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Hitting the hotspots: literary tourism as a research field in KwaZulu-Natal PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 05 March 2007 01:40

Hitting the hotspots: literary tourism as a research field in KwaZulu-Natal

Lindy Stiebel - University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

 

Published in Critical Arts Vol 18(2) 2004. (An earlier version of this paper was presented at the colloquium under the discussion title “Writers, Place and Identity: Questioning the Terrain”).

Abstract

 

Literary tourism is a new field in the province of KwaZulu-Natal, and South Africa more generally. Whilst in England, the interested reader/traveller can buy books on Hardy’s Wessex, Dickens’s London and Shakespeare’s Stratford-on-Avon; show literature students and the public generally an assortment of films on places associated with important writers, and even go on guided walks through famous ‘literary’ places like Wordsworth’s Lake District; there is very little of the same for the South African literature researcher – or indeed literary fan. KwaZulu-Natal is a particularly rich province culturally speaking, offering a wide range of writers both black and white, male and female, writing in English and Zulu predominantly – Alan Paton, Roy Campbell, Lewis Nkosi, Lauretta Ngcobo, Daphne Rooke to mention but a few. Efforts by literary scholars to encourage literary tourism in this fertile area inevitably lead one to consider a research agenda; in my case this has a threefold purpose involving firstly, the creation of a literary archive of local writers both past and present; secondly, the recording of selected writers and their works on film, and thirdly, the establishment of a ‘literary map’ of the region on website. Such a research agenda carries with it complex questions: how to define a ‘local’ writer? How to understand the uses a writer makes of place? Who should be featured and why? How do readers’ constructed places interface with ‘real’ places? What could the impact of literary tourism be? This paper engages with some of these questions and attempts to suggest a possible research agenda that has exciting possibilities within KwaZulu-Natal, and which could offer a potential framework for similar literary tourism projects in other provinces of South Africa in the future.

 

 

If there is any universal truth about writers, it is that they are place bound. In every sense. A writer’s place colors the voice with which he [sic] writes; his origins provide the rooms, the streets and the faces that his imagination worked into art. On the other hand a writer likes nothing more than to be bound for somewhere else; a new place… (Eisenberg, 1985: 17-18; in Butler-Adam, 1990: 28)

 

We walk in our writers’ footsteps and see through their eyes when we enter these spaces. (Marsh, 1998: xv)

 

 

MacCannell (1992) aptly summarises the reason for the apprehension some academics feel when their discipline extends to intersect with the field of tourism

 

Tourism is not just an aggregate of merely commercial activities; it is also an ideological framing of history, nature and tradition; a framing that has the power to reshape culture and nature to its own needs. (1)

 

In other words, like everything else, tourism is not an innocent activity. The ideological framing of tourism is done by both those who market a particular place or event, and by those who are the tourists arriving at a site with a particular set of preconceptions which inform what Urry (1990) famously called “the tourist gaze”. Of course, academics themselves in their teaching and research also do their own ideological framing evident in what they choose to teach and how. Urry distinguished between what he called the ‘romantic’ gaze and the ‘collective’ gaze of tourists: in summary, the former describes the gaze by those better educated who have the cultural capital to construct meaning from places and events; the latter gaze belonging to those less discerning and less informed, more in need of other similar gazers to verify the point of gazing in the first place.

 

The cultural tourist is generally taken to belong to the category of the romantic gaze – the tourist who visits a site because of knowledge already gleaned about a cultural practice or culturally linked site, or with an interest in “learning about, experiencing or understanding cultural activities, resources and/or other cultures” (Craik in Douglas et al, 2001: 114). Cultural tourism as a distinct type of tourism has grown in recent years as people look for new things to visit and as educational tourism experiences a resurgence in popularity being perceived as less negative in impact than other forms of tourism (see Craik 2001). As with other forms of tourism, the most frequently cited issues which arise in the consideration of cultural tourism (of which literary tourism is a specialised sub-set) are the following: authenticity, commodification and the benefits of such tourism – beneficial for whom? Whilst this paper cannot deal exhaustively with all these issues, it will attempt to raise them as questions underlying tourism which need further analysis in specific South African contexts.

