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Race trouble: An exploration of race relations in Zebra crossing, coconut and the book of memory by Meg Vandermerwe, Kopano Matlwa and Petina Gappah.

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Despite the formalised abolishment of both apartheid and colonialism, it would in many respects be remiss to conclude that the legacy of these systems of oppression do not continue to exert some level of influence on the attitudes and behaviour of individuals and groups. Alistair Fraser (2007) refers to this phenomenon as the “colonial present” (836) which “highlights the endurance, persistence or reactivation of particular colonial-style relations” (836, italics in original), alluding to a framework of relations that persists in the post-colonial and post-apartheid setting that is characterised by inequality and oppression despite systemic changes to national systems of government and the introduction of policies that have sought to redress past racial inequalities and introduce racial equity. In Coconut (2007), Zebra Crossing (2013) and The Book of Memory (2015) by Kopano Matlwa, Meg Vandermerwe and Petina Gappah, my central research question is to investigate how the conditions of race relations that were set up in the colonial past continue to influence the colonial present as it is depicted in the novels. While much research has been done in examining the respective eras of colonialism and apartheid, focus has often not been placed on the nuances of conflict, anxiety and competition that characterises these new spaces as it relates to issues of identity, belonging, exclusion and interracial interaction. Complicating this transition into a new democratic dispensation in both Zimbabwe and South Africa is the intrusion of the past into the present, in the form of the influence of whiteness that problematises racial relations, creating situations of crisis and conflict. To determine to what extent the practices that characterise the everyday lives of individuals and groups invoke the legacy of apartheid and colonialism and what effect this potentially has on race relations as it is depicted in the novels, the perspective of race trouble, conceptualised by Durrheim, Mtose and Brown (2011), is used as a central framework. Within the perspective of race trouble, three constructs will be used to analyse the novels, namely that of discourse, practices and ideology. Ideas regarding the nature of discourse, with particular emphasis on whiteness as an institutional construct, will be primarily used in examination of Coconut, while the notion of everyday practices will be used to analyse The Book of Memory and finally, ideology to look at Zebra Crossing. Within the construct of practices, I primarily explore the nature of the practices that characterise the everyday lives of the characters in constructing notions of place identity and a sense of attachment to various environments and how these environments influence identity, self-perception and belonging. In Zebra Crossing, I analyse how dominant ideology constructs subjects to behave and think in certain ways, with the concept of ‘othering’ providing a tangible link between the presence of ideology and the emergence of the subject.


Masters Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg.