Você está na página 1de 8

Britt 1

Kylie Britt
Country Project Outline
Dr. Crotteau
20 March 2015
South African Literature Showcases Inequality
Mhudi, as a piece of literature, is representative of inequality in early 20th century South
Africa through its illustration of race relations. Its author, Solomon Tshekisho Plaatje, used this
work as representation of women and natives at the very start of apartheid in South Africa. He
delves into the racial tension that had arisen from conflicts with colonists, natives, and other
extenuating circumstances of the time period. Mhudi offers an in-depth look at Plaatjes
experiences, in a narrative that describes South Africa at the end of its imperialist era.
The culture and history of the time around 1930, when Mhudi was first published, reflects the
growing discrimination that evolved into apartheid, and is important to understanding the
cultural significance of this literary work (Limb). This exceeding racial tension shot out of
proportion into a movement that spanned to the 1990s. Apartheid is defined as official
institutionalized discriminatory laws, which were formally enacted in 1948. These were spurred
on by the economic strain from the Great Depression and WWII, which caused an even large
income gap between Boers and blacks. When racial tensions increased as a result of tough times,
blacks were held as scapegoat, and this made it easier for Boer leaders and legislators to approve
segregation (The History of Apartheid in South Africa).
Apartheid continued until 1989, with the election of President of FW De Klerk, who
began to repeal the legal basis for discrimination (Apartheid). A new constitution, written to
support all racial groups, was instituted in 1994, and South Africa has been in the healing process
ever since (The History of Apartheid in South Africa).

Britt 2
South African literature until Dutch settlement is very poorly preserved and widely
undiscovered. The national repertoire began with European fiction by colonists that do not look
kindly towards the natives. An English author named Rider Haggard published a book of
folktales in 1880, painting South Africa as a wild, untamed land, with interesting foreign natives.
The first wave of purely South African literature began with The Story of an African Farm,
written in 1883 by a woman named Olive Schreiner. Though this book is considered to be the
first uniquely South African one, it features no representation of blacks or black culture. Up
until Sol Plaatje, author of Mhudi, no literature focused on the sentiment and experience of the
natives. He is renowned as the first black South African novelist (South African Literature).
The Second Boer War was a conflict that shook South Africathough the nation at the
time was Dutch republic-- and began the racial struggle. Dutch Afrikaan settlers, known as
Boers, had previously defeated the British in the First Boer War and were defending colonists of
the nation in 1881. Again, the Boers fought with English colonists in 1899 over diamond and
gold mines, land usage in general, and rights to full colonization. The Boers surrendered in May
1902, which, to the natives, was favorable, as the Boers often attacked indigenous blacks in land
disputes. In the post-war period, tensions between Boers and English colonists remained hostile,
and both groups hated the blacks in turn, since the locals had some legitimate claim to the land as
well (Boer War).
The Boer war really exacerbated the antagonistic relationship between colonists, both
Dutch and English, and the native Africans. Conflicts over land and disputes amongst the
westerners displaced and relocated many South African ethnic groups. A law known as the
Natives Land Act of 1913 was put in place to essentially restrict all blacks and those of mixed
race to land ownership of less than 10% of the nation (The Natives Land Act of 1913). Since

