A Childhood on the Edge of History

Charles van Onselen

  • Boyhood: Scenes from Provincial Life by J.M. Coetzee
    Secker, 171 pp, £12.99, September 1997, ISBN 0 436 20448 7

There was a moment – probably in the Thirties, as Smuts and Hertzog were embarking on political exercises aimed at ‘nation-building’ – when the term ‘English-speaking’ might have meant something in white South African society. In contemporary South Africa, however, ‘African’ and ‘Afrikaner’ dominate the debate. Both suggest a primordial attachment to the continent, fan rival nationalisms and render the phrase ‘English-speaking South African’ politically irrelevant. Noted largely for their economic success, English-speakers are destined to remain bit players in the unfolding political drama.

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