Resist or Serve: The Master/Servant Relationship in Apartheid and Post-Apartheid South Africa

J.M Coetzee�s Disgrace and Nadine Gordimer�s �Something Out There� illustrate that in Apartheid and Post-Apartheid South Africa, desperate times call for desperate measures, and that the line between safety and insecurity is blurred by the first of two options: resist or serve. Disgrace and �SOT� demonstrate that lingering racial attitudes impact on power relations between master and servant. Moreover, the novel and novella illustrate that peace and security are a façade underneath which lies a volatile coexistence between black resistance and white predominance. In �SOT,� the two black guerrillas attempt to jeopardize the status quo by sabotaging a power plant. In Disgrace, the attack on Lucy�s farm is a microcosm of the shifting power balance in South Africa. I will attempt to demonstrate that the relationship between masters and servants in Disgrace and �Something Out There� is directly related to servants� resistance of white predominance, which is informed by the relationship between masters and servants, as well the white ownership of land during Apartheid.

In �SOT,� Gordimer demonstrates that the relationship between master and servant in Post-Apartheid South Africa is determined by the racial attitudes of Apartheid. The white South Africans� belief that laborers are interchangeable and property within the white ownership of land is indicative of the binary forged in Apartheid: whites are masters; blacks are servants. At the beginning of �SOT,� Joy wants to convince Mrs. Klopper of her interest in the new house, and lets her know that she has hired servants.

Mrs. Klopper�s reaction to Joy�s decision illustrates that racial stereotypes are prevalent in the mindset of white South Africans: �So at least you�ve got someone to help. That�s good. I hope you didn�t take a boy off the streets, my dear? There are some terrible loafers coming to the back door for work, criminals―my!―you must be careful, you know� (134). Mrs. Klopper describes Vusi as a �boy,� a reference that indicates the subordination of blacks to whites. Also, Mrs. Klopper characterizes blacks as unmotivated people who roam the streets and endanger society with their criminal intent.

The subordination of servants to masters illustrates that although blacks are granted some degree of freedom, their dignity as well as their safety is undermined. Moreover, it is not only the tortured history of blacks that motivates the black men�s resistance of white predominance, but also the need to subvert power relations in Apartheid South Africa. The relationship between master and servant established in Apartheid is illustrated in the following passage, in which servants have no choice but to accept their mixed blessings:

Every household in the fine suburb had several black servants―trusted cooks who were allowed to invite their grandchildren to spend the holidays in the backyard, faithful gardeners from whom the family watch-dog was inseparable, a shifting population of pretty young housemaids whose long red nails and pertness not only asserted the indignity of being undiscovered or out-of-work fashion models but kept hoisted a cocky guerrilla pride against servitude to whites: there are many forms of resistance not recognized in the orthodox revolutionary strategy (147).

The cooks who are �trusted� are still treated as inferior individuals who threaten the security of their masters� household. Although the �trusted cooks� are permitted to invite their grandchildren for the holidays, they can only do so on the condition that they stay in the backyard. The effects of Apartheid are demonstrated in the fact that although blacks have limited freedom, it is conditioned by a separation from whites. As the passage demonstrates, servants are perceived as a sub-human category, much like the baboon, which is perceived as a faceless invader that threatens the security of whites. As a result of working in the backyard, the family gardeners are inseparable from the watch-dog, and also have to face the dangers that their masters take precautions to avoid. The security measures that whites adopt are not permitted to servants, who risk losing their possessions and their lives in the backyard (147). The housemaid witnesses the baboon leave her room, and expresses her dissatisfaction with the status quo to the cook and the gardener. Unlike the servants, the masters have a burglar siren to alert them to any trespassers, while the servants are constantly threatened by burglars as well as the baboon that is on the loose (147). Masters treat servants as tools that they temporarily use and not as human beings who are concerned with their own safety.

The appearance of the old man who looks for his mealies illustrates the lack of responsibility on the part of masters for their servants. White masters view their servants as commodities who are eventually considered useless and exchangeable. When the old man asks about the servants who live on Joy�s property, he immediately knows that masters have no concern for the fate of their servants: �When black people leave a white man�s place, they�ve gone; that�s all; it�s not the white man�s business to know where they�ll find work next� (185). Gordimer illustrates the irony in society�s concern for the homeless baboon, and its lack of concern for homeless servants with nowhere to go. Whites are frantic about the baboon, while they mistreat black servants by turning them away after a certain period of time. A journalist highlights the paradox that lies at the center of the master/servant relationship: �A left wing writer, taking up a sense of unfortunate duty to speak out against such paradoxes, wrote a stinging article noting sentimentality over a homeless animal, while―she gave precise figures―hundreds of thousands of black people had no adequate housing and were bulldozed out of the shelters they made for themselves� (189).

Gordimer illustrates that the only solution to masters� mistreatment of servants is resistance. Two of the guerrillas use the masters� power and control against whites, and the other two adopt the role of servants to strike against a system that degrades blacks. Charlie, Joy, Eddie and Vusi harness the relationship between master and servant as an instrument against the established relationship between master and servant in the Apartheid era. Even though the four maintain the pretense of the master/servant relationship, their relationship is actually one of mutual dependence and amiability. In one instance, Joy insists on helping Eddie and Vusi do their work. Unlike the masters, who discard their servants, the white couple is dependent upon the two black men: �Vusi could not function without Eddie, Eddie and Vusi without Charles and Joy, Charles and Joy without Eddie and Vusi� (178). The ideal that Apartheid fails to attain is realized in the relationship between the four guerrillas; however, the alliance between whites and blacks does not improve Apartheid society�s view of servants, but rather confirms the whites� superiority over blacks even in revolutionary acts of crime. After everyone learns that whites collaborated with the blacks who sabotaged the power plant, whites still ascribe more worth to whites than to blacks, much like they do to masters rather than to servants: �It was the involvement of whites that was the newsworthy angle, one white revolutionary was worth twenty blacks� (198).

