Constructs of Identity and Difference in South African Literature

Psychoanalysis, Marxism and Semiology: Identity, Value and the Sign

This essay explores the overlap between sign, identity and value – concepts central to serniology, psychoanalysis and marxism. This overlap is possibly best represented in coins stamped with the emblems of prominent merchants, kings or nations. The coins are signs of both value and identity.

In his book Course in General Linguistics (1981) (posthumously published for the first time in 1916 from reconstructed notes) Saussure saw semiology, or the “science that studies the life of signs within society” (1981:16) as part of, Social psychology and consequently of general psychology” (1981:16). He framed the world of signs within the social and the mental – made the semiological, the psychological and the social into three interdependent categories.

He further emphasised the centrality of the economic concept of “value” for semiology when he stated: “as in political economy we are confronted with the notion of value; both sciences are concerned with a system for equating things of different orders – labour and wages in one and a signified and signifier in the other” (1981:79).

Analogies and metaphors from economics recur throughout the book. What is important is that the sign, like value, points to dissimilar things that are exchanged, and similar things that are compared:

To determine what a five-frank piece is worth one must… know: (1) that it can be exchanged for a fixed quantity of a different thing, e.g. bread; and (2) that it can be compared with a similar value of the same system, e.g. a one-franc piece, or with coins from another system (a dollar) (1981:115).

In the chapter “Identities, realities, values” he shows that the identity of a sign is determined not by its material substance, but by the value socially given to it within a system of differences.

Volosinov, who was part of the Bakhtin Circle in the 1920s, explores the three domains of psychoanalysis, marxism and semiology more methodically and comparatively in the two books Marxism and the Philosophy of Language (1986) and Freudianism: a Marxist Critique (1976).

Although Volosinov is critical of some aspects of Saussure’s semiology such as the privileging of the synchronic and the systematic aspects of language above the historical specificity of the utterance, he, like Saussure, emphasised the coincidence of psychology and semiology. This meant that he saw semiology as central to the study of psychology and ideology:

The reality of the inner psyche is the same reality as that of the sign. Outside the material of signs there is no psyche (1986:260).


The domain of ideology coincides with the domain of signs…Everything ideological possesses semiotic value (1986: 10).

Volosinov’s psyche does not belong to the physical realm, but refers to the ideological content of verbal behaviour (inner and outward speech) which is determined by history and the socioeconomic environment. The unconscious, which always manifests itself semiotically in symptom and speech, is merely an “unofficial” (1976:85) and ideologically different form of consciousness to the socially acceptable and dominant forms of consciousness in a particular historical period. The difference between the conscious and the unconscious indicates the way in which the social environment sanctions, determines and controls a person’s verbal behaviour. The social environment is the source of the repression which forms the basis of the unconscious. This means that according to Volosinov psychological study must begin with “the objective sociological methods that Marxism has worked out for the analysis of various ideological systems – laws, morality, science, world outlook, art, religions” (1976:87).

In Volosinov’s writing one discerns an early recognition of the importance of semiology for marxism. This has farreaching implications for marxism. This has far-reaching implications for Marxism. Semiology shifts the attention from the “material world” and the “real” to the sign, language and psychology. Marx’s opposition to idealism, with the idea and by implication psychology as its starting point, would seem to make marxism and semiology incompatible. From a semiological point of view the “material world” is merely a system of signs, a text, or a discursive formation which has to be deciphered.

Saussure defined language (langue) as the transindividual, social and unconscious system which regulate individual speech. Levi-Strauss and Lacan extended Saussure’s linguistic definition of language to incorporate other transindividual structures regulating individual behaviour such as kinship systems and the Oedipus complex. Language to them refers to the linguistic and non-linguistic unconscious systems underlying human behaviour. Lacan named these systems the symbolic realm. This unconscious-as-language differs slightly from Volosinov’s view of the unconscious as speech or semiotic act. To Volosinov the focus is on the utterance in its historical context, while Lacan and Levi-Strauss explored and assumed trans-historical structures as language.

According to Lacan two structuring processes are at work in the formation of individual human identity. The first is the imaginary process whereby the subject, during the prelinguistic phase of development, identifies the self with the visual gestalt of the own body in the mirror (1982:18). The word gestalt points to an iconic relationship between the subject’s identity and the body perceived as its own. The second process is symbolic and refers to the formation of the identity of the subject in language: when the subject recognises the name given to him/her.

Anticipating Lacan’s theory, Marx described the process whereby the gestalt of other people (and therefore the social) forms the basis of self-recognition:

(Man) neither enters into the world in possession of a mirror, nor as a Fichtean philosopher who can say “I am F, a man first sees and recognizes himself in another man. Peter only relates to himself as a man through his relation to another man, Paul. in whom he recognizes his likeness. With this. however. Paul also becomes from head to toe, in his physical form as Paul. the form of appearance of the species man for Peter (1982:143).

Volosinov took this further by emphasising the class dimension of the recognition of the self in the other. Self-consciousness becomes class consciousness’. Class consciousness itself, though, is historical. It emerged with the imposition of capitalism and the commodification of labour, but also depended on the advent of marxist discourse. It had to be formulated and uttered before it could be recognised as part of the “real” world.

Class consciousness is not the only form of collective identity in the modem world. Against class identity stands the identification with the nation – or nationalism. Nationalism is

enigmatic in that it attracts “supporters from a heterogeneous social basis” and attempts “to be a representation of the whole national community rather than of particular social strata” (Laqueur 1988:4). In the process of unifying diverse and oppositional class interests, nationalism depends strongly on exploiting the identification of groups with symbolic factors such as shared language, culture and history.

In nationalism the pre-eminence of the symbolic in structuring the individual’s identity does not imply the recognition in others of the self as human being, but makes the self a sign of the nation and the fatherland. The self becomes an empty signifier in relation to its own physical and material meaning. Mussolini expressed this as follows:

The man of fascism is an individual who is nation and fatherland, which is a moral law. binding together individuals and the generations into a tradition and a mission, suppressing the instinct for a life enclosed within a brief round of pleasure in order to restore within duty a higher life free from the limits of time and space (Ebenstein 1969:625).

The word “fatherland” exemplifies the individual’s childlike position in relation to the nation as a family with the land being identified with the father as origin. This infantile helplessness of the individual in fascism forms the basis of nationalist identification processes.

Identification, or the process whereby a subject assimilates an aspect, property or attribute of the other and is transformed according to the model the other provides (Laplanche & Pontalis 1985:205), is an essential process whereby the personality of a subject is formed.

Individual identity depends on identification with others outside of itself in the social domain. This means that the identity of an individual is essentially non-coincidental with itself. Individual identity does not refer primarily to a physical body which is equal to itself and “wholly coincides with its particular given nature” (Volosinov 1986:9).

The properties of the physical body often form an important part of the symbolic realm from which a shared identity derives. The blackness of the skin, for instance, forms the basis of black consciousness. Black consciousness, like other forms of nationalism, presupposes an iconic form of identification in so far as the self identifies with others on the, basis of a shared and reflected physical property.

In marxism. class consciousness determines identity. This does not point to an iconic overlap between one signifier and another, but is indexical in that it is grounded on a cause and effect continuum: economics determines the degree of class identification. The more a class is exploited the more likely it is that a class identity will emerge in opposition to that exploitation.

Whether identity is iconic in the sense that it points to assimilation of attributes of the other or whether it is indexical in so far as it refers to consciousness as a product of economic conditions, individual identity is a sign. As a sign it indicates a self (signified in language) which does not coincide with itself (physical signifier). The sign constituting self and identity makes for the inevitable falsity and literary dimension of consciousness and self-consciousness.

Marxism’s specificity within this all-encompassing domain of signs is that it foregrounds the material aspects of the signs and the underlying processes which constitute them. Volosinov stated “Signs also are particular material things” (1986:10) and “Idealism and psychologism alike overlook the fact that understanding itself can come about only within some kind of semiotic material (e.g. inner speech), that sign bears upon sign, that consciousness itself can arise andbecome a viable fact only in the material embodiment of signs” (1986:11). When applied to the broader theory of marxism this means that labour-power is conceivable because of the physical form of the labourer and the machine.

The human body as a sign therefore occupies a privileged position within the realm of semiology; it is the deep structure of all signifying activities within social history. Physical reproduction and desire should therefore be central to Marxist economics. Marxism consequently defines as irrational the behaviour of those who act against the needs of their own bodies: those who are hungry and don’t steal, who are exploited and don’t strike (Reich 1978:53).

In the marxist discourse on capitalism the human body, in so far as it refers to a body of a member of the “working class”, signifies all of the following:

1. labour-power “a productive expenditure of human brains, muscles, nerves, hands, etc.” (Marx 1982:134);

2. a commodity because it has value which is equal to “the value of the means of subsistence necessary for the maintenance of its owner” (Marx 1982:274);

3. alienation: “Alienation expresses the fact that the creations of men’s hands and minds turn against their creators and come to dominate their lives” (Mandel & Novack 1979:7) and “The causes of existing alienation are rooted in capitalism which was born and bred in the dispossession of the working masses from the means of production and the consequent alienation of wage-labour” (Mandel & Novack 1979:7);

4. a particular type of consciousness in contrast to the slave of earlier ages: “the slave works only under the spur of external fear but not for his existence which is guaranteed even though it does not belong to him. The free worker, however, is impelled by his wants. The consciousness (or better: the idea) of free self-determination, of liberty, makes a much better worker of the one than the other, as does the related feeling (sense) of responsibility; since he, like any seller of wares, is responsible for the goods he delivers and for the quality which he must provide, he must strive to ensure that he is not driven from the field by other sellers of the same type as himself’ (Marx 1982:103 1);

5. historical teleology: “what the bourgeoisie, therefore, produces above all, are its own gravediggers. Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable” (Marx 1982:930).

The body of the worker is central to the marxist analysis of the capitalist age. The structures discerned are emplotted as a sequence which will ultimately lead to the conclusive victory of the proletariat. This emplotment indicates the semiology of narrative structure, the dream, divination and tragic-comedy.

Marx, aware of the aesthetic qualities of his economic history, wished to present Capital as a “dialectically, articulated artistic whole” (1982:944). The use of poetic devices is therefore not alien to it. Of these devices metaphor is of central importance. It is not only present in the image of capitalism which “comes dripping from head to toe, from every pore, with blood and dirt” (1982:926), but also in Capital as a whole which as narrative, or meta-narrative, (Lyotard 1984) explores the metaphor of force functioning as form (compare Derrida 1981:330): value (which signifies the force operative in the capitalist economic system) has no fixed material form but presents itself to the senses as a commodity. The value of the commodity which is hidden in its material form is merely a metaphor of the force exerted during the labour process:

Not an atom of matter enters into the objectivity of commodities as values; in this it is the direct opposite of the coarsely sensuous objectivity of commodities as physical objects (Marx 1982:138).

As against its value form the physical form of commodities is analogous to the pictographic script of the dream. Like Freud in his exposition of dreams, Marx uses the image of hieroglyphics:

Value ( … ) does not have its description branded on its forehead; it rather transforms every product of labour into a social hieroglyphic. Later on, men try to decipher the hieroglyphic, to get behind the secret of their own social product: for the characteristic which objects of utility have of being values is as much men’s social product as is their language (Marx 1982:167).

The central place of value within marxist deciphering of the social hieroglyphics implies a move away from the “real” and makes semiology and marxism two systems which are not incompatible. The utility and the value form of the commodity are similar to the relationship between the signifier and signified in serniology. Saussure illustrated the non-materiality of the sign in its value form with the example of the two 8.25 p.m. Geneva-to-Paris trains that leave at twenty four hour intervals and which we feel to be the same train while everything from personnel to locomotives are probably different (1981:108).

The sign, the commodity and identity are non-real and non-substantial in their value form. It is force, energy, labour power, life, libido and that which is difficult to visualise which is the hidden form of reality: “every commodity is a symbol, since, as value, it is only the material shell of the human labour expended on it” (Marx 1982:185). Understanding and deciphering would nevertheless not have been possible if it was not for the materiality with which the hieroglyphics as signs, identities and commodities present themselves. It is this materiality which presupposes the materialist basis of psychoanalysis, semiology and marxism. The non-coincidence of signifier and signified, the commodity and its value, identity and body does not cancel out the material basis of signifier, identity and the commodity.

Class Struggle and Class Identity in H.A. Fagan’s Die Nuwe Wêreld (The New World)

The fact that the depiction of workers and poor whites is relative to the class position from which they are observed was already recognised by the Afrikaans poet N.P. van Wyk Louw in his essay from the 1930s “Die Rigting van die Afrikaanse Letterkunde” (“The Direction of the Afrikaans Literature”) which appeared in the collection Berigte te Velde (1971, but first published in 1939). In this essay he bemoans the increasing estrangement of the Afrikaans worker from Afrikaans literature because of the dominant class perspective found in this literature. As example he uses the portrayal of Jochem van Bruggen’s Ampie figure from the text of the same name who, as rural poor, is not known as he “would be as human being in the immediate presence of God” (1971: 10), but rather as he is seen through the eyes “of the older, patriarchal landowner” and this at a time when the poor whites (as urban workers) began to take militant steps as in the uprisings of 1922 when workers confronted South Africa “through the viewfinder of the mauser gun”. The estrangement between literature and the workers pointed to a break in the organic unity of the nation; it indicated the emergence of petit bourgeois authors who no longer understood the aspirations of their people.

The late 1930s, when Van Wyk Louw’s essay appeared, though, was different from 1922. In 1922 the break within the volk was not that apparent. The workers and their petit bourgeois nationalist compatriots were still fighting hand in hand in the trenches. In 1924 the labour and nationalist pact won the elections. In 1929 the nationalists won on their own. In the

30s, after ten years under nationalist and semi-nationalist rule, poor white and worker support of the nationalist party waned. In these circumstances the nationalists lost in the mainly Afrikaner constituency of Germiston during a by-election in 1932 (Bonner 1981.97-122). In this region Solly Sachs and his garment workers’ union played an important role in fighting the exploitation of Afrikaner women workers in the nationalist controlled clothing industry. The clothing industry was developed in the twenties by the Pact government to create jobs for unemployed white women (Bozzoli 1987:181). This industry was marked by extreme exploitation of unmarried women workers. Because of the low wages and work the workers began to strike in the clothing factories of Germiston in 1931 and 1932. The then Minister Minister of Justice, Oswald Pirow, reacted by ordering mounted police officers to break up the women strikers (Bonner 1981: 102-103). With these events as background the national party came to lose in what was considered the safe constituency of Germiston.

Throughout the thirties and forties the garment workers played a leading role in the resistance against the reactionary nationalism of especially the purified national party founded the leadership of D.F. Malan in protest against the amalgamation of the national party of Hertzog with Smuts’ South African party in 1933.

In contrast to the racially orientated nationalism of the purified national party the garment workers promoted a non-racial and worker orientated nationalism (compare articles such as “Ons en die Voortrekker-eeufees” (Cornelius 1939), “Die tragedie van die Aflikanervolk” (Anonymous 1940), and “Wat die Duitse Nazis waarlik dink van die Afrikaners” (Burford 1939) from their journal Klerewerker. This journal shows how far the workers progressed in the development of an own class consciousness and identity in opposition to the patronising image of them created by the nationalist petit bourgeoisie.

Under the leadership of Solly Sachs the garment workers’ union produced poems, short plays, stories and articles in their journal Klerewerker. These literary products fell completely outside the main stream of Afrikaans literature.

With time the garment workers’ history fell into oblivion. In the main stream Afrikaans literature it found expression only in the largely forgotten drama Die Nuwe Wêreld (1947) by H. A. Fagan. This play is part of the petit bourgeois tradition of worker literature. It is set in Johannesburg six months after the Second World War. A worker strike at the Van de Leur Clothing Factory forms the context in which the main character, Gerhard, comes into conflict with his father, the factory owner, Mr. Van de Leur. Gerhard, who has just returned from the front, is under the impression that the objective of the war was to establish a classless society:

We fought for liberty and equality. Now the war has ended and we are free and equal (1947:5).

He is confronted, though, with a situation where the old capitalist codes are still in use and where the exploitation of the workers actually intensified under emergency regulations that were not scrapped at the end of the war. The workers are forced to work long hours because of the huge demand in the industry due to the returning soldiers exchanging their uniforms for civilian clothing (1947: 15-16). The workers on the other hand fear that the market will reach saturation point with consequent retrenchment of workers.

The oedipal confrontation between father and son complements the struggle between workers and the factory owner: the oedipus complex overlaps here with the class struggle. The play, from its narrow petit bourgeois perspective, explores the problematic identified by Lewis S. Feuer in his introduction to the Fontana Pocket Readers Marx & Engels (1984): the irrational identification of bourgeois youths with the working class and the ensuing conflict with the established social order put in place by their fathers. According to Feuer, Freud addressed this problematic far better than Marx. In Marx’s own time the struggle between the generations was so apparent in Russia that Bakunin predicted a rural revolution under the leadership of 40 000 students in 1896. This social phenomenon was portrayed by Turgenev in his novel Fathers and Sons (Marx & Engels 1984:24).

This essay explores the knowledge unconsciously present in Die Nuwe Wêreld about the way in which the oedipal complex links with the class struggle, and determines Gerhard’s identification with the workers. This essay will also focus on the way in which class codes operate in this play.

The title Die Nuwe Wêreld is a reference to the “Intemational”, the anthem sung, by the real garment workers at their meetings (compare the article “Kruistog vir ‘n bestaande loon” from the Klerewerker, Feb. 1940):

Stand up! Oh slaves of the world!
Awaken! Who thirst and hunger.
Come and help build a new world,
Because the old is coming to pass…
Away with bad old traditions
Poor people arise, arise.

The foundations of a new future
The workers themselves will make.

The “new world” as the ideal of the returning soldier can be linked to the activities of the Springbok Legion, an organisation of ex-servicemen, who with the slogan “Liberty-Equality-Fraternity” and with their journal Fighting Talkpromoted the idea of a classless and non-racial democracy (Pike 1985:229).

But these points of contact with historical reality are coincidental. For Fagan the play is primarily an exploration of a motto taken from James Burnham’s book The Managerial Revolution, which sees the post-war world in terms of greater state interference in the economy and extensive bureaucratisation that leave the workers more helpless than in the capitalist period:

The control of the world is passing into the hands of managers. Capitalism has virtually lost its power, and will be replaced not by Socialism but by the rule of the administrators in business and government (Fagan 1947).

It is not a protest drama. Fagan tries to be as objective as possible. But when the history of the garment workers is compared to their portrayal in the drama the extent to which Fagan is a victim of his own petit bourgeois worldview becomes apparent: the workers are portrayed predominantly as simple minded (Dorie and her begging father, Koot Coetzee), drunk (Koot Coetzee during the meeting in the third act), corrupt (Stoffel Booysen, the representative of the union) and obsessed with money. The only two workers presented in a positive light are the comical and morose foreman, Balthasar Diederiks, and the “attractive” (“bevallige” 1947:1) secretary, Ria, who is typing “diligently” (“ywerig” 1947: 1) and is “tastefully dressed” (“smaakvol gekleed” 1947: 1). The worker in the play is therefore not the same type of intelligent and militant person who published in the Klerewerker or travelled throughout South Africa to organise workers (see Bettie du Toit Ukubamba Amadolo).