Britt 3
the beginning of Dutch Settlement in the cape of South Africa, land and property dispossession
caused conflict between natives and colonists.
Since the country of South Africa became an independent republic in 1910, and his work
was drafted in the 1910s, Solomon Plaatje was indeed the first South African novelist, who even
wrote a book in English, one of his seven known languages (Green, 43). He was very active in
social movements, and supported a variety of causes. These include groups such as the labor
rights movement, feminists, black equality organizations, and he was vocally anti- Natives Land
Act. Some of Plaatjes political and social ideology is present in his writing, and was very
important in his career as a politician.
Plaatje was not just a writer, but an important cultural figure. He wrote as a columnist and
was one of the first members of the African National Congress (ANC). As a politician, Solomon
was Secretary General of the ANC, then known as the South African Native National Congress.
He took office in 1912, as the first in his position. Plaatje used his influence to critique European
Imperialism and the colonists lack of consideration for the natives. Solomon Plaatje wanted to
positively influence legislation regarding all South Africans, and was seen to have the best
interests of all parties at heart (Limb).
As a journalist, Plaatje was freer to speak his mind, and often let out his frustrations with
his political negotiations. He openly criticized the hiring of whites over blacks in his column of
Tsala, a paper read by all races. Using pen and paper, Solomon Plaatje influenced many people to
recognize disparities between the races. He wrote of his political ideals, and updated the public
on his progress with social movements (Limb).
Mhudi was Plaatjes first and only novel, though he was skilled as a translator and
published many essays and even some short folktales. The story follows an exiled woman,

Britt 4
Mhudi, who settles with a tribe called the Baralongs, marries a military man named Ra-Thaga,
and is witness to local hostilities and the influence of the Boers. This takes place in the South
African region before the Boer War and influence of the English colonists. The oppressive native
clan, the Matabele engages the more vulnerable group in frequent disputes over land and power.
When the European Boers appear, the Baralong, along with Mhudi and her husband, trust them
at first to help rid themselves of the Matabele. The Boers agree to help remove this violent tribe,
but they treat the Baralong like nothing and value them only as slaves. When Mhudis tribe is rid
of the Matabele, the Boers wish most of the native land for themselves, claiming intellectual and
cultural superiority.
In the novel, the author makes his political alignment and ideology fairly clear. Since
Mhudi is a work of fiction, most of the text is description of action, characters, and locations, but
Plaatjes influence on the characters and style is evident. Mhudi is written from a female
perspective and is evidence that Plaatje supported all natives, equating women and men. Mhudis
husband at one point ponders: He felt that she-his queen-should be free as the birds of the air
were free, nay, even more so; she should be a queen ruling over her own dominion (Plaatje, 61).
He includes these values that are very feminist, and reminds the reader of the authors
participation in social movements.
Solomon Plaatje was very critical of Western Imperialism, and it shows in the text. The
aggressive king Mzilikazi is determined to conquer as much Baralong land as possible. He had
made enormous preparations for overpowering and annexing the adjacent nations one by one and
for augmenting the Matabele contingents (Plaatje, 170). When it is discovered that the Boers are
only helping the Baralong to keep the land for themselves, the Boers are described in the same

Britt 5
way, with critical words such as overpowering that indicate the greed and imperialistic
qualities of the Westerners.
Mhudi is a literary representation of race relations in South Africa during the early 20th
century. Plaatje has been described as an ironic writer, so he depicts the Matabele oppressors as
a race darker than his own (Limb). 'What kind of people are the Matabele?' asked Cilliers
further. They are nearly all much blacker than ourselves. Their men go about stark naked even
in the presence of their children. The women are well-dressed just like ours. But the men!
(Plaatje, 86). This passage makes a clear distinction between the race of the Matabele and the
Baralong, indicated that race is an important factor in the conflict of the story.
Mhudis tribe, the Baralong, equates black skin with beauty. She describes Gubuza, a
military general as he speaks at a dinner party to commemorate the newborn son of king
Mzilikazi. As he discarded his leopard kaross on rising, his smooth black skin shone over his
ample frame, the blackness of it showing itself prominently about his bare thighs and arms
(Plaatje, 54). The Baralongs have such a respect for members of their own race, that they were
fascinated by the Boer colonists, and were unsure whether to value their white skill as an asset or
a weakness.
The plot of Mhudi is very reflective of the events of the time, and the relationship between
the natives and colonists explores the racial differences of that period (Phaswane, 1). At first in
the story, the Boers are introduced as trustworthy characters that will help fight against the
Matabele. The tribe leaders discuss what to do with the Boers: Some were for letting the Boers
stew in their own juice, as the Barolong had perforce to do years before; others were for
combining with the Boers against the Matabele (Plaatje, 110). As a military decision, it seemed
savvy to the chiefs to let the Boers lend their aid in defeating the Matabele. However, not

