This course deals with African literature in its broad sense– encompassing orature, literature, culture and poetry from around the continent and the Diaspora. Through the study of these texts, students will explore the continued struggles for political, educational, gender, religious, cultural and economic equality. Emphasis is placed on the struggles by the marginalized such as women, the poor, blacks, the physically challenged and the minorities against their own governments, patriarchy, religious creed, and intolerance in general.

Further, the course aims to provide key narratives from the colonial period to post-apartheid South Africa in the 1990s. Thematic issues that will be discussed include the use and abuse of power, national and domestic power, race relations in colonial/post-colonial contexts, the depiction of women in literature and the role of education in Africa in the formation of African identities.

The course recognizes the complexity of the African scene; therefore, it maintains that romanticizing it in literature as innocent, pure, primitive and artless is preposterous. Colonialization and other forms of oppression did not only introduce a new way of life such as western education and Christianity, but also sharpened the differences that existed between males and females, tribal groups as well as between the rich and the poor. African writers depict these experiences in their writing because they cannot remove themselves from their context. In a 1963 speech Mphahlele angrily responds to a suggestion that writers should extricate themselves from the issues on the ground, thus:

I am a violent person and proud of it because it is often a healthy human state of mind; someday I’m going to plunder, rape, set things on fire, I’m going to cut somebody’s throat; I’m going to subvert a government; I’m going to organize a coup d’état; yes, I’m going to oppress my own people; I’m going to hunt the rich fat black men who bully the small weak black men and destroy them; I’m going to become a capitalist, and woe to all who cross my path or who want to be my servants or chauffeurs and so on; I’m going to lead a breakaway church there is money in it; I’m going to attack the black bourgeoisie while I cultivate a garden, rear dogs and parrots; listen to jazz and classics, read “culture”, and so on. Yes, I’m going to organize a strike. Don’t you know that sometimes I kill to the rhythm of drums and cut the sinews of a baby to cure it of paralysis?                        

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Finally, this course intends to traverse this complexity through texts that emerge from different regions of the continent. As Mphahlele suggests, the continent’s experience of conquest, colonialism, resistance, independence and disillusionment that African literature captures cannot and shouldn’t be trivialized. It is for this reason that the texts covered here present Africa in her beauty and ghastliness, in her promise and failures, in her struggles and triumphs, in her past and present, from her state of oppression to freedom, from her state of bondage to power, from slavery to slave-mastery.