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New book gives voice to ordinary people during apartheid

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By Rukaya Mosavel

A new book has brought to the fore undocumented everyday experiences that shaped the lives of ordinary South Africans during the country’s brutal and painful past. Aptly titled ‘These are the things that sits with us’, the book is seen as a social commentary on the historical trauma and transformation of our racially oppressive past. It considers the intergenerational effect of apartheid on South Africans through sharing their memoirs. The research was done in Langa, Bonteheuwel and Worcester and the storytellers come from these areas.

“We see this book as a starting point. We would like it to be the start of difficult conversations between South Africans,” said co-editor Marietjie Oelofsen, a post-doctoral fellow in historical trauma and transformation at Stellenbosch University.

“The stories come from a range of experiences. We try to capture the stories of how people now live in the aftermath with all those experiences. How do they try to make meaning of those experiences,” added Oelofsen.

The book makes an important contribution to current debates on decolonizing the way knowledge is produced. Its most unique feature is that each story has been published in isiXhosa, Afrikaans and English, the languages used by the storytellers.

According to the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, people narrating their memories of life under apartheid can help introduce an alternative understanding of the painful aspects of their traumatic pasts.

“Twenty years after the TRC, this book is testament to our understanding that justice and reconciliation is not merely an event or a legal process but an on-going process that requires people to talk publicly about the effects of colonialism and apartheid on South Africans, and the need to listen to one another’s stories,” said the IJR.

“We hope that it will enable South Africans to connect with one another in a manner that seeks mutual understanding about the complicated aspects of our shared history and its continuing impact on the lives of individuals and communities. It is for this reason that we have compiled the collection of stories in this book.”

Oelofsen says each story has a deep meaning and is profound in their own way.

“Every time they re-live that story, it’s so important to their own life experience. Because a lot of people told us they haven’t spoken about their experiences in a public way. It’s very hard, I can’t say which story stands out,” added Oelofsen.

Each of the storytellers was given a copy of the book to thank and acknowledge their participation in the research. The book has given many people a voice and a sense of relief for finally having a platform to share their stories and experiences.

The book is available at all the major bookstores such as Exclusive books, Wordsworth, Bargain books and the Book Lounge.


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