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African Literature

The field of African Literature includes the many rich works of literature of the African continent in both African and European languages.  

At Wits, we study African literature written in or translated into English, with an extended focus on the literature of the African diaspora.  

The study of African literature includes an exploration of aspects of the history, politics, intellectual traditions and cultural heritage of the diverse societies within which the literature is produced. As South Africa's links with the rest of the world continue to grow, such knowledge is increasingly invaluable. African Literature provides you with useful knowledge not only for a changing South Africa but also for a dynamically changing landscape of global literature and culture. 

Do I Need an African Language? 

While an African language would be extremely useful, the course focuses on material written in English - which is the only language you will need to enrol in our courses. 


First Year

Oral Literature and Performance in South Africa

This course introduces students to debates about oral and written traditions and their interactions. The modules also introduce students to the area of performance studies.

Since the interaction of oral and written forms lies at the heart of African Literature as a discipline, this course aims to introduce students to some of the key concepts and ideas in the field.

The module aims to equip students with both close-reading and contextual skills, and it encourages them to examine a range of South African cultural forms as part of a changing intellectual and political climate.

Themes covered include:

  • Praise poetry
  • Laments
  • Rap Poetry
  • Two novels which draw strongly on the oral tradition
  • Two South African plays
  • Two films

African Fiction: An Introduction

This course introduces students to a range of African fiction by focusing on the idea of regional literatures. By choosing a cross-section of West, East and South African texts, we attempt to introduce students to some of the major themes and concerns characterising this fiction.

These include the disparate colonial contexts which have led to distinct literary trends in the various regions, the various ways in which writers draw on indigenous intellectual traditions; changing literary themes in the post-independence era; and the complex interplay between different literary genres. The course aims to give students contextual reading skills and the ability to place a text in its social and historical context.

Second Year

Gender and Writing II

Over the past decade, there has been a significant shift within the field of feminist literary criticism. Previously attention tended to fall only on women writers; the representation of women and historical construction of femaleness. Questions of maleness and masculinity received little attention and remained invisible. There has in short been a move from studying women and / in literary texts to studying gender.

This course seeks to apply this thinking to a range of African literary texts. The course begins with a consideration of the masculinist bias of much nationalist thinking and the ways which this informs many of the major male writers. The course then examines the ways in which women and certain male writers have attempted to reshape or rewrite the masculinist orientation of much canonical African writing.

Performing Power in Post-Independence Africa

The post-independence state in Africa is frequently depicted as a 'theatre state' in African Literature. The relations between government officials and ordinary people, men and women, are structured and negotiated through a wide range of social acts that serve as physical and symbolic enactments of power. The staging of power is embedded in social events as different as the political rituals of government, popular culture and its spaces/occasions of expression, and gendered encounters in the home, youth league rallies and many other instances. Drawing on novels, plays, poetry and film, this course explores the centrality of language, culture and ideology in imagining and contesting the nation-state in Africa after independence.

Third Year

Literatures of the Black Diaspora

This module aims to introduce students to a representative range of literary texts from the African diaspora. The module will cover texts from the African American and the English-speaking Caribbean. The module begins with theoretical discussion of the nature of diasporic communities and identities; strategies of language appropriation and abrogation; and the politics of pan-Africanism. A range of genres will are taught - autobiography, novels, poetry, short stories, music and video material. Themes investigated include explorations and uses of the past; the search for "wholeness"; the ambiguities of dependence; cultural nationalism; gender and class.

Contemporary Trends in African Literature

The popular image of African Literature both without and sometimes even within the academy is largely based on the literature that emerged during and shortly after the decolonising years. This movement included figures like Mahfouz, Soyinka, Achebe, Armah, Ngugi, Beti, Oyono, and Laye and it is often from these writers that a canon has been formulated which in some instances may take in a few 'second wave' writers - like Farah, Head and Aidoo. However, over the last decade there has been the emergence of a distinct 'third generation' of writers including figures like Okri, Dangarembga, Vassanji, Gurnah, Hove, Laing, Bandele-Thomas, Chipasula, Couto and so on.

In theme, style and concern, this cohort of writers is distinct from the 'classical' writers of the canon and tends to take up issues that have emerged in other 'postcolonial' literatures. This shift in literary emphasis has been accompanied by a shift in critical focus and much African literary theory is now dominated by various forms of 'postcolonial' theory. The object of the course is to introduce students to a cross-section of contemporary writers whilst simultaneously looking critically at shifts in literary theory.

East African Literature

This course seeks to examine discourses relating to decolonisation in the colonial and the post-colonial state in East Africa. Drawing on theories on decolonisation which attempt to understand the coloniser/colonised relationship and the effects of colonial structures and the post-colonial state, the course seeks to explore how the literatures of the sub-continent engage with ways in which power is deployed, contested and appropriated. It examines discourses relating to committed literature and alienation in the post-colonial state. Indeed, the apparent diverse political experiences of East African states ranging from Nyerere's ''Arusha Declaration'', Kenyatta's commitment to capitalism, to Amin's reign of terror are examined as mediating factors in the post-colonial literatures of East Africa.

Postgraduate Programmes