Breaking the Silence: Historical Reflections on the Narratives Shared by People Appearing at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa (TRC)

By Marietjie Oelofse.

Published by The Social Sciences Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

The paper goes out from the point of view that oral history is inherently vital as it broadens the sources of historical information so as to include the voices and perspectives of ordinary people. This is especially important in South Africa where previous forms of repression and discrimination have led to silencing the voices of certain groupings. Substantial groups of people, who have been ignored, need to have their roles recognized.

In an attempt to break the silence the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) strove to ‘give a voice’ to the experiences of people during the period 1960-1994, where their historical narratives were communicated through oral testimonies. In the process the TRC cracked the wall of silence imposed by apartheid through an official recording of memories.

Focus will fall on the opportunity the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) created for people to appear before the Commission, where they were able to tell their stories, which was heard unhindered by all South Africans who cared to listen. This played an important role in restoring a sense of pride, dignity and confidence in the people who told their stories. Through this opportunity the voices of the previously ‘voiceless’ people entered the public discourse and formed history.

The paper will discuss how this gave oral history a vital political importance. By providing an intimate view of events, historical gaps were filled by using oral history methods. Understanding the past from the point of view of the oppressed people in South Africa was a powerful way to uncover and construct a more comprehensive picture of the past.

The TRC uncovered the past by using the politics of historical and personal memory for the purpose of reconciliation in the future. This led to a change in the way history was questioned and judged.

Keywords: Oral History, Giving Voice, Breaking the Silence, Sharing Narratives, Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa (TRC), Human Rights Violations Committee (HRV Committee)

International Journal of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences, Volume 4, Issue 1, pp.425-440. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.190MB).

Dr. Marietjie Oelofse

Lecturer, Department of History, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, Free State, South Africa

Dr. Marietjie Oelofse is currently employed at the University of the Free State as a lecturer where she presents numerous courses and modules on a variety of topics at both undergraduate and postgraduate level. She is also involved in projects handled by the History Department. She is a member of several academic organisations. Marietjie’s field of interest and research include oral history, social history, political history since 1948, as well as aspects of the history of Africa.


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