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Books LIVE Exclusive: David Attwell Gives a Historical View of the Importance of Nelson Mandela

JM CoetzeeThe Cambridge History of South African LiteratureDavid Attwell, current head of the English Department at the University of York, and author of several books, including JM Coetzee: South Africa and the Politics of Writing, has written a tribute to Nelson Mandela, which places the first democratically elected president of South Africa in a historical context reaching back as far as 1795.

In the piece “‘Kunu’, Qunu and the Click that Refused to Travel”, Attwell describes watching Mandela’s funeral this past week on BBC1, where the presenters struggled to pronounce the name of Madiba’s final resting place. He calls it a “marker” of a “rift” that had opened when British colonists first came to Africa. He goes on to relate the history of colonial clashes and the Anglo-Boer War and writes: “You may ask, how is this all relevant to Nelson Mandela? The answer is, directly. The eventual outcome of the Anglo-Boer war was the constitutional settlement of 1910, in which African were deprived of full citizenship.”

Mandela was the one who was able to bridge the divide first cleaved in the eighteenth century, Attwell says:

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