Old Structures, New Windows: Storytelling and Reconciliation in Post-apartheid South African Literature

Susan Mann
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Storytelling is central, not only to many religious practices, but also to the African tradition. In his book Anthills of the Savannah , Chinua Achebe says, ‘The story is our escort; without it, we are blind.’ We understand ourselves, and others through narratives. Through story, and its ability to provide cultural context and meaning, we can grasp and integrate information that may otherwise be foreign or threatening. Storytelling thus becomes an effective tool to reflect, heal, and shift cultural perspectives.

However, in a South African context, in which the Truth and Reconciliation Commission served as a platform for forging national unity, the links between story and reconciliation can be problematic. The dissemination of stories, particularly those of a painful and personal nature, raises questions of ownership and exploitation.

This paper discusses the possibilities of storytelling and reconciliation in post-apartheid South African literature by exploring various opposing viewpoints within the context of several new South African novels. It takes and weighs the views of two writer-critics on the status of South African literature today, and questions how and whether post-apartheid South African literature is capable of playing a role, intentionally or otherwise, in shifting and reshaping old perspectives.

Keywords: Storytelling, Narrative, Reconciliation, Truth and Reconciliation Commission, TRC, Post-apartheid Literature
Stream: Art and Human Rights
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: Old Structures, New Windows

Susan Mann

University of Cape Town
South Africa

Susan Mann is a writer and researcher, currently conducting research at the University of Cape Town. She worked in the media industry for eleven years and taught at UCT's Centre for Film and Media for five. Her first novel was published by Random House in 2004 and translated into French and Swedish, and her second is due out in March 2007.

Ref: A06P0216