 

The first issue of authenticity is perhaps primary for the tourist. This paper will explore this issue more fully than any other, as it has particular twists for the literary tourist and literary tourism to which this paper will later refer. Despite the realisation that the sight/site before one is presented and shaped in order to make what is displayed more digestible and understandable, the cultural tourist nevertheless wishes to feel that what s/he is watching is – if not the ‘real thing’, the original – as close to that as possible, a sign or simulacrum of the ‘real thing’. In this sign-reading behaviour, Culler (1998) sees all tourists (not just cultural tourists) as “agents of semiotics: all over the world they are engaged in reading cities, landscapes and cultures as sign systems” (155). He argues for a serious semiotic study of tourism in place of what he described in the eighties as the disdainful criticism of tourism emanating from the “vituperative nostalgia of conservatives” (167) who dismissed tourists and tourism out of hand as unworthy of serious study. The phenomenon of tourism, Culler wrote, demands not rejection but rather a semiotic analysis as tourists – romantic or collective in their gaze – are semioticians par excellence: they seek various markers for the signs they see and recognise as such – postcards, posters, photographs, books, momentoes. The question of markers of sites, however, is paradoxical when linked to the issue of authenticity: “The authentic site requires markers, but our notion of the authentic is the unmarked” (164). Tourists, particularly cultural ‘romantic gaze’ tourists, seem to want their cake and eat it – tourists are looking for the ‘real thing’, the authentic experience, but also want some evidence that this is in fact authentic and so require markers necessitating some commodification (and thereby packaging, shaping) of the experience, removing it from the truly unspoiled.

 

When applied to literary tourism, the branch of cultural tourism with which this paper is concerned, the issues of authenticity and commodification are equally central and potentially vexed. To begin with, literary tourism - which generally involves visiting “both those places associated with writers in their real lives and those which provided settings for their novels” (Herbert, 1995: 33) – starts with the markers rather than the sites themselves. The place becomes important because the book which includes the setting is first read. A person reads a book which may include a setting based on a real place, or an imaginary setting, which prompts the reader to visit the place associated with the book or writer – the place becomes important after the marker and is visited with preconceptions established by the work of fiction. Indeed the idea of place formed in the literary tourist’s mind may seem more authentic than the actual site once visited – such is the power of the imagination.

 

With this brief introduction to some of the theoretical issues related to cultural tourism in mind, this paper will turn to consider a particular research project, as yet in its infancy, concerning literary tourism in KwaZulu-Natal. Literary tourism is a new field in the province of KwaZulu-Natal, and South Africa more generally. In England, the interested reader/traveller can buy books on Hardy’s Wessex, Dickens’s London and Shakespeare’s Stratford-upon-Avon; the literature professor can show students and the public generally an assortment of films on places associated with important writers; and enthusiasts can even go on guided walks through famous ‘literary’ places like Wordsworth’s Lake District. There is, however, very little of the same for the South African literature researcher – or indeed literary enthusiast. KwaZulu-Natal is a particularly rich province culturally speaking, offering a wide range of writers both black and white, male and female, writing in English and Zulu predominantly – Alan Paton, Roy Campbell, Lewis Nkosi, Gcina Mhlope, Daphne Rooke to name but a few. Efforts by scholars to encourage literary tourism in this area inevitably lead one to consider a research agenda; in my case this has a threefold purpose involving firstly, the creation of a literary archive of local writers both past and present; secondly, the recording of selected writers and their works on film, and thirdly, the establishment for locals and visitors alike of routes which bring together writers and the places about which they write – a literary map of the region. Such a research agenda carries with it complex questions: How to define a ‘local’ writer? How to understand the uses a writer makes of place? Who should be featured and why? What is the interface between literary tourist and writer? How do the issues of authenticity and commodification make themselves evident in literary tourism? This paper engages with these questions and attempts to suggest a possible research agenda that has exciting possibilities within KwaZulu-Natal, and which could offer in the future a potential framework for similar literary tourism projects in other provinces of South Africa.

