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Elsa Joubert takes us back, and further still, to a time in South Africa's history when borders were moot. The English translation of Joubert's late apartheid novel, Missionaris (1988), restores Aart Van der Lingen's frail corpus to a place of significance in light of the country's fragile democracy. We follow the harrowing journey of the man whose mission is to bring God to the wilderness. But his journey wears down his faith in what it means to be human amidst slavery and brutal imperialism. As the landscape of early 19th century South Africa rejects his presence at every turn, the deformed missionary finds himself having to come to terms with his own spiritual pathos. In a land of warriors and frontiersmen, the lowly man of God must forge his own path. From the Cape in the West, to Graaff Reinet in the East and as far North as Klaarwater, Van der Lingen's life becomes one of exodus, without the promise of domicile.
Joubert acquaints us with the chilling image of the African South under the duress of Europe's violent incursion. She forgoes the romanticism of other colonial narratives by sticking close to the history, furnishing Van der Lingen's account only to reflect the angst and moral dubiousness of white occupation and gun-wielding evangelism. We are forced to question what has become of the identity of the white South African - once the master and now a shareholder in the future of the nation. Joubert asks of all her readers to contemplate the genealogy of our own authority and to consider in whose footsteps we will follow.