Visiting Scholar Plans Talk on South Africa’s Image

PULLMAN, Wash. — Visiting scholar Melissa Steyn from the University of Cape Town, South Africa, will be on the Washington State University campus Nov. 14 to present a talk, “Rainbows, Chimeras and Smoke Screens: Imagining the South African Nation Six Years Into Its New Democracy.” The talk is set for 4 p.m. in Todd Hall, Room 216.

With one of the most troubled histories of racial oppression and enforced ethnic separation in the contemporary world, South Africa’s peaceful transition to democracy has been regarded far and wide as something of a miracle. The difficult work of re-imagining the divided society into one nation has now been underway for six years, with mixed success, said Jolanta Drzewiecka, a Murrow School of Communication faculty member.

The extent to which racial inequity will be perpetuated or dismantled remains the crux of whether the society can be truly reconciled. Since Nelson Mandela’s retirement, the debates around issues of racism and a questioning of white South Africans’ commitment to building community have been vocalized with greater urgency. The challenge has been accompanied by a matching intensification of denial and obfuscation amongst many white South Africans. This can be interpreted as an unwillingness, or inability, to imag(e)ine self and other differently — the very exertion of mind and heart that is a prerequisite for identification with the emerging society.

Steyn is director of diversity studies in the Graduate School of the Humanities, University of Cape Town. She has published both locally and internationally on culture, race, gender and sexuality and is co-editor with K.B. Motshabi of “Cultural Synergy in South Africa: Weaving Strands of Africa and Europe” (1996, Randburg: Knowledge Resources). Her current book on white identity in South Africa, “Whiteness Just Isn’t What It Used To Be: The Master’s Narrative and the New South Africa,” will be published by SUNY Press in 2001. Steyn is the recipient of a Fulbright Fellowship, an Adell-Hancock Scholarship Award from the Institute for International Education, and the Delta Kappa Gamma International Women’s World Scholarship.

Steyn’s talk is sponsored by the Murrow School of Communication. Questions can be directed to Drzewiecka, 509/335-7928, .