Britt 6
everyone felt the same way. Mhudi felt very strongly about the white settlers: Ra-Thaga's
intense love of the Boers, however, was not shared by his wife, for Mhudi could not understand
why they were so hairy, and why they were so pale (Plaatje, 115). She could not stand by her
husband in his decision to openly receive these foreigners of another race.
In pages following the arrival of the Boers and the tribes decision to accept their help,
Mhudi rethinks herself, and is back and forth about her feelings towards the European men. She
already began to reproach herself for having doubted the wisdom of her resourceful husband,
when something occurred that shook to its foundations her newly found faith in the character of
the Boers (Plaatje, 116). As soon as she begins to trust the colonists, she witnesses their
punishment towards two young boys who drink from a well, and again changes her mind.
Mhudi, whose love for the Boers was thus shattered as quickly as it had been formed (Plaatje,
117) decides to be constantly wary of these men, who may take advantage of her tribe.
Ra-Thaga, husband of Mhudi, then upsets the Boers by drinking from their well, and is
frightened and concerned by the idea of punishment from a group that he considered to be equal
to his own tribe. The cause of the rumpus, he said, was that Boers at their own homes never
allow black people to drink out of their vessels. [Had Ra-Thaga not been so hospitable to the
Boers] he would have paid for his presumptuous action with a lacerated back (Plaatje, 118-119).
This news shocks the trusting Baralong and the Boers use this event to assert a kind of
dominance by fear over the natives. Plaatje illustrates the relentless tension between the races by
including the wavering sense of trust and the endless fear of the natives.
Along with providing the background for the distressed racial relations between the
whites and blacks, Mhudi takes the issue a step further, and describes injustices the Boers place
on the Baralong after intimidating them into a subservient relationship. A black woman agrees to

Britt 7
take up arms against the Matabele, side by side with her white oppressors, but remarks I want
the land of my fathers back. The Boers could keep all the land to the east, but I want the whole
of the Molopo River and its tributaries (Plaatje, 142). Here, Plaatje includes the subject of land
possession, and expresses his concern with the Boers insistence of ownership.
Plaatjes political and social activist background allowed Mhudi to be an informal,
fictional portrayal of true circumstances. The authors experience with the fight for equality, for
whites and blacks, men and women, is exemplified in his narrative. Injustice and prejudice are
highlighted in this story and described from a black perspective, which had never before been
attempted in South African literature.
Examples in the text support how race relations were explained in detail for this novel,
and were reminiscent of the time. Mhudi touches on the distrust and intimidating relationship
between whites and blacks, and even describes the prejudice of land possession. Through
historical context and the authors influence, Mhudi is an honest depiction about the racial
tension in 1900s South Africa.

Britt 8
Works Cited
Boer War. Encyclopedia.com. HighBeam Research, 2008. Web. 27 Feb 2015.
Green, Michael. Generic Instability and the National Project: History, Nation, and Form in Sol
T. Plaatje's Mhudi. Research in African Literatures 37.4 (2006): 34-47. Web.
Limb, Peter. Rethinking Sol Plaatje's attitudes to class, empire, and gender.Literature Resource
Center 16.1 (2002): 23. Web.
Mpe, Phaswane. Sol Plaatje, orality and the politics of cultural representation. Current
Writing: Text and Reception in Southern Africa 11.2 (1999): 75-91. Web.
Plaatje, Solomon T. Mhudi. Lovedale: Quagga Press, 1978. Print.
South African Literature. South African Information. South African Government Online, 2012.
Web. 27 Feb 2015.
The Natives Land Act of 1913. South African History Online. South African History Online,
2009. Web. 25 Feb 2015.