Of Masks, Mimicry, Misogyny, and Miscegenation: Forging Black South African Masculinity in Bloke Modisane’s Blame Me on History

  • Meredith Goldsmith


From the 1960s to the early 1990s, a series of autobiographies was released chronicling the frustration of black South African intellectuals of the 1950s. The authors, most former journalists with the popular South African publications Drum and Golden City Post, included Bloke Modisane, Lewis Nkosi, Can Themba, Todd Matshikiza, Don Mattera, and Nat Nakasa.1 ’ Their work had its emotional center in Sophiatown, a township outside of Johannesburg known for its racial mixing, after-hours culture, and larger-than-life gangsters. Beyond its cultural cosmopolitanism, Sophiatown was one of the few townships in which blacks were allowed to own homes. Between 1955 and 1958, however, the black community was ousted and the township was razed according to the Native Resettlement Act to make way for a white working-class community ironically named “Triomf.” From exile in Europe and the United States in the early 1960s, the Sophiatown writers penned their autobiographies, most instantly banned in South Africa and quickly to go out of print.2


Black Woman Psychological Empowerment Black Skin Postcolonial Theorist White Mask 
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  1. 1.
    For an introduction to the period and its writers, see Michael Chapman, The Drum Generation: Stories from the 1950s (Pietermaritzburg: University of Natal Press, 1989). Anthony Sampson, the white British editor of Drum, offers a counterpoint to the Sophiatown writers in Drum: The Newspaper that Won the Heart of Africa (Cambridge, MA: Riverside Press, 1957). Sampson’s account, perhaps because of Modisane’s feuds with his editors over the salaries of black journalists, elides the subject of this study.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    On the importance of autobiography as a literary form for South African writers, see Lewis Nkosi, “Autobiography: Bloke Modisane,” South African Review of Books (February/May 1990): 11–13. For an analysis of some of its consistent patterns, see James Olney, Tell Me Africa: An Approach to African Literature (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1973).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Steven Biko, “We Blacks,” in I Write What I Like, ed. Aelred Stubbs (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1978), 28.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks (New York: Grove Press, 1967), 18.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Despite his penchant for primitivism, Sampson analyzes the effects of migration to urban areas more thoroughly than any black Sophiatown writer. Karla Poewe also analyzes Modisane’s writing in terms of its dissociation from the indigenous past: “From Dissonance and Prophecy to Nihilism and Blame: A Look at the Work of Modisane in the Context of South African Writing,” Literature and Theology: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Theory and Criticism 7 (1993): 381–387.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Homi Bhabha, “Of Mimicry and Man: The Ambivalence of Colonial Discourse,” The Location of Culture (New York: Routledge, 1994), 86.Google Scholar
  7. 8.
    Anne McClintock, Imperial Leather: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in the Colonial Contest (New York: Routledge, 1995), 65.Google Scholar
  8. 9.
    Bloke Modisane, Blame Me on History (New York: Simon and Shuster, 1990).Google Scholar
  9. 10.
    See Lewis Nkosi, Home and Exile (New York/London: Longman, 1965),Google Scholar
  10. and Mark Sanders, “Responding to the ‘Situation’ of Modisane’s Blame Me on History: Towards an Ethics of Reading in South Africa,” Research in African Literatures 25 (1994): 52–67.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Rob Nixon, Homelands, Harlem, and Hollywood: South African Culture and the World Beyond (New York: Routledge, 1994), 31.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    See Laura Mulvey, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” in Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings, ed. Gerald Mast, Marshall Cohen, and Leo Braudy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 746–757. Despite Modisane’s obsessive fetishization of women and almost equally obsessive cataloging of his film viewing, he never discusses images of women on screen.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Lahoucine Ouzgane and Robert Morrell 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Meredith Goldsmith

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