Contested pasts, forgotten voices : remembering and representing slavery in South Africa

North, Samuel

November 2017

Thesis or dissertation

© 2017 Samuel North. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

The transition to democracy in South Africa after 1994 saw president Nelson Mandela proclaim South Africa a ‘rainbow nation’. This in theory signalled a new respect for diverse histories, which museums and other heritage projects were expected to reflect upon. Certain elements of the past have, however, remained marginalised as new state-funded museum projects have invested in the idea of a shared past. As a means of encouraging unity in a divided country, this new national history centres on the idea of a nation which united against apartheid, overcame it, and now enjoys a glorious present as a result. Slavery and colonialism are amongst the histories which have not been discussed openly.

This thesis considers how slavery and its memory have functioned in relation to post-apartheid initiatives of transformation both in terms of museums and heritage projects, and broader society. Through use of qualitative interviews, it scopes the responses of museologists, policy makers, and heritage activists to the questions and demands posed by post-apartheid society. These questions are particularly pertinent currently given that new generations of activists are increasingly calling for ‘decolonisation’ as a means of reforming a society which they claim has not delivered the changes promised in the immediate post-1994 period. Such claims by necessity require discussion of the deeply-ingrained injustices which colonialism and slavery set in motion. Indeed, it is suggested that in post-apartheid South Africa it is problematic to commemorate historical slavery without reference to these often visible legacies. The thesis argues that the different concepts of historical slavery held by different groups results in contestations when the subject rememerges in public discourse. These contestations are variously shaped by the specific ways slavery has been marginalised over time in South Africa, and by the demands of the present.

School of Histories, Languages and Cultures, The University of Hull
Evans, Nicholas J. (Nicholas John); Dampier, Helen
Sponsor (Organisation)
Arts & Humanities Research Council (Great Britain); University of Hull
Qualification level
Qualification name
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