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  • Archived Voices:Refiguring Three Women's Testimonies Delivered to the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission
  • Antjie Krog (bio) and Nosisi Mpolweni (bio)

The South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) executed a vital process of transitional justice and was one of the country's most important efforts toward moving away from its past of injustice, discrimination, and intolerance to a future founded on the recognition of human rights, democracy, and equality. The TRC's main task was to address the human rights abuses of the past through a process of truth and amnesty. It used the testimonies of victims/survivors and amnesty applicants to gather information about the gross violations of human rights that had taken place under apartheid. The platform on which victims/survivors narrated their experiences more than anything else turned the TRC into one of the most significant phenomena in South African history. Today, the consequences, effects, and failures of the commission are still being debated among scholars as well as among certain parts of the population. The three testimonies discussed in this paper were delivered from this platform during the first and second weeks of TRC hearings in 1996. After being delivered with translations in public, the TRC archived these audio, visual, and transcribed English versions of the testimonies as part of its mandate to gather evidence of human rights abuses during apartheid. This archival material has since been used to refigure some of the archives of South African history. We want to explore the less obvious and more subtle refigurings that took place during the compilation of TRC testimonies. Using three testimonies delivered by women, we examine how refiguring happened not only through the processes of translation and transcription, or who is telling and how, but also through narrating the event in a way that leaves central moments un-uttered.

The Notion of Archive in the South African Context

Since its publication, the book Refiguring the Archive (2002)1 has become an important benchmark in discussions about archives in South Africa. A collaborative effort by six of South Africa's foremost archivists and writers with philosopher Jacques Derrida, the collection investigates [End Page 357] the concept of the archive within a broader South African context. One chapter, as well as part of an extensive interview with Derrida, is devoted exclusively to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. To contextualize our analysis of the three TRC testimonies, we want to focus on several arguments from Refiguring the Archive. Most centrally, we want to focus on the importance of recognizing that, as Carolyn Hamilton, Graeme Reid, and Verne Harris2 emphasize in their introduction, "The archive-all archive-every archive-is figured" (p. 7). Whether material was gathered by colonial authorities, apartheid authorities, or the TRC, it was gathered within a particular context and with a particular purpose. Thus, it follows that South African archives call for a refiguring.

All the writers in Refiguring the Archive plead for a refiguring within a new democratic dispensation; they call for us to recognize and rethink the patterns that manifest themselves visibly and invisibly in archived material. They want the archive-as-source also to be studied as the archive-as subject so that students can become aware of how archiving comes about and could produce meaning on its own (p. 86). Where scholars previously "mined" archives for fact, they should also focus on "the particular processes by which record was produced and subsequently shaped, both before its entry into the archive, and increasingly as part of the archival record" (p. 9).

Most of the essays in Refiguring the Archive point to the different ways that the archival material itself points to how it could and should be refigured. Two essays in particular are helpful in explaining our methodology in working with approach to the testimonies. Firstly, in their introductory essay, Hamilton, Reid, and Harris argue that attention should be paid to: a) how the record has been altered over time; b) the gaps, omissions, and excisions from the record; and finally c) why a particular choice for a particular trace was made. Harris later warns, in "The Archival Sliver: A Perspective on the Construction of Social Memory in Archives...


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pp. 357-374
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