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Imagining the Cape Colony

History, Literature, and the South African Nation

David Johnson

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Relates the literatures and histories of the Cape to postcolonial debates about nationalism

How the Cape Colony was imagined as a political community is examined by considering a variety of writers, from major European literati and intellectuals (Camões, Southey, Rousseau, Adam Smith), to well-known travel writers like François Levaillant and Lady Anne Barnard, to figures on the margins of colonial histories, like settler rebels, slaves and early African nationalists. Complementing the analyses of these primary texts are discussions of the many subsequent literary works and histories of the Cape Colony.

These diverse writings are discussed first in relation to current debates in postcolonial studies about settler nationalism, anti-colonial resistance, and the imprint of eighteenth-century colonial histories on contemporary neo-colonial politics. Secondly, the project of imagining the post-apartheid South African nation functions as a critical lens for reading the eighteenth-century history of the Cape Colony, with the extensive commentaries on literature and history associated with the Thabo Mbeki presidencies given particular attention.

Contents

Acknowledgements
Introduction
1. Remembering the Khoikhoi victory over Dom Francisco d'Almeida at the Cape in 1510: Luiz de Camões and Robert Southey
2. French Representations of the Cape 'Hottentots': Jean Tavernier, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and François Levaillant
3. The Scottish Enlightenment and colonial governance: Adam Smith, John Bruce, and Lady Anne Barnard
4. African Land for the American Empire: John Adams, Benjamin Stout, and Robert Semple
5. Historical and literary re-iterations of Dutch Settler Republicanism
6. Literature and Cape Slavery
7. History and the Griqua Nation: Andries Waterboer and Hendrick Hendricks
Conclusion
Index.

About the Author

David Johnson is Professor of Literature in the Department of English at The Open University. He is the author of Shakespeare and South Africa (Clarendon Press, 1996), with Richard Danson Brown, of Shakespeare 1609: Cymbeline and the Sonnets (Macmillan, 2000) and, with Steve Pete and Max Du Plessis, of Jurisprudence: A South African Perspective (Butterworths, 2001).

Reviews

This is an outstandingly insightful and innovative study. David Johnson singlehandedly opens up new research terrains by challenging current orthodoxies about literary and historical representation and he brings the early Cape Colony into the centre of contemporary debates about identity, power and the pervasive presence of inequality in post-apartheid South Africa.

- Nigel Worden, King George V Professor of History, University of Cape Town

The excitement of reading this book is in its delivering more than the title indicates. Grounded in meticulous historical research, Johnson’s work engages with contemporary debates about the nation, offering the innovative argument that colonial forms of nationhood and nationalism, resisted/subverted/even ignored normative concepts developed in the northern hemisphere.

- Benita Parry, Emerita Professor, University of Warwick

Written in an admirably clear and succinct style, Imagining the Cape Colony is an important book, with which every scholar of South Africa’s history and literature should engage. It opens up many new avenues for research, while providing a sober reminder of the vast amount of work that still needs to be done to truly transform South Africa, and of the disturbing ways in which history can be perverted.

- Gerald Groenewald, University of Johannesburg, Journal of Southern African Studies, 40:4

This is an outstandingly insightful and innovative study. David Johnson singlehandedly opens up new research terrains by challenging current orthodoxies about literary and historical representation and he brings the early Cape Colony into the centre of contemporary debates about identity, power and the pervasive presence of inequality in post-apartheid South Africa.

- Nigel Worden, King George V Professor of History, University of Cape Town

The excitement of reading this book is in its delivering more than the title indicates. Grounded in meticulous historical research, Johnson’s work engages with contemporary debates about the nation, offering the innovative argument that colonial forms of nationhood and nationalism, resisted/subverted/even ignored normative concepts developed in the northern hemisphere.

- Benita Parry, Emerita Professor, University of Warwick

Imagining the Cape Colony sustains a clear argument without overstating its case, and its selective focus highlights moments of Cape history with authentic reverberations in the present. We seem always to be looking to the future for where we want to be, but perhaps, David Johnson suggests, we should look in our past and in our imaginations. Our history offers many examples of flexible, tolerant and just community, which we can learn from, even on the national scale. 2014 is the twentieth anniversary of South African non-racial nationhood, and we have much to celebrate, including this rich and generous book, which nonetheless offers a critique of any triumphalism or complacency in the rhetoric of the currently ruling party.

- Tony Voss, Transformation