Oral History, Community, and Displacement: Imagining Memories in Post-Apartheid South Africa

By Rosenberg, Scott | The International Journal of African Historical Studies, September 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

Oral History, Community, and Displacement: Imagining Memories in Post-Apartheid South Africa


Rosenberg, Scott, The International Journal of African Historical Studies


Oral History, Community, and Displacement: Imagining Memories in Post-Apartheid South Africa. By Sean Field. Palgrave Studies in Oral History. New York: Palgrave, 2012. Pp. xvi, 221. $85.00.

Sean Field raises provocative questions regarding the collection and role of oral history in this work. Field's exploration of different kinds of memory such as mental images, imagined memories, and trauma, as well as the relationship between the interviewee and interviewer moves the discipline of Oral History forward. He also encourages researchers to expand the way they collect and present oral history through the use of audio-visual technology and museums. The book is divided into three parts, the first part focuses on applying different theoretical approaches to oral history in the South African context, while Part 2 more directly explores the memories of those displaced by Apartheid, and the last part attempts to sort out the legacy of post- Apartheid South Africa and the location of oral history in this story.

Chapter 1 uses four individual stories from the Windermere community to illustrate the impact of forced removals. The next chapter makes more extensive use of interviews with Coloured informants and explores how they used myth and the past to navigate the present. Several of the informants expressed these myths in the form of racist sentiments towards their African neighbors, which was more a product of their own insecurities and fears, especially about the post- Apartheid future, than being a product of Apartheid manipulation. The third chapter in this section explores how Africans who were subject to forced removals created idealized notions of community in the past to help them cope with current anxieties. Chapter 4 presents juxtaposed recollections of attempts to form masculine identities based on the personas of sportsman, gangster, and the initiated. Although the men interviewed in this chapter expressed an idealized sense of the past, they all felt that the racism of Apartheid denied them their masculine identities. Field effectively uses these interviews to demonstrate the demoralizing impact that Apartheid had on African men. Field uses these stories to remind us of the fluid nature of oral history, and how people use memory to help them cope with their current situations.

The second section of the book explores memories produced in what Field refers to as "the mind's eye," and the role of local museums in remembering and imagining the past.

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