Academic journal article African Studies Review

Private Sector Involvement in Public History Production in South Africa: The Sunday Times Heritage Project

Academic journal article African Studies Review

Private Sector Involvement in Public History Production in South Africa: The Sunday Times Heritage Project

Article excerpt


This article investigates issues of identity construction and public memorialization in postapartheid South Africa. It focuses on the Sunday Times Heritage Project, a unique private-sector initiative that involved the installation of thirty memorials throughout the country between 2006 and 2008. The article discusses the conceptualization and implementation of the project, pointing out important differences between this private initiative and the state-directed heritage effort. By interrogating the nexus between race, space, and memory in the construction of memorials, the article highlights the significance of placement and location in the formation of new identity discourses.

Résumé: Cet article explore les questions de construction d'identité et de rites publiques de commémoration en Afrique du Sud depuis la fin de l'Apartheid. Il se concentre sur le "Héritage Project" du Sunday Times, une initiative originale du secteur privé comprenant l'installation de trente lieux commémoratifs à travers le pays entre 2006 et 2008. L'article examine la conceptualisation et !'implementation du projet, indiquant les différences importantes entre cette initiative privée et les initiatives de commémoration du secteur public. En interrogeant l'interconnexion entre race, espace et mémoire dans la construction des lieux de commémoration, l'article met l'accent sur la signification et l'emplacement de ces lieux dans la construction des nouveaux discours identitaires.

Memory is a charged subject in postapartheid South Africa. In a society that remains deeply divided, different communities and individuals hold widely differing memories of past experiences, and divergent interpretations of the meaning of the past shape perspectives on the present. In this context, the democratically elected government assumes a key role in fostering a unified culture of public history based on supposedly shared memories with the purported aim of healing, reconciling, and uniting the nation. Many new museums, heritage sites, monuments, memorials, and public statues have been installed since 1994, and a host of cities, landmarks, and streets have been renamed. Collectively these interventions commemorate key events of resistance against colonial and apartheid-era oppression, pay tribute to leaders of the liberation struggle and innocent victims of political violence, and at least in their intentions, promote inclusive values of racial tolerance and human rights.

Scholars often criticize the dominant role of the state in initiating and directing the memory project, and communities sometimes object to what they perceive as political appropriation of their memories. But a privatesector appropriation of such memorials - the suggestion that a commercial enterprise could assume control over the public representation of iconic memories, ultimately for the purpose of increasing profits - is potentially even more problematic. Tacitly acknowledging that memory is a minefield where the past must be negotiated (Nuttall Sc Coetzee 1998), the private sector in South Africa has thus far been reluctant to invest in the process of memorialization and heritage more generally.

The Sunday Times Heritage Project represents one of the rare exceptions. Financed exclusively by the Sunday Times newspaper in celebration of its centenary in 2006, the project comprises a total of about thirty small, site-specific memorials created by contemporary South African artists and installed throughout the country, often at unconventional sites. The aim was to commemorate the most remarkable newsmakers and events of the past one hundred years in the places where the events occurred, hence inscribing the landscape with a new layer of memory that can be discovered by the viewer. Although the memorials are in many ways different from the heritage installations sponsored by the government and some nongovernmental organizations, it is significant that the Sunday Times did not position its project as countering, but rather as complementing, the public-sector efforts at memorializing the South African past. …

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