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Reception in Southern Africa
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Dire situations and bad


prospects: Damon Galgut's
glance at South Africa's past
and present in the good
doctor
Mara Jess CabarcosTraseira

Lectures in the English Department ,


University of Corunna , Spain
Published online: 01 Jun 2011.

To cite this article: Mara Jess CabarcosTraseira (2005) Dire situations and bad
prospects: Damon Galgut's glance at South Africa's past and present in the good
doctor , Current Writing: Text and Reception in Southern Africa, 17:2, 42-55, DOI:
10.1080/1013929X.2005.9678219
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/1013929X.2005.9678219

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Dire Situations and Bad Prospects: Damon


Galguts Glance at South Africas Past and
Present in The Good Doctor
Mara Jess Cabarcos-Traseira
Damon Galguts The Good Doctor (2003) deals with the present moment in which South
Africans wonder how to confront their historical legacy as they attempt to build a
different kind of future. At a rural hospital that may stand for South Africa, Galgut throws
together a sceptic scarred by his experience of the former regimes repressive
mechanisms two foreign NGO volunteers who have been shocked into stupor by
violence elsewhere, a woman who has been recently empowered, but whose fear of
change leaves her immobile, and a hopeless idealist who will work to make the world a
better place, whatever the cost. None of these characters incarnate pure evil or the
promise of a better life in absolute terms, as the impossibility of identifying the referent
for the novels title demonstrates. What the novel leaves no doubt about, however, is the
persistence of the racial and social schisms inherited from the past. This paper will
analyse the extent to which the meeting of these contrasting outlooks on the countrys
situation results in a violent clash, detachment, even violence and death, or whether hope
may result from the collision.

The Book of Genesis in the Bible tells of how, when the cities of Sodom and
Gomorrah are about to be destroyed for their sins, the Lord, being merciful,
tells Lot that if he wants to save his and his familys life he is to take his
wife and daughters and leave the city without ever looking back. Lots wife,
however, does not obey this last command and, as she looks back on Sodom
being destroyed, she becomes a pillar of salt and is dissolved in the heavy
rain that is washing away the city. This story elicits a number of questions:
Why did Lots wife look back? Why do some people risk eternal damnation
in order to look back?
In the early 1990s, a call was issued in South Africa by the powers that
be for artists to contribute to the rebirth of the country by leaving the past

CURRENT WRITING 17(2) 2002 ISSN 1013-929X

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Galguts Glance at South Africas Past and Present in The Good Doctor

behind and by attempting to define the identity of the new, the future South
Africa. In The Good Doctor (2003), Damon Galgut like many other
contemporary South African artists ignores this call and looks back. What
is more, the novel describes various ways in which the present cannot
escape the past and warns about the consequences of leaving South African
history behind without daring to look back, to deal with the past, with
honesty.
From its very inception, the political discourse of post-apartheid South
Africa attempted to sever the ties with a past that shamed everyone. In fact,
the catch phrase New South Africa was coined by FW de Klerk in the
speech pronounced on 2 February 1990, in which the then president
proclaimed the end of apartheid, the release of political prisoners and the
recognition of formerly banned political organisations (Moslund 2003:30).
Subsequently, stated or implicit calls were issued from various institutional
and individual fronts to comply and bury the past swiftly and quietly.
African National Congress lawyer and autobiographer Albie Sachs had
foreseen the need for this re-visioning of the countrys politics in a literary
paper given at an ANC in-house seminar on culture in 1989. In his paper
which happened to be published in the Johannesburg Weekly Mail on the
very same day De Klerk delivered his own momentous speech Sachs
advocated that ANC members be banned from utilising culture as a weapon
of struggle, and he further recommended a five-year suspension on the
social and political commitment of South African arts, a period of time
during which the country would be preparing itself for freedom
(1998:239).1 The countrys publishing houses responded in like manner and
favoured, in the first half of the 1990s, literature which celebrated the break
with the past and which denoted, instead, the mood of post-apartheid South
Africa (Driver 1994:131). Whatever urge still existed to come to terms with
the evils of the past at individual and collective levels, it was meant to be
expressed within the controlled site of the Truth and Reconciliation
Commission, created for this purpose. Private stories of human rights
violations were given public audience in an attempt to channel individual
pain and suffering for the common purpose of reconciliation.2 Highly
critical of the ethical compromises of this political move, David Attwell and
Barbara Harlow (2000:2) have noted that social and personal justice were
sacrificed for the cause of forgiveness, and that the possibility of a common
future was prioritised over the need for individual moral and material
reparation. Indeed, as the interests of the political sphere and the demands

