South Africa:
Cultural and Gender Identities
under the Influence of
Njabulo Ndebele
 A quiz first ; Schedule Adjustment
General Introd:
– Factors of Identity
– Njabulo Nedebele
Questions for Discussion
“The Prophetess”
– The Boy vs. the Prophetess
– The Prophetess’ Lessons
– The Passengers on the Bus
– The Boy’s Street Experience & his Growth
“The Music of the Violin”
– Gender vs. Nation
– Education: Racial and Cultural Issues
Note & References
Schedule Change
South African stories in
thematic order
1. Cultural/Social Causes
a. "The Prophetess"
b. "The Music of the Violin“
c. Cry, the Beloved Country
2. Anti-Apartheid
a. "Amnesty“
b. "The Prisoner who Wore Glasses”
c. Cry Freedom
3. Violence– “The Day of the Riots”
4. post-Apartheid period – Soweto Green,
Selected Text
Wk 1 – “Amnesty”
Wk 2 (11/26)– “Violin” &
Wk 3 (12/3)-- “The Day of
the Riots,” Yesterday,
Introd to the Caribbean
Wk 4 – Soweto Green
Schedule Change
Caribbean stories in thematic
1. Early 19th century Jamaica/Martinique:
(pre-)emancipation -Wide Sargasso Sea
2. Early 20th century Martinique: Sugar
Cane Alley
3. 1950’s Jamaica (independence 1962):
4. 1950’s Antigua (independence 1981)-Annie John
5. Contemporary society –”Bright Thursday”;
“Children of the Sea” (Haiti)
Wk 3 (12/3)-- “The Day of the
Riots,” Yesterday, Introd to
the Caribbean Area
Wk 4 (12/10)-- Soweto Green;
Wk 5 (12/17)-- Wide Sargasso
Wk 6 (12/24)-- "Bright
Thursdays“ & Sugar Cane
Alley – both to do with
South Africa: Map
Various Racial Identities between
Assimilationism & Separatism
Gangsters on
the Streets
Vukani &
His sister
The Jewish
whites  Boers
Vukani’s mother,
Dr. Zwane and
his wife
Identity: The Other Factors
 Culture –
Traditional culture (e.g. the prophetess, her song
and her holy water; inbreeding or close-kin marriage)
Western culture (e.g. violin, ballet, Western foods)
Education (Bantu education – of Afrikaan?)
Gender – sexism –in both stories
 Class – “Violin” & “Prophetess” (middle-class;
home vs. street)
Njabulo Ndebele
Post-1976 writers
 Ndebele's writings -constitutes “a return to more
traditional concerns with
narrative complexity and
literary quality."
 Fools: The township life seen
through the eyes of a young
and sensitive
protagonist. (e.g. “The
Prophetess”; “The Violin” )
Post-1976 Generation –according to Coetzee
 Njabulo S. Ndebele: Pay more attention to individual
psychology and the influences of tradition.
 Mbulo Mzamane – “street writer”…
“Their literary descent is not from the Afro-Caribbean
Negritude movement and the West African novel but
from a homebred South African journalistic tradition of
gritty realism. Their English is lavish, careless, without
nuance; in Mzamane's case it bears the marks of a
second language. Their stories are probably more in
tune with the mood of the townships today--angry,
impatient, violent--than are the stories in Fools… ”
Ndebele on Children
"South African literature has generally handled the
images of childhood as social criticism:
an infant abandoned by its mother.
Friends going against each other.
the entrance of the young in national politics
education affected; (i.e. Soweto uprising)
Reconstruction should begin with the recovery of
childhood and innocence. (source: http://www.uniulm.de/~rturrell/antho4html/Ndebele.html )
1. On what is the boy’s attention focused when
he visits the prophetess? Are they signs of
her spirituality?
dog; darkness, vine, his own sensations, memory,
doek (African headscarf, 11); camphor (12);
her coughing;
2. The people on the bus – How do they relate to
each other? And to the prophetess? How
are they different from each other?
the other women
the big woman
the man with a balaclava (Woollen hat);
the young man at the back
the young man with
immaculate dress
3. Compared with the people’s discussion, how does the
boy relate to the prophetess? What breaks the spell the
prophetess has on him? What does she teach him?
What does the ending mean?
Re: A story of initiation. The boy gains self-confidence.
The other issues: Sangoma + Christianity; home vs. danger
on the street.
