Race, exile and belonging in life writings of black South African women

Mkele, Phozisa
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Black South African women’s contributions to autobiographies and auto-fictional texts is the focus of this research. The study offers an exploration of representations of exile and home and the feelings of unbelonging, outlined across three generational timeframes. Pamela Nomvete’s Dancing to the Beat of the Drum (2014), Sisonke Msimang’s Always Another Country (2017), and Zinzi Clemmons’ auto-fictional narrative, What We Lose (2017) extend the conversation about race, spirituality, gender representation, nation building, the disillusionment complicated by a nostalgia for home and the guilt that oftentimes burdens second-generation returnees. For this analysis, textual research was conducted on the three autobiographical texts. The study provides insights into the narrative styles adopted by Black South African women autobiographers. The autobiographical writing process addresses intersectional and monolithic representations of Black women embedded in patriarchal norms and structural racisms. A key finding from the study is that the thread binding the life writings of Nomvete, Clemmons and Msimang is anchored in national solidarity, communal identity, and the yearning to belong. Further, the respective writers’ explorations of displacement in public and private spaces forms part of the larger story of home and unbelonging. Lastly, the study demonstrates how the use of auto-fiction to create textual identities through visual genres such as photography, diary entries, song lyrics and blogs furthers the textual scope for Black women’s autobiographical reflections.
A research report submitted to the Faculty of Humanities, University of the Witwatersrand in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts, 2021