Graduate School
Welcome to Stellenbosch University

Dr James Ocita

Home country: Uganda

Year of enrolment: 2010

Graduation date: March 2013

Department:  English

Supervisor: Dr Tina Steiner

Dissertation title: Diasporic imaginaries: memory and negotiation of belonging in East African and South African Indian narratives



Abstract: This dissertation explores selected Indian narratives that emerge in South Africa and East Africa between 1960 and 2010, focusing on representations of migrations from the late 19th century, with the entrenchment of mercantile capitalism, to the early 21st century entry of immigrants into the metropolises of Europe, the US and Canada as part of the post-1960s upsurge in global migrations. The (post-)colonial and imperial sites that these narratives straddle re-echo Vijay Mishra's reading of Indian diasporic narratives as two autonomous archives designated by the terms, "old" and "new" diasporas. The study underscores the role of memory both in quests for legitimation and in making sense of Indian marginality in diasporic sites across the continent and in the global north, drawing together South Asia, Africa and the global north as continuous fields of analysis. Categorising the narratives from the two locations in their order of emergence, I explore how Ansuyah R. Singh's Behold the Earth Mourns (1960) and Bahadur Tejani's Day After Tomorrow (1971), as the first novels in English to be published by a South African and an East African writer of Indian descent, respectively, grapple with questions of citizenship and legitimation. I categorise subsequent narratives from South Africa into those that emerge during apartheid, namely, Ahmed Essop's The Hajji and Other Stories (1978), Agnes Sam's Jesus is Indian and Other Stories (1989) and K. Goonam's Coolie Doctor: An Autobiography by Dr Goonam (1991); and in the post-apartheid period, including here Imraan Coovadia's The Wedding (2001) and Aziz Hassim's The Lotus People (2002) and Ronnie Govender's Song of the Atman (2006). I explore how narratives under the former category represent tensions between apartheid state – that aimed to reveal and entrench internal divisions within its borders as part of its technology of rule – and the resultant anti-apartheid nationalism that coheres around a unifying ―black‖ identity, drawing attention to how the texts complicate both apartheid and anti-apartheid strategies by simultaneously suggesting and bridging differences or divisions. Post-apartheid narratives, in contrast to the homogenisation of "blackness", celebrate ethnic self-assertion, foregrounding cultural authentication in response to the post-apartheid "rainbow-nation" project. Similarly, I explore subsequent East African narratives under two categories. In the first category I include Peter Nazareth's In a Brown Mantle (1972) and M.G. Vassanji's The Gunny Sack (1989) as two novels that imagine Asians' colonial experience and their entry into the post-independence dispensation, focusing on how this transition complicates notions of home and national belonging. In the second category, I explore Jameela Siddiqi's The Feast of the Nine Virgins (1995), Yasmin Alibhai-Brown's No Place Like Home (1996) and Shailja Patel's Migritude (2010) as post-1990 narratives that grapple with political backlashes that engender migrations and relocations of Asian subjects from East Africa to imperial metropolises. As part of the recognition of the totalising and oppressive capacities of culture, the three authors, writing from both within and without Indianness, invite the diaspora to take stock of its role in the fermentation of political backlashes against its presence in East Africa.

Click here to download full dissertation:

Click here to access Dr James Ocita's research outputs​​