The Wake of Colonialism

As Kafka penned this sketch the gathering storm of the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic was about to break at the Cape of Good Hope, colonial mother city, place of global strategic importance, and index of modernity. The Cape has been a slave colony, a Royal Navy base since 1814, and is second only to Egypt and the Suez Canal for English maritime access to the Far East.

Kafka’s imaginary pilot might have glimpsed the penal colony of Robben Island where in 1821 Makanda Nxele, the prophet of the 1819 Cape frontier war, died when his boat capsized trying to escape the island prison. Thereafter the Xhosa awaited his return to finish the fight against the colonisers. As Nelson Mandela put it: ‘The memory of that loss is woven into the language of my people who speak of a “forlorn hope” by the phrase “Ukuza kuka Nxele”’ (2013: 325). The sense of hopelessness permeating post-apartheid South Africa was condensed in the conspiracy theory that the real Nelson Mandela died in 1985 and a look-a-like by the name of Gibson Makanda was installed by the apartheid government to negotiate the historic settlement (see Shoki 2020).

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