The dignity of the state capture commission has been held up by Zondo's personal approach. Even the most reluctant witness could not gather the rudeness to withdraw.
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South African foreign affairs minister under the apartheid government, Pik Botha, gives testimony at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in East London in 1996. ((Photo by Gallo Images/Oryx Media Archive))
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Around South Africa there are many
statues of struggle heroes and museums that contribute to commemorating a part
of our divided history. Some would say that we do not need such depictions of
our past, others say it is part of remembrance and collective memory is
important to truth and justice.
Memorialisation, put another way,
is a means to keep memory alive. But, why do we have to practice
memorialisation, shouldn't the past be dead and buried?
"Memorialisation is a process
that satisfies the desire to honour those who have suffered or died during
conflict and as a means to examine the past and address contemporary issues,"
Judy Barsalou and Victoria Baxter write in their research on the topic. It is
important as it forms part of a sense of history, justice and place, a sense of
belonging and social acknowledgement. The reason memorials are conceived, built
and maintained is to re-claim an oppressed history and to remember those who
have been victimised and died in conflict.
Yet memorialisation has a dark side
when the state uses memory to impose a social identity and a false narrative
and recollection on the nation. This has negative consequences on victims and
survivors who are still healing. It places them in a liminal space, unable to
deal with or move past trauma. In this instance they are being recognised as part
of a society and yet remain removed from it.
They are removed from society as
often the dominant group tends to highlight the roles of famous people who are
important within their group. In this way victims who are not part of that same
group disappear in the artificial memory of social identity; erased in a way.
Their centrality within the
liberation struggle is not recognised and they become further marginalised. A
countrywide memorial is considered more important than that of an individual's
memory. The latter's memorial acts as a very powerful reconciliation tool that
enables a common and shared memory and that of the former is mainly an act of
remembering the past.
However, this creates the question
of how important is an individual's memory according to state. Thus, the will of those in power reflects in
memorialisation and makes it a highly politicised process.
This brings us to what the South
African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (SATRC) strived for. To bring
people forward to tell their stories, for the truth to be known and for justice
to be served. The same stories that were told in front of the commission form
part of memorialisation, however contested the memory of that narrative has
become. It is stories of those same victims whose individual memorials are not
honoured by the state.
The process of the TRC is
memorialisation in itself. But, how do were remember the TRC and the stories recorded
during that period, when South Africans, especially those who came after the
TRC, do not know much about the commission? There is very little information
about the commission that informs people about who they are/were and their
The TRC was created for people to come forward and tell their stories.
Yet, those same stories are being archived somewhere and forgotten. We have
forgotten the relevance of the people. It is forgotten because it is treated as
a one-time event, and the memory and truth and justice the TRC aimed to achieve
has not seeped well enough into the collective conscious and collective memory.
This could be another reason why
the state doesn't value the role of marginalised individuals. The relevance of
the people has been forgotten. They also form part of a divided history and
South Africa. It seems that we are forgetting that the struggle was not only
fought by certain individuals but by a multiplicity of South Africans as well.
South Africans who got up every day striving for a semblance of a life in a
fascist white supremacist state. Just living was an act of defiance, and we do
little to acknowledge the part played by the everyman and everywoman who
struggled against apartheid.
In this country we have a tendency
of commemorating known struggle heroes. We need to note that there is also a
gender component missing here. There are few statues of women displayed in
South Africa. But, that is not the only point here.
There are those people who fought
in their little townships; unknown people and who deserve recognition. The
stories that are not known form part of a divided and new South Africa. It
entrenches our fracturedness. There are many untold stories and unrecognised
people who want their stories out there. These could be victims themselves or
relatives of victims who have something to share. They want to be heard. People
need to know about the stories; the untold stories. And they can only know,
once informed through the work of the TRC.
The idea of opening up the past to
people or the nation is not simply putting information out online and in books.
It starts by teachings in schools, through a curriculum, to a generation that
will learn, understand and acknowledge the histories from around the country.
It allows for meaning and the contextual need to commemorate and memorialise
people, places, spaces, lives and things that form part of South Africa. Every
bit of our history needs to be outlined and taught in schools.
History shouldn't be about an
extraordinary or important event but of everything that had happened and was
not documented. It needs to be shared and passed on to each and every
generation. This would allow for fewer inter-generational conflict.
- Caroline Hlekiso is an intern
within the Sustained Dialogue Programme at the Institute for Justice and
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