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Commemorating and Forgetting

Commemorating and Forgetting: Challenges for the New South Africa

Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Commemorating and Forgetting
    Book Description:

    When the past is painful, as riddled with violence and injustice as it is in postapartheid South Africa, remembrance presents a problem at once practical and ethical: how much of the past to preserve and recollect and how much to erase and forget if the new nation is to ever unify and move forward? The new South Africa's confrontation of this dilemma is Martin J. Murray's subject inCommemorating and Forgetting. More broadly, this book explores how collective memory works-how framing events, persons, and places worthy of recognition and honor entails a selective appropriation of the past, not a mastery of history.

    How is the historical past made to appear in the present? In addressing these questions, Murray reveals how collective memory is stored and disseminated in architecture, statuary, monuments and memorials, literature, and art-"landscapes of remembrance" that selectively recall and even fabricate history in the service of nation-building. He examines such vehicles of memory in postapartheid South Africa and parses the stories they tell-stories by turn sanitized, distorted, embellished, and compressed. In this analysis,Commemorating and Forgettingmarks a critical move toward recognizing how the legacies and impositions of white minority rule, far from being truly past, remain embedded in, intertwined with, and imprinted on the new nation's here and now.

    eISBN: 978-1-4529-3956-8
    Subjects: Architecture and Architectural History, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-xii)
  4. Introduction: Memory and Amnesia after Apartheid
    (pp. 1-10)

    The end of apartheid and the transition to parliamentary democracy brought to the surface a host of deeply entrenched tensions that were long suppressed under white minority rule. Yet as the “new nation” has struggled to establish a firm footing, the lingering ghosts of the past have continued to haunt the present. As retired South African constitutional court justice Albie Sachs once suggested, “We all know where South Africa is, but we do not yet know what it is.”¹ The dilemma—at once ethical and practical—confronting the creation of the “new South Africa” has revolved around how much of...

  5. 1 The Power of Collective Memory
    (pp. 11-28)

    Collective memory is not at all like a living organism that develops and matures on its own accord in linear time, as present disappears into past. Instead, it is something that is socially constructed and socially situated—not only incubated in the shared desire to preserve that which is worth remembering but also fashioned in such a way as to connect it to an “eternal present.” Collective remembrance is absolutely essential for connecting the past with the future. Without memory, there is no grounding in the present or ability to imagine the future. It endows past events and persons with...

  6. 2 White Lies: Mythmaking and Social Memory in the Service of White Minority Rule
    (pp. 29-48)

    What becomes of the social memories of settler colonialism and white minority rule when the myth-laden, sociocultural world of their making lies in ruins?¹ The end of apartheid and the transition to parliamentary democracy triggered what amounted to a crisis of collective memory that left citizens of the “new South Africa” without the stable reference points necessary for building a shared sense of national identity. Pierre Nora captured a sense of this dilemma in his famous aphorism: “We speak so much of memory because there is so little of it left.”² What should be remembered and how? Where do old-fashioned...

  7. 3 Facing Backward, Looking Forward: The Politics of Remembering and Forgetting
    (pp. 49-70)

    The end of apartheid and the transition to parliamentary democracy produced a paradoxical situation. With the collapse of white minority rule and the dismantling of apartheid, citizens of the “new South Africa” have been called upon to look two ways in time: back to the racially divided past to confront painful memories born of discrimination and oppression, and forward to the future—with its attendant risks, uncertainties, and contingent possibilities. Looking backward, they hold onto the past by remembering and commemorating. Looking forward, they envision a radiant future unencumbered and unburdened by the sordid apartheid past. The central conundrum that...

  8. 4 Collective Memory in Place: The Voortrekker Monument and the Hector Pieterson Memorial
    (pp. 71-108)

    The erection of monuments and memorials—along with the choreographed ceremonies of commemoration centered on them and the orchestration of public participation around them—transforms particular places into ideologically charged sites of collective memory. Monuments and memorials are powerful mnemonic devices through which the custodians of collective memory seek to encode particular histories and geographies into landscapes of power and resistance. They provide rallying points for shared memories and common identities. They are material signifiers of ideas, transmitters of sentiments, and repositories of ideologies that their permanent affixture to public space intends to immortalize. The elaborate language of symbolism and...

  9. 5 Haunted Heritage: Visual Display at District Six and Robben Island
    (pp. 109-144)

    Urban landscapes are densely textured places where both material and immaterial traces of the past cling stubbornly to the social fabric, refusing to fade into obscurity. The meaning of a place depends in large measure upon the residues of memory that are embedded there. The thickness of these memory-traces indicates the lingering presence of unresolved tensions and unrealized hopes for the future.¹

    “Haunting” is a useful metaphorical device for calling attention to how it is that certain places instill a sense of possession, absence, and loss in the urban landscape.² The sense of the spectral presence of those who are...

  10. 6 Makeshift Memorials: Marking Time with Vernacular Remembrance
    (pp. 145-162)

    In the aftermath of tragedy, collective memory can become attached to a specific place: sites of loss can be marked, set aside, and sanctified as “hollowed ground.” Particular places—Robben Island, the Hector Pieterson Memorial, the District Six Museum, the commemorative plaque in Gugulethu dedicated to the memory of Amy Biehl, the bronze statue of Steve Biko in East London, and more—have become the fixed, externalized locations of what was once an internalized social memory.¹ As the located presence of the past, these places can be transformed into pilgrimage destinations. As spatially demarcated places set aside for public viewing,...

  11. 7 Textual Memories: Autobiographical Writing in a Time of Uncertainty
    (pp. 163-202)

    The birth of the “new South Africa” brought with it a proliferation of commentaries and essays, autobiographies, memoirs, personal reminiscences, and realist documentaries that explore the quandaries of social institutions and individuals as they attempt to deal honestly and forthrightly with the multiple legacies of tyranny, repression, and rebellion. As Athol Fugard argued, “[After 1994] I felt free to tell personal stories that I would have thought of as an indulgence during those years of apartheid.¹ As a kind of first-person narrative convention, these ”mementos” have entered the public discourse as fact-based stories that reflect their particular time and place...

  12. Epilogue: History and Heritage
    (pp. 203-218)

    Heritage and history are like twins separated at birth: while their origins are identical, the trajectories of their distinct life-courses are quite dissimilar. As communicative devices, history and heritage rely on antithetical modes of persuasion. Heritage does not pretend to present a genuinely authentic, and reasonably plausible, account of some past but is a declaration of faith in that which came before.¹ While some observers celebrate heritage as a complementary or alternative way of mediating the past to popular audiences, critics dismiss it as little more than counterfeit history, packaged for commercial consumption.² “While it looks old, heritage is actually...

    (pp. 219-222)
  14. NOTES
    (pp. 223-288)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 289-306)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 307-307)