Exploring the conflicting meanings of the South African post-apartheid heritage practice
Post-apartheid heritage practice, like the rest of its kind, is a complex system characterized by conflicting and contested meanings, knowledges, policies and operations. Thus, it is increasingly at the center of radical debates and protests calling for institutional decolonization, which often posit removal, replacement, relocation and repositioning of public colonial symbols as Holy Grail.
The first part of this discussion explores the emerging meanings of public culture within a historical context. It takes stock of some of the post-apartheid state-led heritage initiatives and the contestations thereof. It highlights ambiguities and contradictions within a medley of conflicting versions of South Africa’s pasts and presents. The second part considers the dominant ideology thesis and the notion of authorized heritage discourse, as it teases out the intricacies of collective memories and ownership of knowledge. It ponders on the questions of what it means to produce a heritage of redress, and what it might take to normalize dissonance in heritage production.
Sipokazi Madida, PhD is a Lecturer of History at the University of South Africa (Unisa). Prior to joining Unisa, Sipokazi held research and teaching positions at Robben Island Museum, University of the Western Cape and University of Witwatersrand. She is a public historian, education practitioner and heritage practitioner by training and experience. Her teaching and research interests include the politics of public history and heritage production. She has published articles and book chapters on the subjects of public history, oral history, museum collections and monuments. Her most recent publication is “Troubling statues: a symptom of a complex heritage complex,” in A. Nettleton and M.A. Fubah, Exchanging Symbols: Monuments and Memorials in Post-apartheid South Africa (African Sun Media, 2020).