Berigte van weerstand by Emma Huismans

Louise Vijoen, Department of Afrikaans and Dutch, University of Stellenbosch

Part 6 of the author's " Postcolonialism and Recent Women's Writing in Afrikaans," which first appeared in World Literature Today and which appears here with the kind permission of the author and Dr. William Riggan, editor of that publication. Copyright, of course, remains with the author and World Literature Today. Many thanks to Eric Dickens for suggesting the inclusion of this important essay.

Berigte van weerstand [Reports of resistance] by Emma Huismans was published in 1990 shortly after the unbanning of the ANC, but looks back on the author's experiences during the political struggle in Cape Town in 1985 and 1986 when she worked as journalist for the publication Crisis News (Odendaal 1990: 45). These stories with their strongly factual content focus on the issues of political struggle, race and language that are usually associated with the oppositional phase of postcolonialism. The narrator in this collection of interconnected stories takes an active part in the political struggle, writing newspaper reports about the political crisis, carrying guns, nursing the wounded and doing paper work like taking down statements from victims of political violence.

Huismans' stories bring to light several complications in the dialogue between race and gender in the South African context. Although she is a privileged white, the narrator identifies herself actively with the struggle of the racially oppressed in South Africa. This does not however mean that her position as a white woman in the struggle is unproblematic. This can be deduced from remarks like: "Nog 'n jaar van swart en bruin agterdog oor wie is wie in die struggle en freaked out whiteys wat iets probeer doen" [Another year of black and coloured suspicion about who is who in the struggle and freaked out whiteys trying to do something] (p.11) and "My usefulness as 'n whitey in die local townships het uitgedien raak. Wit is 'n opvallende kleur" [My usefulness as a whitey in the local townships was wearing thin. White is a conspicuous colour] (p.12). Some of her assignments are also the direct result of her marginality in the struggle as a white person. In the story "Die verhouding" [The affair] she is ordered by her young black comrades in the struggle to eliminate a coloured man, suspected of defecting from the struggle. She realises: "Dis 'n swart-bruin ding hierdie en 'n whitey om die can te carry" [This is a black-coloured-thing with a whitey carrying the can] (p.14). Her conclusion illustrates the dilemma of the person who completes the cross-over between races in times of political upheaval: "Maar commitment is commitment. 'n Opdrag 'n opdrag. En waar sal ek, ex-Afrikaner, môre wees as ek dit nie uitvoer nie?" [But commitment is commitment. An order is an order. And where will I, ex-Afrikaner, be tomorrow if I do not carry out the order?] (p.14).

The narrator's position in the struggle is further compromised by the fact that she is Afrikaans-speaking. Some stories demonstrate that the perception of Afrikaans as language of the oppressor is transferred onto the Afrikaans-speaking narrator despite her commitment to the liberation struggle. She comments that her Boer-descent was "'n byna onuitputlike bron van wantroue" [an inexhaustible source of distrust] and her use of Afrikaans as "'n persoonlike belediging" [a personal insult] (p.80) by one of her black comrades in the struggle. Her identity as an Afrikaans-speaking white is complicated by the revelation in another story that her familiy emigrated from Holland to South Africa when she was five years old. She comments ironically: "Verwoerd was vyf toe hy die eerste keer sy Hollandse voet op Afrikaanse grond gesit het, spot ek. Ek ook. Moet minstens nie ons Afrikanerskap in twyfel trek nie" [Verwoerd was five years old when he first set his Dutch foot on Afrikaans soil, I say jokingly. Me too. At least do not doubt our Afrikaner identity] (p.72). The stories also note the use of Afrikaans by the violent oppressors with devastating candour (p.18) and demonstrate to what extent English came to dominate the jargon of the liberation struggle. In contrast with this the mere writing and publication of these "reports of resistance" in Afrikaans testify to the fact that Afrikaans was also the language of the struggle.

The collection also touches on the nature of the relationship between the political (commitment to the struggle) and the personal (commitment to a love affair). The story "Die verhouding" [The affair] describes an affair between the narrator and a woman who is not fully committed to the struggle (as is evident from bourgeois attributes like a state housing subsidy and two carefully groomed poodles). When the narrator is ordered to shoot the young coloured man they are taking leave of at Johannesburg airport, she shoots her lover's two poodles instead. On the one hand this action is a manifestation of sexual jealousy because her lover is flirting with the young man who is leaving and on the other hand it is an expression of political frustration with the intricacy of struggle politics and her lover's superficial attitude to these issues. Without reducing the importance of either one, the story demonstrates the problematic interaction of the political struggle with personal relationships. The stories also raise questions about the prioritisation of race and gender issues in the political struggle. It is significant that gender is under-emphasised in these stories. The collection contains only three references to the gender of the narrator (pp.56,68,94) and only two references to the position of women in the struggle from which it is clear that the race gets priority before gender in the struggle, even if it is against the better judgment of the narrator (p.56,63). The relative lack of attention for gender issues in these stories can be interpreted in different ways. It can either be read as an indication that race should get preference over gender in the political struggle or a powerful commentary on the undervalued position of women in the struggle. To my mind the problematic position of women is accentuated by the narrator's choice to suppress references to gender, something that also has implications for the lesbian relationships portrayed in some of the stories. Thus the dialogue between race and gender is extended to include the issue of sexuality or gay rights. The struggle for the political rights of the racially oppressed were often given priority over the struggle for gay rights in pre-democratic South Africa, in the same way that the struggle against gender oppression was subordinated by the struggle against racial oppression (Gevisser 1994). The raising of these issues in Huismans' text shows that marginalized discourses like that of women's and gay writing can contribute significantly to a complex and heterogeneous postcolonialism in Afrikaans.

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