The Dynamics of Power
A Review of J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace
by Kate Wilson
Things must seem unfixable to those who have to live with such endemic violence and corruption. Post-apartheid, the same urgent questions remain: how to stop the nearly fifty homicides2 a day, how to make the law function so that it protects and supports citizens in their daily lives - the police are not going to save you, not any more, you can be sure (Disgrace p.100), how to find a unifying national principle which will help transcend racial barriers. President Mandela’s hope of “a rainbow nation at peace with itself” seems a far-off goal without some miracle of self-governance and social integration.
J.M. Coetzee (b.1940; Nobel Prize 2003) published Disgrace in 1999 against3, but which is now open to reinterpretation – ‘Petrus had a vision of the future in which people like Lucy have no place’ (p.118). The end-game of Petrus’ building projects on his own land adjoining Lucy’s small-holding, is, Coetzee makes abundantly clear, white dispossession. Petrus’ new farmhouse looms over Lucy’s small one. Decolonization has begun, a new land invasion in the old style, an unwanted landgrab by strangers bringing the new-fangled equipment of a stronger tribe: ‘from the back of the lorry the two men unload cartons, creosoted poles, sheets of galvanized iron, a roll of plastic piping (…)- the lorry makes a wide sweep around the stable and thunders back down the driveway’ (p.113). The reversal of history is unbearable to Lurie’s white racial pride: ‘This is not what he (Lurie) came for. Here he is losing himself day by day’ (p.121).4
Picture credits: J.M. Coetzee in 2006 (Wikipedia)
Farm workers near Francistown. (Colonial Office photographic collection held at the National Archives. From Wikimedia Commons.)
"Coetzee captures with appalling skill the white dilemma in South Africa"