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Mara Jess Cabarcos-Traseira

of the humanitarian realm were pitched against each other so as to make


them appear to be contradictory, perhaps even mutually exclusive, the
Commission has been charged with breeding a crisis of public memory and
collective agency (Graham 2003:12). Overall, the TRC succeeded in
containing the outpouring of the countrys grief, to the extent that despite
[its] enormous enterprise of mapping the details and complexities of
apartheid history, the public discourse [was] marked by a noticeable
culture of amnesia (Moslund 2003:29).
In the decade of the 1990s, then, there was an understanding that
literature needed to adapt to the new times, and that the countrys literary
history had probably seen the waning of criture engage and resistance
culture (Attwell and Harlow 2000:3). If under apartheid to separate the
political and the aesthetic is frowned upon, that separation is now widely
endorsed (Attwell and Harlow 2000:4). To emphasise the dawn of the new
day for South African letters, contemporary writers are often referred to as
new writers (Swarns 2002), even if their careers had begun with the
previous regime. The new literature seeks to redefine the nations image
of itself and helps it to search for its new identity (Mistry 2001:4, Swarns
2002). Writers are encouraged to elucidate in their work the experiential,
ethical and political ambiguities of transition: the tension between memory
and amnesia (Attwell and Harlow 2000:3). This tension used to be
understood in racial terms, but the spectrum of possibilities has now been
expanded: Racial issues dont dominate my life, claims author Phaswane
Mpe, [t]he world is more complicated now than just black and white. We
are freer now (in Swarns 2002: par. 4). In a sense, this creative freedom has
complicated the writing task as well. Under apartheid, Zakes Mda holds, it
was easier to write, as the past created ready-made stories. There was a
very clear line of demarcation between good and evil. We no longer have
that (Swarns 2002: pars. 17-18).
Coexisting with the general atmosphere and despite adverse publishing
conditions, a perception has developed that the literature that would fit the
new South Africa cannot exclusively follow the paths described earlier.
A warning is issued from some fronts to those perceiving that a simple
reversal of terms, a centering of the margins, suffices to re-invent the
countrys literary future:
[R]esistance rhetoric may contribute to the shaping and maintenance
of an imagination of polarised absolutes and group oppositions,
entrenching social imagination along automated codes of unthinking

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loyalty. Much literature of the struggle in South Africa is teeming with


the dichotomising codes of us against them. However imperative
such literature is in the heat of the struggle, it has to be re-evaluated
after the struggle according to the requirements and needs of new
political and social contexts. (Moslund 2003:27)

