Translating the nation: from Plaatje to Mpe

Michael Green

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


This article attempts to play off a much-celebrated 'post-apartheid' novel, Mpe's Welcome to Our Hillbrow, against what was arguably the pre-eminent literary text arising out of the first formation of South Africa as a single political entity, Sol Plaatje's Mhudi. These works are brought together through their common concern with translation, both literal and metaphorical, as a key element for a national vision forged in a non-essentialist environment. The article thus sets the novels against South Africa's complex and in many ways compromised multilingual language policy. It uses the history of that policy (loaded as it is with the dominance of English and the problems associated with standardising the African languages) as a material expression of the fraught nature of a non-exclusionary South African-ness, and investigates both Plaatje and Mpe's explicit engagement with that history. In particular, it focuses on the measured and guarded utopian drive behind Mhudi and the relation of this to the typically non-'national' spin of Welcome to Our Hillbrow's post-apartheid concern with identity, xenophobia, language, and AIDS.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)325-342
JournalJournal of Southern African Studies
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2008


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