Professor Desiree Lewis, Department of Women and Gender Studies, University of the Western Cape, and Angelo Fick, Director of Research, Auwal Socioeconomic Research Institute

This course focuses on the writing and philosophy of the South African author, Bessie Head, in the context of a broader discussion about aspects of contemporary South African politics and culture. Raised as an orphan, Head often recounted stories about her white mother, committed to a mental institution because of her relationship with Head’s black father. Following a short journalistic career she left South Africa to live in Botswana where she wrote most of her published works. Focusing on the novels Maru and A Question of Power the course explores Head’s creative and political vision and the way that it anticipates political and cultural debates in the present, including ‘decolonising’ knowledge and colonial/postcolonial subjectivity; the ‘intersectionality’ of raced, gendered and classed oppression; explorations of race and gender and views about ‘freedom’ that transcend political and rights-based models.



1. Storytelling and personal narrative as resistance and subversion

2. Standpoint knowledge-making and social marginality: Bessie Head’s Maru

3. Interrogating colonialism, confronting decolonisation: A Question of Power

4. Creativity, intertextuality and social engagement: Maru and A Question of Power

5. Re-envisioning postcolonial ‘freedoms’: Zoë Wicomb’s essays and Head’s novels


Recommended reading

Head, B. 1971.Maru. London: Heinemann

Head, B. 1973. A Question of Power. London: Heinemann

Wicomb, Z. 2018. ‘To Hear the Variety of Discourses’ in van der Vlies, A. ed. Zoe Wicomb: Race, Nation. Translation: South African Essays, 1990-2013.

Wicomb, Z. 2018. ‘Setting, Intertextuality and the Resurrection of the Postcolonial Author’ in van der Vlies, A. ed. Zoe Wicomb: Race, Nation. Translation: South African Essays, 1990-2013.



Date: 13–17 January
Time: 9.15 am
COURSE FEES: Full Staff R590.00 Staff & Students R295.00
Venue: Classroom 2A Kramer Law Building UCT