Rasseverhoudinge in Suid–Afrikaanse jeuglektuur sedert 1990
Du Plessis, Miemie
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Acceptance by and interaction with peers and friends are central to the social development of adolescents. In spite of the fact that integration has taken place in numerous sectors of South African society, very few interracial friendships and interracial heterosexual relationships have been established by South African adolescents. A national investigation that was launched by the South African Human Rights Commission in 1999 supports this observation. The investigation revealed that the relationships between South African adolescents are characterized by racism, segregation and discrimination. One of the most effective ways to break down the racial boundaries that exist between South African adolescents and to contribute to the reconstruction, development and reconciliation in South African society, is through the exploration of race relations in youth literature. By investigating race relations, South African youth literature can help adolescents to understand the unique but also universal problems, emotions, fears and dreams of adolescents of other races. Youth literature should, however, also be realistic and honest and it is thus essential that it should reflect the problems and difficulties associated with race relations. Racial tension and conflict, racism and intolerance should not be avoided in South African youth literature but should also be accompanies by well-considered and realistic solutions to these problems. Research was carried out in order to establish whether race relations and other aspects related to race are addressed in South African youth literature. The ways in which Afrikaans and South African English youth literature (henceforth referred to as English youth literature) differ in their coverage and treatment of race relations were also investigated. The research was restricted to titles that were published in South Africa between 1990 and June 1998, that were originally written in Afrikaans or English and that were set in South Africa. The following findings were made: • Race relations are addressed in 25% of English and 9% of Afrikaans youth books. English literature thus dealt with race relations in more than twice as many instances compared to Afrikaans youth literature. • As far as the relationships between white and black characters are concerned, black characters (especially black adults) are portrayed as inferior and subordinate to white characters in both English and Afrikaans youth literature. White characters also intervene in the lives of black characters and in this way the impression is created that blacks are unable to better their own circumstances. This trend occurs in twice as many English youth books compared to Afrikaans youth books. English youth literature also portrays more instances of racial conflict and racism in comparison with Afrikaans youth literature. • The main characters of Afrikaans youth literature are mostly white. This could be due to the fact that South African youth books are mostly written by white authors for white readers. The authors of English youth literature are also mostly white but provide a more balanced portrayal of the racial constitution of South African society by featuring almost equal numbers of white and black characters. A further aspect relating to the characters in South African youth literature is that the authors of both English and Afrikaans youth literature in some instances provide an unbalanced and dishonest portrayal of South African society by featuring only white or only black characters in youth books. • Preference is given to interracial relationships between boys in contrast to girls in both English and Afrikaans youth literature. Both English and Afrikaans youth literature also feature heterosexual relationships between adolescents of different races but differ in their portrayal of the outcomes of these relationships. In Afrikaans youth books most heterosexual relationships between adolescents who belong to different racial groups are not successful, whilst in English youth books it is mostly indicated that these relationships will work out. • White and black individuals and groups are portrayed in a stereotipical way in almost a third of both the Afrikaans and English youth books that were studied. • As far as the depiction of socio-economic and socio-political circumstances are concerned English youth literature contains more references to and descriptions of the circumstances in townships and squatter areas, criticises apartheid more regularly and explores the current socio-political situation more rigorously than Afrikaans youth literature does. The socioeconomic status of white characters is generally higher than those of black characters in both English and Afrikaans youth literature. • English youth literature explores the collective guilt experienced by whites on account of the injustices suffered by blacks in the past. Only one Afrikaans title refers to the collective guilt of whites. • Very few historical youth books have been published since 1990. English youth books are more objective in portraying historical events than Afrikaans youth books and are also more successful in providing perspectives differing from a white perspective on historical events. • The lifestyle or culture of blacks are portrayed in relatively few South African youth books. English youth literature generally provides a more positive portrayal of the lifestyle of blacks in comparison to Afrikaans youth literature. • Cities or big rural towns are the setting for most of the South African youth books that deal with race relations. In both Afrikaans and English youth literature white and black characters are visiting each other's homes and are able to move freely in areas which were previously off limits to them such as townships, squatter areas and formerly "whites-only" suburbs. • There are very few instances in which the black characters in South African youth literature are not proficient in their use of the Afrikaans or English language. • The illustrations used in South African youth literature are mostly realistic. • In general English youth literature can be considered as more innovative than Afrikaans youth literature since it explores the relationships in inter-racial families, focuses on black, middle-class adolescents' view of race relations and gives a closer look at the guilt that white characters experience on account of their privileged existence. • In view of the above it could be stated that English youth literature contributes more towards reconciliation between South Africans and the reconstruction of South African society compared to Afrikaans youth literature. Writers, publishers and librarians alike can help adolescents to face the challenges posed by living in a multi-cultural society in the following ways: by writing books that deal with race relations in an honest and realistic way, by publishing and inspiring writers, especially black writers, to write these books and by providing these books to readers when they need them.
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