Thursday, September 27, 2012

Gordimer’s aftermath: from South Africa to Central America

‘No time like the present’ is a remarkable novel. The book offers a sobering but balanced account of post-apartheid South Africa as seen through the eyes of a group of former ANC militants. Though the book also offers the recurrent motive of the broken dreams, Gordimer moves beyond the trope of disillusionment to consider how militants’ lives were shaped by the experiences of the revolutionary process they participated in. She ponders the reminiscences, debates and contradictions that former ANC militants grapple with as they try to build up a ‘normal’ life in the new South Africa, a country which continues to hold enormous socio-economical differences and now witnesses an unprecedented crime wave. Gordimer describes how scores of Zimbabwean refugees that flood the country live in abominable circumstances and are treated as second-rate citizens, in what some of the former militants interpret as a new form of apartheid. As a protagonist states in the books: ‘we are all pissed off with what is becoming of the country’.

The unfolding postwar political events within ‘their’ ANC party lead to further confusion and bewilderment, and sometimes drive deep wedges between the former militants. For example, the book elaborates extensively on the corruption scandals that involve ANC leadership figures. Individual militants respond very differently to corruption allegations directed against their former comrades. According to some it is a good sign: the country is finally preoccupied with the ‘normal’ problems of an African country. Though for some former militants the ANC internal problems are an additional motivation to seek migration opportunities outside of South Africa, someone else admonishes: ‘don’t allow bad politics to drive you out of the country of your heart’. Gordimer, who besides writing many award-winning novels was also an anti-apartheid activist, describes the South African aftermath without embellishments, but also bereft of excessive moral censorship. In its accomplished human measure, the book transcends into an account that balances the residual passions of past struggles with the everyday moral dilemmas of urban middle-class life in Africa. No doubt South Africa will continue to reinvent itself. And ‘normalcy’ will not be an option.

If you click the present link you will find a much more accomplished review of Gordimer’s book. What struck me in particular were the many parallels between Gordimer’s fictionalized account and the aftermath of the revolutions in Central America. The disenchantments and re-accommodations that Gordimer describes are remarkably similar to what occurred amongst former militants of revolutionary movements in Central America. Great collective accomplishment like the revolutionary take-over in Nicaragua and the negotiated settlements in El Salvador and Guatemala were followed by a period of confusion in which leadership, militancy and constituencies became uncertain of its common goals and its new postwar roles. Nonetheless, as Gordimer portrays for South Africa’s ANC, some kind of ‘silblinghood of comrades’ did remain, a sort of revolutionary kinship as ‘a meaning of life that could not be erased’. Also in Central America’s troubled post-insurgency, for many militants involved ‘the most definite self comes from the struggle'. What is unclear and indeed heavily contested is what exactly this might mean today. 

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