Gisela Feurle

South African Literatures and the Indian Ocean: Fluid Identities, Frictions, and Place – in Narratives of Aziz Hassim, Shubnum Khan and Lewis Nkosi

After the end of apartheid, Southern African Studies began to intersect with the large field of transnational and interdisciplinary Indian Ocean Studies that became strongly visible in the 1990s. This meant new perspectives and a fresh look at histories and relations, looking from South Africa not only to the Atlantic and to the West, but also eastward, to the Indian Ocean World, beyond models of anti-colonial and anti-apartheid studies (Isabel Hofmeyr). Thus the histories of slavery at the Cape and Indian indentured labor in the colony of Natal, both drawn from the Indian Ocean world, their legacies and diasporas gained new attention as well as the maritime history of the ports of Cape Town and Durban and other oceanic themes. In this context, the study of literary representations is getting special relevance, as they are particularly suited to navigate contradictions and convey fluid identities and memory.

Against this backdrop and with reference to concepts of post-colonial literary studies, the paper will focus on narratives by South African Indian authors like Aziz Hassim – his novels Lotus People and Revenge of Kali, set in Durban/KwaZulu-Natal, – and Shubnum Khan and her debut novel Onion Tears. Their historical background is the shipping of Indian indentured labour to Natal from 1860 to 1911 for work on the colonial sugar estates under slave-like conditions and the migration of "Passenger Indians", mainly merchants and business people, which led to the development of a large and diverse South African Indian diaspora in Durban and the province. The paper examines how the texts convey issues of identity and gender, language and memory, and contradictions within the diaspora, against homogenizing narratives of a non-racial anti-apartheid struggle and "the" Indian community and "Indianness".

Furthermore the paper will look at Lewis Nkosi's novel Mating Birds and analyze yet another way the Indian Ocean features there: In contrast to the segregated beach under apartheid and the racist denial of human feelings and desires, the ocean represents a com¬mon other for the humans on land, also reflecting and symbolizing emotions and promising escape.
These two strands are brought together in the issue of "place" in the context of Literary Tourism, connecting places with literary works and authors. In the Literary Tourism Project of Durban, the "places" of the texts discussed, the historical "Indian Casbah" and the Durban beach are physical places where literary tourists go and at the same time can experience the historical undercurrents and dimensions below the surface by immersing in the fictional texts.