Priya Narismulu


Against a range of injustices African women have made powerful challenges to structural, gender and repressive violence through their interventions in questions of justice, dialogue, creativity and transformation. This article addresses an activist’s interventions against colonial oppression by examining gender as the central variable in the relationship between justice and activism in African women’s creative literature. The poem “For my Torturer, Lieutenant D…” was written in prison by the Algerian activist Leila Djabali who navigated the silences and challenges of gender, age and national identity (postcolonial). It challenges the violence of colonial and patriarchal silencing to expose torture and rape by a prison official.” Emerging from an abject position in a colonial jail the poet drew on the representational and allusive properties of poetry to heal and transform the role of victim so as to expose gross human rights abuses and hold colonial officials, the colonial state, and French culture to account. Predicated upon the recognition of very diverse audiences, the visionary poem invokes and explores emerging transitional justice and peace-making processes, decades before their formal appearance. It also demonstrates the value of creative communication strategies under conditions of extreme oppression and division. Using a Critical Theory lens with intersectional analysis, Djabali’s text may be read as innovatively connecting individual testimony to the nascent national processes of transitional justice and peace-making. The work of Audre Lorde is used to interpret this bold and resourceful experiment in the generation of justice and transformation through literary art.

Author Biography

Priya Narismulu (PhD), Professor of English at University of KwaZulu-Natal, relishes the privilege and adventure of being an African intellectual (fourth generation South African, through indenture). Rescued by writing this article while ending a challenging period of serving as Head of the School of Literary Studies, Media and Creative Arts, and leading the development of the massive School of Arts (while carrying her usual lecture, supervision and community engagement loads), she balances her research with teaching for transformation.