Advertisement

The Archive, Public History and the Essential Truth: The TRC Reading the Past

  • Brent Harris

Abstract

At a lecture presented in London on 5 June 1994, Jacques Derrida discussed the complexities of the meaning of the archive. He described the duality in meaning of the word ‘archive’, in terms of temporality and spatiality as a place of ‘commencement’, and as the place ‘where men and gods command’ or the ‘place from which order is given’.1

Keywords

Public Sphere Public Hearing Truth Commission Public History Reconciliation Commission 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

References

  1. 2.
    Derrida, Archive Fever, p. 1. Emphasis in original.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    The term ‘traces’ is taken from Keith Jenkins, Re-thinking History (New York: Routledge, 1991) and is preferred to terms such as ‘information’,’ sources’ or ‘evidence’ as these are embedded in positivist and objectivist claims that deny the subjective construction of ‘information’ and ‘evidence’. My usage of the term ‘evidence’ elsewhere in this essay should be read as a miming of positivist and objectivist claims that this essay criticises.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 6.
    See, for example, Hayden White’s ‘The burden of history’ in White, Tropics of Discourse: Essays in Cultural Criticism (Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1985), pp. 27–50. Also see Keith Jenkins, Re-thinking History; Carlo Ginzburg, ‘Checking the evidence: the judge and the historian’ in James Chandler, Arnold I. Davidson and Harry Harootunian, eds., Questions of Evidence: Proofs, Practices and Persuasion across the Disciplines (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1991), pp. 291–303; and Joan Scott, ‘The evidence o1 experience’ in Chandler et al., eds., Questions of Evidence, pp. 363–387.Google Scholar
  4. 8.
    Final Clause of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa Act, No. 200 of 1993 quoted by Dullah Omar in ‘Justice in transition’, The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (Cape Town: Justice in Transition, ca 1996), p. 2; and Desmond Tutu quoted in Weekend Argus, ‘Commission “must heal nation”: true reconciliation main aim, says Tutu in first address’, Sunday, 16/17 December 1995. Emphasis added. These undoubtedly referred to the Past.Google Scholar
  5. 9.
    Derrida, Archive Fever, p. 2. Emphasis in original.Google Scholar
  6. 10.
    Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation Act, No. 34 of 1995, 3(1)(a); hereafter abbreviated ‘Ponura’.Google Scholar
  7. 11.
    Derrida, Archive Fever, p. 3. Emphasis added.Google Scholar
  8. 12.
    Derrida, Archive Fever, p. 3. Emphasis in original.Google Scholar
  9. 13.
    Derrida, Archive Fever, p. 4. Emphasis in original.Google Scholar
  10. 15.
    White, Tropics of Discourse, p. 49.Google Scholar
  11. 16.
    Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, HRVC Hearing, Paarl, Wednesday, 16 October 1996. Emphasis added.Google Scholar
  12. 18.
    In his analysis of South African commissions of inquiry into ‘the native question’, Adam Ashforth arrived at the conclusion those commissions were ‘not just modes of scientific investigation’ but were simultaneously ‘performances which served to authorise a form of social discourse’. See Adam Ashforth, The Politics of Official Discourse in Twentieth Century South Africa (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990). Emphasis added. Also see George E. Marcus, ‘The official story: response to Julie Taylor’, in Michael Ryan and Avery Gordon, eds., Body Politics: Disease, Desire and the Family (Boulder, San Francisco and Oxford: Westview Press, 1994), pp. 207–208.Google Scholar
  13. 19.
    Ponura defined ‘gross violations of human rights’ as the actual or attempted ‘killing, abduction, torture or severe ill-treatment of any person... by any person acting with a political motive’. See Ponura, 1, 1, (1), (ix).Google Scholar
  14. 20.
    See Steven Robins, ‘TRC must look at “ordinary” apartheid’, Cape Times, Tuesday, 5 August 1997 and Robins, ‘No-name people who kept cogs of apartheid oiled’, Cape Times, Wednesday, 6 August 1997.Google Scholar
  15. 21.
