What is it about?

This article is about official narratives of emotive history and painful pasts that governments would rather have either completely expunged from national memories or at least remembered from their own perspectives rather than on uncomfortable historical facts. It compares Ousmane's fictionalized narration of the West Africa Railway strike of 1948 in his novel God's Bits of Wood to the Farlam Commission's ''Marikana Commission Report" of South Africa in terms of how these narratives remember labor-related strike events and how each of them occupies a specific ideological posture predicated on prevailing sociopolitical and economic interests, sometimes at the expense of truth-telling and the prevention of repeat cyclical violence.

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Why is it important?

This article is important as it relates history to present realities and public interest to private/official interests. The binary oppositional reality of truth versus fiction as manifested in labour-related strife has become a permanent feature of the relationship between labour and the modern African state/capital alliance, hence the sometimes contradictory nature of the democratic postcolonial state as a steward of the national interest while also acting as enforcer of oppressive and unreformed labour laws inherited from the colonial era. The article interrogates these complex relationships with a view to suggesting ways of preventing any recurrence of violence in the work place.


I hope this article will help students of African literature relate the issues that inspired early African nationalists and the dogma of pan-Africanism to present realities in most African countries, of cyclical violence between state-aligned political and economic forces on one hand, and worker-aligned democratizing forces on the opposite end. There is perhaps some truth in the maxim that the more things change, the more they remain the same.

Lucas Mafu

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Fiction, Reality and Contested Memory in God’s Bits of Wood and the “Marikana Commission Report”, Journal of Literary Studies, January 2019, Taylor & Francis,
DOI: 10.1080/02564718.2019.1583433.
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