Ambiguous visibility: Islam and the making of a South African landscape

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For European settlers in South Africa, the landscape refused to be blank and inscribable, denying a settler fantasy of a new Eden. Instead, the landscape insistently conveyed history and anteriority, and thus it evoked a sense of settlers as temporary, newcomers, passing. Yet by the end of the 19th century, history textbooks in the South African colonial territories articulated a different vision of the land: that its history began in 1652 with the arrival of Jan van Riebeeck, the Dutch commander of the provisioning outpost established at the Cape. This was a rhetorical declaration of settler belonging so profound that nothing existed before. Along with the brute power of war, displacement, and genocide, this sense of belonging was realized through a discursive mechanism that named the details of the landscape and people who preceded European settlement as profoundly other, as lacking in fit and significance. This Adamicproject of naming is recounted in the nine pages in the Dictionary of South African English on Historical Principles that delineate the meanings of the most notorious word in South African history, known most pointedly from its licence of violence towards Blacks during apartheid, but used and elaborated during the colonial period. The word is "kaffir." This article explores how language and a visual discourse around Islam are present in the making of a South African landscape.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)90-103
Number of pages14
JournalArab World Geographer
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Dec 1 2005

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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