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Commemorating and ForgettingChallenges for the New South Africa$
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Martin J. Murray

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780816682997

Published to Minnesota Scholarship Online: August 2015

DOI: 10.5749/minnesota/9780816682997.001.0001

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Facing Backward, Looking Forward

Facing Backward, Looking Forward

The Politics of Remembering and Forgetting

(p.49) 3 Facing Backward, Looking Forward
Commemorating and Forgetting

Martin J. Murray

University of Minnesota Press

With the collapse of white minority rule and the dismantling of apartheid, citizens of the ‘new South Africa’ are 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 arises from this Janus-faced, schizophrenic vision has to do with resolving the tension between the politics of remembering and the politics of forgetting. On the one hand, the collapse of apartheid has triggered an enthusiasm for the recovery of those aspects of the national past which white minority rule had tried to erase, suppress, and elide from collective memory. On the other hand, finding a common ground of shared values upon which to forge a unifying national identity requires moving beyond – escaping – the past that had divided the country along racial and ethnic, ‘tribal’ and linguistic lines.

Keywords:   Collective memory and selective forgetting, Contemporary (post-apartheid) South Africa, Heritage and tourism studies, Commemorative practices, Monuments and memorials, Museums and public exhibitions, Thanotourism, Traumascapes

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