The decor gives an image of the social hierarchies in a capitalist society: the secretary’s office with chairs “for people waiting to see the managing director” (1947: 1) is the bourgeois version of a royal court; the word “Private” (a recurring motif in the play) on the managing director’s office door has the connotation of bourgeois individualism and control of the self against the collective existence of the workers in the machine hall.

Much of the tension and comical effects of the play can be ascribed to the way in which Fagan consciously portrayed the interaction of the social codes of the different classes. As such the play becomes a good example of the “little behavioural genres of speech situations” (Morson 1986:46). People of different classes, for instance, cannot share jokes, as Booysen tells Gerhard:

I can bear a joke – of a man who is my equal. But from you people how can I know it is a joke? People must be friends to make jokes with each other. You are not our friends. You could never be our friends (1947:69).

And they are not allowed to fight with one another:

Leave him, Stoffel. He is not your mate you can fight with (1947:80).

Gerhard’s function in the play is to disrupt the existing order and code in that he as bourgeois identifies himself with the workers. The workers, however, do not accept or trust him. He bemoans the separation between the “us” and the “you” which makes of him an outcast:

“we” and “you”! Always still “we” and “you”!… Am I a strange animal to be chased from the herd? (1947:7 1).

The class and capitalist order also manifest itself in other ways in the text. The sequence of names in the list of characters is an example. Gerhard is the central character in the drama, but his name appears after that of his father. This indicates the important social status of the father as factory owner and patriarch in the capitalist order. He is the one that possesses all the other characters (as father he owns his son Gerhard, while financially he owns the workers). Precedence in the List of Characters is therefore determined by the ideological status of a character. The sequence of parent and child is changed around lower down the list with the unemployed father, Koot, and working-class daughter, Dorie. The father’s name here appears after that of the daughter as breadwinner. Ownership is turned upside down: Koot’s survival depends on the money his daughter earns: his statement “It is me – me as the parent – who hurts when my child is injured” (1947:22) indicates not only sentiment, but has a real material foundation. Stoffel Booysen’s name, last on the list (despite his important role in the play), appears without any indication of his role as representative of the trade union. As character he is the most nuanced figure in the drama and also the most convincing (critics like J.C. Kannemeyer and R. Antonissen objected specifically to the characterisation in the drama: Stoffel Booysen though can be considered an exception). The different dimensions of his character emerge in his portrayal as spokesman for the workers, but also as a figure who enriches himself through the struggle and in a moment of doubt expresses his scepticism regarding the struggle. Compare his reaction (“If we ever will get those things”) to Gerhard’s naive idealism:

The new world, Booysen – to see to it that there is food for everybody, clothing, homes and education for everybody. That is equality – equality for everybody. Is it not correct as I say it. Booysen – is it not right? (1947:70).

A tragic dimension to the character emerges when the factory is nationalised and the workers lose their negotiating powers.

The separation of the classes is manifested especially in the forms of address that is one of the central motifs of the play. In many scenes Gerhard comments on this ritual of the class society:

Now the war has ended and we are free and equal. We call each other by the first names. I am Gerhard and you are Ria 2 (1947:5).

When Gerhard meets the foreman for the first time, he asks:

Tell me, friend – eh – what is your first name, friend?’ (1947:8).

The question upsets Diederiks and he responds with timidity:

My first name, rnister? Balthasar – Balthasar Diederiks (1947:8)

Where Gerhard addressed him with the jovial “friend”, he answers with the ideologically loaded “mister” (in this context referring to distance and respect for a superior class). Later Diederiks find a compromise form of address for Gerhard: calling him “Mister Gerhard”, which combines respect and the first name, while Gerhard teasingly refers to the conservative Diederiks as “Comrade Balthasar” (1947:4 1). Mr. Van de Leur’s power over Diederiks is expressed in the fact that he addresses him by his surname while he does not know the names of the two hundred women workers whom all look the same to him in their uniforms (1947:4).

The most apparent separation of the classes manifests itself in the fact that marriage between them is taboo; even when the bourgeois son is willing and the working class woman a diligent worker. Mr. Van de Leur, addressing his son on the issue of marriage, states that he should be able to marry well with their money and position (1947:33).

The perspective of one class on the other is ideologically determined and relative. The relativity of vision is illustrated by the way in which the author organises his material to overlap with that of particular characters. When Gerhard points out to his father that they are looking at the workers through different “spectacles”, his father answers with the following words which actually summarise the play in such a way that the vision of the father and the playwright complement each other:

You will have to hit your head against reality, and hit it till those spectacles break (1947:28).

These words are confirmed when Gerhard’s idealistic view of the workers is destroyed time and again by “reality”. The first disillusionment occurs when the foreman, Diederiks, calls in the police to suppress a strike. Gerhard digests this disillusionment with a piece of “ego talk” (Vygotsky, see Morson 1986:29) in which he explains the situation to himself.

Yes, yes might be – the period of transition – from war to peace suppose it is difficult. Maybe I am too impatient. But police against striking workers – that cannot be right (1947:9).

His second disillusionment is in the first act in the scene with the injured Dorie, her father and Stoffel Booysen. Disillusioning for him in this scene is the importance of money in their lives (in contrast to his idealism):

But, old man, first get your daughter home. First make her comfortable. You can talk later about the money (1947:23).

Later, though, he notes that their obsession with money is a product of their living circumstances:

And then their poverty. A five pound note is a dream. For father it is something to play with. to show off in front of them and to tease them with (1947:28).

A further disillusionment is when he discovers that Stoffel Booysen is enriching himself through Dorie’s injury. His reaction is vehement..

…But even if I was a private under you, I would tell you in your face that your behaviour is detestable. It is detestable, disgusting’, such treachery… such meanness, such betrayal, such… I cannot find words for it (1947: 26-27).

The next disillusionment does not come from the workers, but from Gerhard’s father. Stoffel Booysen brings Gerhard to the realisation that his father bribed the inspector. Gerhard challenges his father to answer the accusation. His father, not used to being accountable to his inferiors, refuses and the bonds between father and son are broken temporarily:

I do not have to answer them, and I do not have to answer you. You said You are going with them. All right, do that. I will not stop you. The bonds between you and me, you have destroyed yourself., now you can go your way and I Mine (1947: 62).

The final disillusionment happens when it becomes clear to Gerhard that the workers refuse to accept him. This happens in the last act after Booysen has physically attacked him in a state of rage:

I cannot understand these people. See in you an enemy, despite all your attempts to be their friend. Even the Coetzees – Dorie included, for whom I went to some trouble when she was injured (1947:82).

Later he admits that the workers are spiteful and distrust him. He then asks dejectedly:

But why? Why all the distrust? Why are they looking for an ugly ulterior motive in everything one does or says (1947: 82-83).

The effect of this ultimate illusion is undermined by the aesthetically weak, but otherwise significant, ending. In Gerhard’s most dejected moment (“Nowhere, and with nobody can I find solace. Every door I knock on, is closed in my face” ) Ria comes to his rescue and adopts him:

I can see you need someone to keep you in order, and it seems to me nobody else wants to do it (1947:85).

The last scene between Gerhard, Ria and Mr. Van de Leur is central in explaining Gerhard’s irrational behaviour (the fact that he identifies with the interests of another class). This scene represents the “wound” (Hillman 1979:54) of the text: the opening to the unconscious of the text that enables analysis and knowledge (that is not only description and interpretation) (Macherey 1980). It is the point in the text where the reader can extricate him/herself from the tautological trap of description.

The textual wound, or the weak place in the text (“the dramatist [achieves] an all too easy solution for the sub-motif when Ria decides to marry Gerhard to assist him in his weakness” Kannemeyer 1978:210) makes it possible to explore Gerhard’s irrational behaviour using psychoanalysis. His “illness of ideality” (Chasseguet-Smirgel 1976), his idealism, has as foundation the desire for the lost mother, a desire displaced onto Ria, the workers and the ideal of a classless society. Compare in this connection the word “mother instinct” (“moedergevoel”) that Mr. Van de Leur uses in the following passage:

With that thought you would not have found a woman, Gerhard – not a real woman, not one with the motherly instincts that each real woman has (1947:85).

Throughout the drama, Gerhard’s mother, who never appears on stage, is referred to in terms of his loneliness and alienation. The “stifling atmosphere” in which he grew up, because his mother and father could not relate, is described:

It was not a marriage based on love. Father wanted a pretty doll,’ and mother a wealthy man. Why they did not separate – well, that is their business. but a mother and father who do not get on are an, oppressive atmosphere for a child – a crushing, stifling atmosphere (1947:30).

The following significant remark explains his contradictory attitude to poverty (on the one hand he idealises poverty, on the’ other hand he fights it):

It does not help to justify the things I went through in my life. If only we were poor, so that mother could have been in charge of the housekeeping, so that she herself would have looked after me instead of servants and governesses! (1947:31).

Ria is object of transference of both the mother and the servants: she is a worker, but, like the mother, tastefully dressed. She is a compromise resolution of his libidinal problematic reaching back into his infantile years. His mother does not react to the needs of his existence, therefore he feels she rejects him:

I was at home last night – for dinner, before I came to you. Mother did not come out of her room at all. She had one of her headaches – which she often gets, but never would have had if she was working for a living (1947:43).

Because of this rejection he experiences his whole existence in terms of being excluded and therefore he rebels against the class code according to which he must keep himself apart as bourgeois:

Oh, I see. I must keep apart. (With sincerity:) You know, Mr. Diederiks, I grew up apart. Our house was big enough for each to go his own way, and that is what we did. And when I could wander away from my governesses, it was to the poorest pans of the city that attracted me the most. And do you know why? Because I always saw, people there., people in crowds – adults, children always masses of them. They were thrown together in their small overcrowded houses; the houses were close to each other, the one person could not stay out of the way of the other, the one family could not avoid the other. Those people must be friends; they must laugh and cry together … (my italics 1947: 53-54).

The emphasised “must” in the quotation above, the “must” forced on the poor by the capitalist system, is in other places in the drama the “must” of authority, of being subject to the private decisions of the boss and inspector. In the above the “must”, the capitalist necessity, brings forth Gerhard’s ambivalence, he glorifies this “must”.

The collective cohabitation of the poor is in contrast to the “private” associated with the owner; the private against which Gerhard is rebelling: “I thought of the disappearance of the whole idea of private ownership” (1947: 52-53). Ironically his unconscious identification with his father is betrayed when he falls in love with his father’s “private secretary”: possibly in the capitalist society the nearest substitute for the wife of the father.

Because of his experience of rejection by his mother (loss of the mother and the pre-oedipal unity) his whole existence is aimed at fighting “artificial divisions”: he seeks (like the nationalist N.P. van Wyk Louw in Berigte te Velde) the organic unity of a society of difference. His experience of the communist idea is based on a mystical oceanic feeling. He is actually a nationalist who emphasises the organic unity of the society despite the apparent material differences:

You want equality, and I want it. I desired it since I was a child. I did not understand things then as I do now. I just felt that I was looking for something, but now I know what I always missed and sought (is carried away by his topic and urge to confess). I was a lonely child, and I wanted friends, I wanted to be friends with everybody. But because of the divisions, the artificial divisions presented by society, I could not do it (1947: 69-70).

Time and again Gerhard’s idealism degenerates into egocentric and existential outpourings, to which nobody wants to listen, about his “loneliness~’ as child. He is essentially looking for a therapist and therapy. The fact that nobody wants to listen increases his oedipally determined loneliness:

Hm! Does not listen any more. I am a fool casting pearls before everybodv’s feet (1947:71).

And to Diederiks:

Now, that is an honest admission: you are not listening, you are only hearing. But you do not have to listen. (Despite the smile, his body and voice indicate disappointment and dejection). I feel sometimes as if I am only talking to get rid of the thoughts. And I just started – I do not know how it happened (1947:55).

Gerhard’s oedipal alienation makes him intensely aware of an existential lack in his life, and makes him a seeker trying to heal the wound left by the loss of his mother (“I desired it since I was a child. I did not understand things then, I just felt that I was looking for something” 1947:69). In the working class and in the image of Ria (a Lacanian illusion) he saw wholeness:

Why did your image float before my eyes for three years – in the trenches, during the battles? Can I explain it? Is it necessary to explain it? (1947:43).

In the concluding scene all the oedipal lines come together in the depiction of Ria as a woman with “motherly instincts” (“moedergevoel”) and therefore “a real woman” (1947:8 5).

Gerhard’s desire is fulfilled on two levels in the last act: through the nationalisation of the factory in which he sees a recovery of the organic unity of society, and through his libidinal desire for a substitute mother He is completely satisfied. But it brings to light the absolute irreconcilability between him and the working class, a difference that can never be bridged. The melodramatic and the tragic as two diverse currents in the play emerge. To tragedy belongs Stoffel Booysen, the Dionysian figure, with whom the female workers, as Bacchantic choir, identify. As tragic figure he moves from his initial hubris to his downfall with the nationalisation of the factory:

DIEDERIKS: Speak, Stoffel it is your last speech. Official of the Union, hi! Played Mr. Big. And now? Official of nothing. A dead thing (1947:78).

With Stoffel Booysen the workers go under. The choir becomes one with the body of their hero. It becomes clear when Gerhard calls out in his joy about the nationalisation to a crowd who cannot understand his excitement (“Ladies! Ladies! You won. The factory is now state property – your property. Say hip, hip hooray! Come now: Hip hip hooray! Hip, hip…nobody joins in)” (1947:79)). Booysen then points out his sophistry:

Shut your mouth! Such a hypocrite! Such a fraud! Who is the state? Who is the government? Who is the Minister, the inspector, the inspectors, the manager? Is it us? It’s you – you – just your rule under a new name – you aristocrats, exploiters. thieves! (1947:79).

Throughout the play the workers are the carnivalesque, orgiastic tragic undercurrent for whom the material – “the five pound and the immediate physical existence are central. The carnavalesque (Bakhtin) and the tragic (Nietzsche) (identical concepts?) overlap in the scene of the meeting (1947: 72-75). Booysen with his hubris creates here a stage for his own fall (when Dorie and Koot take the stage and unmask him).

The tragic current within the melodramatic context of the drama as a whole brings the question again to the fore: why are the names of Stoffel Booysen and the workers last on the list of characters? Can one not read the ideological proximity of the or and the bourgeois hero into that? Is the author not here again the hero of his own play, while the “true” drama happens

somewhere below the surface of the text in the lesser characters the unconscious of Gerhard? The truth seems to be something unconscious, and maybe it is therefore important that workers, as social unconscious, come at the bottom of the list.

In contrast Van de Leur takes the decisions that regulate lives of the other. He is therefore the social conscious: He is ordering factor in society; therefore it is natural that his name should be at the top of the list.

Slave, Worker, Nationalist


In this essay the worker in Afrikaans poetry is explored in contrast to his predecessor, the slave, and then as object of the aesthetically distanced focalisation of the nationalist.

Slave and Worker

Work defines both the slave and the worker. Work is the process through which use value and exchange value in the form of commodities are produced. The slave differs from the worker in that he/she is owned completely by the owner.

In contrast to the slave the worker’s labour power is a commodity, determined by demand and supply, which is freely exchanged on the labour market. Its exchange value is of central importance.

Like the linguistic sign in Saussure’s language system the value of the worker’s labour power is relative to the rest of the social and economic system. This means that the relation between labour power and its value is arbitrary and changeable.

Like the signified aspect of the sign the use value presupposes the content of the labour power; the exchange value correlates with the signifier aspect in so far as it points to the arbitrary, but socially determined, equation of labour power with value.

The fact that labour power has exchange value defines the freedom of the worker in contrast to the bondage of the slave. This freedom is largely imaginary. The fact that the worker is determined by the market forces of supply and demand, and is responsible for his/her own survival makes him/her more vulnerable than the slave whose sustenance is supplied by the slave owner.

The worker continuously has to compete with other workers on the labour market. From this competition and struggle the worker develops a notion of his/her own value, as wel1 as a personal and class consciousness: an inner life based on social value.

The inner life of the unemployed worker, who cannot earn enough for his/her own and the family’s survival, is marked conflict, despair and guilt feelings.

Linked to Descartes’ formula “I think therefore I am”, the centre of the worker’s existence is the inner and thinking self. The slave’s existence on the other hand is regulated by the owner’s thoughts. The centre of the slave’s existence lies outside self and the own mental life.

The internal and external centres of existence point to an important difference between the slave and worker. Marx defined this as follows:

… the slave works only under the spur of external fear but not for his existence which is guaranteed even though it does not belong to him. The free worker, however, is impelled by his wants. The consciousness (or better: the idea) of free self-determination, of liberty, makes a much better worker of the one than of the other, as does the related feeling (sense) of responsibility; since he, like any seller of wares, is responsible for the goods he delivers and for the quality which he must provide, he must strive to ensure that he is not driven from the field by other sellers of the same type as himself. The continuity in the relation of the slave and slave-owner is based on the fact that the slave is kept in his situation by direct compulsion. The free worker, however, must maintain his own position, since his existence and that of his family depends on his ability continuously to renew the sale of his labour-power to the capitalist (1982:103 1).

The interiorised being of the worker situates him/her within the context of logocentrism. The inner word of workers consciousness betrays a belief in the presence of the self. The slave, on the other hand, is positioned outside of a logocentric worldview. This is illustrated by an example from AJ Kannemeyer’s Hugenote-Familieboek (1940). A slave, captured in 1821 after an uprising, describes the sources of his wounds to a doctor:

Through flogging with a cane in the Worcester prison.

Through a flogging with a strap in the Tulbach gaol.

Through a flogging by my baas with a sjambok.

Through being tied up with ropes in prison.

Chafed by handcuffs on the way to Cape Town.

Through a blow with a stick when I was arrested.

Through the kick of an ox.

Through a gunshot fired on me when I was caught.

Through a blow with a stick of the field-cornet.

Through the horn of an ox.

Through blows with sticks at different times.

Through a sore that came by itself (1940:84).

Kannemeyer gives this report in modem Afrikaans. Although the original could not be find, one assumes that it would have been in a broken form of Dutch, close to Afrikaans. Kannemeyer quotes the white speakers in the same context in Dutch. In 1821 Afrikaans was still not considered a language; it was spoken, but was not founded on the logocentric metaphysics of God, the self and a fixed grammar; it was still not in the words of Gustav Preller “an ever changing diorama of the inner being of man” 1920:18). It also did not exist in written form except where the speech of slaves was recorded. Without a grammar it was not a language in the Saussurean sense of a language as a system with fixed synchronic rules. Every utterance in Afrikaans therefore a form of ostranenie. It is therefore apt that the transcription is given in verse form.

Further, despite the oral nature of the transcription, it also not be considered as speech. According to Derrida speech implies a “self” as origin. The absence of the self is ironically indicated by the word “vanself” (“by itself”) in the last line. The “sore that came by itself” has an origin, just like all the other wounds, not in the self, but in something inexplicable.

