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Victor Dlamini

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Podcast: Pumla Dineo Gqola on “Rainbowism”

DifferencePumla Dineo GqolaThe writer, academic and feminist Pumla Dineo Gqola has taken up a spirited analysis of the many images that South Africans like to hold up as mirrors to their society. At a time when some still favour political correctness, Pumla’s voice has risen above the hush-hush of the polite talk to insist on bursting open the reservoir of myths created to sustain SA’s new society. Pumla’s writings have appeared in both academic and popular as well as creative anthologies, and her voice has become one of the most important additions to post-colonial discourse. Her academic articles on feminism and African and Caribbean literature, in particular, have caught the attention of many critical readers.

Through her various writings, Pumla has been prepared to pose awkward questions, forcing us to look past the facades that are often mistaken for the real thing when the nature of South African society – particularly its complex social relations – is discussed. For instance, she has written extensively on how South African role models like Archbishop Desmond Tutu have provided some of the language markers that have allowed South Africans to negotiate their way – mentally, morally – out of the Apartheid morass.

Join me on this fascinating episode of The Victor Dlamini Literary Podcast as I chat to Pumla about her views on political expediency, and how it is often expressed through popularised concepts that resonate uncritically within society and the media.

Pumla Dineo GqolaOne of the most enduring descriptions South Africans apply to themselves is that of the “rainbow nation”, and it is to this formulation that Pumla has turned her attention as an academic. She has interrogated the meaning of “rainbow nation” and the circumstances that conspired to make the phrase so popular, and she has turned some of the assumptions about the description on their proverbial heads, revealing the hidden meanings that have propped them up. She offers us insight into why the idea of a “rainbow nation” has fallen out of favour in the past few years, and how the concept of “diversity” has reasserted itself as the primary descriptor, after nearly a decade of insistence on sameness and the underplaying of difference. Pumla has written provocatively that, “In the 10th year of South Africa’s democracy, it is possible that at the precise moment we perceived ourselves as achieving “rainbow nation” status, its assertion became redundant”.

Pumla Dineo GqolaFor “Rainbowism”, Pumla has argued, “was central to shaping identities in a post-apartheid South Africa; the mere evocation of the identity ‘rainbow nation’ in the print and electronic media, as well as popular culture… worked to silence dissenting voices on the (then) state of race and racism in South Africa, thereby moderating more radical anti-racist critiques of a society in formation”. She traces the roots of the “rainbow nation” to the dominant impulse, when freedom arrived, to privilege unity and sameness. But now, “Whereas a decade ago it became necessary to stress unity, sameness and ‘rainbow nation’ identity… the second decade of democracy is set to articulate South Africanness in another way. This shift of positions within memory-making and collective identity formation illustrates more than a superficial incarnation of development; it speaks more directly to the diverse applications of memory politically”.

Pumla Dineo GqolaPumla is Associate Professor at the School of Literature and Language Studies, University of the Witwatersrand, and she is a graduate of the the Universities of Cape Town, Warwick (England) and Munich (Germany). Her articles have appeared in Agenda, Fito, Tyhume, Gowanus, Postcolonial Text, Chimurenga and the UK-based Drum. She is co-editor of the book Discourses on Difference, Discourses on Oppression (CACAS, 2002).

Pumla’s research awards have included the Five Colleges African Scholars Associateship in 2005, which she was unable to take up, a Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft grant for 2001-2004, an Association of Commonwealth Universities Scholarship in 1998-9, an Andrew Mellon Foundation Grant in 1996 as well as a Centre for Scientific Research and Development Award in 1995.

Please tune into this invigorating discussion on The Victor Dlamini Literary Podcast:

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