This paper argues that to a significant degree the work of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission was a linguistic challenge, involving the use of eleven official languages. The TRC was a polylingual, thus heteroglossic public staging of tragedy that was orally-determined, thus accommodating sections of the South African society that would have been excluded had the standard forms of exclusion—English language and writing—been used as means of communication. The paradox of the linguistic challenge lies in how the testimonies lodge themselves in the minds of the translators, who are initially vicarious participants in narrated events but who find themselves becoming active participants through the act of translation. This leads to a collapse of the assumed spaces between the identities of the translators, their senses of communal bonds, and separateness from the witnesses, as the "storying" and '"re-storying" of the past becomes a palpable presence through their secondary roles. An examination of Michael Lessac's Truth in Translation and Ingrid de Kok's poems in Terrestrial Things highlights the difficulties of translation, and how this continues to confound viewers of Lessac's play.


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 89-101
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.