Writing ‘whiteness’: Representing the Afrikaner in post-apartheid South Africa – a comparative study of Athol Fugard’s “Sorrows and Rejoicings” (2002) and Jason Xenopolous’ “Promised Land” (2002)

By Tamar Meskin and Tanya van der Walt.

Published by The Arts Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

This paper interrogates the dramatic representation of white Afrikaner identity in two post-apartheid South African texts: Athol Fugard’s play, “Sorrows and Rejoicings” (2002) and Jason Xenopolous’ film, “Promised Land” (2002). Race, as one element of identity construction, has been a problematic area of analysis within the South African context, given the legacy of apartheid. Globally, whiteness has often been seen as normative: notions of whiteness have been seen as transparent, and have been presented in an uninterrogated manner (Delgado and Stefancic, 1997). Melissa Steyn (2001) has applied such ideas to the South African context with specific reference to post-apartheid white identity constructions, which are complicated by the recognition of two different white identity frameworks: English speaking and Afrikaner. White Afrikaner identity is a contested field of study; perceptions around it are inscribed with values relating to language, religion, history, and land, among others. Such perceptions need to be interrogated. The post-apartheid context has demanded a re-thinking of all white identity constructions, including that of the Afrikaner, whose position has often been associated, rightly or wrongly, with apartheid policies. The two texts considered in this paper contain examinations of whiteness in post-apartheid South Africa, offering a perspective on constructions of Afrikaner identity, and exploring the challenges to which it is exposed in the current context. The paper offers a comparative discussion of the representations of Afrikaner identity contained in the two texts, within the framework of identity theory, race debates, and the post-colonial context that is contemporary South Africa.

Keywords: Race, Identity, Post-Apartheid South African Drama, Athol Fugard, “Sorrows and Rejoicings”, Jason Xenopolous, “Promised Land”

International Journal of the Arts in Society, Volume 4, Issue 5, pp.203-216. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.169MB).

Tamar Meskin

Lecturer, Drama and Performance Studies, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa

Tamar Meskin has been a lecturer in the Drama and Performance Studies programme at the University of KwaZulu-Natal since 1995. Her undergraduate studies were conducted at the University of Natal (Durban) where she graduated cum laude. Awarded the Emma Smith Overseas Scholarship, she then went on to complete her MFA in Acting at the University of California, Los Angeles, where she was awarded the Jack Nicholson Prize for Acting. Since returning to South Africa, she has directed over 30 productions, including nine major Shakespearean productions. Recently she directed Harold Pinter’s “The Lover” for which she was nominated for a Durban Theatre Award. She has co-written productions and also performs when she can, most recently in John Peilmeier’s “Agnes of God” and Marsha Norman’s “‘Night, Mother” for which she received a nomination for a Durban Theatre Award. She has presented papers at several conferences, most recently at the IFTR Conference in Lisbon, Portugal (2009) and at the AfTA Conference in Northampton, UK (2009). Her primary research areas are directing, and teaching acting, directing, and writing to students, as well as explorations of multi/intercultural performance practices.

Tanya van der Walt

Lecturer, Drama Studies Programme, Department of Television, Drama and Production Studies, Durban University of Technology, Durban, South Africa

Tanya van der Walt lectures in Drama Studies at Durban University of Technology, specializing in the training of performers and directors in theatre. Her undergraduate studies were conducted at the University of Natal (Durban) and she holds an MA in Drama from Rhodes University. Her career in theatre has included such diverse activities as stage management, lighting design, arts administration, marketing/publicity, acting, directing, writing, and teaching. She also has extensive experience in formulating and facilitating Theatre-in-Education projects. Recently she directed Marsha Norman’s “‘Night, Mother” for which she was nominated for a Durban Theatre Award, and John Peilmeier’s “Agnes of God”. She has presented papers at several conferences, most recently at the IFTR Conference in Lisbon, Portugal (2009) and at the AfTA Conference in Northampton, UK (2009).

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