In so far as the transcription is an utterance of which the cannot be situated in the self, it becomes writing. The body of the slave described here itself evokes an image of writing; a body written with wounds, a body as sign within a particular social system and which indirectly narrates the story of that system: The body as narrative, written by the baas, law and nature.

The worker, unlike the slave, exists within a logocentric tradition. The emergence of a working class consciousness, of an inner life, as well as a working class literature, depends on the transformation of the worker from a slave existence. The worker has a consciousness because his/her labour power exists in commodity relation to the rest of his/her existence and is relative to the impersonal and indifferent economic forces.

The Worker

The first extensive capitalist activity in South Africa went hand in hand with the discovery of diamonds in the late 1860s, or more specifically with the transformation of the diamond industry from individual diggers to an industry where the means, instruments and rights were increasingly monopolised by a small group of owners and companies. In the process the individual digger was transformed or displaced by wage earners in the service of big companies.

With the emergence of capitalism came the first influx of politicised workers from the industrial areas of the European mainland and Britain. Kimberley, the diamond capital of South Africa, became the first modern town with electrical street lights. The first worker uprising inspired by the ideas of Marx occurred here in 1884. The discovery of diamonds also initiated a conflict between Free State farmers and Britain. The emerging capitalism received a further impetus with the discovery of gold in 1886 on the Witwatersrand.

Burton Tubb praises the discovery of minerals and the industrial possibilities of South Africa in the song “On Colonial Industries” from the year 1890:

We have our coal, we have our gold.
And Diamonds in wealth untold;
What need we more, but go ahead,
And plod along with stubborn tread.

With stubborn tread, unbending will,
Engendering all our local skill,
Which education, now-a-days,
Is drawing out in various ways.

Hail, gladd’ning star, arising now

O’er Southern Afric’s rugged brow,

Awa’ning us to energy,
And all the arts of industry (Van Wyk et al 1988:98).

He predicts that the wealth of resources and the availability of labour “will attract, in course of years,/ The capital of millionaires” (Van Wyk et al 1988:99).

`The establishment of capitalism in South Africa was accompanied and facilitated by an endless number of wars in the nineteenth century between colonists and the various black kingdoms, as well as between different groups of colonists and black followers of different chiefs themselves (Anglo-Boer War and the Difaqane are examples.) The contribution of the Difaqane to the establishment of modern employment practices Natal is well-documented in Keletso E. Atkins’ book The Moon is Dead! Give Us Our Money! (1993). The scorched-earth policy, whereby farms were burnt down and livestock destroyed during the Anglo-Boer War, similarly forced thousands after the war to become urban workers.

The Anglo-Boer War was explicitly seen as a war against capitalism. F.W. Reitz describes the Boer hero “Commandant Danie Theron” as a “determined and sworn enemy … of Capitalist bondage” (Van Wyk et al 1988:180).

The violent intervention of the new economic system in people’s lives also manifested itself in other ways such as alcohol abuse. The introduction, taken from a newspaper, to the poem “The curse of ‘Cape Smoke'” by Burtron Tubb stated:

Usually between thirty and forty natives, often-times more, lose their lives every month through drink and exposure, and their bodies are removed from the streets and by-ways by the police authorities to the mortuary at Du Toit’s pan (Van Wyk et al 1988:100).

Interestingly this behaviour is linked to the emancipation of the slaves (“Afric’s swarthy sons”) and their introduction to capitalist system as free workers.

In the early 1890s many poems appear about the small or individual mining of diamonds and gold. The digger is of the recurrent figures in the poetry and popular songs (see “Di Digger” in Van Wyk et al 1988:97, or C. and A.P. Wilson-Moore’s Digger’s Doggerel 1890). An anonymous poem “The Labourer” (Van Wyk et al 1988:166) from The Legend of Dilsberg Castle explores in a rhetorical and philosophical way the fate of the worker in the late nineteenth century.

It is in the period 1913 to 1922 when large scale mining was already established that poetry and songs written by workers on strikes and other contemporary issues, such as whether to participate in the First World War, appeared in pamphlets, newspapers and slim volumes of poetry.

Although Afrikaans was the language of a large section of the proletariat very little workers’ poetry in that period was written in Afrikaans. This could be attributed to the absence of Afrikaners in the leading positions of the labour unions, and to the fact that Afrikaans was not considered to be a language. It had no recognition as official, school or church language. A large part of the Afrikaans labour force must have been illiterate. It is of interest that the nationalist Second Language Movement directed its activities partly to the “ignorant proletariat” (Pienaar 1920:33).

At this period of workers’ unrest a strong nationalist Afrikaans literary tradition already existed. It was marked by a hearkening back to the past and meditations on Afrikaner history, or otherwise by modernist aesthetic conventions and currents whose influence became manifest. This tradition, though, did not embody the problematic of the Afrikaner worker. The absence of poems on the 1922 mine strikes, for example, is very apparent.

In the 1930s, and especially the 1940s, there was suddenly a very strong focus on the Afrikaans worker within this nationalist literary tradition. The newly established Purified National Party (1933) had to compete with existing trade unions and the Communist Party for the support of the urban Afrikaans worker. The influx of rural Afrikaners to the cities increased greatly in the 1930s due to the depression. Radical nationalist organisations such as the FAK, theBlankewerkersbeskermingsbond and the Blanke-werkersfederasie were formed to save the Afrikaans worker from “corruption by Jews, Communists and Kaffirboeties” (Du Toit 1978:41).

For Bettie du Toit the class nature and interests of these workers’ organisations were clear:

The middle-class Afrikaners had always supported such organisations as the FAK, and they recognised the threat to their established way of living and political thought if the Afrikaner worker did not remain tied to the Nationalist Party and the Dutch Reformed Church (1978:41).

The worker and the division between worker and nationalist constitute two streams of the Afrikaans literature. On the one hand there are poems, songs, reports, drama and stories of the garment workers from their mouthpiece Klerewerker.The garment workers were in the front-line in the struggle against the Gray Shirts, the Black Shirts and other South African fascist organisations, and therefore irreconcilable with the nationalists. Anexample of a song directed against these organisations is Mrs. J. Clifford’s “It is May Day again” (“Dit is weer Mei-dag):

It is May Day again – the work is over;

See how jubilant are the workers, are they not happy?

Do you see Hitler’s clique? Do not get a fright,

Because our GM. Union Guard are ready to take aim (Van Wyk et al 1988:318).

the other side is the broad nationalist literary tradition which developed from the GRA (Genootskap van Regte Afrikaners or Association of Real Afrikaners) established in 1875 to promote the interest of Afrikaners and to develop Afrikaans into a written language. The activities of the GRA were continued after the Anglo-Boer War by the Second Language Movement under the leadership of prominent journalists, political and cultural leaders and authors. This nationalist tradition developed a modem aesthetics especially in the 1920s and 1930s. Aesthetics became an important mark of the modem Afrikaner nationalism. Philosophical essays on politics as art were written by Diederichs in the 30s, while N.P. van Wyk Louw headed the aesthetic movement in literature.

Within this tradition and in the period 1930-1950 many poems with the worker as theme appeared. Some of the best known ones are S.J. Pretorius’ “Sonnet – Uit Malvern”, Toon van den Heever’s “In die Hoëveld” (“On the Highveld”, an English translation by Guy Butler appears in Afrikaans Poems with English Translations, edited by A.P. Grove and C.J.D. Harvey 1965) and D.J. Opperman’s “Ballade van die Grysland” (“Slag-Heap Ballad”, English translation William and Jean Branford in A.P. Grove and C.J.D. Harvey 1965). These poems have all been canonised in D.J. Opperman’s Groot Verseboek.


Although these poets were not workers themselves they could observe the worker problematic from close by through their working class family background or as teachers and lawyers working with people from this section of the population. The working class problematic is always subservient to the aesthetic, and formal aspects, in these poems. The title of Pretorius’ poem “Sonnet – Uit Malvern” indicates that it is primarily intended to be read as sonnet. The form is foregrounded, the social problematic is secondary. The same is true of D.J. Opperman’s “Ballade van die Grysland”.

The aesthetic distancing also underlies the apparently objective surface description of workers in the poems: it betrays on the level of form an essential alienation between the Afrikaans poets and workers in this period.

The mythological idyll of the period before the Anglo-Boer war figures strongly in these poems. In S.J. Pretorius and Toon van den Heever’s poems the rural idyll of the past contrasts with the contemporary proletarian existence:

On the Highveld where it’s spacious, where a chap can see so far

(The pale blue brings a lump into your throat)

Stands my cottage still and waits for me, waits ten years and more

Where the kid-goats play upon the graves of slate.

But when my phthisis rages, and I hear the siren blow,

To the Highveld on the wind I drift away

And in the moonlight search for each delightful place

Where a lad made little oxen out of clay (Grove and Harvey 1965:79).

The urban and rural contrast was also depicted by the Zulu poet Benedict Wallet Vilakazi in the poem “Ezinkomponi” about the black mine worker returning to a rural area in decline:

Where I have come from, far away,

The lands are free of towering buildings

Whose tops I stretch my neck to see;

But when I return there, clutching my bundle,

All I can find are shrivelled stalks

And empty huts: I scratch my head

And ask about my family.

They answer: “Ask your white employer!”

I close my mouth in weary silence (Van Wyk et al 1988:350).

The nostalgia for the rural past presupposes a conservative attempt to wish proletarianisation away. In policy this was translated by state programmes to prevent the decline of the rural. It indicated artificial attempts to perpetuate the past and traditional forms of existence. Marx, who described “The exprropriation of the agricultural population from the land” extensively in Capital vol. 1 (1982), remarks on this conservatism:

we suffer not only from the development of capitalist production, but also from the incompleteness of that development. Alongside the modern evils, we are oppressed by a whole series of, inherited evils, arising from the passive survival of archaic and outmoded modes of production, with their accompanying train of anachronistic social and political relations. We suffer not only from the living, but from the dead (1982:91).

The working class also wrote about the rural past in relation to their proletarianised urban existence. An example is Johanna Comelius’ song “The struggle in the city” (“Die stryd in die stad”):

I come from the farm, from the country side;

Too oppressed to live there any, longer,

I am broken, driven from my land,

Heritage of my forefathers, that is my reward (Van Wyk et al 1988:319),

What is different in this poem, however, is the optimistic reaching out to a better future and a new society. The worker has assumed a new sense of community in the trade union that is directed towards a future and is inclusive of everybody:

Here is a way out -join a Union,

Where people striving for a better day

Unite, stand together and fight in one line,

The motto of our people – “Unity makes might!’

Now I am with the working class

We work and suffer, There is a struggle that we fight.

We pursue and build, to the highest mast,

A better life for everybody, for you and me! (Van Wyk et al 1988:319)

How different is the tone here when compared to the faceless ing away of the workers in the smog of the night in S.J. “Sonnet – Uit Malvern”:

The mpoulas dance and make the shadows haunt –

They are lost between houses and smog … (Opperman 1983:344).

In 1948 the (reconstituted) National Party came to power. This coincides with the gradual disappearance of the Afrikaans worker as topic of Afrikaans poetry. The political victory was for the Afrikaner intellectuals also a victory for the Afrikaner worker. It was therefore unnecessary to continue the theme, especially after South Africa became a republic in 1961.

In the period after 1948 the radical worker’s voice, typified by their mouthpiece Klerewerker, also disappeared. This be attributed to the intensified repression of communist and socialist worker leaders by the State (see the Repression of Communism Act of 1950) and the banning in 1952 of Solly Sachs, leader of the Garment Workers Union. White workers were further increasingly displaced by black workers.

The Father in Two Afrikaner Nationalist Plays by J.F.W. Grosskopf


The following essay explores the construct of the father from a psychoanalytic point of view in two plays by J.F.W. Grosskopf. Legende (1942) and Padbrekers (1947).


The Biographical, Political and Literary Context of Grosskopf

J.F.W. Grosskopf was born in 1885 to a German missionary family in Bloemfontein. Throughout his life he was involved with the Afrikaner struggle in a variety of ways: returning from his studies in Europe he took part in the 1914rebellion of Boer generals against the government of General Botha. He writes:

When our own Free State hero, Christiaan de Wet, and the Transvaler, Christiaan Beyers, (both of whom I knew personally) came into conflict with government policies, I saw, although without great optimism, it as my duty to stand by them. In this way I also became a “rebel”, together with Jacques Pienaar and Jopie Fourie. After six adventurous weeks being chased and hunted in the bushveld I had nine months to come to my senses in the Pretoria prison (Nienaber 1947:147).

In the 1920s he was on the editorial board of the newspapers Ons Vaderland, and Die Volksblad. In 1932 his report, as member of the Carnegie Commission investigating the “Poor White” problem Plattelandsverarming en Plaasverlating(in English Rural Impoverishment and Rural Exodus), was published. He was professor of Political Science at University of Stellenbosch and the deputy chairman of the National Marketing Board in 1945. He died in 1948.


He saw his writing as part of the nationalist struggle. The very fact that he used Afrikaans as medium brought an element activism to the writing:

Some of the brash (and therefore amusing) younger generation reproach the older Afrikaans authors because of that sermonising tendency. They are right. A touch of pedantry – or to state it more elegantly: didactic aims – accompanied the writing, of its own accord. If you were an advocate of the Afrikaans language, you felt the call to write in it, even if its not because of a creative urge.

Use of Afrikaans itself already amounted to sermonising (Nienaber 1947:147).

The two plays, Legende (1942) and Padbrekers (1947), were published towards the end of Grosskopf’s life and are not as highly regarded as the earlier innovative play As die Tuig Skawe


(1926), considered to be the first successful modern tragedy in Afrikaans focusing on the growing rural poverty.

By the 1940s when Legende (1942) and Padbrekers (1947) first appeared, new authors and a new literary value system had already eclipsed Grosskopf, the emphasis had shifted from texts blatantly propagating nationalist values (especially through historical themes and those promoting the virtues of rural life and the unity of the family) to the more subtle use made of the aesthetics of the individual as an autonomous entity within the nationalist programme. In Afrikaans drama Jan F. E. Celliers initiated this shift with the introduction to his play Reg bo Reg:

Though to achieve what art should achieve, and has achieved elsewhere, we must have a broader outlook, and take man himself more as a subject – man, his character, passions, feelings; and the complications, conflict, and the amusing and sad relations that come to the fore because of this – because man differs so much from man (1922: introductory page).

Grosskopf’ s play As die Tuig Skawe (1926) was one of the first and most successful plays to embody this broader concept of humanity expressed in the social realist style. However the allegorical and historical drama never disappeared, and during the 1938 Voortrekker Centenary a spate of allegorical interpretations of the Voortrekker history appeared for the stage, among them N.P. van Wyk Louw’s Die Dieper Reg of 1938.


Legende (1942) and Padbrekers (1947) moved away from the social realist tradition and were part of the allegorical interpretations of history. These belonged to the Volk or People’s Theatre. In the foreword to Legende (1942) Grosskopf announces:

This is a play for ordinary people; not for literary connoisseurs (5).

Whereas As die Tuig Skawe (1926) was canonised, these two disappeared into relative obscurity. According to the historian J.C. Kannemeyer, Grosskopf did not maintain the standard he set with As die Tuig Skawe (1926) in the later plays of the 1940s. These plays are interesting to explore as manifestations of nationalist ideology, or even as nationalist “psychology” in so far as “psychology” refers to a discourse motivated by drives rooted in infantile imagery.


Legende and Padbrekers: Points of Intersection

The two plays differ in many ways: Legende (1942) is the idyllic portrayal of pioneering life on the frontiers of nineteenth-century South Africa. The main character, Karel Veldcamp, was, according to the foreword, inspired by the former president of Transvaal, Paul Kruger. Although Veldcamp eventually becomes the leader of the frontier community, he should not be seen as an exact replica (“portretgelykenis”) of the president. Padbrekers (1947), on the other hand, is situated in a non-temporal and non-specific space and is

a partly allegorical story of a people, who under the influence of an idealistic leader, rise up against a superior power and choose in this moment of crisis an honourable death above unconditional surrender (Kannemeyer 1978:203).

It is not difficult to recognise in the “idealistic leader” who chooses death, Hitler and the second world war, despite Grosskopf s assertion in the introduction that “The characters and the background of this play are completely fictitious – actually allegorical” (1947:5). The allegorical form itself is typical of late Nazi art. According to Berthold Hinz in his study, Art in the Third Reich (1980), the unreal and non-temporal realm in which much of Nazi art is situated has the purpose of eliminating all “human consciousness about reality” (1980:163).

The cover of Padbrekers (1947) is strongly reminiscent of Nazi art. It depicts a row of identical, stylised figures standing in the same military pose, holding alternately a sword and a spade. In the centre is a figure holding a shield with a dripping heart as emblem. These figures symbolise the worker, farmer and soldier trilogy of Nazi art. The spade evokes the farmer and worker, and the sword the soldier. The worker in the military pose shows the worker-become-soldier. Hinz writes:

As a “soldier”, he has to “serve” without any claim to wages proportional to his contribution. He has lost the freedom to move about at will and to enter into contracts (1980:116).

The same motif appears in Padbrekers (1947). The character Ebba emphasises “Nobody works here for remuneration” (70).

Apart from the Nazi parallels, one also recognises in the “people” rising up against a “superior power”, the Afrikaner people in their struggle against British Imperialism. In Padbrekers (1947), therefore, aspects of the second world war, details from South African life, and different historical periods have been displaced onto the “non-temporal and non-spatial” structure of the play.

In spite of the differences between the two plays they do seem to be continuous at certain points (pointing to a continuous psychology). This intersection, point of continuity, occurs in Padbrekers (1947) where Oom Frederik reminisces about his father’s pioneering activities on the eastern frontier of the country (clearly an allusion to the South African frontier wars of the nineteenth century):

My own father has given his life to break open a road for others. That was when our fathers made the first march to occupy the eastern part of our country. You cannot believe how wild everything was then. Between the shrubby gorges and cliffs, there were wide grassland strips as tough as reedbush far above a man’s head. And the weed patches were-as impenetrable as scrub … you needed a strong fearless man to break open the road for the troop of land seekers. a man with a great heart (1947:18).

The eastern frontier, in South African history, could refer to the Eastern Cape, where colonists settled before they trekked into the interior, or to Natal, the destination of those Trekkers. It overlaps with the type of milieu in which Karel Veldcamp of Legende (1942) struggles against Xhosa thieves. The pioneering activities of Oom Frederik’s father correlate with the taming of wilderness by Karel Veldcamp. Karel Veldcamp, then, resembles the father type described by Oom Frederik. In terms of story time Legende (1942) represents a phase preceding that depicted in Padbrekers (1947): it shows the space and time of the primal father, while Voorganger (meaning “precursor”), the leader of the people inPadbrekers (1947), is the melancholic son who acts (and destroys) in the name of this primal father. Oom Frederik’s account of his father leads to the erection of a monument to honour his father: he becomes the symbolic father of the nation. But this father is also merged with the geographical area that the nation occupies: the fatherland. The infantile emotions towards the father are displaced onto the land, while the death of the primal father and the symbolic “dying” (1947:15) of the fatherland lead to the same “eroticisation” of the dead, the same melancholia in which death becomes the ideal. This book is dedicated to:

all the unnamed ones of history who died for a belief in great thoughts and deeds of sacrifice (1947:9).

