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  • Remembering Apartheid
  • Mark Sanders (bio)

What was apartheid? How is it being remembered? Two questions. The first of them, almost at once, encourages a third: what is apartheid? An answer to the first question will be an answer to the third. Knowing what apartheid was, it is implied, we will know what apartheid is. We will know what it is in essence. But if the answer supplied to the first question is the same as that to the second, the question has been begged. This answer and begged question affect not only what we understand apartheid to have been. The essence of what apartheid is has been derived from an activity of remembering that is historically contingent. Is there a way out of this circle? A path to a place where essence will in no way be trammeled by any historical excrescence—where apartheid, stamped with -heid, the Afrikaans suffix for -ness, stands forth intact, unique—where, in a final victory, apartheid's phantasy of separateness will have perfected itself in truth? Supposing that responsibility involves the unstable articulation of essence and contingency, and consequent decision in the "night of non-knowledge," would it be responsible to seek such a way out? Is it possible, on the other hand, not to embark upon, or want to embark upon, such a search?

The title "Remembering Apartheid" is to be understood as shorthand for this aporia of certain knowing. It refers in the first place to ways of remembering bound up, in South Africa, with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. These have involved not only the collection of facts anchored in recollection, a classically forensic project, but also the admission of acts of grieving and the invitation for others to participate in these acts—a participation to which I will refer, employing the word in the general sense of a mourning-with, as condolence. The word remembrance (echoing the German Gedächtnis, with its folding in of Denken) might more closely approach the inextricable interlinking, before the Commission, of epistemic and mournful practice. Yet, in traversing the aporia provisionally without eliminating it, the title of my essay lays claim to knowledge. It announces: this is apartheid, for this is what apartheid was. It thereby also seeks to acknowledge that, just as forensic evidence assembled by the Commission may be bound up with the grieving of witnesses, no claim about the nature of apartheid can be untouched by the affective demands of those who bear the burden of remembering. The legacy of apartheid of which they speak is of undiscovered bodies, of bodies denied a proper burial. They seek the help of the Commission in rectifying this state of affairs. What we hear when we listen to those witnesses is this: apartheid was a proscription on mourning, specifically of the other. Can we then not say: apartheid is, at least for those who remember the worst deeds committed under it, and who attach to them a particular affect, a proscription on mourning the other? Viewed from a purely forensic point of view, it is far from clear that we possess evidence to impeach this testimony. [End Page 60]

Apartheid was/is, in the most general terms, an interdict against the development of a social formation. Although Afrikaner-nationalist politicians and intellectuals sometimes frightened the volk with images of being swamped by the vast black African mass or of being ploughed under as a people [see Louw 1: 505], the nature of that social formation was never outlined in precise terms. Versions of racial degeneration and bastardy were proffered by apartheid theorists, but what the ideology of race purity and the power that hid behind it really entailed was a foreclosure of the other, and thus of any historical possibility of another social formation—of what Breyten Breytenbach, alluding in Dog Heart [69] to the novelist Jan Rabie, calls "other-making" (andersmaak).

In Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego (1921), Sigmund Freud offers an account of the social formation that, although standing on the shoulders of conservative nineteenth-century writers such as Gustave le Bon, does not depend upon racial, cultural, linguistic, or other characteristics that, singularly or together, formed the core...