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Reassessing Thematic Crossings between South Africa and Nigeria: Postcolonial Leadership and Power in Mandla Langa’s The Lost Colours of the Chameleon and Helon Habila’s Waiting for an Angel

Rebecca Fasselt


While Nigeria and South Africa are commonly perceived as the two powerhouses of African fiction,[1] their literatures have, for evident historical reasons, followed distinct trajectories. Thus far, little critical attention has been paid to comparing theorisations of the contemporary South African and Nigerian novel. This article aims to contribute to re-enlivening the sorely lacking dialogue between the countries’ literatures by providing a comparative reading of Mandla Langa’s The Lost Colours of the Chameleon with Helon Habila’s Waiting for an Angel. I argue that Langa’s allegorical novel dispenses with the idea of South African exceptionalism by exploring the lust for power in the postcolony. Particularly his representation of the postcolonial ruling class establishes an intertextual dialogue with writing from elsewhere on the continent. Waiting for an Angel, while engaging with postcolonial military dictatorships during the mid-1980s and 1990s in Nigeria, is also noteworthy for invoking a sense of placelessness and, therefore, offers itself for a comparative analysis. Relating the novels to their literary antecedents, as well as to recent theorisations of the third-generation Nigerian and the post-apartheid novel, I suggest that their reflections on postcolonial leadership unsettle the boundaries of national literatures and invoke a sense of continental connectivity.

[1] I have taken this expression from Dunton, “Nigerian Novels.”

[1] I have taken this expression from Dunton, “Nigerian Novels.”


Post-apartheid Novel; Third-generation Nigerian Fiction; Comparative Literature; Postcolonial Power and Leadership; Postcolonial Utopia; Mandla Langa; Helon Habila

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The Johns Hopkins University Press

ISSN: 1920-1222

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