The death drive is further elaborated in a passage which contrasts Voorganger’s idealism with the materialism of the capitalist, Simon. The aim is to illustrate that there is in death something more sublime than animal existence. Voorganger quotes the Roman moralist Cato:

“Sweet and honourable the dying for your fatherland!” (1947:41).

The Death of the Father

The following words from Padbrekers (1947) imply what Freud saw as the Original Sin: the killing of the primal father as well as the guilt feelings that accompany the act:

My own father has given his life to break open a road for others (18).


In that time when it first looked as if our fatherland was dying. Through its own inner dissension and decay (15).

In Padbrekers (1947), however, the idea of the contribution of the descendants to the death of the father is repressed and it is displaced onto a rhinoceros instead:

And suddenly a moody rhinoceros came storming from the front through the undergrowth, lightly, as if it was a mere oatfield. It impaled my father with its pointed horn., and, enraged, trampled father’s body. We crawled like mice into the undergrowth. With father’s hunting-spear, which I had to carry. I wanted to attack the rhinoceros but it escaped with ease on the road that my father had made’ (1947:19).

(This passage correlates with Legende (1942) where the father’s servant, Danster, is killed by a rhinoceros, during a hunting trip).

The contribution of the children to the father’s death is unconsciously recognised in that they perceive it not merely as a chance event, but as a sacrifice: he gave his life for “others”. In recognising themselves in these “others” they are obliged to feel guilty. They imagine that they owe their lives to his death and they must in turn be willing to die for the fatherland.

The reluctance to accept “objective” death is linked with the view that Freud took from anthropology concerning the people of earlier times who draw no distinction between murder and natural death: a man who has died a natural death is a man murdered by evil wishes. The father’s accidental death is sacrifice, suicide for their sake, it is murder by them.

Ritual develops around the death of the father: ritual with the purpose of invoking the power of the dead by projecting omnipotence onto the figure of the dead father. By erecting a stone monument they seek to gain the power of influencing the dead father according to their wishes. Therefore the monument has a double function: to protect them against their enemies in war and to evoke the superhuman power of the father.

The rhinoceros and the father become identical in the shape and form of the monument:

And on the grave we will erect a high, rough rock pillar, that will point upward like a stone thumb (1947:19).

In the “rough” surface of the rock and the protruding (phallic?) “thumb”, aspects of the rhinoceros and the father are combined. In this identification of the father with the animal that killed him, and in the implied “stone” quality associated with him, one senses a hostility felt towards the primal father. Because the death of the father demands further sacrifice, he is at the same time the one that kills. The road that the father made, the one on which the rhinoceros escapes, also leads to their destruction:

But the road broke us (1947:116).

Extravagant burial rituals – develop around the death of those who, like the father, gave their lives for the people’s cause. The first “martyr” buried in this way is the activist Rudolf who was killed by opposition groups. He is buried with great ceremony at the foot of a hillock which becomes the heroes’ acre. Thousands of people from the city, the neighbouring towns and farms, “Commando on commando” (1947:34), are organised to take part in the funeral procession, a procession in which the women are also granted the right to participate:

I felt that in this procession to Rudolf s grave the women and the daughters should not be absent. I have organised for a thousand to fifteen hundred of them to attend (1947:47).

A small group of young girls in white costumes are accompanied by “mothers clothed in dark colours” (1947:47) in long rows. The planning of the burial ceremony shows the origin of a typical obsessive action (which Freud described in connection with religious and neurotic people (1985a:31) on a mass scale. A similar phenomenon is the methodical arrangement and “the turning of what is apparently the most trivial matter into something of the utmost importance” (1985a:40). A further example of turning trivia into something important is the great interest Voorganger shows in the arrival of the one man whose horse fell while bringing the message of an election victory:

Bring that man, as soon as he arrives, to me – him alone. I want to shake his hand. His left hand (1947:68).

The image of the dead fathier introduces the important problem of the role of the father and masculinity in nationalist texts. The dead, and therefore transcendent, father is central in the strong patriarchal world portrayed in Padbrekers(1947). Masculinity in this world is all-important. Women play at most a supportive role.

We make warm jackets., knit socks, we fluff out the bandages. We work to free the men to concentrate on their commando duties. I bake ovens full of rusks and prepare the salted meat for our men. Some daughters nurse the wounded as well (1947:89).

They cannot participate in male conversation and are portrayed as intellectually inferior:

You talk… either too learnedly. or too much about the art of stock-farming. But my, life has been such that I am ignorant of both (1947:22).

And Sarie cannot help with the production of propaganda because she is too “ignorant” (1947:32).

The function of the women is to look after domestic affairs and to bring children into the world. As Karel Veldcamp’s son, Koenraad, says to his future wife in Legende:

In this house, in domestic affairs, my mother was always in control. In our house you will be the same. But in matters of state, on the farm, on the yard, my word comes first(1942:64).

When Karel Veldcamp’s wife, Eva, complains:

As your wife I have sometimes been sad because it seemed as if you actually appreciated in me only the mother of your children (1942:39).

he replies:

An exemplary mother and housewife., – Eva, is there anything better for a man to honour? (1942:39).

It is around the idea of the omnipotent, transcendent father that taboos are to be maintained. The new and alien capitalist social order with the accompanying perception of the world as object – devoid of the all-pervading supernatural presences that the reactionary character perceives in everything – produces helplessness, “a fearful sense of guilt” (Freud 1985a:125) as if the fatherland, their omnipotent, transcendent support is dying. They react through organisation:

Everywhere in the country small groups that wanted to make an end to the disgrace found one another (1947:15).

This helplessness is experienced, not because of economic deprivation, but because of the disintegration of the ideology, the world view. The economic deprivation is interpreted as the consequence of the death of the father, of cultural degeneration, of ideological impoverishment rather than exploitation. The aim then is to heal – not economically by destroying exploitation in the marxist sense, but to heal the people through an anti-materialist programme: they want to deprive the people of pleasure – the “sweets” of capitalism. When the capitalist, Simon, offers his co-operation in the war, Voorganger rejects it by saying:

It is precisely these alms to our people – sweets now and then to keep the children well-behaved – to which we want to make an end. we want to heal the foundation of the people’s life itself, make it possible for our people to be brave, of one mind, and industrious… The joy of mutual dependence (1947:40).

The image in the text of the dying “father”-land – the helplessness experienced in the face of this – and the perception that it will lead to fateful punishment – put a question mark behind Chasseguet-Smirgel’s assumption that Nazism (and by implication other forms of obsessive nationalism) is a consequence of the abandonment of the super-ego and the complete “erasure of the father and the parental universe” (1976:362). The dead father seems to control fate absolutely.

The internalised father which dominates the ego as critical agency forces the subject to renunciation. Voorganger and Ebba, sacrificing their sexuality for the struggle, are prime examples of renunciation in Padbrekers (1947). This renunciation is accompanied by a strong emphasis on honour – honour that becomes more important than life itself. On different occasions Voorganger resists the temptation to capture Leo, the visiting leader of the “Holy League”, the enemy nations, because it does not comply with his concept of ethical behaviour. Voorganger himself later prefers dying in battle to being captured and exhibited:

in a cage, behind bars, everywhere in their countries like a carnival lion to the rabble (1947:113).

and he saves Ebba from being disgraced by “wagon drivers and cooks” (1947: 112) by thrusting a dagger into her heart.

Identification with the Father as Foundation of the Nationalist Conscience

In Padrekers (1947), as a nationalist text, identification with the father (a symbol encompassing the shared language, history, tradition, geography, and fauna and flora) is all-consuming: it denies to all these things autonomy or objective existence. A relationship with the world as object (separate from the self), i.e. as reality is impossible: such a relationship with the world fills the nationalist with aversion: it is the animal relation, the relation of women, capitalists and the masses to the world

The fatherland is perceived as a unity, and the volk, constituting the fatherland, as “one”:

One volk! One! One! One!(1947:25),

Everything different and indifferent to this incestuous “One” is perceived with distrust, fear and hatred, while everything that is considered part of it is overvalued. Even the melodies of the indigenous birds are seen as having national significance and as part of the people’s narcissism (1947:6).

Within this unity nothing is coincidental, everything is interrelated and determined by the dead father’s omnipresence. No object-relationship with the world – relationship which perceives things as existing independently of the father’s will – is tolerated. Everything becomes subject. The attachment of the ego to the collective narcissism is absolute, while the individual libidinal relationship with the world (as object) becomes possible. Through this inability to accept the objective essence of the world (determined by physical laws and not the transcendent father’s will) the drive to incest is manifested: the world is only known as the same and not as difference.

In the discourse of psychoanalysis, incest and sexuality are often confused, as if the repression of incest is identical to the repression of sexuality.

For the nationalist characters incest and sexuality are clearly opposites. Nationalism represses sexuality and encourages incest in its less extreme forms: it promotes marriages between people from the same geographical area, speaking the same language, of the same nationality, and sharing the same values. The discourse is constructed around the incestuous image of the people as one family

The incest motif is manifested in scenes between Willem and Ebba. Ebba, whose main desire is to have a son by Voorganger, says to Willem (who she adopts at the end as spiritual son):

… for me, Willem, it feels as if you are my- big son. (Quickly): Iwill thank God one day if I could raise a son like you (1947:86-87).

Willem prefers to see her as his equal, as a lover. The elision in the following dialogue represents the repressed wish to marry her:

If I was a few years older – and the Voorganger remained so slow I would really like myself to … (1947:87).

Within the incestuous family of the people there is no room for an individual conscience challenging the countless obsessive rituals, ceremonies and customs which are instituted around the image of the transcendent father and which have to be maintained.

The conscience in this context is the product of superstition. This is in conflict with the development of the individual conscience which develops independently and in conflict with the father-determined value system. The individual conscience is based on the experience of the world as an object that is separate from the self.

The individual conscience, historically the product of the enlightenment, is an expression of the civilising activities of Eros:

Civilization is a process in the service of Eros. whose purpose is to combine single human individuals, and after that families, then races, peoples, and nations, into one great unity, the unity, of mankind (Freud 1985b:313).

In contrast, nationalism absolutises the interest of a specific group of people at the expense of others. It represents the lawlessness of a small segment of a population

which behaves like a violent individual towards others, and perhaps more numerous, collections of people (Freud 1985b:284).

The war by Voorganger’s people’s movement against the “Holy League”, the combined countries with their universalised economy, is an attempt to hinder the civilising process. Voorganger prefers the isolation of his country even if it means impoverishment.

The Distorted Image of the Father

Voorganger acts in the name of the transcendent father. But a comparison between Padbrekers (1947) and Legende (1942) illustrates that the image of the father as the object of Voorganger’s guilt is distorted in accordance with Freud’s remark that:

the original severity of the super-ego does not – or does not so much – represent the severity which one has experienced from it (the object), or which one attributes to it; it represents rather one’s own aggressiveness towards it (1985b: 322).

The primal father, Karel Veldcamp, of Legende (1942) represents a relationship with the world which is very different from that of his descendants in Padbrekers (1947). He experiences the world in its immediacy. There is no transcendental world, no renunciation of the instincts, no need for sacrifices or retaining memories of the past.

The reader is prepared by the different tone of Legende (1942) in the introduction to this play:

the author wants to make a humble confession of his sincere hope that the judges of the dialogue will not find one poetic or literary word (1942:6),

The absence of the poetical, the sentimental, and the rhetorical in Legende (1942) denotes the anti-intellectual, anti-metaphysical discourse of power, brute force, will, and the unrenounced instincts. In contrast to Voorganger’s movement in Padbrekers (1947), Karel Veldcamp needs no transcendental legitimisation for imposing his will on the world. In this he is very near to nature itself. There is no effort to reduce nature to intellectual or categories. The bond between him and nature is expressed in his love for the veld:

No., you cannot understand it; you can only feel it. Look: when I sit there in the evenings next to my fire, even if it is without the company of any white people, then my heart feels so calm, then my heart feels so satisfied .

In Padbrekers (1947), on the other hand, Voorganger is completely alienated from nature; nature remains for him an unattainable object of the future; he will know it not by feeling at one with it but by studying it; that is, by maintaining a removed (transcendent) relationship to it.

This alienation from, and narcissistic pride in reducing nature is further emphasised by Willem, who sees man’s potential to renounce the instincts as a peculiarly human characteristic:

Do we fight against a ruthless law of nature? Must we continue to try to exploit and exterminate one another like the animals of the bushveld and plains? (1947:30).

In contrast to the characters in Padbrekers (1947) who overestimate the power of mental activity, Karel Veldcamp represents the omnipotence of the body, of the will and of the unrenounced instincts; he is immune to pain and indifferent to love. He is described as a real man, who

seems to be able to do anything, and everything, better than we other people (1942:9).

He tames wild horses with ease, is dominated by a desire to escape from the confines of society and family. As a pioneer he lives outside any law. He is a law unto himself in a world of unreasoning force in which cold-blooded murder becomes reasonable. The text presents death and murder in an unsentimental way.

Veldcamp’s rejection of the metaphysical is illustrated by his indifference to his wife’s clairvoyant activities;

But I have never concerned myself with Eva’s visions. I prefer things that one can get a grip on. I think one must hold one’s own as well as one can – against whatever might happen. It weakens the will, if you imagine that you know what is awaiting you in the future (1942:44).

In this he is different to the characters in Padbrekers (1947) to whom the metaphysical, the transcendental, and the “soul” were central concerns. In them one discerns the “overestimation of the influence which our mental acts can exercise in altering the external world” (Freud 1985a:360). On the other hand Karel Veldcamp represents “the lower physical activity which had direct perceptions … as its contents” (Freud 1985a:360).

The characters in Padbrekers (1947) relate to the new intellectuality in which ideas, memories, and inferences become decisive (Freud 1985a:360) and in which “Things become less important than ideas of things” (Freud 1985a: 142).

The discrepancy between “things” and the “ideas of things” has already been pointed out in connection with the portrayal of the father in Padbrekers (1947), which is incompatible with the portrayal of the father in Legende (1942). In a similar way the sublime “idea” of the people in Padbrekers (1947) is contradicted by the aversion felt when the actual people are referred to:

People are like sheep… There are those who are wellbred, but then there are those who are not… When I look at my own people – so many of them that cannot think., that blindly worship Mammon (1947:22).

The “people” is an abstract idea which goes beyond the reality denoted by this concept. In consequence confused responses are provoked in reaction to economic crisis and exploitation. Campaigns for the poor idealise sacrifice and material renunciation:

If you can teach a people to make sacrifices for the well-being of the community, then the bond between them is so much stronger than when you give them wealth and prosperity (1947:17).

Voorganger criticises the materialism of the enemy nation when speaking to their leader:

But you have become too timid to raise your children properly; you wanted to live in ease; leave behind rich and lazy children (1947:102).

Voorganger sees this materialism as leading to decay:

Your people! They will perish of decay, like a people ill with leprosy: smelling and rotting away, piece by piece (1947:104).

Although the ideal “people’s state” is anti-capitalist, it does not represent the material interests of the poor. That it is not a struggle of the poor is made clear when Sarie refers to it as “Voorganger’s cause” (1947:70). Its anti-capitalist sentiments 3 are misleading. Not surprisingly it is the urban proletariat who put up the strongest resistance to it. They are described as “the roughest and rowdiest lot from the shanty-town” (1947:11) who broke up the nationalist gathering in the first act. They are described as little skunks” as having offensive physical attributes: “a pimpled, red-headed, spindle-legged store mongrel” (1947:13) and their behaviour is seen as a consequence of employment rather than exploitation: “a group of weak street strollers, and pale, unemployed young girls and boys”(1947:30).

Grosskopf s nationalism typifies an ambivalent attitude towards the people. It is not a people’s movement as such.

The inconsistency between the ideas of things and things themselves is the consequence of an experienced “mental omnipotence” which is divorced from reality. This mental omnipotence is construed as intellectuality and rationality. To Freud it has its historical source in the patriarchal overthrow of matriarchal social structures:

But this turning from the mother to the father points in addition to a victory of intellectuality over sensuality – that is, an advance in civilisation, since maternity is proved by the evidence of the senses while paternity is a hypothesis, based on inference and a premise. Taking sides in this way with a thought-process in preference to a sense perception was proved to be a momentous step.

At some point between the two events that I have mentioned there was another which shows the most affinity to what we are investigating in the history of religion. Human beings found themselves obliged in general to recognise intellectual (geistige) forces – forces, that is, which cannot be grasped by the senses (particularly by sight) but which none the less produce undoubted and indeed extremely powerful effects. If we may rely upon the evidence of language, it was movement of the air that provided the prototype of intellectuality (Geistigkeit), for intellect (Geist) derives its name from a breath of wind – ‘animus’, ‘spiritus’, and the Hebrew rauch (breath). This too led to the discovery of the mind [Seele (soul) as that of the intellectual (geistigen) principle in individual human beings (1985a:361).

This discovery of subjectivity which transcends the senses leads not only to “rationality” – but to the imaginary and illusory “incestous” forms of patriarchal thinking with the inability to experience the world as object, as sensual entity. In opposition to Freud, Reich makes intellectuality the product of the objective and sees the sensual world as the foundation of rationality. Rationality contradicts types of “thought and action” which “are inconsistent with the economic situation” (1978:53), that do not respond to material exploitation and find comfort in a nonexistent world beyond.

Irrational and passive acceptance of exploitation is a product of the dominance of the Freudian patriarchal “soul” concept. With the assumption of the omnipotent “soul”, the body on which hunger and exploitation act becomes secondary and unimportant. Voorganger says: “The soul is more than the body” (1947:42) and: “There is something higher than mere animal existence” (1947:41).

The soul is the product of instinctual renunciation, especially sexual repression. It is thought that is “felt” with intensity (dammed up libidinal energy). The absence of the “soul” in Legende (1942) suggests its absence in pre-social and pre-repressive conditions. The emergence of the “soul” implies the end of unrestrained existence. The “soul” is a necessary category for social existence: within the context of the people’s struggle the deified primal father, Karel Veldcamp, the man without a soul, in reality would not be tolerated. To have social order, individual impulses must be repressed while the state, or the movement, monopolises control over it and channels the aggressive instincts into war. The people must become of “one nund”. The individual omnipotence repressed in this way is transferred to the transcendent primal father who becomes the keeper of the “soul”.

The renunciation of individuality, as well as the concommitant repression of the instincts demanded by nationalists, are depicted in Padbrekers (1947) in the chorus of followers who have sunk to a “position of blind allegiance” (Reich 1978:97):

One people! One. One. One. – honour above wealth, honour above life! Honour with peace. Honour for our past! Noble aim; noble life! One people., one people! One. One. One. Honourable labour for everyone – Unity. Unity. Unity (1947:43).

