Highfield on violence in narratives of Africa

Jonathan Highfield (Professor, Literary Arts + Studies) presented a paper, ““‘My mother is dead. My father is dead’: Erasing violence and living on the mountain in K. Sello Duiker’s Thirteen Cents,” on the panel “Fractured Lands, Erased Voices: Violence in Narratives of Africa and the Diaspora,” at the 57th Annual Meeting of the African Studies Association, Indianapolis, Indiana, November 20-23, 2014.

In K. Sello Duiker’s novel, Thirteen Cents, violence and erasure are diurnal realities for the characters living on the street and working in the informal economy in post-apartheid Cape Town, South Africa. The protagonist and narrator, Azure, inhabits a constantly shifting landscape where people disappear and houses vanish. He lives with the prospect that he too will vanish – to violence, sexual predation, disease, or starvation. On Table Mountain, however, Azure discovers the pre-capitalist connections between humans and the environment, dancing with cave paintings and conversing with Saartjie Baartman and the god Mantis. As Azure begins to transform into a T-Rex, Duiker suggests that in nature Azure finds a new lineage, one that erases the violence of his past even as a tsunami erases Cape Town itself.