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Gilles Teulié, Mélanie Joseph-Vilain (eds.), Healing South African Wounds, Guérir les blessures de l’Afrique du Sud

Presses universitaires de la Méditerranée, collection « Les Carnets du Cerpac », n°7, Centre d’Etudes et de Recherche sur les Pays du Commonwealth, 473 pages, 2009, ISBN 978-2-84269-872-0
Fanny Duthil
Référence(s) :

Gilles Teulié, Mélanie Joseph-Vilain (eds.), Healing South African Wounds, Guérir les blessures de l’Afrique du Sud, Presses universitaires de la Méditerranée, collection « Les Carnets du Cerpac », n°7, Centre d’Etudes et de Recherche sur les Pays du Commonwealth, 473 pages, 2009, ISSN 1769-1745 / ISBN 978-2-84269-872-0

Entrées d’index

Index géographique :

South Africa

Index chronologique :

20th-21st centuries
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Texte intégral

1Healing South African Wounds, Guérir les blessures de l’Afrique du Sud is an edited collection of essays, all related to the consequences of the Apartheid era and the issue of creating a new South African nation. The title “Healing South African Wounds” is of particular interest as it reflects the long and painful process in which South Africa is engaged. South Africa has undergone a remarkable transition from Apartheid to democracy within a very short period of time. But this transition has not been smooth and still affects the many layers of South African society. This book not only offers an overview of the past situation but also presents the challenges and the future perspectives facing a Post-Apartheid, but still traumatized, South Africa.

2Though very different in their approach and content, the seventeen critical and broad-ranging essays not only share a number of common characteristics but also engage the reader on many different levels and fields of study. Divided into five thematic sections, namely “Old Wounds, New Artistic Forms”; “Healing Women’s Wounds”; “Is the Truth Enough to Heal?”; “Afrikaners and History: Coping with the Past”; “Educating for a Better Future?”, this collection of essays, written by a variety of scholars, reveals the many sites – arts and literature, social and welfare issues, education, gender studies, language policy or justice – in which identity and history are being remade in Post-Apartheid South Africa. All contributors envisage in their own way how to come to terms with the past: whether it be by writing, creating, forgetting, forgiving, teaching and educating, holding trials or by setting up a Truth Commission.

3The main issue that pervades all the different papers is to find the best way(s) to understand the past, to try and reach a consensus for all South Africans in a redefined state. The telling of the truth, the disclosure of secrets, the empowerment of the silenced all participate in this process of healing the wounds. This collection shows the way history, memory and identity interact in order to help the South African nation to unity and reconciliation around common core values. Reshaping the past would thus mean (re)forming individual and collective identities. As the editors Gilles Teulié and Mélanie Joseph-Vilain explain in their introduction, this collection aims to trace the strategies through which South Africa could “create an identity which would enable all citizens to be part of a multi-ethnic nation” (p. 9). It is evident that this cannot be done overnight and will require not only time but also strategies.

4Some of the contributors present and analyze the many ways in which South Africa intends to promote and maintain democracy. They acknowledge the positive outcome of the institutional mechanisms that have been set up since the end of Apartheid in order to support democracy. One can immediately think of the creation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 1995 and the release of its final report in 1998. Established to investigate the gross violations of human rights and to promote justice and democracy, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission claimed transparency. It was engaged in a democratic process of listening to witnesses and victims of the Apartheid era on the one hand, and of hearing the testimonies of perpetrators on the other. However, some contributors also pinpoint the limits of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Indeed, intense debates have surrounded the Commission and its report which have both been criticized for a lack of methodology. While Siphiwe Ignatius Dube’s paper focuses on the “performative contradiction” of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Steven Gish explains and analyses the Amy Biehl amnesty case that aroused controversy among the South African population. While the verdict (which led to the release of the murderers) was welcomed by some, others considered it as a scandal for it allowed criminals to emerge unscathed, provided their act was politically motivated.

5Education and teaching are other means through which the creation and maintenance of a democratic society can be effective but they can also become areas of conflict. Here again important questions are raised such as how to deal with history and teach South African history properly. Shall we change the content of History books? What about the ratio of black to white teachers? All this shows how difficult it is to find a political consensus that could unite the nation around the building up of a true collective history.

6A second strategy is devoted to the gradual construction of national unity and the promotion of reconciliation. One of the most symbolic actions undertaken in South Africa is the changing of street names. As stated in Elwyn Jenkins’s paper, there is no official governmental policy on names. Yet, finding new substitutes could be a way to encourage diversity in South Africa. What is at stake with this symbolic move is the need for Post-Apartheid South Africa to find a form of coherence and representativeness throughout the country.

7But coherence and representativeness are far from being that easy to achieve because of the difficulty in managing a multiracial and multicultural-flavored South African society. This is well illustrated by Wessel Visser’s article which discusses the case of Afrikaner identity and the Afrikaans language. Indeed, since the end of the Apartheid regime, Afrikaner identity has been falling apart. In order to preserve their heritage, Afrikaners will have to find a new place and a new status in a new South Africa. By doing so, they will have to redefine their own identity. Besides, even if political change has been rapid, it has not been accompanied by economic improvements. The gap between Whites and Blacks remains large on many different levels. South Africa is still an economically and socially divided country with a whole section of the population suffering from housing and health problems, a high rate of poverty, unemployment and crime, which create social and economic inequalities. In the light of both Jeanette Schmid’s and Marita Wenzel’s papers, it seems that women and children are particularly vulnerable. As in many countries, women are affected by a double marginalization due to race and gender. Lacking financial resources, suffering from illiteracy and oscillating between tradition and modernity, South African women have become a high-risk population in today’s society. Similarly, children and families have also suffered a lot from the traumatic impact of Apartheid. Lacking the human and financial resources to carry out its tasks and get rid of obsolete models, the child welfare system also needs to be improved. Considerable changes have taken place since 1995 and women’s economic independence and child welfare have become a top priority. Meanwhile, as it requires time to carry out such social policies, a parallel strategy could be to go back to the basics: Ubuntu. This concept is mentioned several times throughout the collection. At the heart of South African culture, Ubuntu is a complex concept related to the idea of sharing, of helping other people in the community. It reflects a spirit of commonality present in many African communities.

8This logically leads us to another strategy worth noticing: the concept of rebirth or at least revival of African traditions. This feature is particularly obvious in literature. During the Apartheid era, literature was mainly restricted to realism which was considered as the only way to show the atrocities of the system. According to Manfred Loimeier’s paper, it was a period in which the authors saw their work as functional, emphasizing the intention rather than the aesthetic aspects. It is not surprising then that the autobiography was one of the most cherished literary genres, mostly because of its cathartic role. However, in Post-Apartheid South Africa a new form of literature is emerging, what Manfred Loimeier calls “a literary rebirth” leading to “a literature of awakening”. South African authors are now experiencing new styles and deal with a diversity of themes and issues. The presence of magical realism in South African literature is a direct reference to African cultural heritage and shows a form of literary re-appropriation.

9Despite the disparity of topics, this collection of articles offers an interesting status report that paves the way for future research on the evolution of the situation in South Africa. Taken together, the essays show the difficulties that South Africa is facing in order to promote unity within diversity. There are certainly grounds for hope thanks to the young South African generation which does not carry the burden of its forbears. Beyond the difficulties inherent in the complex nature of South Africa, this collection of essays helps the reader understand who South Africans were, who they are and who they are becoming.

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Référence électronique

Fanny Duthil, « Gilles Teulié, Mélanie Joseph-Vilain (eds.), Healing South African Wounds, Guérir les blessures de l’Afrique du Sud », Revue LISA/LISA e-journal [En ligne], Media, culture, histoire, Culture et société, mis en ligne le 30 septembre 2010, consulté le 13 décembre 2017. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/lisa/3930

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Fanny Duthil

Université du Havre, France

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