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Search for Identity in Wally Serote’s Revelations

By Chivimbiso Gava for Times LIVE:

RevelationsHow does one reconcile with a past that is considered already conquered? Or, perhaps the question should be is it already conquered?

In Revelations, author Wally Serote explores South Africa’s past, its future and its cultural identity .

The narrative begins with an artistic journey that takes Bra Shope and his friend, Otsile, around the world as Bra Shope exhibits his art work.

Otsile, a photographer and former Umkhonto we Sizwe freedom fighter, narrates the story as he reflects on the new South Africa.

Throughout the entire book Serote’s descriptions of time and space are so vivid that readers are never unclear about where in history the story is. And, with poetic prose he drifts between different points in the characters’ histories.

Bra Shope is the catalyst for Otsile’s probing thoughts. He prompts Otsile to reflect on his time as a cadre and how the experience has shaped his identity. Bra Shope leads him to think about the ideals for which he fought and how his culture gave him the strength to fight in the struggle against apartheid.

The devastating effect of South Africa’s history is shared with Bra Shope and with their friends from around the world, many of whom have lived through a history of oppression as well. Serote introduces characters from all walks of life, creeds and backgrounds, and allows the reader to experience oppression beyond the enclaves of race. Although the book is mostly concerned with South Africa’s black experience, Serote gives it a global context by talking about other oppressors too.

Otsile and his partner, Teresa, constantly discuss the state of South Africa, the tremulous history of the continent and whether their children will one day find their place in it.

They struggle to engage their children with what South Africa used to be and what it is today.

Otsile reluctantly talks to them about these issues, about his experience as a cadre and what freedom is. But he does want them to understand that, although they are now free, economic freedom still does not belong to the black African.

Teresa, a qualified lawyer who is devastated by the loss of a dear friend, decides to return to her ancestral home to accept her calling as an inyanga (sangoma). She learns to combine her culture with the modernity to which she has become accustomed.

Through this Serote explores the historical origins of Christianity in Africa, the demise of African spirituality and the conflict of trying to reassemble a culture condensed by years of oppression. It becomes clear that, although a past has been conquered, there is no struggle in this life that comes without casualties.

To Otsile it’s as if the freedom which they had envisioned has not come to pass. He reflects on whether reconciliation can ever be a reality with the dehumanisation that took place in his country.

Revelations explores a never-ending journey towards reconciliation, life after freedom, ways to search for identity and ways to create a life in the new South Africa.

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