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Commemorating and Forgetting

Challenges for the New South Africa

Martin J. Murray

Publication Year: 2013

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 in Commemorating 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 Forgetting marks 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.

Published by: University of Minnesota Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-xi

Faced with the challenge in the “new South Africa” of forging a shared national identity out of a fragmented past, citizens from across the divides of race and class have been asked to set aside differences in the name of reconciliation and forgiveness as a way of moving forward into the future. Close...

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Introduction: Memory and Amnesia after Apartheid

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pp. 1-9

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...

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Chapter 1: The Power of Collective Memory

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pp. 11-27

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...

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Chapter 2: White Lies: Mythmaking and Social Memory in the Service of White Minority Rule

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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...

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Chapter 3: Facing Backward, Looking Forward: The Politics of Remembering and Forgetting

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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...

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Chapter 4: Collective Memory in Place: The Voortrekker Monument and the Hector Pieterson Memorial

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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...

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Chapter 5: Haunted Heritage: Visual Display at District Six and Robben Island

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pp. 109-143

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...

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Chapter 6: Makeshift Memorials: Marking Time with Vernacular Remembrance

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pp. 145-161

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...

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Chapter 7: Textual Memories: Autobiographical Writing in a Time of Uncertainty

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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...

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Epilogue: History and Heritage

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pp. 203-217

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...

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pp. 219-221

The ideas that eventually led me to write this book began to take shape in the immediate post-1994 period, when the outcome of the negotiated settlement that brought an end to apartheid was far from certain. In earlier research and writing, I focused on the wars of maneuver and wars of position that accompanied...


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pp. 223-287


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pp. 289-305

About the Author

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pp. 307-320

E-ISBN-13: 9781452939568
E-ISBN-10: 145293956X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816683000

Page Count: 320
Publication Year: 2013