“Africa, old and new: Guy Butler and ‘The African Renaissance – A long view’”

2006. The English Academy Review 23(1): 23-33. First published in Postamble 2(1).

Guy Butler’s place in South African and African literature is a contentious one. To some, he was a protean figure, a conscientious man of letters and action. To others, he was a colonial relic, a pale liberal best forgotten in the post-Apartheid era. Nevertheless, throughout his life Butler attempted to resolve the conflict between global (European) and local (African) heritages, and his shifting responses to the dilemma serve as catalysts for an exploration of wider debates about “the African Renaissance” in the twenty-first century. This paper discusses both the ways in which Butler’s depiction of Africa changed as he grew older and as South African society changed around him, and the extent to which the values he espoused remained consistent; finally, it assesses his response to the vision of an “African Renaissance” – through a “long view of history” incorporating contemporary cultural politics, archaeological perspectives and even insights from evolutionary biology.