Voorganger relates to the masses as the hypnotic leader to the primal horde described by Freud in reference to Le Bon. He states:

the condition of an individual in a group as being actually hypnotic (1985b:193).

and emphasises that

the sense of omnipotence, the notion of impossibility disappears for the individual in the group (1985b: 104).

Voorganger becomes the “master” (1947:16 & 115) who, by inspiring (“besiel”) his followers, would lead them to victory against overwhelming forces:

Now we know that—with voorganger’s spirit one man is equal to two of them (1947:86).

Voorganger s voice has the monotonous tone of the hypnotist when he addresses the people. His voice is described as “rhythmic” and “with calm inspiration” (1947:40). When listening to the chorus of followers Voorganger and Ebba stand motionless as if listening to a prayer. The faceless crowds of followers and their adulation evoke images of intense narcissism and omnipotence. After initial victory the crowds fill the streets with torches, at which Sarie exclaims:

it is so overwhelming! Now even our youths realise the importance of the time we are living in (1947:95).

The loss of individuality in the crowd is compensated for by the belief in the people’s soul:

Yes., Willem! I believe in the soul of the people. It is only that which gives me courage and trust in the future’ (1947:21).

This soul has its source in “mystical feelings” (Reich 1978:163): the “Volksgevoel” (1947:21) which must be “activated by soul” (“besiel” 1947:21) in Padbrekers.


This experience of a national soul correlates with the “oceanic feeling” described by Freud (1985b:252), the “sensation of ‘eternity'” (1985b: 251) felt as something “limitless” (1985b:251) and “unbounded” (1985b: 251):

The soul is more than the body. I believe in what looks foolish and unattainable today; and the eternity of aspiring (1947:42)


Ideals are immortal. They, revive, like the phoenix, always again from the fire (1947:101).

The “oceanic feeling is:

a feeling of an indissoluble bond of being one with the external world as a whole (Freud 1985b:252).

In Padbrekers (1947) this bond refers to the experience of the people as “one”. Underlying this experience – as in the case of religious mysticism – is the regression to a phase when the boundary line between the ego and the external world is uncertain. Before the ego is constituted as an autonomous unity, the infant does not distinguish the self from the external world:

He gradually learns to do so, in response to various promptings. He must be very strongly impressed by the fact that some sources of excitation, which he will later recognise as his own bodily organs. can provide him with sensations at any moment, whereas other sources evade him from time to time – and only reappear as a result of his screaming for help (Freud 1985b:254).

The differentiation between internal and external is produced as the difference between experiencing satisfaction and displeasure: the external is associated with a feeling of lack and pain. This lack is an essential part of reality; it is the basis for the perception of reality as something different and separate. Nationalism and people’s movements emerge precisely in situations when this lack is felt intensely, for instance, during periods of economic collapse. But instead of leading to “realism” it regresses to illusion.

The production of a collective illusion, bound up with narcissism and wish-fulfilment, is an important aspect of political manipulation. This is especially true of nationalism where economic deprivation is confused with ideological decay. Feelings of inferiority are manipulated by feeding the mass narcissism with illusions of omnipotence:

The earnestness of life I have known since my youth. From father I learnt the sorrowful humiliation of our people, and the feeling of duty to help heal the decay, especially that fatal and spiritless attitude (1947:24-25).

The pain Ebba gives expression to in this situation is not due to actual material hardship: it is the pain of humiliation. In contrast, Sarie and the capitalist Simon (1947:42) experienced real poverty in their youth. Sarie grew up in a house with an unemployed father (1947:70). Because of their background of poverty, they are far more concerned with the threat of material collapse. To them narcissism is secondary.

The manipulation of narcissistic impulses is of central importance to divert the attention of the suppressed classes:

The narcissistic satisfaction provided by the cultural ideal is also among the forces which are successful in combating the hostility to culture within the cultural unit. This satisfaction can be shared in not only by the favoured classes… but also by the suppressed ones, since the right to despise the people outside it compensates them for the wrongs they suffer within their own (Freud 1985b: 192-193).

Reich formulates it as follows:

The wretchedness of his material and sexual situation is so overshadowed by the exalted idea of belonging to a master race and having a brilliant führer that, as time goes on, he ceases to realise how completely he has sunk to a position of insignificant, blind allegiance (1978:97).

In Padbrekers (1947) the feelings of elevation accompanying the material renunciation, the self-sacrifice, as. well as the experience of omnipotence in inspired crowds and mass processions brings this narcissistic aspect to the fore.



Padbrekers (1947) depicts a guilt reaction to the death of the father and the disintegration of the patriarchal order in the face of materialist and capitalist expansion. It shows how the materialist understanding of the world is experienced as a threat prefiguring an imminent apocalypse.

Social Concerns in Afrikaans Drama in the Period 1930-1940


Afrikaner nationalism is increasingly seen as a diverse phenomenon. This diversity is also evident in Afrikaans literature, which has formed an essential part of Afrikaner nationalism since the inception of the first language movement, The GRA (Genootskap vir Regte Afrikaners – Association of Real Afrikaners), in 1875. This essay explores some of the complexities of Afrikaans drama in the period 1930-1940, a period in which the ideological foundations of the later Apartheid society were first systematised. The drama of the period was not characterised by any radical break with the past. Most of the plays continued the social realism and naturalism of the twenties. N.P. Van Wyk Louw was the onlyDertiger (belonging to the important movement of literary renewal in the 1930s) to publish a drama, namely Die Dieper Reg, produced for the 1938 Voortrekker centenary. This play relates strongly to the new aesthetic orientation of poetry of the Dertigers and therefore stands out from the other drama production of the period.

Aesthetics in Literature and Politics

The Dertiger-movement, under the leadership of N.P. van Wyk Louw, was a movement of aesthetic purification. It reacted against the mass-based populist cultural productions of the period, by emphasising the author as individualist, prophet and craftsperson. For Kannemeyer their work is characterised by the “more subtle use of the word and a concentration on the inner life of the individual” (1978:360).

Central to their writing was a concern with beauty. To an Wyk Louw the word beauty referred to meanings outside middle class and mass understanding – it meant exploring areas which challenge and threaten middle class society, readers and auiences. The middle class signified to him the downfall and destruction of spiritual life, who “neutralise all beauty with their banality” (1970:24). Only the discontents, those who suffer and stand outside of middle class life can appreciate art (1970:24). Inner conflict and subjective life become the yardstick of beauty: bauty is measured by pain, suffering, sorrow and desire.

This new aesthetics had its counterpart in the Purified National Party (established in 1934) and its tendency to aestheticise politics. The philosopher of this new nationalism was N. Diederichs, who was trained by the Nazi’s Anti-Kornintern (Wilkins & Strydom 1979:76), and showed some understanding of fascism in articles such as “Die Fascistiese Staatsfilosofie” in the Huisgenoot (3 November 1933).

To Diederichs fascism is l’art pour I’art on the terrain of politics. Both Diederichs and N.P. van Wyk Louw emphasise hierarchical differentiation as an essential part of the new aesthetic intellectual attitude in culture and science:

to recognise and investigate the different levels of reality (matter, life, psyche, spirit) each in its own right… it is not only a more advanced intellectual development when compared to the earlier denial of differences, but also one which is more true to the natural and aesthetic attitudes of man. Ordinary man sees the world as irreducibly rich and diverse, and he refuses emotionally – even when he agrees intellectually to accept the abstraction that materialism presents him of the world. in his immediate aesthetic experience of the world he recovers everything that was reasoned away: sound and colour, beauty, even pain, and the whole marvellous hierarchy of values and people (1970:21).

The aesthetic, to both Diederichs and N.P. van Wyk Louw, is anti-bourgeois. Diederichs describes fascism as “in its being a romantic and anti-bourgeois impulse” (Huisgenoot 3 November 1933:17).

The word “bourgeois” to them does not refer to the owners of the means of production, but rather to mass conformism and materialism. The bourgeois are the “miserable” audiences, the well-to-do, the important state officials, cultural managers or culturocrats (Van Wyk Louw 1970:23) who attended the Afrikaans plays such as J.F.W. Grosskopf’s As die Tuig Skawe in which Van Wyk Louw acted in the mid-thirties (Neethling-Pohl 1974:93, see also Van Wyk Louw’s article “‘n Toneelopvoering in Kaapstad” from Lojale Verset 1970). They represent audiences selected according to “wealth, class or education” (1970:23). He would have preferred an audience of.

All those who know suffering who are restless,. empty and hungry; sexually unfulfilled: the youth not yet spoiled by other matters… they are the ones who could appreciate beauty (1970:23).

There is the same emphasis on the youth in Diederichs. Youth is characterised by “will”, “power” and “action”:

The spontaneous unity of will power youth. movement and action for the sake of action (Huisgenoot 3 Nov. 1933:17).

The deed is central:

reason is rejected for the sake of the deed, theory for the sake of practice (Huisgenoot 3 Nov. 1933:187).

The deed, as theme, found its most pure expression in Van Wyk Louw’s Die Dieper Reg (1938). This play, written for the Voortrekker Centenary of 1938, consists of choruses and individual voices allegorically representing the Voortrekkers in the Court of Eternal Right which must decide over their continued existence as a people. They are charged for rising up against, and breaking all ties with, the law, for appropriating land and enriching themselves, for being motivated by lawlessness and self-righteousness. In their defence they name their suffering, the fact they that paid the highest price by sacrificing their lives.

They are redeemed, not because of their suffering, but because of the power and simplicity, the deed, which motivated them and which made them an expression of God himself who is the “mysterious Source/ of restlessness, deed and life itself” (Van Wyk Louw 1938:16). Because of the deed their existence is secured in the land South Africa. God is the unreasoning, motivating force of history transcending intellectuality and human law. This play is the most profound exploration of the “birth of a nation” in lawlessness.

Poor Whites

An important theme of the drama of the 1930s was the “poor whites”.


By 1930 there were about 300 000 “poor whites” out of a population of one million Afrikaners. They made their living from farming as tenants, worked as hired farm labourers, or were owners of small pieces of land, squatters or unskilled labourers. Others were roaming trek farmers, hunters, woodcutters, the poor of the towns, diggers and manual labourers on the railways and relief workers (Touleier 1938:4-5). The “poor white” was defined as a person whose income did not enable him/her to maintain a standard of living in accordance with general norms of respectability (Touleier 1938:5).

By the 1930s the “poor white” already constituted an established literary category: poor whiteism as theme abounded in prose and drama. As in the many social studies on the topic, the poor whites in literature were seen as the direct descendants of the Voortrekkers: they represented the last of the people living according to the Voortrekker ethic as the character Jan in P.W.S. Schumann’s play Hantie Kom Huis-Toe (1933) makes clear when he points to the parallels between the Voortrekkers and Hantie’s parents:

Is it not true that he (Louis Trichardt, the Voortrekker leader) was possibly just as poor, if not poorer, than your father is today? Your mother and father still live like the real Voortrekkers of the olden days. And what right do we have to reproach them for still living in the same way? They are still Voortrekkers, just like their parents were (1933:84).

The “Poor whites” are portrayed as the remnants and descendants of the people who lived according to the unthinking deed that Diederichs and Van Wyk Louw romanticised: “they did not gather material possessions, pursue wealth or luxury. Nature was their wealth and freedom, their luxury and pleasure” (Schumann 1933:94) and “They roamed from here to there… from the diggings to the settlements, to wherever their instinct lead them” (Schumann 1933:94).

From this perspective the term “poor whites” seems to be a misnomer. Indeed the “poor white” character, Annie Oosthuizen, points out that the tag “poor white” is a discursive invention by the petit bourgeois rather than a reality as experienced by the “poor whites” themselves:

I am no “blinking street woman” and also not a “poor white” … It is the “charities” and the “Distress” and the “Mayor’s Fund and all the people who want to make “poor whites” of us. My husband says they are just like doctors who discovered a new illness and now want everyone to have it (Schumann 1933:84).

Thee “poor white” in literature was more than just the depiction of social fact of the time. The theme introduced modernism, in the form of naturalism, to Afrikaans literature.

Naturalism – especially the petit bourgeois family drama formed part of the materialist tradition rejected by N.P. van Wyk Louw and Diederichs, especially in so far as it shows individual characters as victims of external forces such as the social environment and heredity.

Naturalism, nevertheless, was in vogue in Afrikaans theatre in the 1930s. Many of the naturalist classics were translated and performed – among them Ibsen’s A Doll’s House staged by Paul de Groot and his travelling players in the rural areas. Before every performance De Groot would give a lecture on the importance of naturalism to Western literature and during the performance:

The public followed the play in silence, a silence of “non-comprehension”. The ending, if anything, surprised them. They simply threw their hands indignantly in the air at the thought that Nora would leave her children rather than sacrifice her individuality (Huguenet 1950:59).

On the other hand naturalist melodrama also displayed a crude realism: an exact but superficial imitation of reality that the audiences – unaccustomed to the artifices of theatre – loved:

Because they have never seen a production by “Strangers” who play with so much conviction and vigour, so much “naturalness” as they called it, the experience was a revelation. For them the play was something real, a reality, and without much effort they displaced themselves into that reality. Without any conception of what a theatrical performance actually is, they were convinced by the play and believed in it. It is to this unconditional surrender that I attribute the initial big successes of Afrikaans theatre (Huguenet 1950:52).

One of the interesting examples of this extreme realism was Hendrik Hanekom’s production of the historic and symbolical play Oom Paul by D.C. Postma in 1934. This play, based on the life of the Transvaal president, Paul Kruger, was an attempt to recreate history: Paul Kruger’s house, the wallpaper, the uniforms of the time, the gestures as recorded from the memories of people who knew the president, his drinking of coffee from a saucer and being addressed by the black servants as “uncle” were portrayed in the greatest of detail (Binge 1969:175).

Naturalism in Afrikaans literature dates back to Harm Oost’s Ou Daniel in 1906. This was also the first depiction of the poor white. Old Daniel, the main character, is seen as the “first truly living character in Afrikaans drama” (Bosman 1951:11). This play is the first psychological and sociological study in Afrikaans literature: Old Daniel is the “personification of the clash between the old and the new in the changed Afrikaans society after the Anglo-Boer War and he becomes the distant precursor of the social problem drama” (Bosman 1951:11). The “poor white” theme enabled writers to depict the “Afrikaner as a human being instead of as a patriot, or simply man as man” (Bosman 1951:12).

The following plays have the poor white as theme: Hantie Kom Huis-Toe by P.W.S. Schumann from 1933, Die Skeidsmuur by A.J. Hanekom from 1938, Drankwet by E.A. Venter from 1933 and Die Stad Sodom by F.W. Boonzaier (1931). A nationalist perspective is explicitly inscribed in these texts. The “poor white” is seen from the outside – from a concerned petit bourgeois perspective – as a difference that must be returned to the same of the nation. One of the main criticisms by directors against Afrikaans playwrights was the fact that the political prejudices of the authors made objective depiction of the characters impossible:

until recently no playwright in Afrikaans could withhold himself from personal interference with his character portrayals. This inability to portray objectively the many different characters is the main criticism against their work (Huguenet 1950:126).

Most of these texts are critical of the wealthy Afrikaner’s conceptions and exploitation of the “poor whites”. The class differentiation, implied by “poor whiteism”, was experienced as a threat to Afrikaner unity. Uninspired nationalist strategies towards poor white problem were even criticised in some plays:

HANTIE (With renewed passion): Yes, they have congresses, and make resolutions, and choose delegates and appoint commissions of inquiry and send deputations and do research and publish blueprints … That will not be my approach (1933:96).

The most extreme portrayal of the raw reality of the “poor whites” is found in P.W.S. Schumann’s Hantie Kom Huis-Toe (1933). This play was produced in Cape Town by Anna Neethling-Pohl the assistance of N.P. van Wyk Louw. Neethling-Pohl felt that the H.A. Fagan plays usually produced in Cape Town “were too civilised” for her “rebellious taste, and not relevant enough” (1974:93). In contrast, Hantie Kom Huis-Toe (1933) represented “a piece of realism, crude and raw, saying things as explicitly as possible” (Neethling-Pohl 1974:93). Anna Neethling-Polil would later be confronted with the reality of the “poor whites” as represented in Hantie Kom Huis-Toe (1933) when she became the secretary of Schumann’s wife, who was a social worker in the Krugersdorp area.

Politically, poor whiteism – “that factory of idiotic monstrosities” (Jan in Hantie Kom Huis-Toe 1933:76)is of interest because it points to an emerging class differentiation undermining the unity of the nation. (“JAN:.. I do not believe in classes for white people” 1933:56). As a class that may define its interest in opposition to that of the nationalists the poor whites posed a threat to the nationalists.

The increasing assimilation of the “poor whites” into a racially integrated South African society was perceived with shock by the nationalists. This process of integration is symbolised by Lappiesdorp where the poor whites of Hantie Kom Huis-Toe (1933) lived with “Greek and Syrian, and Hottentot and Malay” (73). In the same play, evidence that the poor whites were outgrowing their racial prejudices is seen in the friendly relations between them and Abdoel, the Indian shop owner, called “Oupa’ (“Grandfather”) by some children.

A most interesting description of emerging class differentiation is found in the articles “Nogeens die bediendevraagstuk” (“Once again the servant question”) and “Die wit meisie in huisdiens” (“The white girl in domestic service”) from the Huisgenoot (21 August and 18 September respectively). The problems that employers could expect when employing poor whites according to the Huisgenoot were:

1 the fact that they saw themselves as the equals of their employers because no clear-cut class differences existed amongst Afrikaners.


2. a prejudice against work that they considered to be the work of blacks (“AUNT GRIETA:… I won’t allow my child to do kaffir work (Schumann 1933:29)).

The Huisgenoot (21 August 1931) then gives the following advice:

Make such a domestic understand for her own sake that although she is not of the same class as the coloured servant she also does not belong to the class of the employer, just like children cannot be the equals of parents. She is the servant and must therefore serve at the table, but at the same time it must be seen to that she eats in respectable conditions (67).

Class differentiation and the question of white domestic servants depicted in A. J. Hanekom’s play Die Skeidsmuur (1938). This play attempts to show that poverty in itself does not define poor whiteism: the poor white here is rather the person that has lost his/her self-respect and is no longer of any use to the Afrikaner people. This is shown by contrasting the poor, but respectable, railway family of Johan Terblanche with the alcoholic neighbour, Gert. Gert’s loss of self respect is especially evident in the following aspects of his use of language:

1. In the form of address: he addresses Mrs. Terblanche as “Miesies” instead of “Mevrou”. “Miesies” was the form of address used by black servants when speaking to white women. It indicated a class and racial difference. Compare also Hantie Kom Huis-Toe (1933) where Mrs. van Niekerk reproaches Aunt Grieta for calling her “miesies” because she is “also white” (26).

2. In the “carnivalesque” (Bakhtin 1984) aspects of his discourse. He uses the words “poor whites” as if between quotation marks, thereby humouring learned society’s definition of him. The quotation marks show that he puts on the mask of society when he utters the words “poor whites”.

3. In his particular way of transforming English words into Afrikaans: This can be seen as a banalisation of the self. “paartie” (party), “fektrie” (factory), and “wiekend’ (weekend).

4. In his use of idiomatic expressions like “erfgeld is swerfgeld” (“easy come easy go”) with which he invokes the folkish wisdom of tradition and the forefathers.

5. In his use of homespun forms of standard Afrikaans words: “kenners” instead of “kinders”, “eergeester” instead of “eergister”.

Through his particular use of language he attempts to establish a sense of equality between his family and that of his neighbour; he wants to make the Terblanches feel at home in their “poor white” environment. By calling Mrs. Terblanche “Nig Maria” (“Cousin Mary”) he accentuates the kinship ties. He says that this was the way “our grandfathers and grandmothers spoke” (1938:4).

Terblanche, on the other hand resists his assimilation into “poor white” society by maintaining his family’s dignity or his family’s difference from poor whiteism at all costs although they are economically in a similar situation. Gert, on the other hand, as a typical carnivalesque character, transforms everything into the lowest common denominator: namely the body. The carnivalesque language of the working class (Gert) is typified by its ability too assimilate and to generate a rich and lively diversity of expression.

Terblanche’s daughter, Aletha, works as a domestic servant in the house of the mayor and prospective member of parliament, Van Zeelen. Van Zeelen sees the “poor whites” as those backward types who are nothing but a social burden and completely worthless to society. In his house Aletha has to pander to all the whims of the spoilt daughter, Helena. In these circumstances Aletha has to maintain her self-respect.

Helena senses in the dignity of Aletha that Aletha has forgotten her place as servant in the house. She refuses to be tolerant towards Aletha, because then Aletha might see herself as an equal. Aletha represents a class to Helena that has to be kept in place.

Van Zeelen’s son, Albert, on the other hand, challenges the stereotypical images of the poor whites shared by his sister and father. He sees that the rich, instead of helping the Church and the State in the struggle against “poor whiteism”, are strengthening the dividing wall between rich and poor. According to him the wealthy should rather encourage the poor whites to maintain and develop their self-respect. The poor whites must be taught that the history of the Afrikaner people also belongs to them, that they are fellow Afrikaners and equally part of the people. He gives effect to these words by falling in love with Aletha and marrying her against the wishes of his father.

. Like the nationalists of the time, Albert emphasises the unity of the People and the need to struggle against developing class divisions; in this way he is verbalising the author’s own views


In most plays of the period a conflict between father and children developed on the plot structure of the biblical parable of the prodigal son. The conflict implies the tension between the modern and the traditional, the rural and the urban, the past and the future. Sometimes as in Die Skeidsmuur (1938) it is a struggle by the son against the preconceptions of the father. In Agterstevoor Boerdery (1932) by David J. Coetsee, the son wants to introduce scientific methods of farming against his father’s wishes. In the foreword to Die Stad Sodom (1931) F.W. Boonzaier states that his play should serve as a warning to the daughters who want to settle in the city. In this play poverty forces the urbanised young woman to prostitution. Her father disowns her and, unlike the father of the Prodigal Son, he does not welcome her back when she returns to the farm dying of TB.

Another depiction of the generational conflict is Fritz Steyn’s Grond (1938) which is about the duty of the unwilling son towards the dead father’s wish to keep the inherited farm within family. The son is a qualified teacher and does not enjoy farming. He keeps his feelings towards the farm a secret from his children who in their turn also rebel against the farm and the rural milieu. He forces them not to abandon the farm, but to be part of his promise to the dead. However, circumstances such as a bond repayment and a hailstorm, force them off the farm. The loss of the farm leads to the reunification of the family and enables the children to go to university and pursue professional careers.

Loss of the farm signifies the loss of the means of production; the inability to reproduce independent life itself; it means alienation – the fact that the independent person is forced to become a wage labourer. This is made clear by Terblanche in Die Skeidsmuur (1938) when he says:

How can I forget that once we were also independent farmers, that we could face people as equals (2).

The duty to the ancestors in Grond (1938) expresses the duty to “the ideal of the glorious fatherland” (Diederichs 1933:17) which is so central in nationalist ideology.

In Hantie Kom Huis-Toe (1933) the father is identified with God and the devil. Hantie – who never knew her father and was taken away from her “poor white” family at the age of five has mystical conversations with God. Gertjie, her poor white little brother also has moments of clairvoyancy. Hantie dates her mystical conversations back to her childhood from the time that she was taken from her real family:

It’s not so strange … at least I am used to it now, … He has been everywhere with me since my childhood… I see Him often… always … I don’t know how to explain it. (1933:16).

When her friend, Jan, asks her about her father she answers:

I do not know much about Father. Do not ask me about Father. because… aunt never talks about Father. Sometimes I feel so scared (1933:20).

When Hantie meets her real father, without knowing that he is her real father, he stirs irrational revulsions in her. He is a most violent poor white. She tells her mother. “he has the most abhorrent face I have ever seen” (1933:65). She becomes completely irrational in his presence:

if only I never have to see him again – the devil marked him … I feel like that day when I slipped on the mountain slope, when I had to clung onto some shrubs to prevent my fall (1933:70).

At the end God and devil merge in the father when she discovers with shock that he is her real father:

He? – Then I’ve got his blood in my veins? My body is from him. and my nerves and my constitution and my spirit descended from him? There is not a part of my body. or of my soul, where his stamp is not! MY Creator, One-That-Formed-Me, that saw me before I existed, that knew me before my birth – was it really your aim with me?… Then the night is part of me, and I embrace the darkness like a bride (1933:100).

After this she faints, recovers a few minutes later and declares the ground holy where she saw God. She finally feels relieved of material reality.


Race in the 1930s still referred to the differences between Afrikaners and the English. When Mrs. van Niekerk says “There are so many mixed marriages these days” (1933:56) in Hantie Kom Huis-Toe she is referring to marriages between Afrikaners and the English. The “Native Question” indicated the thinking on the future of the African peoples – an obsession of especially General Hertzog. In the early thirties the Native Question was seen as a “matter of the utmost gravity calling for a meticulously thought-out long term policy” (Pirow nd: 193). No coherent plan on the political future of the Africans seems to have existed. The Native Question went hand in hand with what was called the “survival of White Civilisation” and the fear that whites would become “swamped politically” (Pirow nd. 195) when a “black skin would no longer be a test of civilisation” (Pirow nd. 195).

Hertzog differentiated in the late twenties between the future of the coloureds on the one hand and the Africans on the other. His view of the coloureds was that ultimately they should be integrated “into the White Man’s world industrially, economically and politically, but not socially” (Pirow nd:127). On the other hand his “native policy was based on the principle of segregation and has as its ideal the development of the native along his own lines in his own territory” (Pirow nd: 128).

Hertzog, according to Pirow, was not a protagonist of Baasskap, but of differentiation with “benevolent guardianship” (Pirow nd:193). The determining factor for eventual self-government by Africans was not “the acquisition of the white man’s book-learning, but of his ethical conceptions” (Pirow nd: 193). There was a general fear amongst whites about the political consequences of education for Africans. This is expressed as follows by the patriarch Van Riet in the playVan Riet, van Rietfontein:

The Kaffir is here to work. Make it compulsory. Close down that mission school. They only spoil the blacks. Why must they learn to read and write? A Kaffir that can read and write is worthless. And if he speaks English I’ll kick him from my property (Van Niekerk 1930:28).

Central to the propagation of the white man’s ethical conceptions was the spread of Christianity: “The paramount position of the European population vis-a-vis the native is accepted in a spirit of Christian guardianship” (Pirow nd: 198). The play Jim (1935) by J.C. Oosthuysen, which could be performed by any drama society as long as they sent ten shillings of the takings to be used for missionary work in the Eastern Province and the Transkei, aimed to make white children on the farms aware of their duty to spread the gospel amongst the “heathen” children of Affican farm labourers.

By 1933 the Broederbond began to formulate its ideas on black and white relations systematically. These ideas would eventually become the policy of the Purified National Party. In a secret circular it defined the main points of the policy as follows:

1 Total segregation should be implemented;

2 Black people be removed from white areas to separate areas provided for the different tribes and “purchased by the natives from the State through a form of taxation such as hut tax, or occupied in freehold from the State” (Wilkins and Strydom 1979:193). The “detribalised native” (Wilkins and Strydom 1979:193) in urban areas would be seen as “temporary occupants” of locations in white areas and living there “of their own choice and for gain” (Wilkins and Strydom 1979:193). The same would apply to the coloured people who would get their own homeland (Wilkins and Strydom 1979:197).

The integration which became discernible in the mixed areas (such as Lappiesdorp in Hantie Kom Huis-Toe 1933) was looked on with horror by the educated and wealthier Afrikaners: it was a direct assault on their sense of propriety.

A concern with what is proper was one of the obsessions of university-educated Afrikaners of the time. It manifested itself in a concern with the minutest detail. Compare M.E.R.’s outrage during a performance of Langenhoven’sPetronella at the torn and tattered red velvet curtains and at the constant laughing of the town’s people who saw all drama as comedy (Huisgenoot 29 May 1931:67). She calls it “cultural disorder”. The concern with what is proper is further manifested in Hantie’s dismay at her mother wearing a night gown in the streets in Hantie Kom Huis-Toe (1933:67).

The concern with “cultural order” and what is proper explains much of the nationalist’s racism. But this racism also has economic motives. The obsession of the wealthy Mrs van Niekerk with the friendly relations between the Indian shop-owner and the poor whites in Hantie Kom Huis-Toe indicates her fear of the growing economic power of the Indians:

Yes my child, here you can see the bare truth about poor whiteism. And as you noticed, one is astonished by the big Indian shops. But the reason is: the Indians treat the poor as their equals. They feel at home with them. Do you see that shop? It is Abdoel’s. The people call him Grandpa (1933:25).

In another passage Mrs van Niekerk scolds Aunt Grieta:

Are you again at the Indian’s shop. You promised me last time you will not buy from the Indian if you could be helped elsewhere (1933)

To this Aunt Grieta answers:

Oh Miesies, it is easy, for you. You rich people do not care where you buy and what you pay, but we poor people must be happy to buy, at the cheapest place (1933:55).

It is more than the price of goods that attracts Aunt Grieta to the Indian shop: there she does not feel discriminated against, she does t feel she is looked down upon by her own kind. When Mrs. van Niekerk suggests that she should buy from Goodman, a white man in spite of being a Jew, Aunt Grieta says:

I went to old Goodman’s shop, and do you know who I saw there behind the counter? Was it not Katryn, you know Roelf Visagie’s Katryn, Roelf whom they call Red Roelf. But she was so dressed up and powdered that I nearly did not recognise her and she was so full of airs, the little snob. I wanted a few yards of lace, but I refuse to be intimidated by such a little upstart. Who is she or her parents that she imagines herself to be so much better than me? (1933:55).

Another reason why they prefer buying from old Abdoel is because, he gives credit to the poor (1933:57).

When with her educated daughter, however, Aunt Grieta returns to a crude racism. When Abdoel addresses her with the familiar “You” she replies:

What! You saying to me “you”! I am Miesies Diedericks. Imagine such a Coolie. Where does he gets his “you” from? (1933:67)

The author’s Own prejudice towards Indians (and their goods) is manifest in the many scenes in which the quality of the products come into question: the hat and night-gown are described as ghastly to everybody except Aunt Grieta. The stigmatisation of Abdoel’s goods is part of the campaign for the proper.

In Hantie Kom Huis-Toe (1933) Africans are only marginally present. One senses in this presence an immense fear, as if the poor whites saw in the dehumanisation of the Africans their own possible fate. The women react with intense irrational fear to the African loitering around the veranda and asking for Hans (the real father). The African’s presence forecasts the looming trouble: he is the bait which leads to the arrest of Krisjan and Hans for selling liquor illegally to Africans.

The play which most consistently and most interestingly explores the obsession with colour prejudice is L.C.B. van Niekerk’s Van Riet, van Rietfontein (1930). Van Riet, the owner of the farm Rietfontein, upholds crude racist ideas: he is upset about the prominence given to the native question in the newspapers and the fact that there are always new laws to define the relationship between master and servant. This means that he cannot “discipline` (assault) his labourers any longer without being challenged in court. He is especially upset because the educated always interfere with existing relationships. To him this interference is unnecessary. The “native question” is a “question of experience and common sense” (1930:21).

In contrast, Prins, a university professor, pleads for the “upliftment” (1930:29) of Africans. To him “The Kaffir is no longer a barbarian. He is beginning to think. He refuses to be the property of the white man in the servile sense of the word (1930:29). Later on he states: “there is a possession nobody can deny their fellow human beings: freedom. Freedom of movement, freedom of thought, freedom to search for the own salvation” (1930:29) and “The time will come when the native will play a part in the government of the country. It is for us to decide whether we want to co-operate with them as friends or resist them as enemies (1930:31).

These arguments set the context in which Van Riet’s son, Pieter, announces his love for Malie Hartman, a world-renowned violinist, but unfortunately coloured. In his love for Malie he expresses “powers that are stronger than prejudice and hate” 1930.33) and which have to struggle against the autocratic father’s “willpower and … race pride” (1930:33). Despite her

colour Malie as violinist is representative of what is most noble in “white civilisation”.

The whole play is then an exposure of the father’s unreasonableness. Malie makes it clear: “Your father condemned for my descendance, before he knew me” (1930:52). His racism is further extremely self-destructive. All his farm labourers desert him and he goes bankrupt. Klara, the faithful African domestic servant, sacrifices her life’s savings in an attempt to postpone the due date for bond repayment on his farm.

When his son arrives to help in these circumstances he still refuses to accept Malie as possible daughter-in-law, although he has sympathy for her; he is possibly echoing the sentiments of the author when he says to her:

You, innocent, today suffer for a crime that you did not commit… No person can do more than sacrifice their own life for others. this you do today … There is no other way out (1930:99).

Although the play shows Van Riet’s racism as irrational, unreasonable and self-destructive it is still victorious in the end. This play which is one of the most persistent in its rejection of the rationality of racism still saves racism in so far as it presupposes a transcendental rationality. Racism is then right exactly because it is irrational and absurd. This links Van Riet, van Rietfontein (1930) with Van Wyk Louw and Diederichs’ romanticisation of the “unthinking deed as the ideological foundation of Afrikaner nationalism (and racism?).

Identity and Difference: Some Nineteenth and Twentieth Century South

African Texts

Identity implies qualities of continuity, sameness and repeatability (“To give birth is to multiply one’s self” Kunene 1979:70), but also suggests difference and otherness. Identity must further be understood as the product of discourse and history rather than as something essential and ahistorical. This chapter explores how the identity of the self, but also of the other as difference, was formulated in some South African texts: Olive Schreiner’s Thoughts on South Africa(1992) (written in 1892 and published posthumously for the first time in 1923), Erasmus Smit’s Diary (1972) (written in 1837-1838), N.P. van Wyk Louw’s Die Dieper Reg (1938) and H.I.E. Dhlomo’s “Dingane” (written in the late 1930s, but first published in his Collected Works in 1985).

Identity constructs based on physical continuity, history and culture were pivotal to apartheid discourses. Ethnographic studies and ethnographic fiction which assumed pure identities and closed societies, abounded in the apartheid period. The study of constructs of identity and difference is therefore of primary importance for an understanding of apartheid as discursive formation.

Olive Schreiner in her Thoughts on South Africa makes the curious statement that the

South African Boer (the white and Afrikaans-speaking peasant and farmer of the nineteenth century) is the “most typically South African”(1992:60). She qualifies this statement as follows:

The Bantu and the Englishman may be found elsewhere on the earth’s surface in equal and or greater perfection; but the Boer, like our plumbagos, our silver-trees, and our kudus, is peculiar to South Africa (1992:60).

She commences by locating the Boer’s history in terms of time and space; she writes “The history of the Boer begins, as is well known, in 1652, when Van Riebeeck landed at the Cape” (1992:60) and then she personalises the space of origin, make it a space that can be shared by the reader in its printed representation and hypothetically in reality:

If one climbs alone on a winter’s afternoon to the old Block House on the spur of the Devil’s Peak at Cape Town, and lies down on the ruined stone bastion. with the warm sun shining on one’s back – as one lies there dreaming; the town and shipping in the bay below … then the noisy little life of the valley slips away from one, and through the mist of two centuries one is almost able to put out one ‘ s hand and touch the old, long-buried days, when the first while men built their huts on the. shores of Table Bay (1992:60).

Space in this text becomes an important index of the character of the Boer. The Boer, according to Schreiner, is different from his modem Australian, Canadian, Yankee and American Spaniard counterpart in that he shows no attachment to Europe as home. The “untrodden plains of South Africa (1992:62) are complementary to the Boer’s “unquenchable passion for movement and change, and (his) fierce rebellion against the limitations with which civilised life hedges about and crushes the life of the individual” (1992:62). The Boer descended from the “free-fighting children of fortune, rovers of the sea and the sword” (1992:62), a “small body of French exiles” (1992:67) and girls from “orphan asylums” (1992:63). These girls are especially important because “the day in which they landed at Table Bay and first trod on African soil, was also the first in which they became individuals, desired and sought after, and not mere numbers in a printed list. In the arms of the rough soldiers and sailors who welcomed them, they found the first home they had known” (1992:66-67). The Boers’ origins and identity, their temperament derived from adventurers, exiles and orphans, are somehow inscribed in their shared blood, a product of their incestuous inbreeding:

From this small stock by a process of breeding in and in. they have developed, there having been practically no addition made to the breed for the last two hundred years; the comparatively large numbers to which they have attained have entirely to be accounted for by the fact of their personal vigour, very early marriages, and prolific rate of increase. Thus the Boer represents rather a clan or family than a nation; and there is probably no true Boer from the Zambesi to the Cape who does not hold a common strain of blood with almost every other Boer he meets. Each Boer has in him, probably. at least a drop of blood of these women.. and their emotional and intellectual peculiarities can hardly have failed to leave their mark, if slight, upon the racial development (1992:67 my italics).

Their identity as adventurers, exiles and orphans is translated into their love for the physical country. The “plains, rocks and skies”(1992:75) become the transmutation of their existential being.

In Capital (Volume 1) Marx identifies the colonial space as one that makes it difficult for the Capitalist from the mother country to turn the settlers with their existence economies into labourers: the settlers cultivate for themselves, make the furniture and tools they use themselves, build their own houses, take their produce to the markets themselves, they spin and weave, make soap and candles, shoes and clothes (1982:935). Escaping from the economic and political misery of Europe the settlers established themselves in a space where they were largely a law unto themselves. This underlies the many images of omnipotence that mark their discourses.

Schreiner describes her narrative as the result of “long and sympathetic” deciphering of Theal’s nineteenth century South African histories (especially his Cape Commanders) and John Noble’s History of South Africa. As is to be expected from the contradictory nineteenth-century urge to classify races on the one hand and explain evolutionary patterns on the other, she assumes that there is such a thing as an essential Boer whose particular emergence in history can be explained. The description of this “essence” and its origins is based on existing printed texts, rather than empirical observation and measurement. In this regard Schreiner’s text is different from later ethnographic studies with its detailed photographs, measurements of features and statistical data.

