Postcards from Xolobeni

Postcards from Xolobeni

Postcards are an interesting hybridic genre of communication, with their usually one-way message from the writer to the addressee on one side existing in parallel with usually a picture or photograph on the other side. Having a long heyday from the late 19th century on, they now seem curiously old-fashioned, largely superseded by electronic versions or other alternatives. However, it is worth noting that they can be used in a very powerful way. Often the picture or photograph on a postcard is unconnected with the message, but where they reinforce each other this can be very effective in putting across a particular message. And postcards can do this in an electronic format, as shown by an article which appeared last week in the Daily Maverick, an online independent South African opinion and newspaper. It is by Thom Pierce and entitled ‘Postcards from Xolobeni’ and provides an important example of how playing on the epistolary form can be used to great effect in particular circumstances. The Xolobeni community’s Amadiba Crisis Committee is taking the Department of Mineral Resources to court, asking for it to decree that no licence to mine the area should be granted without the consent of the community, as the introduction of mining for corporate profit along the coastline would destroy this rural and fishing community and make living in the area (which is broadly the Wild Coast) untenable. What the Maverick has published is a series of postcards addressed to the ANC government minister responsible for the Department. These are not ‘real’ in that the addresses have all been written in the same very legible handwriting, and possibly also the messages in another. But they are very real in that each of them represents the words and views of the person whose signature (sometimes a name, and sometimes a ‘X’ mark) appears at the end, people whose lives might be decimated by the proposed mining, with perhaps a more lettered person writing down their words for them. The messages are touching and express a powerful commitment to land, a way of life, and tradition. They also gain much of their forcefulness from the photographs alongside them, showing people directly looking out at those who look in at them, people proudly immersed in a landscape and topography and determined to keep it that way if they possibly can, using old ways of protest and also the very new, like electronic forms of epistolary communication.

 

Last updated:  26 April 2018


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