4 Pages

• Martin Orkin, Drama and the South African State (Manchester and Johannesburg: Manchester University Press and Wits University Press, 1991), 263 pp., £9.95


It is perhaps inevitable that any book written about South Africa before 1990 should begin with a declaration of credentials such as we find in the Introduction to Martin Orkin’s Drama and the South African State. It is perhaps less inevitable, however, that such a declaration should take the particular form of games-playing that Orkin’s does. Of course there is no reason why stupid Afrikaner Nationalist politicians should not be fair game for critical attack; but Orkin’s game is not entirely fair. In the first place, his vituperation smacks of a rhetorical manoeuvre frequently enacted by South African English-speakers assured of certain political certainties: one which might be labelled ‘Get the Nationalist’. In the second, if it is not a requirement of Orkin’s argument that the identity of the Minister in question be disclosed, there is nevertheless a concomitant difficulty in gauging the validity of the implied generalization. ‘All Nationalists Are One of a Kind’ thus elides seamlessly into ‘The Conspiracy of Oppression’ manifest in ‘the steady determination on the part of ruling classes and groups to obfuscate and marginalise awareness’ (p. 2). Although Orkin works hard at keeping ‘the ruling classes’ in the plural (including within this category Afrikaners, British, non-British Europeans, North Americans and East Europeans), the ‘subordinate classes’ are less fortunate as regards specification. We are left, in the end, with a fundamentally dualist conception of oppression which opposes rulers and subordinates with enviable simplicity. Into this particular pitched battle, and on the side of the oppressed classes, strides ‘Literature Heroic’:

Drama practitioners have often to struggle against and to contest, not only the communications media, but those discourses which, privileged by the apartheid state and the ruling classes, flow powerfully through cultural, educational and social institutions.