Urban Black Life in Drum and Little Libby

The selections from Drum Magazine are two-fold: while showcasing a wildly paternalistic view of 1950’s South African society, these early facsimiles also demonstrate a changing landscape by placing more emphasis on urban black populations. They squarely focus on blacks living in traditionally Afrikaner cities such as Johannesburg and Pretoria and hint at certain social issues affecting them. This is most readily seen in “Ntombo Gets a Job,” in which a black man finds himself forced into a life of crime as a means of escaping poverty. Despite believing his actions to be morally unsound, Ntombo sees no other way out until he eventually finds a legitimate job as a hotel clerk. Overall, even though the story is somewhat poorly written, it paints a picture of a newly mobile, urbanized black population in search of their own particular prosperity within the South African nation state. This is further exemplified in “Blood between Us” and “His Only Love,” which despite stumbling through sexist themes with regards to gender roles and marriage, represent middle class blacks living normal lives wrought with the same types of domestic issues presumably present in white households as well.

Alex La Guma’s comic strip, Little Libby, follows a similar thread fashioning a slapstick portrayal of urban black life in city centers. A big difference however, is that Little Libby is far more politically driven than Drum Magazine, as La Guma shows the adventures of an unassuming youth, Liberation Chabala, and his adventures throughout Johannesburg — being chased and harassed by whites from all walks of life: the mafia, restaurant owners and the police. While decidedly frivolous in nature, these comics speak to the realities of the Apartheid State and invite the possibility of resistance to it.

Overall, despite the fact that the selections (especially from Drum Magazine) are somewhat politically and socially problematic they unabashedly depict the face of an evolving nation. By emphasizing the plight of urban blacks, shedding light on their day-to-day lives, and the inequalities existing between whites and blacks these selections foreshadow the inevitable change South Africa was destined to undergo with the end of Apartheid, and the election of the ANC in the mid 1990’s.

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