Source: (2003) Media, Culture & Society. 25: 45-65

Woods (1999) describes national or public memory as performative; memory is not something we have, but something we do. South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) represents one dramatic illustration of the ‘doing of memory’; for two years, private memory was performed publicly in town halls across the country, and re-performed for the rest of the country on nightly news and in the daily paper.1 ‘In the cities and in many smaller towns, in improvised courtrooms fashioned out of town halls and community centres and churches, the drama of Apartheid and the struggle against it was played out’ (Krog, 1998: vii). In this article, I will argue that truth commissions act as conduits for collective memory; as individual stories are selected as being somehow representative, these stories come to frame the national experience. Truth commissions are not, however, mere conduits for stories; rather they wield an important influence on which stories are told and how they are to be interpreted. Thus they both produce and are produced by grand national narratives, and must be understood in the particular context(s) in which they emerge and the particular goals, either implicit or explicit, which guide their work. (excerpt)