John Buchan's "Uprester John": Translation, the State and the Question of Resistance
John Buchan, one of Britain’s most widely read authors of the 20th century and credited as the inventor of the modern spy thriller (“Thirty-nine Steps”), worked briefly in post Boer War South Africa as a colonial administrator. “Prester John” (1910) is his most notable African writing to emerge out of the period. In this popular adventure novel Buchan dramatizes the politics of reconquest: subduing black nationalistic political aspirations in the wake of the military defeat of the white Boers in the Transvaal and Free State. The novel’s young Scottish hero single-handedly defeats a black uprising lead by a charismatic Zulu leader, and restores South Africa as a "white man's country".
This novel, on the face of it an imperial fantasy of white mastery in darkest Africa, has also received counter-hegemonic readings. It is claimed, for instance, that Jomo Kenyatta read it in prison as template for conducting the anti-colonial struggle. This paper will largely concern itself with John Francis Cele’s 1960 Zulu translation of “Prester John” and examine both the political and educational context of “Bantu education” as well as analyse the various strategies which the translator employed to subvert the authorized meaning of the text.
Keywords: Translation, "Prester John", post-colonial, John Buchan, bantu education
Dr Hermann Wittenberg
Lecturer, Department of English, University of the Western Cape