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The Representation of Black People in Die Huisgenoot, 1960s


[Please note: this extract should not be read as an attack on Die Huisgenoot or YOU as we know them today. It forms part of a thesis that compares the way in which black women were represented in South African white women’s magazines of the 1960s to the way in which black women were represented in Grace and The Townships Housewife (two South African black women’s magazines from the 1960s). The aim is to show the significance of the latter two magazines in a time where black women were unrepresented, especially in a positive way, in the South African media. If you would like to know more about Grace and The Townships Housewife, let me know – I should be the person who knows the most about these two mags, as my work is the only research ever done on them ;-D

The Representation of Black People in Die Huisgenoot

(Short extract from my thesis, ‘Grace and The Townships Housewife: Excavating South African Black Women’s Magazines from the 1960s.’ – Nicolette Ferreira)

Cover page. The Townships Housewife, March 1968.

The black South African, especially the black South African woman, is almost entirely absent in Die Huisgenoot of the 1960s. Black people, and mostly only black men, appear in Die Huisgenoot of the 1960s only in a domesticated form as happy and contented servants (Van Robbroeck “Visual”) or as ‘uncivilised’ creatures of nature. As an unhappy (possibly black) reader of Die Huisgenoot states in a letter to the editor in 1968:

Baie nie-blankes lees Die Huisgenoot…Hoekom verskyn daar nie artikels oor belowende nie-blanke boksers (sportmanne en akteurs) nie? – Historikus, Windhoek.

Many non-whites read Die Huisgenoot…Why are there no articles on promising boxers (sportsmen and actors)? – Historicist, Windhoek (26 July: 6; my translation).

Note that black women are excluded in this plea for black acknowledgement.

Die Huisgenoot, 12 Feb. 1954

Die Huisgenoot of 1964-1968, represents black South Africans as unintelligent. The regular comedy feature, ‘Huisgenotjies’ (“home enjoyment”), contains jokes and comics that often portray the slow-witted black person, reminiscent of the black minstrel. Here is just one such example about a black female domestic worker:

Meraai moes vir die goudvissies water in die bak gooi, maar sy het nie. “Het ek jou dan nie gevra om die bak vol te hou nie?” vra haar werkgeefster kwaai. “Dja, Mies,” antwoord Meraai, “…ma’ hulle het noggie eers die water ytgadrink wat ek gister ingagooi het nie.”

Meraai had to fill up the water level for the goldfishes, but she didn’t. “Didn’t I ask you to keep the bowl full?” asked her employer. “Yes, Madam,” Meraai answered, “but they haven’t even finished drinking the water I poured in yesterday.” (9 Oct. 1964: 63)

Die Huisgenoot does not only show black South Africans in positions inferior to whites – as domestic workers, gardeners or farm workers – it also depicts them as incapable of doing their jobs.

The black in Die Huisgenoot is, moreover, decidedly not beautiful. The magazine shows black people as old and wrinkly, and uses derogatory terms in reference to them. The following joke appears in the “Huisgenotjies” of 26 August 1966:

’n Man sien ’n Bantoetjie aan ’n groot waatlemoen eet en sê: “Jong, maar dis mos te veel waatlemoen!” Bantoetjie: “Nog nooit nie, baas, dis te min kaffer!”

A man sees a little Bantu eating a big watermelon and says: “Isn’t that too much watermelon?!” The little Bantu replies: “Never baas, it’s too little kaffir!”

This extract shows the apartheid construction of the inferior black and the superior white through the reference to ‘baas’ and ‘kaffer’. A regular comic in Die Huisgenoot by Doc Immelman and Johan van Niekerk also emphasises the ‘otherness’ of the black person: in “Uys Barnard en die krokodille van Oshipala”, a black man that appears in the comic is a “vreemde verrimpelde ou inboorling” (“a strange, wrinkly old native”; my translation) (9 Oct. 1964: 77). The white woman in this comic who sees this man exclaims: “Hy…lyk vreeslik!” (“He looks terrible!”; my translation).

Die Huisgenoot, 24 April 1953

Die Huisgenoot represents black South Africans as incapable of achieving what is perceived, according to Western (white) standards, as ‘civilisation’. In Die Huisgenoot of 4 December 1964 an article appears on black political leaders in Africa: the photos show them in suit and tie and driving expensive cars. The writer states that

[a]l die aandpakke en Cadillacs is in Afrika glad nie ter sake nie. Omdat Afrika nog die oerwoud is.

all the suits and Cadillacs are irrelevant in Africa. Because Africa is still the jungle/ primeval. (88; my translation)

Die Huisgenoot, 7 Aug. 1953

The writer ends this article by asking: “Wat kan mens ook van ’n man verwag wat uit ’n kokospalm geval en in ’n Cadillac te lande gekom het?” (“What more can you expect of a man who fell from a coconut palm tree and landed in a Cadillac?”; my translation).

