Dignity, memory and the future under siege: reconciliation and nation-building in post-apartheid South Africa

Monday, 10 September, 2012 - 15:00

Presented by : 
Bheki Peterson

The coming into power of the Government of National Unity in South Africa in 1994, led by the African National Congress (ANC), was hailed as a ‘miracle’ by local and international commentators who did not expect a ‘peaceful transition’ from apartheid to democracy. The immediate post-apartheid era, in the eyes of many, represented an era of hope where progressive and humane changes were anticipated in the socio-political, economic and cultural spheres of the ‘new’ South Africa. It soon became apparent, however, that the ANC settled for a range of neo-liberal policies and interventions that were aimed at managing the contradictions that apartheid bequeathed rather than resolving them. Using the feature film Zulu Love Letter as catalyst and as backdrop, this paper explores a number of silences and contradictions that characterise the contestations between individuals, social groups and the post-apartheid state with regards to nation-building and reconciliation. It seeks to reveal the range of repressions that nation-building and forgiveness (together with other political imaginaries) seem to be contingent on and how they, in effect, amount to new strategies of containment and the reproduction of personal and social abuse, poverty, injustice and alienation. It foregrounds the materiality and politics of the ordinary and how these can unsettle what is regarded as normative and sensible. It also questions the dominant and contestable assumptions concerning how to grasp the relations between the past and the present, trauma, memory and healing. These are complex processes and imperatives that, amongst other concerns, I explored in Zulu Love Letter in ways that centralised and validated the quotidian experiences and forms of recovery used by individuals. I was particularly struck by how ordinary people, in their endeavours to grasp, deal with and overcome alienation and trauma, found succour in African spiritual and cultural rites and epistemologies.

Paper: 

PDF icon PetersonB2012.pdf

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