Further, voices have emerged in the cultural arena to question whether


now that literature committed to bringing about the end of apartheid has
obviously become obsolete all denunciation literature should likewise be
declared out of order. In this sense, Michael Marais (2000:161) poses J M
Coetzees ethical engagement with history in post-apartheid works such
as Disgrace as an example of enduring and responsible commitment when
dealing with alterity. Likewise, Andr Brink (1996) has claimed that
socially committed post-apartheid writing should aim to re-invent the
silenced and the repressed in Afrikaner historical discourses. In fact, postapartheid South Africa has seen a remarkable rise in readers interest in
historical fiction as well as in other works that aim to re-write the discourse
of history, and this interest has come hand-in-hand with an increased
outpouring of autobiographies, travel journals, or diaries of explorers and
missionaries (Gallagher 1997:384). This fascination with the countrys past
is also related to the widespread opinion that, in order to avoid reinstating
in the present the evils of the past, one must not forget that past and present
cannot be severed.3 Attwell and Harlow have noted that, despite the
pressureto find the resources, policies, and vision to bind the nation
together and to take its people decisively from a traumatised past to a
reconstructed future and, no matter how hard one might strive for
healing and reconstruction, the past stubbornly manifests itself (2000:2).
In expressing his personal view that the countrys links to its past cannot be
obliterated, writer Zakes Mda makes an important distinction between
forgetting and forgiving the past: I do not see why South Africans should
be afraid of the past. You see, for me to forget about the past would mean
I must erase my history [as if] I dont have a father that died in the
struggle. [Still,] I am an advocate of reconciliation itself because I
believe it is very important to forgive the past (in Kachuba 2004: par. 6).
Similar sentiments have been expressed by writer Njabulo Ndebele: [t]o
neglect it [the past] at this most crucial of moments in our history is to
postpone the future (1994:158). In fact, many scholars agree about the
prominent role that the past plays in literary productions dealing with South
African post-apartheid reality: as South Africa sheds the last political
vestiges of colonialism and works to eliminate other social and economic
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Mara Jess Cabarcos-Traseira

legacies of colonialism, South African writers are practicing the backward


glance (Gallagher 1997:385). This backward glance is not urged by a
return-to-the-native impulse like the one Fanon diagnoses as characteristic
of the second phase in the process of decolonization (Gallagher 1997:376),
but rather a group therapy of sorts for South African society to deal with the
common, shameful past (Graham 2003:12), or a logical originator of and
hence obligatory motif in the narrative discourse on crime, contrition and
restitution (Diala 2001/2002:57) that permeates fictional accounts of
present-day South Africa.
The Good Doctor participates in this cultural, social and political
context, as it constitutes Galguts contribution to the controversy of how to
deal with the past with guilt as a nation, and whether to deal with it at
all as a writer. Isidore Diala has argued that, for South African whites
generally, as for white South African writers, there has been no consensus
about the appropriate ethical response to the historical guilt of apartheid,
just as there has been a deep anxiety to acknowledge the culture of violence
in post-apartheid South Africa as part of the enduring legacy of apartheid
(2001/2002:50). Perhaps because of the presence of random and frequent
acts of violence and on-going racial confrontations, and probably because
the novel refuses to give a quiet grand resolution to the moral quandaries it
describes, The Good Doctor has been labeled gloomy and melancholy, and
its narrator and central character the one that is presented as the survivor
in the narrative conflict has been perceived as driven by an all-consuming
apathy and pessimism (Merritt 2003: par. 12). The ending in particular has
been interpreted as being elusive, as denying the reader an explicit moral
closure to the conflict of life philosophies previously dramatised. Thus, one
reviewer pointed out that Galguts conclusion doesnt give many pointers.
He simply finishes his shift on the cultural commentary ward, leaving his
country and his characters without prescription (Brown 2003: par. 4). My
contention, however, is that The Good Doctor refuses to give anything but
a staunchly realistic image of contemporary South Africa in which the past
is more than a lingering influence, and that the novel resists the temptation
to make grand gestures of either blind idealism or stubborn negativity about
the future of the country, offering instead a more satisfying small-scale
response to some of the countrys main questions.
To begin with the most controversial aspect of the novel, in the final
scene, Frank Eloff reflects on his personal situation after the events narrated
in the novel:

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So the situation is dire and the prospects not good. But still although
I cant logically explain it I am content. Maybe this is only the false
peace of resignation. But I feel, somehow, that I have come into my
own.
This might be just because, after seven years of waiting, I have
shifted about twenty metres away, into Dr Ngemas room. A small
event, but it means a lot to me. A new room, bare and clean and empty:
a good place to start again. I spread my things around and bought a few
cloths and pictures to hang up. Anything to stamp myself on to the
blankness. And now my life has taken root again. I know I wont be
stuck here for ever; other places, other people, will follow on.
A whole new sense of the future, because of one tiny change. Which
makes me wonder if all of this might have happened differently if Id
never had to share my room. (Galgut 2003:214-215)