4. Do you see any traces of apartheid in this story, or seeds
of the anti-apartheid movements?
"The Music of the Violin"
Gender - How are the two women (Vukani’s mother and Beatrice)
different from the two men (Vukani’s father and Dr. Zwane
in the opening scene? What are they each concerned with?
 How are Vukani and Toboho treated differently? How does
Vukani respond to having visitors at home? Why is he so
 In the two central scenes of conflicts (among the kids, and
between the kids and the parents) how are the issues of
gender and race mixed together? Do you have similar
conflicts with the other kids or with your parents?
Education - How is “education”—school education and the private
lessons-- presented in this story?
Time for Group Discussion!
“The Prophetess” vs. the boy
The boy
 fearful of -- dog; darkness, vine,
 attentive to -- his own sensations (shiver,
warmth from the dog fur), the prophetess’ doek
(African headscarf, 11), her coughing (12)
 feel relaxed by – the smell of camphor (12); the
mats ( his mother); her smile and her knowing
his mother (14), memory of his mother (16)
 touched by –the religious ambience, her content
and her touch (which smells of soap and wax)
the prophetess’ lessons
 Learn and serve 14
 Always listen to new things; then try to create
the song – “We too will survive the fire that is
 What grows out of the barren wastes has a
strength (15)
 blessing the water with “the flower of newness”
and faith (16)
 we are all made of all that is in the world 17
The Other Views of the
the bus passenger
the other women – “really
happened” like a chorus
the big woman --- evidence?
the young man at the back – “heard” the young man with
it; “love is having women like you” immaculate dress – “We laugh
the man with a balaclava– cursing at everything.” No proof
 The mother – try all the possibilities
Street Experience
 Timi discusses with Biza about a girl the latter
claims that he’d “conquered”
a contrast between the two kinds of “liquid”
The boy’s sense of superiority (20)
 Accident—bump into a bicycle
feels pain first, then sees/hears the bike-rider
then he realizes the loss of the water
The Boy’s Growth
sees thru’ the macho type of heroism
 Controls his sense of pain; conquers his fear of
being punished because of telling a white lie.
 takes the prophetess’ lesson to heal the mother
with “the water in the world” (24)
"The Music of the
Gender vs. Nation
 The men are condescending to the women and
their “Housewives’ League.” (97; 98)
 “Peace, women of Africa”; their laughter;
 Vukani’s father– African nationalism. (96-97)
Education vs. Race/Class
 Oppressive/Conformist:
Vukani’s homework (104)
Ms. Yende 100 red dress = violin;
the mother (100 how lucky he was) turns her son
into Mozart; Mrs. Zwane  her daughter into
the principal – stone the dog (101)
 Resistant –
Mabaso –the teacher at a bush school; dog:
chained dog, hungry dog; wandering dog; p. 101
Vukani in between the gangs and
the “educated”
 Conflict I: the other kids’ responses to the violin
and his status:
his violin stolen p. 101 – “inspector’s son”
“music man” pp. 104 – Bhuka and the copper
Vukani in between the gangs and
the “educated”
 Conflict 2:
reasons –
1) V. wanted to escape 97;
2) His anxiety and latent need for rebellion
(book turned into flame 99 & Doksi p. 100);
dream p. 108 (and need for be free)
wish to talk to Toboho
Toboho’s rebellion
the mother’s scolding Toboho, and her view of
“relatives” -- 110
Conclusion – a central theme
 Home vs. Street
street – represented by conformism, sexism and
home – need of care (mother or sister); another
kind of conformism (white assimilationism)
The Children of Soweto –
may be violent, jealous, sexist and ignorant
may in turn learn to find strength from a traditional
belief in nature, or a balance between tradition and
Western culture.
Notes (1) Holy water used by
Black Christianity
 Many such worshippers take 'holy' water to
induce vomiting, allegedly to redress perceived
misfortune or demonic possession, or anxieties
caused by new challenges or psychosomatic
disturbances, or to attend to the known and
unknown causes of social deviancy. As
Comaroff argues, "sickness and afflictions [are]
also religious experiences" (Anderson
 Coetzee, J.M. “Fools and other stories.” The New
Republic, Dec 22, 1986 v195 p36(3).
 Maithufi, Sope. ”Black Christianity as intellectual
resource in Njabulo Ndebele's Fools and Other
Stories” English in Africa, May 2004 v31 i1 p139(9)