J.M Coetzee’s novel Disgrace
Apartheid in South Africa
White Privilege and Superiority in Apartheid
In the seventeenth century, the English and the Dutch colonized South Africa. The English rule, however, dominated the control of the Dutch thereby forcing the Dutch to inhabit the Orange Free State and Transvaal. It is, however, imperative to note that the discoveries of the mineral deposits in such places led to the war between the Dutch and English. The results of the war led to the independence and the withdrawal of the English from South Africa. With the independence, the Dutch took over control of South Africa. Coetzee’s, a South African writer, has produced several novel that discuss the period of apartheid as well as the injustices that the society faced. All the novels that were written before “disgrace,” talk of the occurrences during the time of apartheid. “Disgrace,” on the other hand, is written post-apartheid and, therefore, discusses the influence of the apartheid rule in the post-apartheid era (Mardorossian 79).
Apartheid came along with several social injustices among other things. With the rivals out of play, the Boers, through the Afrikaner National Party in the 1940s, formed apartheid. The reason for establishing the apartheid rule was to ensure that the Boers would maintain and control the social and economic systems. The apartheid as a law was enacted in the year 1948 and through it racial discrimination was institutionalized. The implementation of the grand plan of apartheid in the 1960s only emphasized the racial segregation and maintained the white dominance within the period. For instance, there were locations that the whites could access but the blacks were not allowed in such places. Discrimination was also evident in the allocation of jobs in that there were jobs exclusively for the whites that could not be accessed by the other races. In the era of apartheid, the people of South Africa were categorized as the whites, blacks and the colored. Racial laws, in the time of apartheid, were such intense thereby prohibiting mixed marriages (Graham 434).
Additionally, the population registration act of 1950 defined the races and promoted the classification of the people of South Africa. When accessing the areas the blacks were prohibited from visiting, they were to carry their pass books that contained all that could identify them. Police repression of the non-white population was also another vice in the society that was promoted by the coming of the apartheid into force. African reserves known as homelands were established to govern and manage the other races. These homelands were as separate states that the government, ruled by the Boers, provided to Africans. The Africans were also deprived of their political rights and, therefore, meant that their participation in the political arena was limited (Barnett 289).
The allocation of the resources of the nation to the different races was also not equitable. The population of the Africans in the time of apartheid was 19 million and that of the whites was approximately 4.5 million. Though this being true, 13% and 87% of land allocation were to the Africans and the whites respectively. The Africans also had less than 20% of the share of the national income as opposed to their white counterparts who had 75% of the share of the national income. The ratio of earnings between the Africans and the whites, on the other hand, was 1:14. One doctor was responsible for serving forty-four Africans. On the contrary, one doctor was responsible for serving only four hundred whites at a go. Conversely, the infant mortality rate among the African population was 20% in the urban settings and 40% in the rural locations while to the whites population, the child mortality rate was 2.7% in the urban areas. The statistics provided only shows that the white viewed themselves as superior to the other races and therefore allocated to themselves the best resources while the other races were denied several best opportunities (Attwell 582).
The Relevance of Apartheid in the Modern Society
In his novel, “Disgrace,” Coetzee, has addressed the themes that run through the society in the post-apartheid era. The book describes the life of Prof Lurie while a lecturer and the life after. In the process, we encounter some scenes that outline the occurrences during the end of apartheid in South Africa. The professor loses his job and moves from Cape Town to Eastern Cape to visit his daughter on the farm she made her home. His visit, however, triggers several unfortunate events to Lucy and her farm. A robbery occurs, and Lucy gets raped in the process by the African boys. Equally, Prof Lurie suffers burns from the rowdy youths when the farm was attacked. The relationship between Lucy and her father worsen after the evil that involved the two of them and the African youths and moves back to Cape Town to his former home. On his arrival, he realized that his too, was broken into and several items stolen in addition to the car that he lost during the farm incident (Coleman 600).
The name of the novel itself is a symbol that Coetzee has used in his writing. It suggests the transition of the whites from grace; the time apartheid rule was in force, to the period of disgrace, a time when the rule came to an end. The question that remains and which is disturbing is whether the injustices performed by the Africans as their revenge to the whites were justified? Even though the whites mistreated the Africans and the colored individuals, was it the right thing to retaliate and inflict pain on the whites? J.M Coetzee, in his novel, also examines the impact the rule of apartheid had in the overall transition to living as registered by the different races. Apart from the racial discriminations that were vividly evident within the entire population, discrimination of females was also apparent. In the life of the protagonist, Prof Lurie, exercise his prejudice over women through his unresolved sex problem (Mardorossian 81).
Lucy, depicted in the text is an open minded individual. She is attacked on her farm and raped as well as her father is burned in her home. She later realized that she became pregnant in the event of the evil that occurred to her. On the opinion of the father, she was to report to the police and the perpetrators are followed and made to answer for their crimes. On the contrary, she chose not to report the case as rape but would only talk about the robbery. Being offended by the act of the boys, she decided to let it go and forgive them of their doing. In her opinion, she was concerned with her stay on the farm that was among the Africans. In case she would have reported the case, she would have experienced multiple attacks from the group that violated her right initially and even could even be evicted by the rowdy youths. Though the apartheid rule impacted negatively on the Africans and the other races, it was important for the offended to forgive the misdeeds of the whites during the time of apartheid. Retaliation and revenge plots organized by the Africans on the whites would not heal but proper healing would come from forgiveness (Graham 440).