It could be interpreted that the narrator, who feels content to move but
twenty metres away, is either a deluded fool or a fervent glass-half-full
optimist for whom anything at all constitutes an absolute success. The true
measure of this scenes significance can be seen only if the life philosophy
it entails is compared to the other offered in the novel. Frank Eloff, the
narrator, a doctor posted at a rural hospital, has been unable for thirteen
years to deal with the guilt of not having defended one of his patients, a
prisoner at a military camp who was being tortured to death. Years later, the
country has changed, but Frank has remained anchored in the memory of the
day he failed to be a hero. In his own words, at that instant, I had found my
grand defining moment, but what it revealed I didnt want to know (Galgut
2003:67). Frank has tried his hardest not to get involved, not to think, not
to act, and simply to live day after day, in an eternal present with no personal
history claiming retribution and with no future demanding commitment.
The Good Doctor is the story of what it takes to shake Frank out of his
apathy,4 and once he is active, his brutally honest outlook on life, on the past
and the future, is adopted as a reliable point of view from which the country
as a whole can move forward.
Franks position is contrasted in the novel with an array of different
attitudes held by different characters towards the past, the present and the
future of the country. For Laurence Waters, the past is dead and gone, and
therefore so too are all political concerns. The brand new South Africa
represents, to him, a paradise of self-assertion, a place where he can make
a difference and be, in return, dignified. When Frank explains to him why
the locals expected to visit the hospital will not do so, Laurence refuses to

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accept that the reason might be connected to the history of the place:

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What do you think this place means to them? Its where the army came
from. Its where their puppet dictator lived. They hate this place.
You mean politics, he said. But thats all past now. It doesnt
matter any more.
The past has only just happened. Its not past yet.
I dont care about that. Im a doctor. (Galgut 2003:6)

In the novel, Laurence is exposed as a self-serving liar, as the author of the


grand fiction of his autobiography. He invents a neat beginning for the
awakening of his professional calling, and he refers to his black girlfriend
by her recently-adopted African name Zanele, so that people will assume
that she is African, as this fits his narrative idyll of the multicolored South
Africa, while in fact her name is Linda and, in order to wash off her
American, middle-class guilt, she actively embraces her African roots by
doing volunteer work in Sudan, braiding her hair and wearing bright West
African clothes. Further, fully disregarding recent historical confrontations
between civilians and the army, Laurences rose-coloured rewriting of
history allows him to conceptualise doing military service as an invigorating
formative experience that turns boys into men, an episode he is sorry to have
missed in his own bildngsroman. What the novel suggests with the
depiction of this character is not that pessimism is a more appropriate
standpoint from which to contemplate contemporary South Africa, but that
unquestioned idealism such as Laurences might in fact hide sheer
egocentrism particularly when not rooted in any historical certainty.
In contrast to Laurences delusions, the novel poses Jorge and Claudia
Santander, the middle-aged, world-weary Cuban doctors who were imported
years before as part of an outreach program. The Santanders constitute a
plausible older version of Laurence himself, one in which once lifes
hardships and disappointments have eroded any trace of idealism all that
remains is the survival instinct and the self-serving impulse. In the following
conversation, as they no longer make an effort to hide their hidden agendas,
Jorge and Claudia come across as materialistic yet as more honest about
their rationale for being in their posts than Laurence, who remains intent on
not understanding what they mean and on describing their jobs in a
glorifying manner:
But why South Africa? Laurence was saying.
Opportunity, Jorge said.
Exactly. Opportunity. The chance to make a difference. There

