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Witness to everything: representations of precarity in selected works of four South African poets.

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This dissertation identifies and analyses representations of precarity in selected poems of Mxolisi Nyezwa, Seitlhamo Motsapi, Angifi Dladla and Ike Mboneni Muila, revealing how precarity is conveyed through their innovative use of language and aesthetic approach. The four poets offer a creative reaction to precarity through their poetry, with their language strategies and aesthetic outlook enabling them to remould modes of perception, interpretation and communication in literary praxis. Furthermore, their poetry is also able to represent the precariousness of life while crucially distinguishing between socio-economically induced precarity and overall human precariousness. I will be engaging with four texts: Malikhanye (Nyezwa, 2012), earthstepper/the ocean is very shallow (Motsapi, 1995), the girl who then feared to sleep (2004), Gova (2004). I discuss in detail and with the aid of close textual analysis the various forms and the considered use of techniques whereby their poetry represents precarity and also manifests reactions to precarity. By applying the theoretical insights of a variety of local and international theorists and engaging with the poetic texts selected, I further unlock and explain the precise effectiveness of their aesthetic approaches. Through an analysis of the selected poems I also reveal key connections between precarity and concepts such as slow death, slow violence, cruel optimism, hauntology, and the unlanguaged. The poets lead the reader away from a facile acceptance of everyday hegemonies and thereby challenge thought patterns and identify the shape of socio-economically induced precarity. Their poetic oeuvre embraces a broader world than the restricted categorisations and processes of capitalism and neo-liberalism, pointing the reader towards a possible world that is based on awareness and embrace of alterity, acceptance of egalitarianism, an acknowledgement of planetarity and the precarious nature of life and of other lives.


Masters Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg.