has to face the trial and accept the verdict of the University as he denies repentance. This is why one can say that Lurie has carried colonialism supremacy. “I have no fear of the committee. I have no fear of the observer.”(Coetzee, 1999, p. 48). This line suggests that Lurie still has a colonial hangover. He presents the stereotype colonial concept through David Lurie who eventually suffers out of his misconduct from his colonial mindset. Coetzee has intricately knitted the fate of whites in the post-apartheid through David, the principal character of the novel. The post-apartheid was full of repercussions of the apartheid era presented through Lurie and his daughter. Now in the post-apartheid, the blacks overtook the position of whites in all spheres of life and exercise total advantages over the whites. For instance, Petrus marries Lucy, who was initially his master. At the same time, Lucy herself is willing to surrender everything including herself to Petrus to be his third wife if not to be a concubine. Therefore, she declares,
“… Say I accept his protection. Say he can put up whatever story he likes about our relationship and I won’t contradict him. If he wants me to be his third wife so be it. As his concubine, ditto. But then the child becomes his too. The child becomes part of his family. As for the land, say I will sign the land over to him as long as the house remains mine. I will become a tenant on his land.” (Coetzee, 1999, p. 204)
From this excerpt, one can understand that she is giving up everything for the sake of her new identity and the unborn child’s future. On the other hand, she is analytical and wise in terms of decision-making, because when she states that “The child becomes part of his family” (Coetzee, 1999, p. 20). This line speaks to Lucy’s concern for her unborn baby who needs a new identity after birth. This also depicts the submissiveness and withdrawal of superiority of the whites in the post-apartheid period. Now the responsibility and status reverse when he pulls Lucy under his patriarchal authority. The whites were forced to forget their past colonial individualities and construct completely a new one that would be integrated with the new identity of the blacks. By now it is understood that Lucy is ready for any kind of change and get assimilated with blacks. The growing power of the blacks is not only demonstrated through Petrus but also through three black intruders as they had beaten David and raped Lucy. Upon this incident, Lurie insisted his daughter lodge a complaint but then she refused to know the impending future and accepts her fortune to become Petrus’s third wife to be part of a new world. Despite her father insisting Lucy report to the police regarding the rape issue she does not accepts instead she argues with her father stating that “you tell your story and I will tell my own” because she knows the causes of the situation.
This assignment discussed the consequences of the apartheid policy faced by South African Whites during the post-apartheid era. Gordimer has touched upon the suppressive life faced by South African blacks under the apartheid policy and predicted the possible future of both South African Blacks and Whites in her novel July’s People. The implications of apartheid policy were portrayed immediately in the interregnum. On the other hand, Coetzee solely discussed the outcome of the subjugation of blacks during apartheid and its consequences in the post-apartheid era. He also deliberated how the whites had to build their new identities in order to assimilate with the reconstructed identity of the blacks. The power reversal has been portrayed through David Lurie who represented the last colonial man in the first half of the novel and the growing power of the black through Petrus and three black intruders in the second half of the novel. He projected the whites as having a tough time forgetting their colonial supremacy and the privileges they enjoyed during the apartheid government. However, they were forced to construct their new identities in order to integrate with the reconstructed identities of the South Africans. However, Lucy represents a new generation who could get acclimatized to a new situation and assimilate her new identity with the blacks by embracing Petrus. The colonialism and treacherous colonial subjugation had taught the lesson and aroused the national consciousness among the blacks. The severe betrayal by the Afrikaners awakened the sense of belongingness and the concept of freedom in Blacks of South Africa. Both Gordimer and Coetzee were successful in creating a new identity for Afrikaners and arousing the national consciousness of Blacks. Finally, Gordimer’s long-awaited aspiration of independence from South Africa was achieved and Cotzee’s wish for creating a new identity of Afrikaners and regaining of power by the blacks was fulfilled.