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cant be a lot of places in the world where thats possible right now.
Yes, yes, Jorge intoned solemnly.
Better money, Claudia said. Good house.
Yes, well, that too. But Im talking about something different.[]
I believe its only the beginning. Of this country. The old history
doesnt count. Its all starting now. [] I dont want to be [] where
it doesnt matter if Im there or not. It matters that Im here. (Galgut
2003:50)

To Laurence, the brand new South Africa is the perfect place to make a
difference, to inscribe his name on the pages of history by making some
grand symbolic gesture or other. Although mercilessly exposed, Laurence
is nevertheless not demonised in the novel, as he is shown, in fact, to make
a difference in his community: his clinic succeeds in establishing a connection
between the hospital and the locals, and even his lethargic workmates are
shaken out of their stupor and feel united in a common goal.
In contrast to Laurences focus on today, the novel offers Dr Ngema,
Tehogo and the Brigadiers fixation on the past. Dr Ngema invokes the
countrys new chant of change and innovation, but her lack of significant
action of any kind to bring about such progress reveals her hypocrisy. The
black nurse Tehogo shies away from mingling with the white doctors,
insinuating class and professional rank reasons for his behaviour, but his
motives are also exposed to be quite different. For both Tehogo and Dr
Ngema, the past is not different from the present despite what the political
authorities are intent to proclaim and their guardedness is but a polite
faade for their belief in the old Manichean oppositions of apartheid South
Africa, a fragile veneer that needs but a little tremor to shatter it. Thus,
Tehogo never joins in the celebration of the clinics success, which in the
novel represents a break in the languor of hospital life and a realisation that
something could in fact improve in the way the hospital is managed and
human interaction is developed. Instead, he and his guest Raymond take
advantage of the opportunity granted by the generalised drunkenness to
joke about how he and his colleagues will soon start cutting white doctors
throats. As for Dr Ngema, her alliance surfaces uncensored when Tehogo
and Laurence are kidnapped in the middle of the night and she spontaneously
sighs, Poor Tehogo.[] What happened to him was terrible. A terrible
thing (Galgut 2003:209). Even though Frank reminds her that Laurence is
also a victim, her answer reveals that, as far as she is concerned, South
Africa is still divided along colour lines. Conversations with Dr Ngema

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often rely on old discourses of dialectical confrontations, just like her


reasons for overlooking Tehogos petty crimes against the hospital fall back
on past racial wrongs of the apartheid era: That young man, she said, had
a very hard life. A very difficult life. Much more difficult than yours. None
of your chances, none of your advantages. Doesnt that count with you? []
I can see you have no idea what it means to be a black person in this country
(Galgut 2003:210). If to Tehogo and Dr Ngema the present is not very
different from the past, to the Brigadier, the present is too different from the
past, and this historical error will therefore have to be corrected. Coming
from a political standpoint that is diametrically opposed to Tehogo and Dr
Ngemas, the former puppet dictator of the homeland believes that the past
is in fact very near to being reinstated in the present. People, he says,
small people, nothing people, they think I am the past. But I am not the past.
My time is coming still (Galgut 2003:112). Both their positions coincide
in their radical opposition to life views such as Laurences; to them the past
is alive and controlling the present. As in the case of Laurence, however, the
novel does not represent their perception as completely wrong, even though
it does not endorse it either. It depicts many instances of the lingering
presence of apartheid in contemporary South Africa, poignant examples of
which are Betty (the barefoot elderly maid at the suburban home of Franks
wealthy family in Pretoria), the new fence and security wall installed in the
property, or the character of Maria (whose true African name we never get
to know).
Between the extreme positions represented, on the one hand, by Laurence
and, on the other, by Tehogo, Dr Ngema and the Brigadier, Galgut situates
the protagonist of the novel, Frank Eloff. He is the one who tells Laurence,
as we saw, that the process of rebuilding the country cannot ignore the
countrys past; he reminds Dr Ngema that continuing to live according to
the Manichean ideologies of the past restates them in the present and
jeopardises the future; and he categorically responds to the former homeland
dictator that his kind of past is dead and gone (Galgut 2003:112). However,
as was said earlier, Frank has been metaphorically paralyzed because in the
last years of apartheid he did not side with the oppressed when his moment
of truth presented itself. The Good Doctor proposes that, regardless of how
different or conflicting, all perspectives on the future of the country need to
be given a space in the process of rebuilding it, if the new version of South
Africa is going to differ to any significant degree from the old one. This
troubled yet utopian coexistence of different viewpoints can generate

