Oxford Africa Annual Lecture: Dying to forget: History, memory and the intergenerational transfer of trauma in South Africa
Booking is essential. Please register at: https://africanstudiesoxford2017.eventbrite.co.uk
WHY do individuals who did not experience apartheid personally claim to suffer from trauma as a result of apartheid? How are historians to make sense of the anger of the born-free generation—those born after the formal collapse of apartheid in 1994—towards their parents’ generation, as well as the born-frees’ rejection of the political settlement that brought about the New South Africa? Is this anger an expression of a historical trauma? If so, how is the trauma of the past transmitted across generations? Drawing on insights from a range of disciplines, including Philosophy, Psychology, Holocaust Studies, Memory Studies and the Sociology of Emotions, I intend to address the above questions in ways that might help us think differently about our attempts to forge a new nation in South Africa. My talk draws on a range of sources, including the archives of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, to develop an approach that is both grounded historically but also cautiously speculative. My aim is to understand how ordinary South Africans remember histories of violence and how their memories of this violence are shared across generations. How, in short, do these memories become History? What does it mean to remember your parents’ pain of humiliation when you yourself never experienced that humiliation? The project is motivated in part by an attempt to understand how South Africa’s past has shaped the way the discipline of History has developed in South Africa.