    The TRC did, however, attempt to incorporate some of these processes into its field of investigation by holding workshops, notably at Oudtshoorn, in which some of the psychological aspects of apartheid oppression were addressed, and by holding’ sector’ hearings to investigate the activities of the media, the business sector and religious bodies, among others, during apartheid. However, these sector hearings presented the media and the business sector with a subject position from which to speak and from which to represent its version of, and its position in, the past. See, for example, ‘Ill-prepared TRC fails to press business for atonement’, Cape Times, Monday, 17 November 1997; The truth: business’s moral omissions’, City Press, Sunday, 16 November 1997; ‘Now even acceptability is a commodity’, Weekend Argus, Sunday, 15/16 November 1997. Also see Sam Shilowa, HRVC Hearing, Johannesburg, Thursday, 13 November 1997 and Jay Naidoo, HRVC Hearing, Johannesburg, Thursday, 13 November 1997.Google Scholar
  16. 22.
    Marcus, The official story’, p. 208.Google Scholar
  17. 23.
    Derrida, Archive Fever, p. 11.Google Scholar
  18. 24.
    Derrida, Archive Fever, p. 10.Google Scholar
  19. 25.
    Derrida, Archive Fever, p. 7.Google Scholar
  20. 26.
    Derrida, Archive Fever, p. 7.Google Scholar
  21. 27.
    Derrida, Archive Fever, pp. 16–18.Google Scholar
  22. 28.
    See the articles in Alex Boraine, Janet Levy and Ronel Scheffer, eds., Dealing with the Past: Truth and Reconciliation in South Africa (Cape Town: IDASA, 1997) and Alex Boraine and Janet Levy, eds., Healing the Nation? (Cape Town: Justice in Transition, 1995).Google Scholar
  23. 29.
    The former Chilean National Commission for Truth and Reconciliation commissioner José Zalaquett argued, for example, that ‘[a] society cannot reconcile itself on the grounds of a divided memory. Since memory is identity, this would result in a divided identity.’ See José Zalaquett in Boraine et al., eds., Dealing with the Past, p. 13.Google Scholar
  24. 33.
    This occurred most noticeably at the ANC’s Consultative Conference in December 1990. See Steve Clark, ed., Nelson Mandela Speaks: Forging a Democratic Nonracial South Africa (New York, Montreal and Sydney: Pathfinder, 1993), pp. 69–74.Google Scholar
  25. 34.
    This understanding of the nation as a duality is expressed most noticeably by Thabo Mbeki cited in the Weekend Argus, ‘Mbeki slams SA’s party-poopers: Deputy President says opposition parties are not committed to nation building’, Saturday, 30/31 May 1998; City Press, ‘Rainbow nation — two worlds in one’, Sunday, 31 May 1998; City Press,’ sA a country of two nations — Mbeki’, Sunday, 31 May 1998; and Cape Argus, ‘Mbeki: We must end race divide: Equal “only in theory”’, Friday, 29 May 1998. It is, however, also evident in the ANC’s Freedom Charter, see Raymond Suttner and Jeremy Cronin, 30 Years of the Freedom Charter (Johannesburg: Ravan Press, 1986), as well as in the thinking of the UDF.Google Scholar
  26. 36.
    Gerwel quoted in the Cape Times, ‘Mandela names Tutu to head Truth Commission’, Thursday, 30 November 1995. Similarly, the TRC’s Reparations and Rehabilitation Committee (R&RC) was expanded in February 1996 to ensure that the Eastern Cape Province had a representative on the R&RC. See Alex Boraine quoted in the Argus, ‘Eastern Cape wins Truth forum voice’, Tuesday, 6 February 1996.Google Scholar
  27. 37.
    Sowetan, ‘TRC to discuss internal tensions’, Wednesday, 22 January 1997. Also see Gaye Davis, ‘On a wing and a prayer’, in Siyaya 3 (Spring 1998), pp. 6–9.Google Scholar
  28. 38.
    Boraine quoted in Sowetan, ‘TRC to discuss internal tensions’, Wednesday, 22 January 1997. Also see Wendy Orr quoted in Davis, ‘On a wing and a prayer’, pp. 8–9.Google Scholar
  29. 39.
    Wilhelm Verwoerd, ‘Continuing the discussion: reflections from within the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’, Current Writing, 8,2 (October 1996), p. 66. Verwoerd responded here to a range of critical questions posed by participants and papers at The Future of the Past: The Production of History in a Changing South Africa’ held at the University of the Western Cape, 10–12 July 1996.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. 40.
    Verwoerd, ‘Continuing the discussion’, p. 68.Google Scholar
  31. 43.
    The TRC was to endorse this declaration. See TRC Report, vol. 1, p. 94.Google Scholar
  32. 44.
    TRC Report, vol. 5, pp. 212–213, 222.Google Scholar
