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In the early years of the apartheid era black South African journalists and schoolteachers began producing a remarkably lively literature in English, but nearly all of them chose to express themselves in a single literary form: the short story. Unlike their contemporaries in West Africa, they did not write novels, plays or volumes of poetry, and unlike their predecessors in South Africa who had written in African languages, they did not turn out folktales, homilies or religious allegories for use in mission schools. They also declined to write in Afrikaans. Instead, they elected to deal with contemporary life in South Africa in a medium that was readily accessible to their public and in a language that enabled them to reach the widest possible readership. AS one commentator on urban life in South Africa put it, "The advertisement hoardings are in English. The pulp magazines are in English. The pop songs are in English, English is fame, English is money; English is the mans by which the urban African feels himself a citizen of the world" (Anon. 1962: 572. A South African writer who expressed himself in Afrikaans or in an African language was a citizen of a much smaller world.
But why the preference for short stories? Several black South African writers in exile tried to explain this phenomenon, relating it to the peculiar environment in which the black writer was forced to operate. Ezekiel Mphahlele, speaking of the decades encompassing and following the second world war, said that "During the last twenty years the political, social climate of South Africa has been growing viciously difficult for a nonwhite to write in. It requires tremendous organization of one's mental and emotional faculties before one can write a poem, a novel, or a play. This has become all but impossible" (1962: 186). Bloke Modisane agreed that environmental circumstances in South Africa were conducive to short story writing because they forced black writers to adopt a "short term morality": "They have to live from day to day. You don't know if the sun is going to shine tomorrow. Everything you do must be done today. Only today is important. You cannot budget for six months in order to write a novel. The short story, therefore, serves an urgent, immediate, intense, concentrated form of unburdening yourself-and you must unburden yourself" ("Short Story" 3). Mphahlele and Modisane were speaking from personal experience, for when living in South Africa, both had sought to unburden themselves in other literary forms but had found it impossible to do so (Cousins 38; Modisane, Blame Me 46).
But another exile, Lewis Nkosi, had a different explanation for the phenomenon. He felt that the writers themselves must share a portion of the blame for failing to create a more substantial literature: "Part of the reason [for the absence of lengthier works] is sheer sloth. Also, some magazines have employed such low standards of selection that beginning writers began to get the idea that one could detour from the long and dreary labor of good writing by bashing out a short story in a matter of a day or two and getting it published immediately" (October 1962: 6). The readiness of these writers to exploit easy opportunities for publication had a deleterious effect not only on the form but also on the content, style, and quality of their writing.
One of the magazines Nkosi must have had in mind was Drum, originally called African Drum, a monthly magazine published in Johannesburg. Financed by a white South African, edited first by a white South African and then by an Englishman, African Drum was started in 1951 as a magazine "for Africa and the Africans," a magazine aimed at "150,000,000 Bantu and Negro inhabitants of the continent whom we will attempt to reach for the first time in history with words that will express their thoughts, their impulses, their endeavors and, ultimately, their souls" (Editorial, march 15, 1951: 3). The contents of the first issues reveal what the white proprietor and white editors thought would best express the African. There were articles on tribal history, tribal music, famous chiefs, farming, religion, and sports. On the literary pages there were folktales, excerpts from Alan Paton's Cry, the Beloved Country, and romantic poems about Africa by African-American poets.
The first issues of African drum did not sell well. When the proprietor and editors tried to find out why Africans weren't buying it, they were told by one dissatisfied reader, "Ag, why do you dish out that stuff, man?...Tribal music! Tribal history! Chiefs! We don't care about chiefs! Give us jazz and film stars, man! We want Duke Ellington, Satchmo, and hot dames! Yes, brother, anything American. You can cut out this junk about kraals, folktales, and Basutos in blankets-forget it! You're just trying to keep us backward, that's what!" (Sampson 20). African Drum had misjudged its reading public. Within a year, it was transformed to Drum, a magazine for urban Africans, which contained feature articles on jazz, crime, boxing, and beauty contests. Pretty girls began to appear on its cover. Drum's sales rose quickly.
The fiction in Drum changed too. Gone were the folktales, the stories about witch doctors and farm laborers, the stories about tribal Africans in pastoral settings. Replacing them were stories about city life, love stories, gangster stories, boxing stories, serialized detective thrillers, and true confessions. In 1952, Drum started to sponsor an annual short story competition with a first prize of fifty pounds. This stimulated a great deal of literary activity not only in South Africa but in other parts of the continent as well. In its peak year, 1957, Drum's short story competition drew manuscripts from 1,638 contestants. Although Drum could have drawn on a wide range of literary achievement in selecting stories for publication, it continued to favor stories of a certain stamp. Ezekiel Mphahlele, who acted as Drum's literary editor for several years but was not in full accord with Drum's literary policies, complained, "I was supposed to let in the 'wet sentimental sexy stories and tough crime stories.' I tried to argue with the proprietor whenever he interviewed me that Drum had plunged into a reading world, which hadn't developed any definite magazine taste (the non-European readership); that it should produce healthy material in an original style wherever possible and, in a sense, dictate what the public should read, without necessarily being snobbish and intellectual" (1959: 188). But Drum saw its mission as the satisfying of appetites rather than the shaping of tastes.
Nevertheless, Drum was an important pioneering publication. It was the first South African magazine of wide circulation to invite Africans to submit literary contributions in English. It discovered several talented writers and published their first stories. It solicited short stories and sketches from black writers who worked as journalists for Drum or for its affiliated weekly newspaper, Golden City Post. Drum awakened and kept alive a desire among blacks to write creatively in English.
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