Commemorating and ForgettingChallenges for the New South Africa

Commemorating and ForgettingChallenges for the New South Africa

Martin J. Murray

Print publication date: 2015

ISBN: 9780816682997

Publisher: University of Minnesota Press

Abstract

The end of apartheid and the transition to parliamentary democracy brought to the surface a host of tensions that were long suppressed under white minority rule. Yet as the ‘new nation’ struggled to establish a firm footing, the lingering ghosts of the past continued to haunt the present. The primary aim of this book is to explore how collective memory works, that is, how the historical past is made to matter in the ‘new South Africa’. A central concern is the question of representation, that is, how the historical past is made to appear in the present. How is the history of white minority rule represented, and thereby mediated, after the end of apartheid and the transition to parliamentary democracy? Addressing this question requires a critical examination of how the practice of commemoration inscribes collective memory in places, objects, and words, and conversely, how the stories attached to these mnemonic devices selectively recount the past in ways that sometimes sanitize, distort, embellish, compress, and even fabricate history in the service of ‘nation-building’. It begins with the premise that such seemingly disconnected are all vehicles for the storage and dissemination of collective memory. Far from operating as passive receptacles or neutral storehouses for holding onto the remembered past, these mnemonic devices are active agents in shaping the construction of a tenuous collective identity and shared meaning in the everyday lives of the South African citizenry.