 

The existence of the Penguin series of Literary Companions to various major European cities, together with the recent publication of Jeanette Eve’s Literary Companion to the Eastern Cape (2003) led me to reflect on the possibilities for literary tourism in the region where I was born and still live – KwaZulu-Natal on the east coast of South Africa, stretching from Port Edward in the south to Kosi Bay in the north and inland to the great Drakensberg mountain range. Whilst this region is not known for specifically ‘regional writing’- that is writing characterised by common threads, settings in common, or even ideological sameness - as is true of some of the writing from the eastern Cape Karoo region (Olive Schreiner and Pauline Smith, for example), nevertheless, it struck me as a rich region for writing having produced a wide variety of writers and writing styles over the years. Gardner, writing twenty years ago, was doubtful about whether Natal (the earlier colonial name for KwaZulu-Natal) could be described as having produced a body of writing which could be identified as ‘regional’:

 

One cannot be certain that such an entity as ‘Natal literature’ can be said to exist. Of the authors who have lived in Natal, the majority have spent large parts of their lives elsewhere. It is clear too that literature, unlike some other forms of human activity, is often not particularly associated with a specific region: indeed the more important a writer is, usually, the less regional he or she will seem. (1983: 43)

 

Regional as the writing from this province may or may not be, by exploring both its past literary heritage and contemporary scene, it might be possible for a research project to encourage an interest in the region, in both visitors and locals, for more than the ‘sun, sea, Zulu dancing and game reserves’ that are the usual drawcards featured in tourist brochures. Could literary tourism be a possibility here in the same way that it has been established in England and Europe? Obviously the scale would be far smaller but the principle might be the same, so that readers of South African literature might like to follow the Alan Paton route in Ixopo, see where Bessie Head was born in Pietermaritzburg, go to Snake Park Beach where Lewis Nkosi set Mating Birds, walk down Grey Street in Durban where Aziz Hassim’s new novel The Lotus People is set, etc.

 

With these questions in mind as the possible basis for a research project, I applied for and subsequently received a five-year National Research Foundation grant to work with a team to gather material on KwaZulu-Natal writers with a view to fostering a new niche area called ‘Literary Tourism in KwaZulu-Natal’. The project has a threefold mission: to collect a database of all published KwaZulu-Natal writers past and present in all languages of the region on CD-ROM; to link this database to a literary tourist map of the province on a website such that places associated with writers are highlighted; and to produce documentary films on selected, representative writers aimed at literature students and literary tourists alike. Attached to the grant are a number of bursaries for students of literature and/or tourism and heritage studies who will work on various local writers at Honours, MA and PhD level. Since the project started last year, four documentary films have been made on the following writers: Roy Campbell (poet and author of, notably, The Flaming Terrapin; joint editor of Voorslag); Harold Strachan (Way up Way Out); Lewis Nkosi (Tasks and Masks, Home and Exile, Mating Birds, Underground People among others) and Aziz Hassim (The Lotus People); and students have received funding for various levels of study. In 2003 the website is the priority, as is postgraduate student funding and supervision, with the collection of archival material an ongoing activity undertaken by research assistants.

 

Behind such a research ‘industry’, however, lie questions of methodology and definition. For instance, what makes a writer identifiable as a local writer, or a ‘KwaZulu-Natal writer’? Is it a trick of birth or does the writer have to write about the region in such a way that he or she becomes identified with it? Does the writer himself/herself have to identify with the region, in other words see himself/herself as a ‘KwaZulu-Natal writer’? In a multilingual society such as is found in this province would the project cover all languages? Do the writers have to have published their works – in which case, what about oral storytellers? These are some of the more pressing questions that need consideration and I will explore a few in a preliminary way here. Those who are not familiar with the writing of the province will, hopefully, also find these questions thought-provoking as, indeed, the issue of place and its link to constructions of identity lies behind them and is, thus applicable to us all, wherever we may live and work/write.

 