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fertile cross currents of influence, as the novel describes how it is Laurences


idealism, no matter how empty or self-serving, that will stir Frank out of his
immobility. In their dialectical confrontations about the connection between
the countrys political past and its present and future, one cannot help but
realise that there is some truth in Laurences words when he condemns
Franks inaction:
We were all okay here. It was all going along fine. Then you came.
And you couldnt leave everything as it was. No, you had to make it
better. You had to sort it out, improve life for everybody. Now see
where we are. []
I dont think were where we were. It is better than before. Im not
sorry about that. []
How will you change anything by doing nothing? [] youre not
part of of the new country. [...]
Where is it, this new country?
All around you, Frank. Everything you see. Were starting again,
building it all up from the ground.
Words, I said. Words and symbols. (Galgut 2003:168-9)

When Frank decides, first, to sign his divorce papers, and then, confront the
military authorities after Laurences kidnapping, he is taking steps out of a
daze and into action. The fact that the colonel in command is the same man
who pressured him into his act of personal disgrace dramatises all the more
the effort Frank needs to make. Nevertheless, his attempt at a heroic, selfsacrificing act in which he will put his life forward for the cause of social
justice and thus undo the guilt of the past is cut short by a car-breakdown
(Galgut 2003:201). This most anti-climatic climax in Franks atonement is
in line with the contained ethics of the entire novel, and it contributes to
building the strength of the novels vision. Franks view is given prominence
not because it is right in absolute terms, but because despite its flaws it is
honest, and this integrity gives it heroic dimensions. As Galgut himself has
put it in an interview, optimism is dangerous if it is blind. I have to say a
lot of people see the book as pessimistic, as if that in itself is an ethical
failure. Frank might be bleak and pessimistic, but at least he is seeing things
clearly. In the same light, Laurences idealism is dishonest (in Sampson
2003:par.16). At the end of the novel Frank has been promoted, and
although physically speaking he moves but twenty metres away, his willing
embrace of this end to his inactivity has important material and symbolic
repercussions for his own existence. Frank himself expresses this with his
usual self-constraint and honesty: The past and the future are dangerous
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countries; I had been living in no-mansland, between their borders[].


Now I felt myself moving again, and I was afraid (Galgut 2003:117). Only
in this light can we understand the final scene of the novel, reproduced at
the beginning of this analysis, in which Frank says that he feels content
with this small change.
Beyond the refusal to end on a neat, self-indulgent note, The Good
Doctor chooses to end by highlighting the need to take on responsibility for
assuming the past and for taking an active role in the present of the country
at the private level in order for each individual not only those seeking selfpromotion to participate in rebuilding the countrys public and private
spheres. At the end of the novel, Laurence and Tehogo are both missing,
while the Brigadier and Dr Ngema have been pushed off its pages, so that
Franks standpoint is even more clearly underscored. It gets to be central,
though, not because it is his alone, but because it has been subject to
influence and erosion from others. Franks last statement in the novel is thus
even more insightful than ever: Which makes me wonder if all of this might
have happened differently if Id never had to share my room (Galgut
2003:215). Having to share his room with Laurence with his blind faith in
the future and his own power to change the present becomes thus a
metaphor for the problematic, yet necessary, coexistence of different
political views, moral standpoints, and interpretations of history in the
room of South Africa.
As the country projects an image of itself as a rainbow nation and hopes
to learn to inhabit it, the novel suggests that, at the level of everyday life,
grand, optimistic movements forward are symbols of progress that mean
nothing or in the best of cases a transient very little. Likewise, a vision
of the country that is stuck in the past will not allow it to meet its future. Like
Lot, South Africa needs to abandon the sins of the past as swiftly as it
possibly can, but The Good Doctor suggests that, like Lots wife, it should
not do so without taking a look back.

