Date: Sun, 9 Jul 1995 21:01:54 -0200
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (tim jenkin)
To: Multiple recipients of list <email@example.com>
Subject: Mayibuye July 1995
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Creating Our Past
By Judy Seidmann, Mayibuye, Vol. 6, no. 3
Truth and reconciliation needs to extend behind the confines of the
courtroom, and into the world of art and culture, writes Judy Seidmann.
A Russian civil servant recently told Roger Jardine, director general of
Arts and Culture, Science and Technology, that their country does not only
have an unsettled future, it has an unsettled past. This sentiment could be
aptly applied to our nation as well.
Working in arts and culture is not merely making pretty pictures, or
exciting drama, or harmonious sounds. It is more about finding out where we
are as people, as individuals and as society; where we come from, and where
we are going. And then saying this in a manner that other people who see or
hear it think: "Oh yes, of course, now I understand."
This means that we need to define, as artists and cultural workers, not
just what we see around us at any one moment, but the whole fluid movement
of where we come from, and where we think we are going.
Today, our country finds itself in a fierce debate over whether it should
have public disclosure of past crimes; about whether we need a Truth and
Reconciliation Commission, and how far it should extend. But discovering
the crimes of the past is only one step towards understanding our past, and
coming to terms with it.
We need also to commemorate and preserve the other side of that history:
the heroism and sacrifice of so many people, the statement of human worth
in the face of a crime against humanity. The other side of oppression is
resistance and liberation; and we need to celebrate that.
A year after the people's victory in the 1994 elections, we have not one
public sculpture commemorating our victory.
Creating our past is not a matter of destroying 'existing' history. Most
cultural workers would not agree to tearing down the statues of Van
Riebeeck and Smuts as a sign of rejection of the politics that they
represent. Those statues, and the glorification of conquest that they
represent, hold a place in our history, even if it is a place that has been
distorted and misrepresented.
We need not even advocate destroying the actively offensive statues, such
as the statue to the 'victims of terrorism' in Pretoria, or the white
settler discovering gold by Johannesburg's Eastgate (appropriately named
Settlers Park). Rather than destroy such works, we would propose they are
quietly moved to less prominent places where they need not offend
passers-by on a regular basis; but could be seen and considered by those
who wish to visit them.
This has been done elsewhere; in India they established a park to remember
the dead British empire.
It is not a matter a tearing down statues. Rather we should look at
creating new ones: statues that commemorate not the triumphs of now-deposed
rulers, but that remember and honour our people's history and struggles and
We need to commemorate where Hector Peterson died, where the 1976 uprising
began. We need to commemorate Freedom Square in Kliptown. We need to
commemorate the 'unknown miners' who were sent home to die of silicosis and
TB, having spent their lives building South Africa's economy of gold. We
need to commemorate those young men and women who gave their lives to MK.
The Gauteng ministry for sport, recreation, arts and culture has recently
obtained R50,000 from the provincial RDP to begin within the next few
months this process of honouring our past. Project Commemoration asks
artists and communities to identify sites and events that are of importance
to our history, and to create 'commemorative markers' for these sites.
These markers could range from metal plaques - perhaps, a plaque on the
house of a local comrade who gave their life in the struggle, recording the
date and manner in which they died - to sculptures and murals recording
where major events in our history occurred. One proposed sculpture, already
under construction by Mpho Ngwenya, is a life-size group of statues
reflecting the death of Hector Peterson.
Another proposal is to paint a mural on a government building from a design
by Thami Mnyele, an exiled artist who was killed in the 1985 SADF raid on
Artists or communities who wish to commemorate a site or event in their
area should contact the Gauteng ministry. All proposals for works of art
and commemorative markers must be approved by community organisations where
they are to be located. It is hoped that although the RDP funds are very
small and can only cover basic costs, communities in some cases may wish to
contribute to provide more elaborate construction.
We have a history to recall with pain, but also with pride. Let us show our
children and the world that we have not forgotten that.