On the question of identity as a KwaZulu-Natal (or, in fact, any other) writer, it seems to me that to be born in a place as a writer is sufficient to merit entry in a database of writers from that place. This can, however, throw up curious cases such as: is Bessie Head, who was born in Pietermaritzburg, a KwaZulu-Natal writer though most of her writing was set in Botswana? She is claimed by literary critics as a South African writer, but surely not as a ‘KwaZulu-Natal writer’ as she wrote very little, if anything about her birthplace. Though one could argue that the circumstances of her birth from mixed parentage in a mental hospital during the age of apartheid coloured her entire oeuvre, these early circumstances made her ‘South African’, rather than localised to a specific region of South Africa. I think, though, it could be argued that to be born in a place means such a writer should be included in a database of writers of that region, albeit only as a short entry if the only ongoing link with that place was the fact of birth, as in Head’s case. One’s birth place is, after all, a valid point of entry to biographical information, and it usually has some formative influence, if only a negative one. Certainly for someone interested in a particular writer, visiting his/her birthplace can be a significant starting point of the ‘pilgrimage’ which, in a sense, is what literary tourism is about. It is to step in the places that the famous (or minor) writer stepped and to see the things that he or she saw - buildings or statues in the case of towns or, more frequently in South African literature, the landscapes that the writer described in words – that is, reconstructed literary spaces in ‘real life’.

 

What about the writer who was born outside KwaZulu-Natal but who has written so extensively or intensely and typically about the region or places within it that he or she can claim to be, or is hailed as, as a ‘KwaZulu-Natal writer? A writer like William Plomer, who was born in the Northern Transvaal, educated in England but who at the age of nineteen, working at a country store in Zululand, wrote Turbott Wolfe (1926), a novel which shot him and ‘the native question’ into prominence, is a case in point. Plomer, Laurens van der post and Roy Campbell will be remembered together for the brief period they worked as colleagues on the literary journal Voorslag: van der Post’s recollection of that time brings together place and period forcefully:

 

I, who had come to spend my weekends with them [Roy and Mary Campbell, and William Plomer who stayed with the Campbells for a period], never ceased to marvel at the way they worked. I would leave Durban after the paper had been put to bed at about seven o’clock on a Saturday night, in a train that took me to within miles of the bungalow wherein they lived. There the surf of the Indian Ocean was always pounding those yellow sands with an ancient Homeric urgency. A young Indian boy would meet me at about ten and together we would follow the railway line through dunes and tangled bush towards Sezela. Sometimes we had a moon so bright that I could almost read the headlines of the paper I carried with me. Sometimes it was so dark that the world lost all its shape and I could not have seen the sleepers at my feet had it not been for the hurricane lamp the young Indian always had with him because, he confided in me, of the leopards and other unspecified wild animals which he alleged still infested the bushes beyond the dunes. I would arrive towards midnight fully expecting the household to be asleep, but always the three of them would be there still writing, talking or reading aloud to one another by lamp or candle-light anything of interest they had discovered in the course of the day. (van der Post, 1965: 142)

 

Natal featured significantly as a region in the case of Voorslag as the three writers formed a group united against the philistine society which they perceived to surround them. Though all three – Campbell, Plomer, van der Post - were to move from the region and continue their writing careers elsewhere, this particular moment (the 1920s) marked an important juncture in the region’s literary life. Plomer spoke to the heart of the question of identity under discussion in this paper in a letter he wrote to Charles Eglington in 1958, in which he offered the following opinion:

 

One can only suppose that a writer can only be as fertile & effective as possible if he knows where he belongs, & feels himself part of the community into which he has been born, & if he feels his roots to be in the surroundings where he first came to consciousness when his senses were freshest. The trouble is that so many writers have been displaced in this troubled country, and they don’t know where they belong, & there are so many examples of exiles & refugees whose gifts have gone sterile or dried up. (Plomer, 1980: 128)

 

Plomer’s reference to South Africa’s “troubled” history above has direct bearing on the question of a writer’s identification or otherwise with a place or region. After the initial bonding with one’s place of birth comes a choice of ‘belonging’ or not. And where this is a matter of legislation, as was true in South Africa’s case, this identification with a place can become very problematic. Indeed, under apartheid rule the element of choice in the matter was lost altogether. Elsewhere I have explored what it means to be ‘native’ to a place, especially a place like South Africa under apartheid (Stiebel, 2004). One of the points that paper raises is that to be native to a place implies a sense of belonging, either ‘officially’ or by choice, to a space-turned-place, sometimes one’s birthplace. This would have been particularly true, at least legally speaking, of places assigned racial identities under apartheid: a ‘whites only’ suburb, a ‘blacks only’ beach – spaces given an ‘official’ membership. However, as becomes evident in many accounts, to be of one racial or even linguistic group does not necessarily bestow a sense of identity, of belonging to a place. This question was a fraught one especially for black writers forced to occupy a racial, if not ‘tribal’, identification through political coercion from above. Forced to think in ‘tribal’ categories by a government obsessed by the separate development of peoples, the late Nat Nakasa, born in KwaZulu-Natal, wrote the following on the issue of self-identity in 1964:

I am supposed to be a Pondo, but I don’t even know the language of that tribe. I was brought up in a Zulu-speaking home, my mother being a Zulu. Yet I can no longer think in Zulu because that language cannot cope with the demands of our day. I could not, for instance, discuss negritude in Zulu. Even an article like this would not be possible in Zulu. I have never owned an assegai [spear] or any of those magnificent Zulu shields. Neither do I propose to be in tribal wear when I go to the US this year for my scholarship. I am just not a tribesman, whether I like it or not. I am, inescapably, a part of the city slums, the factory machines and our beloved shebeens [speak-easies]. I am not even sure that I could claim to be African. For if I were, then I should surely share my identity with West Africans and other Africans in Kenya or Tanganyika. Yet it happens to be true that I am more at home with an Afrikaner than with a West African. (Nakasa, 1964: 357)

 

So, for the purposes of this research project on KZN writers, it is clear that a writer may have indeed been born in the province but not identify necessarily with it further than acknowledging it as birthplace. To feel native to a place, as defined earlier, implies belonging to, perhaps by birth, or at least identifying with, a geographic place. In Nakasa’s case, as he explained above, he chose to identify with the urban environment, as opposed to the traditionally inscribed rural milieu within whose parameters the authorities preferred to classify him. The given identity assigned to him by apartheid was, unsurprisingly, not the one he embraced. In thinking through the bonds of birth in which there is no choice and the ties of choice that one makes as an adult, Said’s distinction between ‘filiation’ and ‘affiliation’ is useful. Said (1983) calls ‘filiation’ the ties that an individual has with places and people that are based on his/her natal culture – ties of biology and geography; whereas ‘affiliations’ are links made with institutions, communities and other social creations – ties with social forms: “The filiative scheme belongs to the realm of nature and ‘life’, whereas affiliations belongs exclusively to culture and society” (Said, 1983: 8). The movement is always necessarily from filiation to affiliation. This progression is clear in Nat Nakasa’s case, further complicated by an interfering state system which saw it as its business to assign identities to its citizens

 

However, despite the questions of conscious identification or otherwise with a place, to be a writer from a particular place means to be shaped, consciously or not, by that place and its culture/s and people/s. In many cases in South Africa, despite a hatred for the political construct of apartheid ‘South Africa’, writers who were forced into exile speak of a homesickness for the land and landscape that predates and will outlive the current political system:

 

Landscape of my young world!

Land of soft hills and huts

Of aloes and grey-green dreaming firs;

These are the images to lacerate, against which I glass myself in distance

Of a rebellious walling of reserve.

Heartbreaking hillsides and green slopes!

There is no armour to exclude your poignancy,

No blunting, and for me no ease. (Brutus, 1973: 132)

 

This poem, written in exile in the 70s by Dennis Brutus who was born in the Eastern Cape, contains nostalgic images of a landscape much loved but now denied him, and therein lies the pain of recollection which tempts even as it “lacerate[s]”. And yet, by the same token, there are others who deny any particular attachment to the land: Lewis Nkosi, in the course of the interview which forms the heart of the documentary film shot of him for this project (entitled “Fugitive Memories of Place”), states that he ‘doesn’t suffer from home-sickness’ and is never tempted to kiss the South African soil when he returns. For him, “the only possibility of return is symbolic” (Nkosi, 2002). For Nkosi, unlike Nakasa, the Zulu language is more of a homing signal than the physical spaces, and he is able to make ‘home’ wherever he currently is: an attitude which is probably the result of frequent moves made in his life. Marangoly George, writing about postcolonial relocations in twentieth-century fiction, works on the concept of ‘home’ and maintains that the search for location where the individual feels ‘at home’ is a major feature of writing by exiled/misplaced persons. She holds that such fiction can be read “in terms of homesickness” (1996: 3). In her terms, then, even though a writer such as Lewis Nkosi claims no homesickness for the country of his birth, the fact that his writing is almost exclusively about South Africa could be read as a form of ‘homesickness’.