  33. 45.
    TRC Report, vol. 5, pp. 212–213, 218–22.Google Scholar
  34. 46.
    Tutu cited, ‘Tutu: Ex-govt exquisitely cruel’, Citizen, Wednesday, 24 April 1996.Google Scholar
  35. 47.
    TRC Report, vol. 5, p. 239.Google Scholar
  36. 48.
    See, for example, Manthata, HRVC Hearing, Duduza, Tuesday, 4 February 1997.Google Scholar
  37. 49.
    Tutu cited, ‘Need for strong opposition shown — Boraine’, The Star, Friday, 26 April 1996. Also see Tutu, HRVC Hearing: NP Second Party Submission, Cape Town, Thursday, 15 May 1997.Google Scholar
  38. 50.
    Deputy President Thabo Mbeki also contended that the ANC’s armed conflict, and the deaths and injuries arising therefrom, were justified as ‘the former government systematically closed off to its major opponents all avenues for peaceful political activity, eventually leaving them with no choice but to resort to violent struggle in pursuit of justice and freedom’ (Editorial, Cape Argus, 5 November 1996). Mpumalanga Premier, Mathews Phosa, extended this to his argument that the ANC should not be required to apply for amnesty for ‘legitimate acts against apartheid’. See Mathews Phosa cited in the Sunday Weekend Argus, 2/3 November 1996; and in Sowetan, 5 November 1996. Also see the Sowetan, ‘ANC to explain “just war”’, Thursday, 6 March 1997; Cape Times, ‘Old foes at loggerheads over war’, Wednesday, 7 May 1997; and the Weekend Argus,’ struggle not terrorism but a just war — Mbeki’, Sunday, 24/25 August 1996. Another implication not explored here is that apartheid then becomes the historical source of all evil in South Africa, potentially trivialising the colonial moment in South African history. Ironically, just prior to the release of the TRC Report in October 1998, high-ranking members of the ANC government, with the notable exception of President Nelson Mandela, criticised the TRC for equating the struggle against apartheid with apartheid in its report, though they had not raised such concerns before that moment.Google Scholar
  39. 51.
    See Richard Rorty, Contingency, Irony and Solidarity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), pp. 189–198.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. 52.
    Anthony W. Marx, Lessons of Struggle: South African Internal Opposition, 1960–1990 (Cape Town: Oxford University Press, 1992), p. 14.Google Scholar
  41. 53.
    Marx, Lessons of Struggle, p. 15.Google Scholar
  42. 54.
    ‘Many hurt in “senseless shooting spree by police,”’ Argus, Wednesday, 26 June 1996. This conclusion was attributed to the TRC’s research department. Also see Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, HRVC Hearing, Ashton, Tuesday, 25 June 1996.Google Scholar
  43. 56.
    See, for example, ‘Family of councillor tel of “merciless” township killing’, Argus, Wednesday, 26 June 1996; Malinge Zweni, HRVC Hearing, Ashton, Tuesday, 25 June 1996; TRC Report, vol. 2, pp. 384–392; TRC Report, vol. 3, pp. 108, 475–479.Google Scholar
  44. 58.
    See, for example, Marx, Lessons of Struggle, pp. 170–176; Rejoice Mlungisi Kungwayo and Vuyo Mfutwana, HRVC Hearing, Port Elizabeth, Wednesday, 26 June 1996. Also see TRC Report, vol. 3, pp. 96–106, 108–112, 475, 669–670.Google Scholar
  45. 59.
    Kader Asmal, Louise Asmal and Ronald Suresh Roberts, Reconciliation through Truth: A Reckoning of Apartheid’s Criminal Governance (Cape Town: David Philip and Mayibuye Books, 1996), p. 12.Google Scholar
  46. 60.
    See Asmal, Asmal and Roberts, Reconciliation through Truth, pp. 12–13.Google Scholar
  47. 61.
    Boraine, Opening Address, HRVC Hearings, Worcester, Monday, 24 June 1996. Emphasis added.Google Scholar
  48. 62.
    Roberto Canas in Boraine et al., eds., Dealing with the Past, p. 54; Zalaquett in Boraine et al., eds., Dealing with the Past, p. 13; and Patricio Aylwin in Boraine and Levy, eds., Healing the Nation?, p. 42. Also see Juan Mendez in Boraine et al., eds., Dealing with the Past, p. 89; Asmal in Boraine et al., eds., Dealing with the Past, pp. 138–139; Boraine in Boraine et al., eds., Dealing with the Past, p. 153; and Asmal in Boraine and Levy, eds., Healing the Nation?, p. 29.Google Scholar
  49. 63.
    Mary Burton in Boraine and Levy, eds., Healing the Nation?, pp. 122–123.Google Scholar
  50. 64.
