Penn Arts & Sciences Logo

From Mandela to Noah: South African Literature, Film, and Society cancelled

ENGL 293.401
also offered as: COML 378
MW 10:15-11:45am


From Mandela to Noah: South African Literature, Film, and Society


The struggle to establish a non-racial democracy in South Africa was not the bloodiest anticolonial struggle of the twentieth century, but it was the one that captured the global imagination most powerfully.  Upon his release from prison, Nelson Mandela emerged as one of the world’s most revered political figures.  The process of negotiation that led to the transition was seen, all over the world, as a hopeful sign that protracted conflicts could be peacefully resolved. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s inquiry into the human rights abuses of the apartheid era became a model for truth commissions in several other countries. South African writers like Fugard, Gordimer, Coetzee, and Mda earned international renown for their literary response to this compelling historical transformation. But what is the future of South Africa and South African literature?  Why has the new democracy failed to live up to its promise? Has it generated new forms of cultural expression and accrued a different kind of international resonance than in the apartheid era?  Is it useful to compare South Africa and the USA, both countries with histories of racial oppression, and (in the age of Trump and Zuma) of corruption, xenophobia, misogyny, and gaslighting? Most importantly: how are we to imagine freedom today?


These are the questions that animate this seminar.  Our discussions will span novels, creative non-fiction, plays, graphic novels, and films.  The syllabus is likely to include a manageable number of the following texts: Percy Mtwa and Mbongeni Ngema, Woza Albert!, Fatima Dike, So What’s New?, Athol Fugard, Tsotsi andselections from The Port Elizabeth Plays and Statements, Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom (extracts or the comic-book version), Mda, Ways of Dying, Mark Behr, The Smell of Apples, Jacob Dlamini, Native Nostalgia, Zoe Wicomb, Playing in the Light, Ivan Vladislavic, The Restless Supermarket and Portrait with Keys, Marlene van Niekerk, Triomf, Antjie Krog, Country of My Skull, J. M. Coetzee, Disgrace, Njabulo Ndebele, The Cry of Winnie Mandela, Nadine Gordimer, Something Out There or The Pick Up, and Trevor Noah, Born a Crime.  Some of the following films will also be selected: Mandela, Son of Africa, Father of a Nation; Invictus and The16th Man; Tsotsi; Jerusalema: Gangster’s Paradise; Hijack Stories, Otello Burning, District 9; and Dear Mandela.  Also, for our final week: the special issue of Safundi on Trump, Zuma, and the Grounds of US-South African Comparison.


Requirements for this course include two mid-length papers (roughly 7-10 pp.) and a creative presentation.  Please note that seminar participants are not expected to have any expert knowledge of South Africa (indeed, you might enjoy discovering an entirely new place), only a lively interest in the relationship between contemporary culture and politics.


fulfills requirements
Elective Seminar of the Standard Major
Sector 1: Theory and Poetics of the Standard Major
Sector 2: Difference and Diaspora of the Standard Major
Sector 6: 20th Century Literature of the Standard Major