Hyg! Popular romance in the Afrikaans literary system &
commemorating the life and work of Cecilia Britz
Issue guest editors: Martina Vitackova & Ilse de Korte
South African feminist research on popular culture seems to be growing exponentially. Only a few
months apart, two dedicated journal issues were published on the topic: a special issue of South African
feminist journal Agenda, on “Gender and popular imaginaries in Africa” (October 2018) – whose
editors quite accurately state that “despite the wide recognition of popular art forms as invaluable
sources of insights into societies, these cultural productions remain haunted by scholarly anxieties
about their indiscipline; their transgressiveness; their contradictory impulses and general refusal to
cohere with canonised perspectives and modes of thought” (Spencer, Ligaga, & Musila 2018:3) – and
an issue of Feminist Theory on “Chick-lit in a time of African cosmopolitanism” (April 2019), which
succinctly taps into the growing academic interest in popular literature, actively agitating to move the
genre “beyond its Anglo-American origins and give it landscape, texture, colour and affect, by engaging
the growing number of chick-lit writers and novels based in and on the continent of Africa” (Frenkel
& Gupta, 2019:123).
The current reappraisal of popular romance texts can be partially understood as a reaction to larger
structural and systemic changes in discourse around “high” and “low” literature(s), the productive
and functional reappraisal of the value of genre fiction, and changing global understandings of how
literature (can) reflect and even support social change. Increasingly, genre fiction is being recognised
for its socio-political content and addressing issues that were previously reserved only for littérature
engagée. What now needs to complement this, is a reappraisal of how academic work has conceptualised
popular romance fiction in South Africa and how it has steadily gained academic status.
To address this, a special issue of stilet.digital is inviting contributions on the current state of Afrikaans
This special issue will appear 25 years after the publication of Stilet 9(1) – then the first themed issue
of a South African accredited journal dealing with popular fiction. Significantly, the issue followed on
a full-day seminar in 1996 to which academics, publishers, authors of popular romance and readers
were asked to participate. Such a ‘mixed’ method – up to that point unprecedented in Afrikaans
literary analysis – went some way in de-stigmatising popular romance (both in the reader’s and in
the academic’s mind). The date – two years into South Africa’s nascent democracy – is not incidental.
Social change abounded in the years immediately following 1994, and a very definite post-1994 texture
is today observable in both the social fabric and in cultural products such as popular romance.
Despite a growing academic awareness of how popular romance is reflected in social change, research
on popular romance in Afrikaans still, sadly, seems to be lagging behind. This is not necessarily a mere
indictment of high/low culture bias, since, while there is a growing body of research on popular crime
fiction in South Africa (with master’s and PhD theses aplenty dedicated to crime fiction, and a popular
crime fiction author such as Deon Meyer being included in the literary canon), the genre of popular
romance is still often relegated to the margins of academia, due perhaps in large sense to the gendered
dimension of this specific genre. Such triple marginalisation – what Frantz and Sellinger refer to as the
“triply shameful” (2012:2) nature of research on popular romance – is especially striking in Afrikaans
Even though Afrikaans popular romance attracts a remarkably large and active readership, as well
as vigorous publication and sales figures, the sole existing academic study on the topic is the 2011
article “Reader and context: a reception study of Afrikaans romance readers” by Snyman and Penzhorn.
Recently, Martina Vitackova started conducting research on Afrikaans popular romance and her work
shows that there is a clear development towards more inclusive representations that are closer to
the actual lived social reality of South Africans (e.g. Vitackova, 2018). This goes some way toward
confirming work done in other literary systems that show how the romance text is “a site of proactive
exploration and resistance as well as the locus of a discourse that none of us can escape” (Riley &
This trend is steadfastly gaining ground in Afrikaans popular romance, confirming the trend of further
diversification of a growing genre and its engagement with the societal and historical positioning of
Afrikaners and Afrikaans-speaking South Africans.
In this sense, the genre of Afrikaans popular romance seems to be a cogent area of investigation into
identitarian place and meaning making. How, for example, do Afrikaans speakers construct new senses
of themselves in democratic South Africa? To what extent are white Afrikaans speakers – still very
much associated with “specific forms of femininity, heterosexuality, whiteness and middle-classness”
(Van der Westhuizen, 2017:4) – reflected in recent developments within the popular romantic field?
To what extent can popular romance (or any popular textual genre) surface how notions of Afrikanerness
These, and other questions, warrant further and focussed investigation, and stilet.digital is requesting
original research on how political and social developments in post-apartheid South Africa are reflected
or subverted in Afrikaans popular romance, as well as on:
• recurring and newly arising themes, as well themes being omitted;
• the relation between popular genres/genre fiction and Afrikaans academia;
• the publishing industry’s response to social change;
• new theoretical lenses (ecocriticism, for example) and popular romance;
• erotica, sex, polyamory, S&M, and popular romance;
• decolonisation of the romance genre and representations of ‘the other’; and
• pastiche, rewriting and queering of Afrikaans popular romance.
We welcome proposals for interdisciplinary academic work, profiles, reviews and interviews in English,
Afrikaans and Dutch. Where possible, we endeavour to place articles and content in all official South
African languages, including SA sign language via video content on https://stilet.digital/SASL.
The issue has a dual focus; on the one hand focussing on how social change is reflected in popular
romance in Afrikaans (and vice versa), and on the other, serving as a way to commemorate the pioneering
work of Romanza founder Cecilia Britz. Working fist at Perskor, then Huisgenoot and finally LAPA,
Britz introduced the genre of popular romance – and the form of category romance – to the Afrikaans
language. While there certainly were romance novels before, it was Britz who securely established the
writing and publishing of the genre in Afrikaans, stating the must-do‘s and the no-no’s of the genre’s
formula within the specific context of an Afrikaans (and Afrikaner) umwelt.
The limited critical appraisal her work has received to date is without a doubt due to the ‘triple
shaming’ of the genre. Just as Cecilia Britz established the genre of popular romance in Afrikaans, this
special issue strives to further establish the research of popular romance as a valid part of the Afrikaans
Proposals or statements of intent can be sent to Martina (AfrikaansRomance@gmail.com) until the
end of 2020, with full articles expected no later than March 2021. Publication is scheduled for late
2021. All contributions are subjected to double-blind review.
In addition, creative work, reflective and responsive pieces, as well as visual contributions on the above
themes are welcomed. stilet.digital also places reviews of recent popular romance texts, revisits of older
texts, and reappraisals of overlooked texts and authors.