    This was, however, not a neutral process. It relied heavily on the selectivity of memory, which I will discus in the next few pages, and was influenced by the statement taker’s attitude to the deponent. The TRC Report indicates that statement takers were instructed to be sympathetic to the deponents. See TRC Report, vol. 1, pp. 138, 140.Google Scholar
  51. 65.
    Tutu, The TRC Special Report, SABC 1, Sunday, 25 May 1997. Tutu was speaking at the opening of the HRVC’s event hearing concerning the Trojan Horse incident in which policemen killed three youths on 15 October 1985. In this infamous incident, policemen had been concealed in the back of a South African Railways truck that had driven through an unrest flashpoint in Athlone with the expectation that the vehicle would be stoned and that the police would open fire on the protesters. Indeed, the vehicle drove through the area twice, not having been stoned on the first occasion.Google Scholar
  52. 66.
    Boraine, HRVC Hearing, Cape Town, Monday, 22 April 1996.Google Scholar
  53. 67.
    Boraine, HRVC Hearing, Port Elizabeth, Wednesday, 26 June 1996.Google Scholar
  54. 68.
    Tutu, Closing Address, HRVC Hearing, East London, Thursday, 18 April 1996.Google Scholar
  55. 69.
    Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London and New York: Verso, 1991), pp. 41–43.Google Scholar
  56. 70.
    Anderson, Imagined Communities, p. 42.Google Scholar
  57. 71.
    Jürgen Habermas cited by Craig Calhoun, ‘Introduction: Habermas and the public sphere’, in Craig Calhoun, ed., Habermas and the Public Sphere (Cambridge, MA and London: MIT Press, 1992), p. 8.Google Scholar
  58. 72.
    Alex Boraine to Joyce Mthimkulu, HRVC Hearing, Port Elizabeth, Wednesday, 26 June 1996.Google Scholar
  59. 73.
    Steven Robins, ‘True national reconciliation is imperilled: TRC highlights the plight of the few, but the masses go begging’, Cape Argus, Monday, 17 February 1997.Google Scholar
  60. 75.
    Scott, ‘Evidence of experience’, p. 367. Also see Michael Pickering, History, Experience and Cultural Studies (London: Macmillan Press, 1997), pp. 217–236.Google Scholar
  61. 77.
    Raphael Samuel, Theatres of Memory. Volume 1: Past and Present in Contemporary Culture (London and New York: Routledge, 1994), p. x. Also see Raphael Samuel and Paul Thompson, ‘Introduction’ in Raphael Samuel and Paul Thompson, The Myths We Live by (London and New York: Routledge, 1990), p. 7; James Fentress and Chris Wickham, Social Memory (Oxford and Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 1992), p. 15.Google Scholar
  62. 78.
    Endel Tulving divides memories into two ‘memory systems’ — a’ semantic memory system’, which is responsible for knowledge of things and events that are not part of the individual’s field of experiences, and an ‘episodic memory system’ that underlies the individual’s sense of self and their identity by organising memories of personal experiences. Endel Tulving cited in Fentress and Wickham, Social Memory, p. 20.Google Scholar
  63. 79.
    See, for example, Jacques le Goff, History and Memory, translated by Steven Rendall and Elizabeth Claman (New York: Columbia University Press, 1992), pp. 3–4; and Fentress and Wickham, Social Memory, p. 7.Google Scholar
  64. 80.
    Fentress and Wickham, Social Memory, p. 9.Google Scholar
  65. 81.
    Tutu, HRVC Hearing, Umtata, Wednesday, 19 June 1996.Google Scholar
  66. 82.
    Roland Barthes, The Rustle of Language (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1986), pp. 128–133.Google Scholar
  67. 83.
    Ntsiki Sandi, HRVC Hearing, Umtata, Tuesday, 18 June 1996. The TRC has subsequently attended to the abuses suffered by women at a special hearing at Johannesburg on Monday, 28 July 1997 and Tuesday, 29 July 1997. It also held hearings on the abuses suffered at the ANC’s detention camp, Quattro, in Angola. It did not, however, bring to light the sexual abuses alluded to by Williams. See HRVC Special Hearing on Women, Johannesburg, 28–29 July 1997.Google Scholar
  68. 84.
    See, for example, Charles van Onselen’s use of ‘documentary evidence’ and other interviews to ‘check’ the accuracy of Kas Maine’s interviews. See Charles van Onselen, The Seed is Mine: The Life of Kas Maine, A South African Sharecropper, 1894–1985 (Cape Town: David Philip, 1996), pp. 10–11.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • Brent Harris

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations