University of Sussex
(2019.02.13) Mussi, Francesca.pdf (1.35 MB)

Literary responses to the South African TRC: renegotiating ‘truth’, ‘trauma’ and ‘reconciliation’

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posted on 2023-06-09, 05:08 authored by Francesca Mussi
My thesis examines the intersections between trauma and narrative in the context of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which was established in 1995 after the first democratic elections and aimed to assist the country in the transition from the apartheid regime to a democratic order. I investigate how literature responds to the reconciling project of the truth commission by exploring six exemplary post-apartheid novels: Nadine Gordimer’s The House Gun, Sindiwe Magona’s Mother to Mother, J. M. Coetzee’s Disgrace, Achmat Dangor’s Bitter Fruit, Njabulo Ndebele’s The Cry of Winnie Mandela, and Zoë Wicomb’s Playing in the Light. I argue that these texts supplement the work initiated by the TRC by challenging two core assumptions of the truth commission, namely, that the truth about the past is fully recoverable, and, if recovered would provide effective healing of the South African nation. Through the analyses of the selected novels, I expose the inadequacy of the TRC’s definition of gross human rights violations and the hybridity of the supposedly discrete categories of victim/perpetrator, thus suggesting that the truth about the past cannot be easily captured. I also question the healing power of testimony and confessional narrative by showing alternative, personal responses to the ‘public’ reconciliation as envisaged by the TRC. The TRC failed to engage with the complexities and the hybrid dimensions which have characterised South Africa’s history and society during both apartheid and the transition period. This thesis then argues that literature becomes a site where those ambiguities and contradictions are addressed in ways that invite readers to reflect on the ongoing nature of projects such as ‘truth’ and ‘reconciliation,’ as well as on new approaches to South Africa’s past and the present.


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