 

However, despite the presence or absence of a sense of ‘homesickness’, writers are not only shaped by their surroundings, especially perhaps those of early years, but also shape them. In this sense, a writer may be identified with KwaZulu-Natal as someone who writes about the region, or more likely about a particular city or area within its boundaries. Hillis Miller writes that novelists do not only ground their works in landscapes that are already there complete, but that they themselves add to these:

 

Mississippi is partly what it is because of Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha novels. Dorset has been made what it is in part by way of Hardy’s Wessex, Salisbury by way of Trollope’s Barset novels, London by Dickens, Paris by Balzac and Proust and so on (Miller, 1995: 16)

 

In such a way, a ‘real’ physical place is transformed into a country of the mind by both writer and reader. A few of the landscapes mentioned in the quotation above, though based on known places, are nevertheless imaginary: Hardy’s Wessex which is based on Dorset, for example. Here the .

reverse process occurs – the countryside of the mind is overlaid onto a real place with the visitor searching for parallels between the world created in the imagination whilst reading the book, and the physical source of the writer’s inspiration before his or her eyes. These cases problematise the issue of authenticity: as Herbert notes “how can the guidelines of authenticity be applied to places where real worlds and dream worlds are so closely intertwined?” (1995: 34) For the reader of Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country who wishes to view the novel’s rural setting in the Valley of a 1000 Hills, is it really possible to see this landscape as ‘authentic’? The literary tourist is likely to read the real landscape as a sign of the landscape visualised when reading the novel. Pocock asserts in this regard:

 

The recognition and exploitation of literary landscapes illustrates the power of literature as a creative force. Since we approach places in the discovery, affirming the world conceptually and emotionally, rather than in our exploratory mind, we see what we are expecting or wanting to see, and overlook that which does not confirm to our pattern. (1982: 43)

 

South African examples of such a re-creation of landscape in fiction might be Henry Charles Bosman’s Groot Marico district of the Northern Cape province, Guy Butler’s settler country of the Eastern Cape, Richard Rive’s District Six in Cape Town, Olive Schreiner’s African farm in the semi-desert Karroo, and Sophiatown of the Drum writers. Local KwaZulu-Natal examples might be the creation of an ‘exotic’, romanticised Zululand by writers such as the popular novelist Rider Haggard, especially in a work like Nada the Lily (see Stiebel, 2001); Indian writers who recreate the political struggles against apartheid within areas designated ‘Asian’ by the Group Areas Act – writers like Ashwin Desai (We Are The Poors), Aziz Hassim (The Lotus People), Fatima Meer, Ronnie Govender; and Alan Paton’s haunting Midlands area of Ixopo. Who, after reading the elegiac opening passage of Paton’s famous book Cry, the Beloved Country (1948) has not created a mental image of the landscape it so powerfully evokes?

 

There is a lovely road that runs from Ixopo into the hills. These hills are grass-covered and rolling, and they are lovely beyond any singing of it. The road climbs seven miles into them, to Carisbrooke; and from there, if there is no mist, you look down on one of the fairest valleys of Africa. About you there is grass and bracken and you may hear the forlorn crying of the tithoya, one of the birds of the veld. Below you is the valley of the Umzimkulu, on its journey from the Drakensberg to the sea; and beyond and behind the river, great hill after great hill; and beyond and behind them, the mountains of Ingeli and East Griqualand. The grass is rich and matted, you cannot see the soil. It holds the rain and mist, and they seep into the ground, feeding the streams in every kloof. It is well-tended, and not too many cattle feed upon it; not too many fires burn it, laying bare the soil. Stand unshod upon it, for the ground is holy, being even as it came from the Creator. Keep it, guard it, care for it, for it keeps men, guards men, cares for men. Destroy it and man is destroyed. (Paton, 1948: 7)

 

