AccessMyLibrary provides FREE access to millions of articles from top publications available through your library.
As a result of factors such as its size, history, and proximity to South Africa, the image Swaziland displays to the world has been shaped by the writings of white visitors to a greater degree than most other African countries. For example, while it is hardly imaginable that Joyce Cary would be canonized or even translated in Nigeria, or Karen Blixen in Kenya, a play called A Witch in My Heart by the Rhodesian-born anthropologist Hilda Kuper was adopted as a prescribed text by Swaziland's Ministry of Education following its publication in 1970 and subsequent translation into first isiZulu and then siSwati as Inhlitiyo Ngumatsakatsi. While no longer a staple on the local siSwati syllabus, it is still included on the siSwati Prescribed Book List (alongside plays by Swazi writers Modison Magagula and Sijabulile Nsibandze), which determines the siSwati syllabus for the extremely influential high school International Baccalaureate Diploma Program. Certainly there are many good reasons for the local rejection of Carey and Blixen, not least being the thriving national literary production in Nigeria and, to a lesser degree, Kenya as well, as Roger Kurtz has shown in his study Urban Obsessions, Urban Fears. Unlike the colonial fictions of Carey and Blixen, Hilda Kuper's play was published in postcolonial Swaziland and sanctioned by King Sobhuza himself, who, it has been said, promoted the text as a prescribed book following its translation in 1979. Its canonization is ensured with such an endorsement, and an argument could be made for the play's continuing presence on the grounds that it has helped to bolster a relatively slender Swazi cultural production of fiction, poetry, and drama written in siSwati or in English. If this is the case, as I believe it is, then Swazi readers are left with hardly any immediate and vital local literary expression that might contest Western images of the country, or respond to contemporary experience.
Prose fiction written in siSwati is a relatively recent phenomenon. SiSwati orthography was only introduced and adopted by the Swaziland government in 1969, following what Hugh Macmillan describes as the "exclusive cultural nationalism" (664) that appeared in a variety of forms, including an increased emphasis on the incwala, as King Sobhuza sought to forge a national character separate and independent from South Africa or Britain. However, Sobhuza's traditionalist style "was not a question of clinging to the past, and attempting to recreate a lost world, but rather of selection and adaptation" (650). The king recognized the value of garnering the support of anthropologists in legitimating local tradition, and Kuper, of course, became his strongest advocate. It is ironic, therefore, that Zodwa Motsa would find that aside from G. L. Pato's 1979 short story collection (which Motsa identifies as the first book of prose fiction written in siSwati), subsequent writers throughout the next two decades seem to have embraced the formulaic plot strictures laid down by Edgar Allen Poe, ignoring the more fluid narrative arrangements of orature, "despite the shortness of the historical distance between the oral and modern tale" (243). Along with its lack of formal innovation, Motsa finds that content in the siSwati fiction of the 1990s "shows very little development from earlier themes as it continues to confine itself to belabouring hackneyed issues of infidelity, moral behavior in young adults, issues of marriage, materialism and so forth" (252-53). Her call for a literature that arises out of African experience generally and Swazi culture more specifically rehearses Chinweizu's earlier call for an aesthetics rooted in rural orature and is aptly framed in a local proverb:
It is only when we have constructed our own solid base that we can safely borrow and lend. The absence of our own uniquely Swati creations makes our art an imitation.... It undermines the siSwati proverb that a weaver bird will build its nest with the support of other birds' feathers. It seems our writers will be using the feathers of other birds as frame, rafter and roof, and not as supporting material for their own base." (257)
Given this perceived slavish imitation of European form and recycled content in siSwati fiction, both of which seem to have been encouraged by editors and publishers, to what extent does anglophone Swaziland fiction reinforce or deviate from Motsa's findings?
In contrast to siSwati literature, there is not a great deal of English language fiction by Swazi writers. (1) An online annotated bibliography of Swazi culture that includes poetry, short stories, novels, drama, along with folk tales translated from siSwati, lists only nineteen English texts, the majority of which were published by Swaziland's only large publishing house, Macmillan, for the primary and secondary school market. Most of the fiction not listed in the bibliography, as well as subsequent writings, is scattered about, appearing periodically in the Swazi Observer, in anthologies of southern African literature, or as romances in the Pacesetters series, though Lucy Dlarrum's novel The Amaryllis is an exception. Like the Pacesetters, it too is published by Macmillan Swaziland, but under a series imprint called Fiction for Afrika that targets secondary schools and, in fact, the novel has been on the Botswana secondary school curriculum for a number of years and has recently been adopted as a prescribed text by the Swaziland Ministry of Education. A number of the writers have published only one or two stories, sometimes choosing to write most of their works in siSwati, while the most prominent writers have been or are currently affiliated with the University of Swaziland. A very recent anthology called Africa Kills Her Sun and Other Short Stories, edited by a former UNISWA student and adopted by the Swaziland Ministry of Education, contains the largest number of stories by local writers to appear in a collection to date.
In turn, the …