The writing of Arthur Fula : modernity, language, place and religion

28 May 2018

Arthur Fula’s debut novel Jôhannie giet die beeld (lit: Johannesburg moulds the graven image) was well received in the beginning of 1954 but has in recent years been largely forgotten. The novel was promoted as the first “by a Bantu in Afrikaans”, a designation that differentiated him, a third language speaker, from the typical Afrikaans writer who was ordinarily a white, first language speaker. The novel registers, in the tradition of the ‘Jim-comes-to Jo’burg’ novels, the migration of black characters to the urban areas with the persistent struggle between indigenous traditions and the presence of an unknown, even threatening Western modernity. In his second novel Met erbarming, O Here (With Compassion, Oh Lord, 1957) Fula made peace with the permanency of urban black Africans and their aspirations. This essay introduces the emergence of the autodidact Fula’s authorship amidst a period of profound change and adaptation in South Africa during the 1950s, tracing his personal history, the circumstances of his writing and choice of language, and the reception of his debut novel.