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The Mute Always Speak: On Women’s Silences at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Motsemme, Nthabiseng
June 4, 2015

Source: (2004) Current Sociology. 52(5): 909-932.

Various studies exploring the ways ordinary women speak about their traumatic pasts under violent regimes have consistently shown how they tend to place their narratives within everyday lived experience, rather than nationalist concerns….
Further, they draw us to the focus of this article – women’s articulation of their languages of ‘pain and grief’ through the language of silence.
The central argument put forward is that evidence of these processes of fragmentation and agency can also be located in expressions of silence embodied and narrated by women during the TRC hearings. The article proposes that we begin to read these silences, just as we invest in reading speech and action in the social sciences. Reinterpreting silence as another language through which women speak volumes, allows us to then explore other, perhaps hidden meanings regarding the struggle to live under apartheid….
The article explores these ideas by first discussing the institutional and symbolic features of the TRC, within which women’s recollections were framed. Second, it identifies the limits of verbal language in the narrative of remembered violence, and proposes that we reinterpret silence as language by outlining why and how. Finally, it locates ways of reading these silences present in TRC testimonies through a discussion of the following themes: silence as resistance and courage; silence as illusion of stability; and silence as a site for coping and the reconstitution of self. Overall, I suggest that it is when the language of silence, which forms part of the ‘economy of the invisible’, is also uncovered that we have a better view of those privatized experiences of living daily in violent contexts. (excerpt)


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