For the tourist interested in literature, or the literature researcher, a novel as evidently tied to place as this one needs to have its locale visited to understand something of Paton’s intense identification with the land he so eloquently describes and the social problems he evokes symbolically inscribed in the landscape. There is, in fact, an Alan Paton Express train which takes those interested in literally traversing the land that the novel’s characters tramp, for a short scenic ride. This initiative is a small beginning of what could be a much more extensive set of ‘literary trails’ running through parts of the province, each tied to a particular place made known through writing from the region. There could, for example, be a Rider Haggard trail which could call for an overnight stop at Hilldrop, Haggard’s farmhouse near Newcastle which is now a B&B establishment, replete with various bits of Haggard memorabilia; then do a return swing to Durban via Ghost Mountain Inn at Mkhuze, which features in Nada the Lily. There’s a Roy Campbell trail possible starting in Durban where he went to school at Durban Boys’ High, his family retreat called Peace Cottage at Umhlanga, and the well known African museum and library of another family home, Meukleneuk through which one can do a tour and which houses the Campbell Collections. A Lewis Nkosi trail would take one from Chesterville Township where he was born, to Eshowe where the seminary he attended still stands, and back to Durban’s beachfront where Mating Birds, winner of the MacMillan Pen Prize, was set. An ‘Indian Writers’ trail would take the interested person down Grey Street in Durban, past the Mosque, down Beatrice Street which was the scene of fiery resistance movement meetings at the YMCA, and on to the ruins of Cato Manor which saw the race riots of 1949 about which so many writers have written, and where the razed foundation stones still stand, weed-choked. The epic poetry of Mazisi Kunene requires a visit to the Zulu War battlefields and royal homestead sites at Ulundi and Gingindlovu to bring the characters alive in the narration. And so one could go on with many other writers for the potential is there.

 

A warning note about exoticising such trails is apposite here. Robins, in a paper on how city sites in the Western Cape have been commodified and marketed to tourists, describes how “urban planners use tradition to privilege the ‘exotic’ rather than the more recent and very traumatic events in the country’s history. Tradition is placed in a safe past that can be made into ‘heritage’; it operates as escape and as containment” (2000: 405). This is certainly true of how certain sites in KwaZulu-Natal, and indeed the whole province, is marketed as the ‘Kingdom of the Zulu’ with nostalgic overtones of a glorious warrior-like past familiar to Rider Haggard readers, but which completely masks the current impoverished reality of the majority of the province’s population. The establishment and marketing of literary trails needs to be sensitively done – where the trails lead to communities, caution needs to be exercised against the tendency to exoticise a ‘traditional’ past in an effort to ‘paper over the cracks’ of the past and present. The volume of literary tourists in KwaZulu-Natal is unlikely, in any event, to be high and would probably include informed ‘romantic gaze’ travellers who, nevertheless would need to be responsibly guided through places and the people who live there.

 

What benefit might such a project bring? The database on KwaZulu-Natal writers, both past and present, who have published a work in any of the region’s major languages (Zulu, English, Afrikaans) and any others, would in the first instance bring greater awareness of these writers to students and public alike, and, for still living authors, the possibility of sales where such writers are in print. The stipulation of ‘published’ writers is purely pragmatic: those whose work has appeared in print are more easily traceable and their work, where permissible, can be sampled on the CD. The project aims to concentrate on writers of fiction, though autobiographical works will also be included in keeping with the post-colonial notion of the ‘fictiveness’ even of life-writing which claims to be factual.

 

These, then, are some of the questions that a project on literary tourism tied to a region raises and some of the parameters that this current project has set. At the heart of the enterprise lies the desire to identify writers of the province and their works in such a way as to enable both the researcher and general reader to make connections between writer and place. The choice of contemporary technology to achieve this – the website map of KwaZulu-Natal hyperlinked to the CD-ROM database, and the documentary videos – is deliberately made to bring writerly places ‘to life’, and thus also the writing. Specific in locale as this project may be, it has wider resonance potentially as it asks fundamental questions about identity, place and the writing that attempt to interpret these issues in terms of literature. Whilst cogniscent of the issues surrounding the marketing of heritage, and tourism generally, the project is informed by the position that literary tourism, begun here in a small way, can have a positive effect on the cultural preservation and promotion of this province.

 

 

Bibliography:

Brutus, D. (1973) A Simple Lust: collected poems of South African jail and exile including Letters to Martha. Oxford: Heinemann.

Butler-Adam, J. (1990) The Lie of the Land: landscape, literature and society in South Africa. Vol. 1. Monograph. Durban: Institute of Social and Economic Research, UDW.

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