Novelist Peter Merrington’s illustrated lecture ‘First Light, False Dawn’ will explore the making of a public cultural identity for a new nation.

 ‘First Light, False Dawn’ responds to the first hundred years (1910-2010) of South Africa as a unitary nation-state. The lecture is about the making of a public cultural identity for the new nation circa 1910, a new symbolic order, and the inventing of heritage. Merrington explores the meaning of heritage in the late nineteenth century, in relation to then-popular concepts of vernacular identity in England. He shows how ideas of Englishness influenced the quest for a new South African cultural vernacular, and how the young ideologues of Milner’s ‘kindergarten’ drew on these ideas for their vision.

The illustrated lecture makes connections between fiction, architecture, gardening, Africana, pageant performance and national history at the time of Union, when caste rather than race in the apartheid-sense dominated social relations. Despite a cascading sequence of political changes over the century, many of the initiatives of 1910 still shape aspects of South African public culture.

Peter Merrington, born and bred in Cape Town, is a Professor Extraordinaire affiliated to the English Department, University of the Western Cape. His first novel Zebra Crossings: Tales from the Shaman’s Record was published by Jacana in 2008. In 2009 he was the recipient of a Donald Gordon Creative Arts Fellowship during which time he worked on the first sequel to Zebra Crossings. He has a PhD on the subject of the Edwardian imagination and heritage for the Union of South Africa in 1910, and an MA on the poetry of Thomas Hardy. He has twice been awarded the Thomas Pringle Prize of the English Academy of Southern Africa. He majored in English and Classics for his BA at the University of Cape Town and has held research fellowships in London, Cambridge, Cairo, Oxford, and the USA.

UCT’s Gordon Institute for Performing and Creative Arts (GIPCA) was established to enhance the arts within the University of Cape Town (UCT) and the broader community, whilst facilitating a broad range of collaborative and interdisciplinary projects. The Great Texts / Big Questions lecture series aims to engender a culture of exchange of ideas, opinion and conjecture.

For more information, and up-to-date Great Texts / Big Questions dates and speakers visit, call (021) 480 7156 or e-mail

Peter Merrington audio recording available for download.

Start: 23 Sep ’10 5:30 pm

End: 23 Sep ’10 6:30 pm

Cost: Free


Organizer: GIPCA


Venue: Hiddingh Hall 

Phone: +27 21 480 7156 

Address: UCT Hiddingh Campus, 31 Orange Street, Cape Town, 8001, South Africa