David, on the other hand, reflects a typical white South African. He is still affected by the past events of apartheid holding strong on the idea of white supremacy culturally and racially. His attitudes did not favor the blacks as evident in the discussions and events. He further manifested the white supremacy through his actions and attitudes towards the western education and literature as well as the justification of sexuality. The Africans were relieved of the injustices in the society, and the transition was full of rage and willing to retaliate and avenge their past wounds. Though it was a happy moment for the Africans, the change was, however, not for the minority group the whites. The whites were still affected by the first settings where they enjoyed all the best privileges at the expense of the other races. It, therefore, means that the shift had a terrible impact on the life of the whites since the end of apartheid would say that every individual had equitable access to the available resources. Though the end of apartheid led to the increased cases of crimes targeting the white population, it was, however, an essential step in the history of South Africa. The other factor of concern in the post-apartheid era was the equal representation of the races in government. The whites were the previous rulers, and this was so due to their political agenda that ensured that they remained in power. The shift turned tables, and they became the minority in the society. It was still important to include them in the realms of power alongside the Africans (Barnett 296).
There is a University’s sexual scandal that involves Prof Lurie and Melanie. Melanie files a compliant to the university that allows for the investigations of the claims of sexual harassment. The allegations are, however, substantiated and David is found guilty of the crimes. David loses his job and leaves for the Eastern Cape. The whole process of investigation and presentation of the case is a mirror of reconciliation that the society needs in the post-apartheid era. Different groups of people were hurt by the apartheid rule coming to law. Proper channels are, therefore, needed to ensure that the individuals whose rights were infringed can follow to ensure that they find justice. Reconciliation and healing of the wounds of apartheid are the only way to resolve the issues surrounding apartheid. Discussion of the matter between the two would lead to a mutual understanding. Through the agreements, the people are able to forgive the mistakes of one group and come up with strategies to allow for healing of the nation from the injuries of apartheid rule (Attwell 602).
After the resignation of David, he is ostracized and leaves Cape Town. In the same manner, the whites, after the end of the discriminative rule were alienated from the rest of the population due to their past activities. It is also noted that the reversal of power or regime was evident in the novel. David, who was previously a scholar, is ending up taking care of dogs, a job that would have otherwise not been performed by him. The African, who protected the dogs, is depicted as rising in the society while David, a white scholar, has his life deteriorating. The reverse of events during the end of the apartheid rule is also vividly shown when David for the African, Petrus. Lucy and Petrus were neighbors in the post-apartheid and both lived in harmony for a long time. Racial segregation is no longer in play and doesn’t affect the population as it was in the time of the rule. In the previous settings, this kind of a scenario was not possible and the blacks were not allowed in the white residence. Lucy, however, decides to forgo the privilege that her race enjoyed and stayed among the Africans. It is vital for all the individuals from the races of concern to accept one another as equals and people who need equal respect and dignity. The contemporary society should not be defined by locations where whites dominate or places solely inhabited by the other race. Living together as a unit would help in creating the trust needed for people to move on and past the era of apartheid law (Gal 245).
Mixed marriages are also presented in the book to help understand the need to live in harmony. Lucy gets married to the African showing that the two races can marry as opposed to the former settings where such marriages were prohibited. The marriages and staying in the same neighborhood only promotes peace and harmony among the population. The increase in the crime rates targeting the whites would have otherwise been rooted out in the case where everyone sees the other as equal and important members of the society. Learning to accommodate one another in the same place would minimize the chances of a repeat of the same injustices on the whites (Coleman 610).
In conclusion, the aspect of racial discrimination in South Africa was fueled by the establishment of the apartheid rule. The rule came along with several negative influences in the society. Classification of the population on the basis of color and also the segregation of the population were the results apartheid coming into force. The whites created the rule to ensure that they remain in power and also control and maintain the economic and the social systems within the society. The vice promoted by the whites, however, resulted in several movements from the Africans who were against. The persistence of the Africans through the demonstration yielded a fruit ensuring that the rule of apartheid came to an end. Additionally, the effects of the apartheid rule could be seen in the times beyond the era of the law. At this time, it is, however, noted that the Africans were full of rage and wanted to retaliate and avenge the injustices they faced while the power was in the hands of the whites. The plot and the scenes in the novel of Coetzee symbolize and address the events that took place after apartheid. Reconciliation and living in harmony in the society are the significant steps that people need to adopt to be able to heal the wounds of apartheid.
Attwell, David. “The problem of history in the fiction of JM Coetzee.” Poetics Today (1990): 579-615.
Barnett, Clive. “Constructions of Apartheid in the International Reception of the Novels of JM Coetzee.” Journal of Southern African Studies 25.2 (1999): 287-301.
Coleman, Deirdre. “The” Dog-Man”: Race, Sex, Species, and Lineage in Coetzee’s” Disgrace”.” Twentieth Century Literature (2009): 597-617.
Gal, Noam. “A note on the use of animals for remapping victimhood in JM Coetzee’s Disgrace.” African Identities 6.3 (2008): 241-252.
Graham, Lucy Valerie. “Reading the unspeakable: Rape in JM Coetzee’s Disgrace.” Journal of Southern African Studies 29.2 (2003): 433-444.
Mardorossian, Carine M. “Rape and the Violence of Representation in JM Coetzee’s Disgrace.” Research in African Literatures 42.4 (2011): 72-83.
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