In the post-apartheid South African context, the term coconut is a derogatory term used to refer to a person who is black but speaks like “a white person”, who chooses to speak English rather than an African language, or is unable to speak an African language, and who is considered to “act white” or to be “black on the outside but white on the inside” (McKinney qtd. in Spencer). Considering that this use of the term is a post-apartheid one, the writer of the article in Die Huisgenoot is clearly using the reference to coconut in a different way, yet there is a peculiar resemblance in the derogatory content of both. In contrast to Carolyn McKinney’s explanation of the black who is, on the inside, essentially white, the Die Huisgenoot writer paints the picture of a baboon falling out of the tree – of black people being backward with only the surface appearance of civility (the man in the Cadillac here representing a black skin in a white mask, as opposed to being black on the outside and white on the inside as the current usage of the coconut image suggests).

All articles that appear in Die Huisgenoot from 1964 to 1968 concerning black people locate them in the desert or a jungle-like milieu, often in the bare minimum clothing. One such example representative of this type of article is “Die dans van die Luislang” (“The dance of the python”; my translation) (12 Aug. 1966). This article concerns the initiation practices of young black men and women and is reminiscent of apartheid’s re-tribalising attempts. Other similar examples appear in Die Huisgenoot of 7 September 1966 in an article on black people in the Okavango (42-43), and in Die Huisgenoot of 30 September 1966 on Botswana (42-49).

Sources:

Die Huisgenoot (1964-1968)

Grace (October 1964-December 1966)

The Townships Housewife (February 1968-March 1969)

Spencer, Lynda. “Young, Black and Female in Post-Apartheid South Africa: Kopano Matlwa’s Coconut.” Seminar Paper. University of Stellenbosch, August 2008.

Van Robbroeck, Lize. “Beyond the Tradition/ Modernity Dialectic: African Nationalist Subjectivities in South African Print and Visual Culture of the Early Twentieth Century.” Cultural Studies 22.2 (2008): 209-33.

– – – . “Visual Culture and South African Nationalism.” Transitions and Translations: Africa in the Global Imaginary Colloquim. Stellenbosch University, August 2008.

My Thesis: Abstract


ABSTRACT

Grace and The Townships Housewife, two black women’s magazines published in South Africa between 1964 and 1969, have slipped into obscurity. This thesis aims to write them back into the history of the black press, black journalism and literature in South Africa. The study is significant in that no research has as yet been conducted on these two magazines.

The first chapter excavates Grace and The Townships Housewife from obscurity by providing information on the magazines’ publication, staff, editors, content, target audience and writers. A salient characteristic of both magazines’ content that the study discusses is the ambiguous attitude of readers and writers towards modernity and tradition (and the negotiation of new identities) as they move from the country to the city. Some readers’ embrace and others’ rejection of early signs of feminism and womanism in the magazines also display this ambiguous attitude. The chapter foregrounds the various ambiguities and often colliding voices that infuse  much of the magazines’ content. The absence of explicit reference to apartheid in Grace’s and The Townships Housewife’s content provides another focal point of this chapter and is discussed in relation to the concepts of ‘minstrelsy’ and ‘mimicry’.

Considering specifically the position of the black woman in apartheid South Africa, the second chapter compares the representation of white women in South African white women’s magazines Die Huisgenoot, Sarie Marais and Fair Lady to the way in which black women are represented in Grace and The Townships Housewife in the 1960s. The role of the latter two magazines in positively representing black women during apartheid South Africa, and thus standing in direct opposition to the identities ascribed to black people in colonial and apartheid ideology, is a primary focus of this chapter.

The representation of black women in the 1960s is elaborated on in the next chapter which explores the shift in the representation of black women from Drum magazine (during its heyday in the 1950s), with its predominantly male staff, to the representation of black women in Grace and The Townships Housewife (in the 1960s), with their predominantly female staff. I hypothesise on the possible agencies at work within this shift in women’s representation.

Despite the magazines’ adherence at times to white standards of beauty (an aspect which the thesis engages with  throughout), the ‘creation’ of black women within the pages of Grace and The Townships Housewife (as the previous two chapters articulate), often resonates with Black Consciousness’s philosophy of black pride. This last chapter explores the possible connection between Grace and The Townships Housewife, on the one hand, and the early beginnings of an emergent black consciousness in South Africa in the late 1960s, on the other hand. It also discusses the sexism associated with black consciousness philosophy in relation to these two magazines, but the focus falls on how black female readers of Grace and The Townships Housewife negotiate imposed ‘female identities’ (for example, mother, housewife and supporter) towards greater agency.

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