Dismembered by Colonialism: On Nadine Gordimer’s July’s People and Its Engagement with the Dynamics of a Black Family Structure under Apartheid South Africa
Nadine Gordimer’s much celebrated novel, July’s People (1981), largely narrates the story of white and black community relations a decade before South Africa’s post-apartheid moment (1994). Whilst overtly focusing on various themes of racial relations, one of the passing, yet key thematic, concerns of the novel revolves around settler colonialism, including its apartheid chapter and how it dismembered black family structures in South Africa. Thus, the focus of this article is on July’s People and its capacity to register and pinpoint some of the continuities and discontinuities that have rendered black biological fathers absent from their families, especially from their young and growing children. The article concentrates on the novel’s ability to unmask the lasting negative impact of colonialism on the institution of fatherhood among black South Africans who have been subjected to settler colonialism. Whether these fathers were dismembered from their families as a result of employment migration systems or the alienation that developed as a result of their extended absences from home is a question this article addresses by analysing the novel in relation to such forms of family disintegration. Lastly, by juxtaposing the “perfect” family structure of the Smales against that of July’s (Mwawate), the article grapples with the way in which the novel acts as a register of how settler colonialism, including its apartheid moment, dismembered black South African families.