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This report is taken from PN Review 101, Volume 21 Number 3, January - February 1995.

Letter from South Africa Stephen Watson

While there is no disputing the extraordinary nature of events in South Africa over the last half-year - Simon Jenkins of the London Times going so far as to say 'I have never witnessed a political event to compare with the South African election, not even the fall of the Berlin Wall' - it would be wrong to assume that the news from the bottom end of Africa is all sweetness and light. Doubtless political revolutions can serve to liberate extraordinary artistic energies - one thinks of the initial years of the Russian Revolution, for instance - but it is usually quite rare for political and cultural developments to march in lockstep.

This is nowhere more true than in South Africa at the moment. When one turns to the arts here, it is at once clear that truly remarkable changes have yet to materialise. And, in one sense, it is easy to see why. Unlike South Africa's new multi-party government, new cultures, literary or otherwise, cannot simply be voted into existence.

Significantly, the country's writers have been mostly silent over the last year or so, as if the bulk of them were still trying to reorient themselves. Everyone here, it seems, is thoroughly tired of the debate that used to dominate so much of South African cultural life in the apartheid era: whether literature should totally subserve political struggles or not. If this has been supplanted by any other 'issue', it is one which, at ...


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