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Restor(y)ing the South African experience: A materialist feminist critique of the works of contemporary black women playwrights

Silburn, Jennifer (1994) Restor(y)ing the South African experience: A materialist feminist critique of the works of contemporary black women playwrights. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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This thesis deals with the work of three contemporary, black South African playwrights, Gcina Mhlophe, Fatima Dike and Muthal Naidoo, women who have found voices with which to speak in a society that has, to a large extent, rendered many of its populace silent. Despite the repressive circumstances of their condition within the context of apartheid South Africa, these women have reclaimed their right to speak and most importantly have established themselves as powerful story-tellers, as bearers of the cultures of their people.

By occupying these crucial spaces of signification as speaking subjects and foregrounding the lived experiences of black women, these playwrights represent not only the culturally determined "otherness" of women, but articulate the experience of living at the intersections of ethnic, class and racial differences, while at the same time forging alternative world views.

In this thesis, I use materialist feminist criticism to examine the narratives of nation, race, gender and difference that compete for attention in the texts analysed. Recognising, however, the limitations of this essentially eurocentric approach, I attempt to provide the reader with some understanding of Nguni cosmology, as an appreciation of an African world view plays an important role in penetrating the writings of Dike and Mhlophe.

To contextualize the position these women occupy in the field of South African drama, I reference the work of Fugard as the exemplar of resistance writing, counterpointing and contrasting his contribution to that made by Dike, Mhlophe and Naidoo.

Harnessing the power and authority of the story-teller is central to the art of these playwrights: both Dike and Mhlophe acknowledge their indebtedness to traditional story-telling practices while, at the same time, their work both shapes and distorts eurocentric theatrical forms. This double appropriation creates a unique positionality which enables them to proclaim new territories brought about by the act of co-option and recontextualisation.

In this dynamic interplay, contentious performative sites are established which represent the multi-levelled complexity and diversity of the hybridised and hyphenated state. These performative sites generate alternative narratives which fragment hegemonic ideologies and allow, I believe, for a release of creative energy. The possibilities of these discourses, framed as they are here within the genre of drama, present an infinitely varied range of ways in which women's lives and their lived reality can be represented. It is these narratives which have the power to transform, revision and recreate.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Humanities
Notes: Note to the author: If you would like to make your thesis openly available on Murdoch University Library's Research Repository, please contact: Thank you.
Supervisor(s): De Reuck, Jennifer
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