Although white predominance in �Something Out There� is a political reality, Disgrace illustrates that the master/servant relationship is undergoing radical changes in the Post-Apartheid political landscape. Coetzee illustrates that David Lurie is unable to adjust to the transition from Apartheid to Post-Apartheid, which ultimately changes the power dynamics in the relationship between blacks and whites. David Lurie visits his daughter�s farm only to realize that the balance of power in South Africa is drastically shifting in favor of servants. The relationship between Lucy and Petrus is based on an employer/employee relationship rather than the master/servant dynamic. As Lucy states, Petrus is apportioned a share of her land: �Petrus is my new assistant. In fact, since March, co-proprietor� (62). Petrus has privileges blacks did not have during Apartheid. In one instance, Petrus watches television in the living room with David (75). Even though David acknowledges that Petrus is wealthy and co-proprietor of Lucy�s land, his mentality reveals that his expectations about Petrus are expectations a master had for a servant during Apartheid: �Petrus is in fact the one who does the work, while he sits and warms his hands. Just like the old days: baas en Klaas. Except that he does not presume to give Petrus orders. Petrus does what needs to be done, and that is that� (116). David�s Apartheid view of employers and employees is undermined by the changes unfolding in the relationship between black and white South Africans: �Petrus is a neighbour who at present happens to sell his labour, because that is what suits him. He sells his labor under a contract, unwritten contract, and that contract makes no provision for dismissal on grounds of suspicion. It is a new world they live in, he and Lucy and Petrus� (117). The �unwritten contract� renders Petrus as trustworthy and more importantly, empowers him against the white minority of South Africa.

After the three black men attack Lucy and David, the latter�s view of the status quo reveals that the power of white South Africans is dwindling. David Lurie�s relationship with Petrus reflects the former�s inability to integrate into a new political reality in which blacks are gaining the upper hand. David holds Petrus under suspicion and attempts to prove the latter�s complicity in the attack on the farm. His confrontation with Petrus in three instances reveals the reversal of the master/servant relationship that is spawned by the diminishment of whites� power. When David informs Petrus of the attack, the latter speaks in a tone of finality, as though he is the master and David his servant: �Yes,� says Petrus, �I heard. It is very bad, a very bad thing. But you are alright now� (114). When David queries Petrus about the attack on the farm, the latter evades a direct answer and speaks very few words, much like a master who tells his servant what to do (118-9). David is disturbed by the transition from a time in which servants obeyed their masters to a time in which black employees share their white employers� land and do not have to answer white�s questions. David behaves as though Petrus is a servant who has to reply satisfactorily to the queries of his master: �He does not care how he gets the words out of Petrus now, he just wants to hear them� (119). David�s stereotypical view of blacks reveals that although Petrus works hard to earn a living, he expects to take over Lucy�s farm someday: �A peasant, a paysan. A man of the country. A plotter and a schemer and no doubt a liar, too� (117). He believes that Petrus is an opportunist who wants to take over Lucy�s land (117).

After the attack, Lucy refuses to report her rape due to her belief that compliance with a new political reality is the safest course of action. She defends Petrus by arguing that there is no solid evidence against him and that she has no power over him: �I can�t order Petrus about. He is his own master� (114). David realizes that the white minority is becoming subject to the black majority. By getting impregnated by one of Petrus�s relatives, Lucy has become part of Petrus�s family and is forced to allot him a share of her land (204). After Lucy�s rape, David tries to deny the fact that the Apartheid past has stimulated a struggle between blacks and whites by believing that the crime only served a utilitarian purpose: �What there is must go into circulation, so that everyone can have a chance to be happy for a day. That is the theory; hold to the theory and the comforts of theory. Not human evil, just a vast circulatory system, to whose workings pity and terror are irrelevant� (98). However, near the end of the novel, David tells Lucy that the hate the three men exhibited for them is a byproduct of the tortured history of black South Africans. The three men�s attack on the farm is a form of resistance against the remaining power of white South Africans: �It was history speaking through them,� he offers at last. �A history of wrong. Think of it that way, if it helps. It may have seemed personal, but it wasn�t. It came down from the ancestors� (156). At the end of the novel, David realizes that the subjection of the white minority to the empowered black majority is inevitable. Lucy gives the land to Petrus and decides to stay in South Africa due to her belief that the employer/employee relationship is only a stage in which blacks become the new employers, and ultimately the new masters. Resistance is a harbinger of a new status quo: a new era of power relations.

Gordimer and Coetzee demonstrate that the servant�s resistance of the white population is symptomatic of the mistreatment of blacks during Apartheid. In �SOT,� the black militants� resistance reconciles the past with the present, and the present with the past: �No one knows that with the brief occupation of Vusi and Eddie, and the terrible tools that were all they had to work with, a circle was closed� (203). Eddie and Vusi want to change the future of blacks as a result of the degradation of their ancestors by their masters. In Disgrace, the political allegory illustrates the inversion of the relationship between blacks and whites: the white minority is subject to the black majority. The three men�s rape of Lucy symbolizes the coexistence of the empowered black community with the weakening white minority. In the Post-Apartheid era, South Africans have to face the remnants of a harsh reality: racial prejudice, stereotypes, and a lack of responsibility and concern for �the other.� The novel and novella illustrate there is only one solution to the remnants of Apartheid: to resist and never to serve.

Works Cited

Gordimer, Nadine. Something Out There. New York: Viking Press, 1984.

Coetzee, J.M Disgrace. Great Britain: Vintage, 2000.

Related Essays on Literature

google search optimization

что такое адаптивная верстка

раскрутка сайта одесса