Schreiner makes the point that somewhere beneath the “bare facts” contained in Theal and Noble’s histories there is material to be transformed into “the great epic of South Africa by a “seer and singer” (1992:60). History to her becomes a source to be fictionalised, somehow removed from itself.. providing material for the making of a fetish. Epic, or narratives about the heroic figures in the migration histories or mythological origins of a people, often forms the foundation for an assumed national essence. It becomes the object through which a nation idolises its own history. Schreiner’s observation is based on the fact that the nineteenth century Afrikaner history of South Africa contains typical epic material: the mass migration into the interior of South Africa, the strong leading figures, the battles with the various peoples of the interior with their peculiar and unusual customs, God’s supposed intervention, etc. It is not strange, then, that the Afrikaner nationalists of the twentieth century based their foundational fictions on these events. The movement of the Cape Emigrants or Voortrekkers into the South African interior in 1837-1838 has been compared by nationalist ideologues of the 1930s with the travels of the Roman epic hero Aeneas and his followers from Troy to Rome (Moodie 1975:297). Although the “sacred history” of the Afrikaner has never been versified to the same extent as Virgil’sAeneid, Camoens’ The Lusiads or Mazisi Kunene’s Zulu epic Emperor Shaka the Great, the Afrikaner nationalist leader D.F. Malan stated “Our history is the greatest masterpiece of the centuries” (Moodie 1975:1). This history, according to Malan, was part of a “divine plan” through which God’s “will and determination” (Moodie 1975: 1) is revealed.

In the twentieth century, this history of divinely inspired invasion formed the basis of a metaphysics, a discourse of sovereignty and terror ultimately expressed in the narrative of apartheid. Derrida described metaphysics as “the unfolding of the structure or schema of an absolute will to hear-oneself-speak” (Spivak 1987:106). This aptly describes the dominant South African political discourses in the period 1910-1994 when Africans were excluded from the democratic process by the constitution of the Union of South Africa. By being excluded from the process Africans were denied a voice. The African identity was increasingly defined from the outside. White laws circumscribed what Africans should and could be, where they could stay, what they could own, who they could marry, and in which positions they could be employed. The system acknowledged Africans only as labourers and traditionalists. They had to conform to the ethnographic picture presented by the ethnographic text. The transindividual sphere of custom and tradition delineated by the ethnographic text forced onto them a fixed identity, endorsed by law. This made it very difficult for the educated African elite to participate, and write their own identities, in terms of middle class European norms, or “civilisation” as it was called by these subjects in the early twentieth century.

The exclusion from the law-making process and the fact that the law determined their identities from the outside made Africans into the Other. The fixity of the African’s definition as Other has the quality of print. The word “stereotype” derives from plaster moulds of printing type. In its modem use it refers to the commonplace and distorted perception of the Other. The stereotype, according to Gilman (1990:15), implies an Other who is perceived as pathological, as having lost control over the environment. The African stereotype is rooted in a context where Africans were forced to surrender their authority over the political environment. The new dominant colonial discourses saw Africans as lacking in Western reason (as pathological) and therefore not able to participate in the institutions of Western civilisation. The Africans’ assumed exclusion from the world of writing and print, and their resulting inability to be masters of their own voice, played a determining role in the construction of this stereotype.

The English colonial histories that Schreiner used, and her own perspective in noughts on South Africa, betray a similar prejudice in the construction of the stereotypical Boer. This prejudice derives from Schreiner’s position as author in the tradition of the Enlightenment with its emphasis on reason, literature and literacy as signs of civilisation and progress. Access to printed literature, and owning printing technology meant political power in the emerging modern environment. Print placed the subject in a position to control stereotypes. This power to distort and stabilise became the signifier of health and reason.

That which, according to Schreiner, makes the Boer the most typically South African is also that which makes the Boer pathological in relation to her own position as author of the Enlightenment. To her the Boer is “merely a child of the seventeenth century” (1992:82) who because of illiteracy had been isolated from the world revolutions of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries:

For the Boer the awakening of human reason in the eighteenth century, with its stem demand for intellectual tolerance and its enunciation of universal brotherhood never existed. The cry for Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity, with which later on the heart of Europe leaped forth to grasp an ideal for which men’s hands were not yet quite pure enough. but which rent the thunder-cloud of despotism brooding over Europe; the Napoleonic wars and the crash of thrones, the growth of physical science, re-shaping not only man’s physical existence but yet more his social and ethical life, of these things the Boer behind his little Taal wall heard and felt nothing (1992:86).

The world revolutions of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries are very much inscribed into the discourses and texts of the Boer and formed the basis of the Boer’s own discriminatory texts, despite Schreiner’s image of the Boer as ignorant illiterate. The Boer’s relationship with revolution dates back to the Batavian perid when the influence of the French Revolution, the Enlightenment, and the Napoleonic wars was strongly felt at the Cape. The French Revolution had its echoes in the popular uprisings of Cape frontier towns when colonists declared Swellendam and Graaff-Reinet republics with their own national conventions. It is from these towns that the Great Trek took place in 1837. Erasmus Smit, who accompanied the Cape Emigrants into the interior as lay-preacher in 1837, vividly recalls in his Diary the day, 19 January 1795, when as a child he saw the rag-tag French army marching through Amsterdam in

the wake of the French Revolution (1972:19). From this revolution stems the Emigrants’ and the twentieth century Afrikaner’s obsession with republicanism and the rejection of royal sovereignty. The discovery of gold, the development of Johannesburg, the Anglo-Boer War and the subsequent urbanisation of the unskilled poor from the rural areas led to an early awareness of Marxist theory amongst many Afrikaners. In the War Proclamation of 17 October 1899, Commandant-General Piet Joubert saw “malignant capitalists” as the cause of the war. He spoke though not from the perspective of a working class, but from a threatened rural position based on the exploitation of African labour.

Identity within the capitalist epoch is a personification of economic relations (Marx 1982:178). The Emigrants moving into the South African interior saw the Africans they encountered mainly as servants and sources of labour. In Erasmus Smit’s Diary there are many references to this. Several Africans seeking refuge from the continuous wars were made into servants while others were taken captive by force. In Dhlomo’s. “Dingane” the Induna Bongoza remarks about the emigrants:

I hear they make servants of men – men who ought to serve as warriors. No man should be servant to another. Each should serve himself and serve with and for the others. Only a king should have servants, for they who serve the king. serve all. The Boers think they are each a king! (1985:85).

Looking at the sovereign within the context of the Cape Emigrant invasion of African territories in the nineteenth century makes for interesting comparative analysis in terms of identity constructs. The consequences of the opposing views on sovereignty are illustrated in Erasmus Smit’s description of a last conversation with a captive warrior of Dingaan. The Zulu warrior is sentenced to death by the Council of Emigrants for murdering “2 white women and 4 children” (1972:134). It was Smit’s task to convince “the prisoner of the justice of the temporal punishment of his death sentence by his earthly judges” (1972:133). It is as if the earthly judges, discovering the relativity of their own metaphysics in confronting the Other, themselves ask to be exonerated by the condemned man. The prisoner defends himself by saying that the sovereign, Dingaan, who gave the order to kill, should bear the guilt. The Emigrants however see the prisoner as being primarily responsible and force him to agree “that he had gone with a happy heart on the attack and found pleasure in the murder’ (1972:134). Smit contrasts this with the way they themselves will execute him. He states that the executioners “will … have sympathy with you even at and in your death; they will not torture you with 30, 40, and fifty stabs, as you and your people have slowly murdered our people in the cruellest way; but your death will be short and compassionate” (1972:135).

Smit further states that the Council “do not as individuals kill you; but it is the law of our God which condemns you and also me, and all people when we commit murder” (1972:135). Christianity is Smit’s root metaphor. The invisible God is the sovereign and guarantor of the Emigrants’ lawless law. Sovereignty is removed from the world. The natural motive for murdering is projected onto a transcendental god. To the prisoner sovereignty is embodied in the institution and the physical presence of the king. To him it is Dingaan who “ought to bear the guilt”(1972:133). By removing sovereignty from the world the Emigrants internalise it in the embodied concept of an omnipotent and transcendental God and tie it to the will of the individual. God becomes a force linked to the group’s helplessness (as minority in threatening surroundings), but also provides a feeling of omnipotence (because God will make them victorious despite their small numbers). This concept of God is at the basis of Afrikaner Calvinism and republicanism. It is best illustrated in the allegorical verse play Die Dieper Reg (1938) by N.P. van Wyk Louw, considered to be the most important poet of modern Afrikaner nationalism. This play was written for the centenary of the Great Trek in 1938. In this play the Emigrants are brought before Eternal Justice. They are charged with the plundering of land and lawlessness. These charges stand against their plea to continue to exist as a people. From the point of view of a rational and earthly conception of justice they are guilty. But they are acquitted because they embody the blind deed, the non-rational act that made them mere instruments of God. God, as the ultimate will and justice in history, becomes the sovereign who arbitrarily decides the fate of peoples.

In the 1930s H.I.E. Dhlomo wrote the play “Dingane” (from his Collected Works 1985) possibly to counteract the Afrikaner’s version of the Great Trek which was ritually re-enacted in the 1938 Centenary as part of their sacred history. In this play the Zulu character Bongoza refers to the kinglessness of the Emigrants:

A people with no king is no race – a headless snake writhing nauseatingly to death! Homeless people observe the law of the jungle – destroy. provoke trouble and roam about. A kingless race is like monkeys -noisy, mischievous, restless! (1985:85)

It is possible that Dhlomo, in the context of the 1930s, plays off the royalist sentiments of the British against the Afrikaner republicanist drives.

In this play the king as object of royal praise is transformed into the king as tragic hero. This illustrates the influence of the Greek Classical and Shakespearean tradition, although it also has its roots in African ritual. The line linking the African and the European tradition (as embodied in the heroic and ‘the Shakespearean tradition with which Dhlomo was especially familiar through missionary education) is drawn in the important essays by Dhlomo (1977): “Drama and the African” and “Nature and variety of tribal drama”. In the second essay he elaborates on the dramatic structure of the ritual surrounding a king’s death and relates it to the “mysteries, miracles and moralities” from which Greek tragedy originated. For Dhlomo literature represents civilisation. Linking Africa’s rituals to the Greek classics was important in order to place the African tradition positively within the foundation fiction of civilisation. Civilisation was the criterion that gave entry to the dominant Western political processes in the

early twentieth century. Literature as proof of civilisation was central to Dhlomo in the African’s struggle for national recognition. Literature was seen as especially important because “Geographical and colour boundaries have no power in the field of art. Here the African can speak on the universal level denied him in the political field” (1977:72).

The play “Dingane” deals with the very important intersection of the different South African nationalist movements: the murder of Shaka, the movement of the Cape Emigrants into the interior and the fall of Dingane. Together these events signified the beginning of the destruction of the Zulu empire. Twentieth Century African literature portrays Shaka as a military leader who through wars managed to unite a number of diverse tribes into a nation and Kingdom. In Dhlomo’s essay “Nature and Variety of Tribal Drama” the reign of Shaka is described as follows (based again on the histories of Theal and imbued with the values of the missionaries):

The coming of Shaka brought about great changes and wide repercussions. Life ceased to be hedonistic,. peaceful and safe. The policy of laissez faire succumbed to one of tyranny. People became military-minded. Shaka’s domestic and foreign policy, his great wars of conquest, and his studied ruthlessness transformed tribal life and gave it new patterns of behaviour, new channels of thought, new political ideologies. The demon of war, the menace of invasion, the fear of annihilation, the restlessness of whole tribal migrations and endless group treks, shook the very foundations of African life. and gave birth to a whole catalogue of changes, developments and upheavals (1977:26).

In the first scene the dying Shaka curses Dingane’s reign by referring symbolically to the eventual fall of Dingane at the hands of the invading Boer. The drama describes the events that led up to this fall (his defeat by the combined forces of Mpande, Dingane’s brother, the Swazis, the Cape Emigrants and the Bay Europeans – mainly British traders and officials living in Durban). It further portrays the killing of the Boer leader, Piet Retief and his entourage, from a Zulu point of view. Jeqe, Shaka’s body servant, who according to custom should have died with the king, is the antagonist who in the end kills the fleeing Dingane and so revenges Shaka’s murder. In the play Dingane stands out as the individual. Like a typical Shakespearean character he is tormented by reliving the murder of Shaka in hallucinations, internal monologues, and dreams. These indicate inner mental processes that distinguish the individual as individual in literary discourse. The fearful hallucinations are focused on Jeqe, “Shaka’s shadow”, which “envelops” Dingaan in its power. Jeqe as embodiment of Shaka’s curse, rather than the triumphant armies of the Boers or Swazis, leads to the undoing of Dingane.

In “Dingane” the tragic, but sovereign, king is trapped by and subject to fear, curses and his own mortality, In Kunene’s Emperor Shaka the Great, Shaka also has an obsession with mortality that is expressed in his interest in white medicine. Identity and subjectivity amount to nothing when the subject is confronted with death. Dhlomo’s Dingane eventually realises that “I am a shadow – nothing”. The hero-king expresses an individuality that is essentially tragic. This tragic dimension is sent in the texts by Erasmus Smit and Van Wyk Louw; the subject here is eternal, is an essence. The condemned man in Erasmus Smit’s text must come to “acknowledging God’s justice if God wished to subject and punish him with eternal death” 1972:35 my italics). In Van Wyk Louw’s play all individuality disappears behind the man, woman and youth, i.e. the family unit, which represents the eternal and abstract continuity of the people, nation. It is this abstract nation that inherits eternity, i.e. becomes an essence. Die Dieper Reg shows an interplay between history and the trans-historical eternity. The history depicted in the drama is grounded in an eternal abstraction.

The two central elements identified by most texts as the basis of Afrikaner nationalism are skin colour and the Afrikaans language. The emphasis on language makes Afrikaner nationalism very different from African nationalism with its adoption of English. The African adoption of English in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century reflects an attempt to transcend tribal divisions and the tribal definitions imposed by whites, but it also pointed to a strong identification with British values as embodied in the Christianity of the Missionaries and the Cape parliamentary system which allowed African participation on the basis of property and education. The early nationalist African leaders looked down on the tribal past and embraced modernity. African and Afrikaner nationalism in its early phases were formulated by an educated elite who were often also the founders of their respective literatures in printed form. To the early Afrikaner nationalists the transformation of the Afrikaans language into a written language was of primary importance. This should be seen in the light of the resistance to Afrikaans as language in Dutch and English speaking educated circles. Schreiner saw Afrikaans as the factor that isolated the Afrikaner from the important developments in Europe and as having no literary potential: “so sparse is the vocabulary and so broken are its forms, that it is impossible in the Taal to express a subtle intellectual emotion, or abstract conception, or a wide generalisation; and a man seeking to render a scientific, philosophic, or poetical work in the Taal, would find his task impossible”(1992:78). Gustav Preller’s acclamation of Eugène Marais poem “Wintenag” in 1905, and the emphasis in the first decade of the twentieth century on a metre in Afrikaans poetry that deviates from that of the typical folkish doggerel of the nineteenth century, should be seen as attempts to nurture a type of literature that would repudiate statements like the one by Schreiner.

The transformation of African languages into printed languages preceded the same development in Afrikaans In his Diary Erasmus Smit mentions “a good room for the printing of books in which stood an excellent press” (1972:8) in the missionary’s residence at Moroka, the Barolong Chief’s capital city. Smit made this observation in 1837, four decades before the movement to transform Afrikaans into a printed and literary language. The printing press in Moroka’s city is also an index of the idyllic and petit bourgeois appearance of this city. According to Smit this was due to missionary efforts. He was apparently unaware of the large Tswana cities such as Lattakoo that existed about two decades before his diary entry and which were destroyed by banditry and invasions.

Missionaries established printing presses at a number of places in the early nineteenth century. One of the first printing presses was set up amongst the Xhosa in the Tyumie valley in 1824. It moved to Gwali in 1826 and was named Lovedale. Lovedale became an important centre for the training of African intellectuals. Printing presses were also set up at Beersheba in 1841 and at Morija in 1861 amongst the Sotho. These printing presses published the first grammars of these languages as well as religious books, newspapers and eventually important literary texts. At the missionary schools, especially Lovedale, an educated elite developed who played a major role in the development of modem African nationalism. The first office bearers of the African Native National Congress, John Dube, Pixley Seme, Sol Plaatje and Walter Rubusana, were all mission-educated. These office bearers also played a pivotal role in the development of literature written by Africans.

The transformation of Afrikaans into a printed language and Afrikaner nationalism followed basically the same developmental pattern as African literature and nationalism. The impulse to establish printed African literatures came from missionary stations. Similarly the impetus for an organisation to promote Afrikaans as printed language was religious. According to one of the moving figures, Arnoldus Pannevis, there was a need to have the Bible translated into Afrikaans especially for the Afrikaans-speaking coloureds. S. J. du Toit, who was a student of Pannevis, saw Afrikaans not only as the language of the coloureds, but as the national language of white Afrikaners. On 14 August 1875 he initiated the establishment of the Association of Real Afrikaners (Genootskap van Regte Afrikaners) whose main aim was to develop Afrikaner nationalism, to transform Afrikaans into a printed language and to translate the Bible into Afrikaans. This association printed the first Afrikaans newspaper, Die Patriot, and published Afrikaans grammars, literary texts, histories, etc. Similarly grammars, religious texts, newspapers and eventually more substantial literary texts marked the output of the missionary stations amongst Africans.

There are also significant differences between the Afrikaner and the African movements. The African movement emphasised humanity united on Christian principles. This found expression in the rejection and conflict with the tribal past and in an acceptance of British subjecthood. This is apparent in statements such as “Onward! Upward! into the higher places of civilisation and Christianity – not backwards into the slump of darkness nor downward into the abyss of antiquated tribal systems” (John Dube in Walshe 1987:38) and “We have come … not to ask for independence, but for an admission into British citizenship as British subjects so that we may also enjoy the free institutions which are the foundations and pillars of this magnificent Commonwealth” (Mvabaza, Thema and Ngcayiya, in Walshe 1987: 64). In contrast to this, early Afrikaner nationalism reacted against British subjecthood, and emphasised its separateness. Rooted in the apparent modernism of petit bourgeois republicanism this nationalism nevertheless saw itself as against the emerging modern, material (capitalist) and urban civilisation of the late nineteenth century, while promoting folkish, traditional and rural values. The language was seen as a carrier of these values and this Afrikaans language and literature became the logocentric medium through which the Afrikaner soul was made present. The language was according to D.F. Malan a question of the “existence or non-existence” of the Afrikaner people (Pienaar 1920:2) while Gustav Preller stated that a language gives an “image of the thoughts of a people, a continuously changing diorama of the inner consciousness of a person” (Pienaar 1920:18).

Afrikaner nationalism was promoted and became dominant in South Africa especially because of the privileged position of the Afrikaner with regard to the franchise and parliamentary power that they had exercised since the establishment of the Union. Africans were excluded from this representative politics. This contributed greatly to the Afrikaner and African’s conceptions of identity in the twentieth century.

