An examination of prison, criminality and power in selected contemporary Kenyan and South African narratives

Ndlovu, Isaac (Stellenbosch : University of Stellenbosch, 2010-12)

Thesis (PhD (English))--University of Stellenbosch, 2010.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: This thesis undertakes a comparative examination of South African and Kenyan auto/biographical narratives of crime and imprisonment. Although some attention is paid to narratives of political imprisonment, the study focuses primarily on autobiographical accounts by criminals, confessional narratives, popular fiction about crime and prison experience, and journalistic accounts of prison life. There is very little critical work at this moment that refers to these forms of prison writing in South Africa and Kenya. Popular prison narratives and to a certain extent the autobiographical in general are characterised by an under-theorised dialecticism. As academic concepts, both the popular and the autobiographical form are characterised by an unstable duality. While the popular has been theorised as being both a field of resistance to power and of consent to its demands, the autobiographical occupies a similar precariously divided position, in this case between fact and fiction, a place where the „I‟ that narrates is simultaneously the subject and object of the narrative. In examining an eclectic body of texts that share the prison as common denominator, my study problematises the tension between self and world, popular and canonical, political and criminal, factual and fictional. In both settings, South Africa and Kenya, the prison as a material and discursive space does not only mirror society but effects shifts and changes in society, and becomes a space of dynamic adaptation and also a locus that disturbs certain hegemonic relations. The way in which the experience of prison opens up to a fundamentally unsettling ambiguity resonates with the ambivalence that characterises both autobiography as genre and the popular as a theoretical concept. My thesis argues that during the entire historical period covered by the narratives that I examine there is a certain excess that attends on the social production of criminality and the practice of imprisonment, both as material realities and as discursive concepts, which allows them to have a haunting effect both on individuals‟ notions of „the self‟ and the constitution of national identities and nationhoods. I argue that the distinction between the colonial and the postcolonial prison is hazy. Therefore a comparative study of Kenyan and South African prison literature helps us understand how modern prisons and notions of criminality in contemporary Africa are intertwined with the broad European colonial project, reflecting larger issues of state power and control over the populace. In relation to South Africa, my study begins with Ruth First‟s 117 Days (1963), and makes a selection of other prisons narratives throughout the apartheid era up to the post-apartheid period which was ushered in by Mandela‟s Long Walk to Freedom (1994). Moving beyond Mandela, I examine other forms of South African crime and prison narratives which have emerged since the publication of Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela‟s A Human Being Died that Night (2003) and Jonny Steinberg‟s The Number (2004). In Kenya, I begin with Ngugi wa Thiongo‟s Detained (1981). I then focus on popular narratives of crime and imprisonment which began with the publication of John Kiriamiti‟s My Life in Crime (1984) up to the first decade of the 21st century, marked yet again by the publication of Kiriamiti‟s My Life in Prison (2004). Besides Kiriamiti‟s two narratives, the other Kenyan texts which I examine are John Kiggia Kimani‟s Life and Times of a Bank Robber (1988) and Prison is not a Holiday Camp (1994), Benjamin Garth Bundeh‟s Birds of Kamiti (1991), and Charles Githae‟s, Comrade Inmate (1994).

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: My proefskrif onderneem ‟n vergelykende studie van Suid-Afrikaanse en Keniaanse auto/biografiese narratiewe van misdaad en gevangeneskap. Hoewel aandag tot ‟n mate geskenk word aan verhale van politieke gevangeneskap, is die primêre fokus van die studie eerder op autobiografiese narratiewe deur misdadigers, konfessionele narratiewe, populêre fiksie met betrekking tot misdaad en gevangenis-ondervindinge, sowel as joernalistieke verslae oor gevangenes se lewens agter tralies. Min kritiese werk is tot dusver in verband met hierdie vorme van gevangenis-narratiewe in Suid-Afrika en Kenia gedoen. Populêre prisoniers-narratiewe, en tot ‟n mate autobiografieë oor die algemeen, word deur ‟n onder-geteoriseerde dialektisisme gekenmerk. As akademiese konsepte word beide die populêre en die autobiografiese vorme deur ‟n onstabiele dualisme gekenmerk. Terwyl die populêre tipe geteoretiseer word as sowel ‟n vorm van weerstand teen mag as van toegee daaraan, word aan die autobiografiese tipe ‟n soortgelyke onstabiele, verdeelde rol toegeskryf – in hierdie geval, tussen feitelikheid en fiksie, ‟n plek waar die “ek” wat vertel terselfdertyd die subjek en objek van die verhaal is. Deur middel van ‟n eklektiese versameling van tekste wat die gevangenis as verwysingspunt deel, problematiseer my verhandeling die spanning tussen self en wêreld, die populêre en die gekanoniseerde, die politieke en die kriminele, die feitelike en die fiktiewe. In beide kontekste, Suid-Afrika en Kenia, weerspieël die gevangenis as diskursiewe spasie nie alleenlik die gemeenskapsomgewing nie, maar veroorsaak dit ook veranderings en verskuiwings in die gemeenskap – sodoende word die gevangenis self ‟n ruimte van dinamiese verandering en ‟n plek wat sekere hegemoniese verhoudings versteur. Die manier waarop die ondervinding van gevangeneskap lei tot ‟n fundamentele versteurende dubbelsinningheid resoneer met die dubbelsinnigheid wat beide die autobiografiese as genre en die populêre as teoretiese konsep karakteriseer. My tesis voer aan dat, gedurende die ganse historiese tydperk wat gedek word deur die narratiewe wat ek hier betrag, daar ‟n sekere oormaat is wat die sosiale produksie van misdaad en die toepassing van gevangesetting begelei, beide as stoflike werklikhede en as diskursiewe konsepte, wat hulle toelaat om ‟n kwellende effek uit te oefen beide of individuele mense se sin van „self‟ en die samestelling van nasionale identiteite en nasionaliteite. Ek voer aan dat die onderskeid tussen die koloniale en die postkoloniale gevangenis onduidelik is, en dat ‟n vergelykende studie van Keniaanse en Suid-Afrikaanse gevangenes-narratiewe ons dus help om te verstaan hoe moderne tronke en idees oor misdaad in Afrika deureengevleg is met die breë Europese koloniale projek, en groter kwessies van staatsmag en beheer oor die bevolking weerspieël. In Suid Afrika begin my studie met Ruth First se 117 Days (1963), en maak dan ‟n seleksie van ander gevangenes-narratiewe van die apartheid-era tot en met die post-apartheid oomblik wat deur Mandela se Long Walk to Freedom ingelui word. Ek vestig dan my aandag op ander vorme van Suid-Afrikaanse misdaad- en gevangenes-narratiewe wat sedert die publikasie van Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela se A Human Being Died that Night (2003) en Jonny Steinberg se The Number (2004) verskyn het. In Kenia begin ek met Ngugi wa Thiongo se Detained (1981), en kyk dan ten slotte na populêre narratiewe van misdaad en gevangeneskap wat hulle aanvang vind met die publikasie van John Kiriamiti se My Life in Crime (1984) tot en met die eerste dekade van die 21ste eeu, nogmaals gemerk deur die publikasie van Kiriamiti se My Life in Prison (2004).

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