Accepted paper:

Representing otherness: who can represent the Bushman?


Itunu Bodunrin (University of Johannesburg)

Paper short abstract:

The paper broadly addresses the question of who can teach, write, represent and model for a decolonoised African indigenous practice.

Paper long abstract:

The post-colonial debate on indigenous (mis)representation and otherness has been particularly rife in the so-called settler region and countries where the colonisers and the colonised Indigenous peoples (often termed the "natives") inhabit the colonised land supposedly as "equal" citizens. Unlike in the parts of the world today where native researchers and scholars have emerged, and are directly involved in researching their own affairs, the largely unchanged socioeconomic status of indigenous communities and groups such as the Bushmen in post-apartheid South Africa meant they remained underrepresented in research, and "their stories told mainly by privileged intellectuals" (Mboti, 2014: 473). Hence, the debate on the representation of the indigenous Bushmen has been between non-white South African scholars and their white counterparts, who are considered privileged and easily associated with the "former coloniser". The non-white scholars have challenged their white counterparts' problematic identity and present role in teaching, writing, representing and modelling for a decolonoised African indigenous practice. In this presentation, the author wades into the issues of representation and otherness in South African Bushman research, while also reflecting on the experiences of othering that emanated from his own 4-year ethnographic research with the Bushmen. The author thus highlights the importance of self-reflexivity in post-colonial/post-apartheid representation otherised groups. The Bushmen of Southern Africa, are among the most disadvantaged, marginalized and most researched people on the planet. Their hyper-mediated identity as noble savages and First People from whom all humans descended, have attracted the curiosity of researchers, journalists, filmmakers and tourists.

panel P058
Democracy, decolonisation and political contestation: the South African case