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On having voice and being heard: Some after-effects of testifying before the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Ross, Fiona C
June 4, 2015

Source: (2003) Anthropological Theory. Vol 3(3): 325-341.

In much recent theorizing, the memory of violence is considered to constitute the post-colonial subject. The article is placed at the intersection of two arguments about the role of voice and memory, particularly memories of violence, in the constitution of the self and the collective. Richard Werbner (1998) has argued that ‘rights of recountability’ are fast becoming part of the political arena as citizens seek to make themselves heard and acknowledged in the public sphere. Achille Mbembe (2000) traces modes of voice through the discourses of powerlessness. Here I consider the ways in which testimonies circulate in public spheres in the aftermath of South Africa’s ambitious Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The impetus is drawn from the work of the Commission’s Human Rights Violations Committee, which elicited powerful and moving testimonies couched in terms of victimhood. However, many, having testified, are alarmed at the ways in which their testimonies proliferate outside the contexts of individual control. The article raises questions about the effects of wide circulation on individuals’ understandings of self and seeks a theory of vulnerability. Author’s abstract.


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