Notes
1. In The Backward Glance: History and the Novel in Post-Apartheid South
Africa, Susan VanZanten Gallagher offers an excellent account of the reception
of Sachss essay (1997:380-384). Gallagher argues that Sachss call for writers
not to deal with apartheid caused such a turmoil in the cultural arena because
of its timing. In her view, Sachs does not advocate that contemporary South
African literature turn its back on history or on apartheids aftermath, but rather
he attempts to foreclose a possible pitfall of the literature that was about to be

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produced in the new South Africa. In Gallaghers own words, Sachs does
not want South African artists and writers to become trapped in either the
present or the past; he is urging that literature take on a new, but vital, role
in the postcolonial process of rebuilding (1997:383). Seen in this way, the
upheaval that Sachss article produced would be symptomatic of how much the
historical reality of the country has changed, and how this has obviously led to
a different perspective on the role of its literature, as Sachss opinions would
not differ significantly from other much more welcome influential calls
during apartheid for artists to have artistic freedom. Gallagher (1997:380)
refers, for example, to Lewis Nkosis essay Fiction by Black South Africans,
in which the author complained in 1966 that South African novelists were
kept hostage by an assumed duty to anti-colonialist struggle. She also mentions
J. M. Coetzees 1987 The Novel Today, in which the writer diagnosed that
the novel, in its attempt to contribute to the anti-apartheid struggle, had been
colonised by history (Gallagher 1997:377-379).
2. See Graham (2003) for a description of the functioning and inner contradictions
of the TRC. Jacqueline Rose also analyses the Commissions work and
highlights some of its paradoxes, examples of what she calls the supreme
fraudulence in the proceedings (2002:177). Further, she studies fissures in the
Commissions work since it, for instance, disregarded requests for amnesty
based on a disclosure of crimes of omission because these had not been
contemplated by the commissioners. For additional descriptions of the TRC
leading to various analyses of its impact on post-apartheid literature, see
Sanders (2000), who begins by analysing the Commissions distinction of four
kinds of truths in order to move on to a discussion of the individual construction
of individual truth in confessional or testimonial literature. Michiel Heyns
(2000) deals also with the concept of truth in connection with the Commission,
with narrative discourse and with Antjie Krogs recreation of the hearings, both
in her daily reports for the South African Broadcasting Corporation and in her
work of fiction Country of My Skull.
3. Sten Pultz Moslund (2000) prefaces his study of the use of history in works by
Mongane Serote, Mike Nicol and Zakes Mda by establishing the perception
that some contemporary South African writers and intellectuals have of the
unbreakable link between past, present and future at this historical juncture.
4. Rose (2002) concludes her essay on the TRC and the cases of South African
citizens that wished to claim responsibility for their lack of involvement and
apathy under apartheid, by offering the following reflection: The original
meaning of the word apathy was to be without pathos, insensibility to
suffering, only gradually degrading itself to listless, stolid indifference. It
could be, however, that in the setting of South Africa, apathy includes
something of the earlier meaning, in which suffering actively is held at bay
(2002:195). Indeed, Galguts Frank Eloff does not show insensibility to

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suffering, but rather, a detachment from human interaction which has been the
result of his exposure to a prisoners extreme pain and his own dilemma of
whether to inflict enormous suffering on himself in a possibly vain attempt to
alleviate the prisoners agony. Though Franks position is at least understandable,
Galgut does not indulge his character, and so the novel appeals to precisely this
aspect of readers moral vision, as Freeman (2004: par. 8-9) has observed: It
is a testament to Galguts skill that this mostly quiet novel can leave such a
lasting sense of urgency. And shame, our shame at having been lulled into the
same passivity that Frank was mired in for seven years.

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