Histories of the Everyday. Domestic Workers in the South African Literary Archive

Ena Jansen


This article departs from the premise that the South African literary ar­chive has many gaps concerning the experiences of black people and argues that these gaps can perhaps be partially filled by ‘mining’ old and recent literary texts by white Afrikaans authors which feature domestic worker characters. Domes­tic workers have a pivotal role as ‘outsiders within’; as people with an exceptional knowledge of both black and white culture. Because contributions by black au­thors to the South African archive covering the twentieth century are limited, this article argues that interactions in the intercultural contact zone (Pratt 1992) of ‘maid & madam’ situations as described by white authors can be studied in an ef­fort to extend the existing archive. In addition, the literary works under discus­sion here allow for a focus on the relations between people as well as different re­sponses to historical change. Ways in which historically important events such as voting day 1994, the Rebellion of 1914, the assassination of prime minister H.F. Verwoerd in 1966, Soweto 1976, township violence and ongoing post­apartheid rural poverty are represented, serve as ‘raw material’. A few older and more recent literary works are discussed in ‘pairs’ or ‘groups’ in order to make comparisons. The works discussed include novels by J. van Melle and Jan van Tonder, André P. Brink and J.M. Coetzee, as well as work by Elsa Joubert and Antjie Krog.

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© Tijdschrift voor Nederlandse Taal- en Letterkunde | ISSN (print): 0040-7550 | eISSN (online): 2212-0521