Remembering to Forget: Monumental vs. Peripatetic Archiving in Achmat Dangor’s Bitter Fruit

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Safundi: The Journal of South African and American Studies



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For the first ten years of its democracy, South Africa was embroiled in a fascinating process of counter-memorialization: that is, of reconstituting public or social memory, partly through archival methods, to reflect the new national narrative of democratization and the triumph over oppression and suffering. Most obviously, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (referred to interchangeably hereafter as the Truth Commission, or TRC) spent several years gathering testimony and documentation (now warehoused at the National Archives in Cape Town) about “gross violations of human rights” committed during the most violent years of apartheid, struggle, and transition. The Commission held public hearings for both victims and amnesty applicants—hearings that were video-recorded, were sometimes broadcast on television and radio, and are now archived at the South African Broadcasting Company headquarters—and transcripts of all the public hearings are available on the Internet. The TRC thus dragged into the open huge caches of information that had been violently suppressed under apartheid, and brought to a climax the intense war between the shredder and the photocopier that had been waged during the six years between Nelson Mandela's release from prison and the beginning of the TRC proceedings. The Commission also changed the framing and terms of debate about the past: after its dramatic public revelations, it has been impossible for even the most virulent of the old Nationalist government's supporters to deny that appalling atrocities were committed by the agents of that government, just as it has become impossible to deny that the resistance movement cum ruling party has a bloodstained history of its own.

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