The Other Face of Apartheid: Ifeoma Okoye's The Fourth World and Festus Iyayi's Violence.

AuthorIwuchukwu, Onyeka
PositionCritical essay

Introduction

Apartheid is a political system that existed in South Africa in which only white people had absolute control in all aspects of life. It was designed by these white people to "maintain economic monopoly over lands, minerals, jobs and social services and to repress African competition and nationalism" (Chnaiwa 251). Basically, apartheid was characterized by the "politics of inequality, racism, exploitation and oppression: by mass poverty in the midst of minority affluence and supremacy" (Chnaiwa 255). The enactment of the apartheid law therefore led to the institutionalization of racial discrimination, segregation, oppression and dehumanization of the Black majority, citizens, by the whites. This essay opines that if these are the characteristics of apartheid, then apartheid is not limited to the then South Africa, but it also exists in all the societies of the world, especially in Nigeria as captured in two novels, Ifeoma Okoye' Fourth World and Festus Iyayi's Violence concludes that the writers' peculiar perceptions of politics link social injustice to bad leadership and the misuse of power.

In the novels, the writers, in service to their societies, present efforts to challenge injustice in line with Chinua Achebe's view that the writer must accept the duty to challenge injustice wherever he/she sees it, even if it is injustice committed by Africans against Africans. He insists"... we must never agree to bargain away the right to be treated like full members of the human family. We must seek freedom to absolutely express ourselves, without the anxiety that we might be taken as evidence against our race" (Achebe138-9).

This is why the writer has been variously described as a guide, a teacher, a moral barometer, the conscience of the society who examines and recommends a way to higher ideals for a better society. In apartheid South Africa, the injustice was perpetrated by the Whites against the Blacks, but in these two novels, the injustice is committed by Nigerians against fellow Nigerians. The two writers go beyond mere depiction of social injustice to present protagonists, Chira in The Fourth Wall and Idemudia in Violence, who challenges the perpetrators of injustice. They emerge triumphant though at a price of intense physical, emotional and psychological traumatic experiences caused by this other face of apartheid.

The Fourth World

Generally, developing societies of the world like Asia, Africa, and sometimes, South America are referred to as third world countries. Ifeoma Okoye insists in The Fourth World that apart from this recognized third world, there is another unrecognized world which she names the fourth world. This fourth world is not located in a specific region or continent, so it has no specific name. It is "... a world whose citizenship is not defined by race, color, geographical location, tongue or creed... the universal world of the poor found everywhere on earth... a world of voiceless humanity, the ignored and despised found in rich as in poor countries....poverty is their unmistakable identity" (Emenyonu, in the foreword). Kasanga Avenue in the novel is a representative of this fourth world found in Nigeria.

In this novel, Ifeoma Okoye presents vivid experiences of people in this world as they suffer gross social injustice in form of segregation, oppression, and exploitation as a result of the political system that empowers the affluent few and dis-empowers the majority poor. The inhabitants of this fourth world struggle for survival in penury and misery amidst overwhelming obstacles to their continued existence. In Kasanga Avenue, sickness, and preventable deaths are daily occurrences so people hardly experience joy or laughter, only misfortunes, sadness and sorrows. Kasanga Avenue destroys people so much that they are deprived of "dignity and honour" (104). This could be likened to the situation in South Africa during the apartheid regime as captured by Peter Abrahams in Mine Boy, Athol Fugard in Sizwe Bansi is Dead and in other literary outputs from the region during the period. The atmosphere of gloom and deprivation loom so large in the novel that the only joyous activities recorded are Ogom's marriage which incidentally ends disastrously and the governor's party which exposes the selfishness and insensitivity of the leaders.

However both celebrations take place outside Kasanga Avenue. Kasanga Avenue presents only misfortunes like Akalaka's sickness and death; the death of Egodi and Donatus who are run down by a truck while hawking banana for their mother; the death of two youths killed by police during a protest march for the death of a girl and a woman in a dreadful flood that ravaged the Avenue and others. The residents also contend with police brutality just like the Black people did during the now defunct apartheid South Africa.

Kasanga Avenue represents the slums and the ghettos of this world where countless residents like Akalaka and his wife die because they cannot afford medication. It is a place where some residents have become "mentally unbalanced because of their hard lives". Kasanga Avenue is seen as a destroyer of people's bodies and minds. Living there meant not being able to see a doctor because there was no money. ... not having a good job at all because of a lack of education or skill.... losing children to illness because of dearth of clean water, a filthy environment, and insufficient proper food.... a maximum security prison for people who committed the crime of allowing themselves to be born into poverty" (95).

This reality of their existence is presented through Chira's travails, sorrows and pains. She lives with her parents in a "tiny room with its minimal ventilation and perpetually leaking roof... no conveniences" (29) in Kasanga Avenue located in the most neglected and filthiest part of town where flood rampage has created deep gutters that have merged with the road in a way that it is difficult to differentiate the road from the gutters. Consequently, residents wade through dangerous expanse of surging muddy water which causes many deaths as they are continuously being carried away by flood. During the rainy seasons, residents stay in their precarious hovels to avoid being drowned like those who died in one of the floods named the 'Great Floods'. It was a tragedy that would have been averted if, according to a journalist, the "government was alive to its responsibilities" (147). The journalist indicts the government and attributes the deplorable living condition in Kasanga Avenue to bad and insensitive leadership. The government does not repair the roads and build drainages to check the frequent flooding and erosion that claim the lives of residents yearly, and when they protest, they are killed by police. The journalist insists that government should provide them with basic amenities as they pay their taxes dutifully. They are marginalized and neglected because they live in a segregated area like the Black people in apartheid South Africa.

The members of this 'fourth world' belong to it not because they are lazy or unintelligent, but because of the type of politics that is practiced which produces bad leaders who places them in that condition. However, the writer condemns their complacency and insists that injustice should be challenged so the neglected residents should not see their pitiable situation as their destiny like Kodili and Nebolise who become despondent and shattered physically and emotionally after losing their loved ones. Mama Egodi and Mama Bebe should not be content to continue with life despite the death of their children, instead they should, like Chira, rebel against oppression and injustice and strive to improve their lives. With that, the writer fulfils the "role of a precursor to make straight the way" (Carroll, 1990, 179).

Like in the apartheid regime, there is a wide disparity between the affluent minority rich and the depraved indigent majority. The minority rich lives in a different part of the city and the government takes care of their needs, while the majority poor are subjected to a dehumanized state of living that is akin to the position of Black people in the then apartheid South Africa. Government officials and their cronies accumulate and appropriate the wealth meant for the well-being of everybody, for themselves which is squandered on frivolous ceremonies like the governor's wife's birthday party where Chira, shocked by the level of waste, observes: "The...

To continue reading

Request your trial