Afrikaans Language, Literature and Identity

The following essay explores the close interrelationship between Afrikaner identity, the Afrikaans language and literature.

The first section focuses on the way in which the Afrikaans language was made the constitutive element of the political identity of the Afrikaner, an identity consciously constructed in the early years of the twentieth century by Afrikaner intellectuals. In this process the Afrikaans language was used as a central mobilising factor and was made into a question of the “existence or non-existence” of the Afrikaner (D.F. Malan in Pienaar 1920: 2).

The second section explores the imaginary nature of identity. Through the analogical use of the theory of linguistic identity in the chapter entitled “Identities Realities, Values” from Saussure’s Course in General Linguistics (1981), identity is seen as a value rather than as a concrete material entity.

The last section relates the development of Afrikaans literature and Afrikaner nationalism to the establishment of Afrikaans as written and printed language. This process is compared with similar developments in other South African languages.


Early attempts to link the development of the Afrikaner’s national consciousness with the Afrikaans language include S.J. du Toit’s Geskiedenis van the Afrikaanse Taalbeweging ver vrind en vyand (1880) and the founding in 1890 of theZuid-Afrikaanse Taalbond (South African Language Association) with the express purpose of promoting knowledge of the people’s language (“volkstaal”) and developing a national consciousness (Van Niekerk 1920:26).

However it was only in the early years of the twentieth century that Afrikaans was made synonymous with the very being of a particular section of the white speakers of the language. Gustav Preller in an article Laat’t ons toch ernst wezen” (Let it be our serious concern) from De Volkstem of June 1905 said:

(The language) is not an arbitrary construction of grammatical rules and laws, no printed thing, no series of black markings on a piece of paper, but the image of the thoughts of a people, a continuously changing diorama of the inner consciousness of the people (Pienaar 1920:18).

It is during this period – when people like Preller made language synonymous with the existence, the thoughts and the “inner” being of the Afrikaner subject – that literature was developed as an important part of the symbiotic intertext of language and identity.

The furtherance of an own literature became one of the main objectives of the second language movement (1905-1925). Literature, at the second congress of the Afrikaans Language Society in December 1908 was seen as one of the chief means by, which the volk could be reconciled with the language. A people without a literature, a people that did not read, was described by Preller as a deaf-and-dumb people. Preller concluded his article “Laat’t ons toch ernst wezen” by quoting Eugène Marais’ poem “Winternag”, proving that “sublime feelings” could be expressed in an Afrikaans literature.

Although the language and the literature came to be seen as essential elements of the character of the people, of the volk, the coincidence of language and national identity was not complete as is shown by General Hertzog’s view that Afrikaans and English speakers who believe in the dictum “South Africa firs” are Afrikaners. This was the dominant view until 1934, when the white purified National Party, which saw Afrikaners exclusively as speakers of Afrikaans, was established.


In the early years of the twentieth century many “Afrikaners” also maintained that Dutch and not Afrikaans was the language of the Afrikaner. In the Geref. Maandblad of Sept. 1905 a Prof Marais said referring to Afrikaans:

The kitchen language which is glorified in Pretoria … is not the language of the cultured Afrikaner (Pienaar 1920:23).

Therefore, to the Dutch-orientated Afrikaners, Afrikaans had the image of being the language of the lower strata of society, of being a proletarian language, or the language of a people fast becoming proletarianised in the cities. On the other hand the language was essential in the communication with and the mobilisation of the white Afrikaans-speaking working class. Preller said in this regard:

The totality of our people of which a large section is slowly degenerating into an ignorant proletariat – these we want to uplift, we want to communicate with them through newspaper and book (Pienaar 1920:33).

The attempts to make the Afrikaans-speaking working class participate in nationalist and racist cultural programmes were not always successful. In the 1930s Johanna Cornelius, president of the Garment Workers Union, attacked the attempts by the FAK (The Federation of Afrikaans Cultural Societies) to co-opt the Afrikaans working class. She called it a “plot of capitalists and employers to keep workers backward and fomenting race hatred” (Du Toit 1978:41).


The symbiosis of Afrikaner nationalist ideology and literature was also threatened by divisions amongst Afrikaner literary critics and authors on the issue of aesthetics in relation to ideology. The debate in 1924 concerning the alien references to Greek mythology in Toon van den Heever’s first volume of poetry Gedigte (1919) initiated this division. This division re-emerged in the 1960s and 1970s when the Nationalist government promulgated more stringent censorship laws. Afrikaans writers, organised in the Afrikaans Writer’s Guild, came into direct conflict with the government on this issue.

The symbiotic relationship between literature, language and identity, which early nationalists like Preller tried to establish, was not as complete as is often supposed. The following section explores the imaginary nature of Afrikaner identity, and the way in which this identity is constituted by an unconscious other.


Ferdinand de Saussure’s discussion of linguistic identity in the chapter Identities Realities, Values” from Course in General Linguistics (1981) had far-reaching implications for other disciplines such as structuralist anthropology and poetics.

When does one recognise one linguistic unit as being the same as another in a different context, or attribute identical meaning to the same “slice of sound’ (Saussure 1981:108) in two different sentences? Answering these questions Saussure concluded that the material aspect of a sign (the sound) does not primarily determine identity. The word “Afrikaner”, for instance, although pronounced identically in different sentences and contexts, can express different ideas: apart from referring to a nationality, it can indicate a type of ox or flower. On the other hand, two dissimilar words, “Afrikaner” and “Boer”, can refer to the same concept. Saussure extends his argument by drawing comparisons with facts taken from “outside of speech”:

we speak of the identity of two “8:25 p.m. Geneva-to-Paris” trains that leave at twenty-four hour intervals. We feel that it is the same train each day, yet everything – the locomotive, coaches, personnel is probably different. Or if a street is demolished, then rebuilt, we say that it is the same street even though in a material sense, perhaps nothing of the old one remains (1981:108).

Similarly, immigrants, emigrants, deaths and births point to a degree of material flux in the concept of a nation. The linguistic sign according to Saussure, is in essence a “value” determined by context and the system within which it is located. He explains the relation between identity, value and matter using the example of a chess game. Referring to the “material make-up” of a knight as element of the game he says:

Certainly not, for by its material make-up – outside the square and the other conditions of the game – it means nothing to the player., it becomes a real, concrete element only when endowed with value and wedded to it. Suppose that the piece happens to be destroyed or lost during the game. Can it be replaced by an equivalent piece? Certainly. Not only another knight but even a figure shorn of any resemblance to a knight can be declared identical provided the same value is attributed to it. We see then that in semiological systems like language, where elements hold each other in equilibrium in accordance with fixed rules, the notion of identity blends with that of value and vice versa (198 1:110).

Afrikaner identity does not refer to a fixed material substance or essence, but is a socially and conventionally constructed value within discourse, which changes as history impacts on this discourse: the very existence of the language movements and other institutions which shaped Afrikaner identity indicates its discursive construction in history. In an interesting passage from Dolf van Niekerk’s novel Die Son Struikel (1973) a student, caught during the rebellion of 1914, tells of his wish to become a politician who would teach his people “what they are” (1973:8). This passage brings out the artificial nature of the identity: identity is not something people have within themselves consciously, or that they are born with; it is something they have to be taught, a value that they assume.

Value when ascribed to the term “Afrikaner” implies:

1. a conventional and arbitrary relation between the sound-image “Afrikaner” and the concept “Afrikaner” at a particular point in history;

2. a relation between the concept “Afrikaner” and other similar concepts like “English” or “Zulu”.

Value, then, is governed by the principles of “a dissimilar thing that can be exchanged for the thing of which the value is to be determined” (Saussure 1981:115) (the sign of an identity and its concept) and similar things (various identities) that are compared. The second relation presupposes that identity functions within a world system of identities, and the relationship between these identities within the system is continuously changing because of conflicting economic and ideological forces. Ideological and economic struggles define the value, or values, evoked by identity.

Identity points to both diachrony (the succession of definitions of the Afrikaner in history) and synchrony (the definition dominant in a particular period). Herman Giliomee in the

paper “The Beginnings of Afrikaner Ethnic Consciousness, 1850-1912” from Leroy Vail’s The Creation of Tribalism in Southern A rica (1989) gives a list of such a succession of definitions. According to him the term Afrikaner was used:

1. in the early eighteenth century for slaves or ex-slaves of African descent;

2. in 1830 for those “whether English or Dutch who inhabited the land” (1989:22);

3. but still in this period and thereafter to refer to the half bred descendants of slaves.

Synchrony, the “axis of simultaneities, which stands for the relations of coexisting things and from which the intervention of time is excluded” (Saussure 1981:81) would refer to the definition the Afrikaner at a particular time in relation to other group definitions within the system of national identities, but also to the internal structure of values implied by the identity in a fixed period.

The dominant definition of the Afrikaner in the period of Apartheid implies skin colour and the language Afrikaans – the definition which became dominant after 1934.

This definition was the consequence of earlier, though not definitive formulations by influential authors like Langenhoven who saw Afrikaans as specifically a “white man’s language” and the Afrikaner as exclusively white. In 1914 at a meeting of the Akademie he said:

(Afrikaans) is our most splendid glory, our highest possession: the one and only white man’s language, which was made in South Africa and did not conic ready-made from overseas … it is the one bond which unites us as a nation: the expressed soul of our people (Pienaar 1920:63).

This definition is contradicted by the mixed origins betrayed in the diachrony which operates as an unconscious. It is an unconscious in the sense that it is an index of successive events that have been repressed; in the sense of being a “chapter of history that is marked by a blank or occupied by a falsehood” (Lacan 1982:50) or which, in the words of Lacan, can be retrieved “in monuments”. “in archival documents”, “in semantic evolution”, “in traditions” and in “traces that are inevitably preserved by the distortions necessitated by the linking of the adulterated chapter to the chapters surrounding if’ (1982:50). An unravelling of the history would at the same time be an unravelling of the unconscious, of the “historical turning-points” (Lacan 1982:50) which constitute an identity.

The diachrony (unconscious) of the Afrikaner betrays racial hybridisation and contact. This is seen in the number of Malay-Portuguese and Khoi-Khoi words contained in the Affikaans vocabulary. It is further reflected in grammatical features such as the disappearance of inflections.

When J. Lion Cachet identifies the Aflikaans language with a racially pure “arme Boerenooi” in his poem “Die Afrikaanse Taal” (Opperman 1983:14) he is not aware that the word “nooi” discloses the slave or Malay-Portuguese contribution to the language: the word “nooi” is derived from the Malay “njonjah’ and the Portuguese “donna”.

The Malay-Portuguese origins of the word “nooi” stand in stark contrast to the message of the poem which states that the Cinderella “Afrikaans” is of noble European ancestry:

From Holland my father came

To sunny Africa;

From France, with its vines

My beloved, pretty mother (Opperman 1983:14).

In contrast to the racially exclusive image of the language, the language betrays the history of another. The language, which in the poem is supposed to symbolise the racially pure essence of the “Afrikaner” contains traces of the repressed other. In the Afrikaners’ language is inscribed a history of contact and hybridisation.

The repression of the racially “other ” in Afrikaner identity is indicative of the construction of this identity for the European “other” or the attempts to make this identity conform with An European identity. The Afrikaner identity was developed in a period when European “civilisation” was a central motif, implying the right to democratic government, while everything African was stigmatised. In a context where Afrikaans was scolded for being a “Hotnot’s language” or the bastardised language of “Asian and Mozambican maids” (Pienaar 1920:66) the supporters of the language reacted by emphasising the racial purity of the language. The racism which was made an element of the identity speaks of the way in which the African aspects of the identity were socially traumatised by the discourses of the European Other. Consequently the African and Asian origins of the language were underplayed in the many debates on the emergence of the language by the nationalists. Various institutions were further established to purge the language from all traces of “barbarism” (Pienaar 1920:43).

The early Afrikaner Nationalists, especially in the first two decades of this century, realised that Dutch could not be maintained in South Africa as a means of communication; that the only way to resist the imperialist language policies of the British was by propagating a simplified form of Dutch: an Afrikaans based on the model of Dutch. The 1876 dictum of the first language movement “We write as we speak’ (Die Afrikaanse Patriot 1974:3 facsimile of 1876 edition) became in 1903 “Spell according to pronunciation, but do not deviate without reason from the spelling rules of High Dutch” (Pienaar 1920:12).

The identification with Dutch, instead of English, as European model indicates the threatened economic position of the Afrikaans- or Dutch-speaking small town lawyers, teachers, shop owners and dominees who were losing their clientele to the English dominated cities.

To make Dutch the model was to give Afrikaans European status. There were further conscious efforts by Afrikaner cultural organisations to construct a standard language which was divorced from the Afrikaans of the street and the Afrikaans of the white and black working class. According to Preller, Afrikaans had to reflect only “the sounds heard where Afrikaans is spoken in its most pure form” (Pienaar 1920:123). In this process the development of Afrikaans as a written language played an essential role.


The transformation of Afrikaans into a written language illustrates the process that Derrida called logocentrism (Of Grammatology 1984). He defines logocentrism as the “metaphysics of phonetic writing… which was fundamentally… nothing but the most original and powerful ethnocentrism, in the process of imposing itself upon the world” (1984:3). Logocentrism refers to:

1. the location of the truth within the ego of the individual as thinking subject, to self-consciousness and the internal word in its presumed nearness to the truth, and

2. the expansion of Christianity or truth located in the transcendental God (“The sign and divinity have the same place and time of birth” Derrida 1984:14).

Logocentrism in South Africa relates to the orthographic activities of missionaries in their conversion of the “heathen” languages into written languages so that the Bible could be translated and read by the people speaking these languages. The first evidence of this was the list of Khoi-Khoi words and the translation into Khoi-Khoi of the Lord’s Prayer, The Ten Commandments and the Confession of Faith which N. Witzen conveyed to the German philosopher GM. Leibniz in October 1697 (Nienaber 1963:121).

Logocentrism refers to the very status of a language as a language. Before the introduction of writing into Afrikaans, Afrikaans was not considered a language. It was seen as an “impoverished, dissonant gibberish that is offensive to the ears” (Van Niekerk 1920:9) and which would plunge its speakers into the darkness of barbarism (Van Niekerk 1929:9); it was seen as a language in which it was disrespectful to address God (Van Niekerk 1920:9) and originated with the lower classes in the back streets of Amsterdam (Van Niekerk 1920:23). It was all exterior: the lack of a tradition of phonetic writing implied a lack of memory, truth, being: all concepts which evokes an image of interiority.

Afrikaans had to be transformed into a respectable language, had to be established within the metaphysics of logocentrism. This happened on three levels:

1. transcribing an oral language into a written language;

2. transforming it into a language of the Book by translating the Bible into it; and

3. making it the language of the inner voice of the individual and canonised writer.

This process has many points of comparison with other South Affican languages. Xhosa was transformed into a written language by missionaries at Lovedale as early as 1820 and Sotho at Morija in 1868. The process in Afrikaans started with the establishment of the Genootskap van Regte Afrikaners (GRA or Association of Real Afrikaners) in August 1875.

The establishment of the GRA developed from Arnoldus Pannevis’ suggestion that the Bible should be translated into Afrikaans specifically for the coloured population. The British and Foreign Bible society was not sympathetic to the suggestion and in a letter to Pannevis stated:

we are by no means inclined to perpetuate jargons by printing scriptures in them (Steyn 1980:137).

Pannevis attended the founding meeting of the GRA, but never became an active member. S.J. du Toit, the leader of the movement, was a student of Pannevis.

In contrast to Pannevis’ view of Afrikaans as a coloured language, the GRA saw itself as representing the “20 000 white Afrikaners” (Die Afrikaanse Patriot 1974:8) who were not Anglicised in the 70 years subsequent to the British take-over of the administration of the Cape in 1812. The aim of the GRA was to elevate Afrikaans to the status of a written language and in this way transform what they saw as a “deaf-and-dumb” (Die Afrikaanse Patriot 1974:7) people into a political force.

The objective of transforming Afrikaans into a written language was realised in the publication of the periodical Die Afrikaanse Patriot. It was a monthly which appeared for the first time on 15 Jan. 1876. It contained many examples of poetry and articles on customs, traditions, history and the language itself.

Other projects which laid the foundations of Afrikaans as a written language were the printing of grammars, vocabularies, dictionaries and alternative history books. S.J. du Toit’s Die Geskiedenis van ons Land, in die Taal van ons Volk(1877) was a conscious attempt to rewrite South African history from an Afrikaner’s perspective.

Similar types of books and journals appeared in the other South African languages: John Tengu Jabavu, one of the first African nationalists, became the editor of the Imvo Zabantsundu which was launched in Nov. 1884. The Xhosa grammar A Systematic Vocabulary of the Kaffrarian Language in Two Parts; to which is Prefixed an Introduction to Kaffrarian Grammar of 1826 predated by a few decades the first grammars in Afrikaans such as the Eerste Beginsels van die Afrikaanse Taal of 1876 and Fergelykende Taalkunde Fan Afrikaans en Engels of 1882. In the editorial of the first Die A frikaanse Patriot Afrikaners are urged to write Afrikaans by making reference to the fact that other African languages were in the process of becoming written languages:

Write your language! They are writing Kaffir languages and Bushmen clicks presently. Why should we then smother our language? (1974:3).

Like William Wellington Gqoba’s Imbale yaseMbo which gives “a historical account of the scattering of the tribes under Chaka’s reign” (Gérard 1971:37) and “which illustrates a budding awareness of the interdependence of the black peoples faced with the European threat throughout the subcontinent’ (Gérard 1971:37), S.J. du Toit’s Die Geskiedenis van ons Land, in die Taal van ons Volk (1877) represents the premature awakening of a broader South African nationalism. This must explain du Toit’s anti-war propaganda during the Anglo-Boer war and his support for Rhodes.

The many points of contact between Afrikaans and the other African languages in the process whereby they became logocentric languages must be explored further. Printed literatures came to represent particular relationships between poets, national leaders and collective movements. Logocentrism seems to be inscribed in nationalism.

Individual poets were the heroes (Freud 1985b: 170) who elaborated national myths which transformed groups into cohesive entities. Poets like Totius, Jan Celliers, N.P. van Wyk Louw and D.J. Opperman shaped to some degree the collective psychology of the Afrikaner. Tiyo Soga, Sol Plaatje, John Dube and A.C. Jordan did the same for the African nationalist movements. The work of these Afrikaans and African poets was only possible because of the transformation of their respective languages into writing and because of the accompanying logocentric metaphysics.

The respective anthems, the GRA’s “Die Afrikaanse Volkslied” and the ANC’s “Nkosi

Sikelel’i-Aflika” epitomise the comparative positions of the two opposing nationalisms within logocentrism. Both songs see God, that evasive indeterminable source of Western metaphysics, as the protector of the people.

Both show a direct model of the Oedipal Family: God as the Father standing in relation to the people as children. He is the transcendental origin of their melancholic self-alienation. He has become inscribed in their languages. Their languages no longer represent an exterior, worldly, unselfconscious state; no longer did these languages exist in heathendom, as the languages of sailors, slaves, nomadic farmers and tribes outside the boundaries of Western metaphysics.


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