. 8
( 11)


democratic government whose future is premised on the demise of everything it
has always stood for.
(Coombes 2000: 173“74)

She also considers how monuments from the apartheid period are
subject to public reinterpretation that can serve as ˜˜a staging post for self-
fashioning for both black and white constituencies across the political
spectrum™™ (2000: 175) through rich and varied examples of how the
Voortrekker Monument served as a setting for identity rede¬nition in
recent years.
The challenge to South Africa™s apartheid-era sites at the emotional
core of Afrikaner identity concerns their ability to now emphasize their
role in the country™s contemporary cultural diversity rather than in its
political past. For decades, the narrative offered at the Voortrekker
Monument just outside Pretoria, and at Blood River, a battle site in
KwaZulu-Natal, provided a narrative of conquest that joined political and
cultural images. The story of Afrikaner history recounted in the organi-
zation and images of each site was central to Afrikaner political identity
and the Nationalist Party™s political project. Given the emotional sig-
ni¬cance of these sites and their close association with white domination
and apartheid, it was not evident what their role would be in the post-
apartheid era. There was talk, for example, of tearing down the
Voortrekker monument as a way of symbolizing the destruction of
apartheid, as well as a suggestion to paint it pink and to turn it into a gay
nightclub. Another, probably more serious, proposal was made to turn the
lower level of the monument, which contains the cenotaph and the ¬‚ame
of civilization and which some consider the most sacred part of
the monument, into an exhibition on the struggle against apartheid and
the country™s political transformation (Kruger 2002: 89). Similarly, there
were many who wondered how the narrative at Blood River, which
commemorates what some believe is the divinely inspired victory of a few
hundred Boers who managed to kill 3,000 Zulu warriors in 1838, could
continue to be recounted.

Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

Forced modi¬cation of either site would surely have been perceived as
an attack on the Afrikaners as a group and produced a strong counter-
reaction that would have been very much at odds with the ANC™s
decision to emphasize reconciliation and tolerance. Because neither the
Voortrekker Monument nor Blood River is now a government run or
funded site,6 and because the new government did not want to mandate
speci¬c changes in either, they offer important lessons in the dynamics of
symbolic politics and the complex issues involved in transforming
exclusive symbolic spaces into more inclusive ones. The stories of what
has happened to date in both of these sites are not straightforward and
in neither place can we say that there is a simple outcome that
pleases everyone. In the rest of this chapter, I consider the case of the
Voortrekker Monument, built to commemorate the migration of many
Boers from the coast to the interior in the 1830s. Before discussing the
monument, I offer an overview of the Afrikaner historical narrative, since
it is central to the monument™s design and images (Delmont 1993;
Moodie 1975).

The Afrikaner historical narrative and the Voortrekker Monument
Afrikaner identity and cohesiveness emerged over several centuries,
illustrating the interaction of identity construction and political context.
Jan van Riebeeck, long celebrated by Afrikaners as the founder of the ¬rst
settlement in Cape Town to provision ships sailing around Africa to Asia,
is presented as the symbolic creator of white South Africa and the
bearer of Christian civilization (Witz 2003). Settlement was primarily
along the western coast where the Dutch met, and fought with, local
black groups “ the Hottentots and Khoi. Among the early settlers were
Germans, Portuguese, French Huguenots, slaves from Madagascar, and
so-called Malays (primarily from Indonesia). There is no evidence that the
¬rst settlers saw themselves as a cohesive group although they came to
share a common language, Dutch, which later evolved into Afrikaans.
Giliomee says that prior to 1850 Afrikaner identity was seldom invoked as
a political claim (1989: 22).

During and after the political transition, the status of these sites changed. The FAK, an
Afrikaner cultural-nationalist organization purchased the Voortrekker monument in 1992
(Kruger 2002). However, as modi¬cation of their narratives has occurred, and the museum
has become more inclusive, some government subsidies have been provided.

Post-apartheid South Africa

Afrikaner ethnic and political consciousness emerged in the nineteenth
century in response to the arrival of the British in the late 1700s. After
1806, when the British took over the Cape, and especially after 1820 when
British immigrants began to arrive, there was con¬‚ict with the earlier
settlers, a signi¬cant number of whom moved eastward where they
sometimes fought with local Xhosa groups. Unhappy with British rule,
many Afrikaans speakers decided to move to the interior when in 1833 the
British abolished slavery. Here is the explanation of the situation from the
Voortrekker Monument™s Guidebook:
At the beginning of the 19th century the Cape was conquered by Britain. For the
pioneers at the eastern border this did not bring about any improvement in their
living conditions, which in fact deteriorated because the Cape government did not
show any understanding of their problems. Conditions at the eastern border
became unbearable . . . They developed a strong feeling of independence and
lamented the lack of self-government . . . A need arose among the pioneers to ¬nd
a country that was beyond the reach of the Cape government where they would be
able to live in peace and freedom.
(Heymans 1986: 5)

Over a half dozen years, many small groups set off in ox-drawn wagons
with their household possessions, livestock, servants, and slaves to ¬nd a
homeland in the interior, as part of a process later termed the Great Trek.
Not all groups headed to the same place. Some moved far north into what
became the Transvaal; others settled in the latter-day Orange Free State;
and some tried to settle in what today is KwaZulu Natal (Figure 8.1). In
all cases the journey itself was slow and dif¬cult, testing the commitment
and skills of the Boers. It was also dangerous, as there was at times sig-
ni¬cant con¬‚ict with local black groups. In some cases, they were able to
negotiate alliances while in others there was ¬ghting.7
In the Afrikaner foundation narrative the most signi¬cant con¬‚ict
developed when a group of Trekkers, headed by Piet Retief, sought to
negotiate the right to land from Dignane, the Zulu leader, in early 1838.
In the Afrikaner narrative, after Dignane had agreed to accept the settlers,
he invited them to a feast during which his warriors turned on the
group and massacred them.8 Later that same year, some 12,000 Zulu
attacked a group of Afrikaners, now led by Andries Pretorius, at Ncome

Some see strong parallels between the Trekker experience and that of Europeans settling
the American west.
This story is presented in a 1939 Hollywood ¬lm ˜˜Building a Nation™™ that is nothing
short of pure Afrikaner propaganda.

Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

0 100 200 300 km
0 100 200 miles

Main trek route



Bloemfontein N ATA L

(Port Natal)

East London
Cape Town Port Elizabeth

Figure 8.1 Map of South Africa with Trek routes

on December 16, 1838. It is said that the group of some 450 men had
earlier vowed that if they survived they would declare a Sabbath day and
build a church to honor God who delivered the victory. Sure enough, the
Boer defenders who circled their sixty-four wagons into a defensive laager
fought off the Zulu, killing some 3000 attackers, and forcing the
remaining warriors to withdraw, while suffering only three injuries and no
deaths to themselves.9 The battle, named Blood River after the Zulu
blood that supposedly turned the river red, was remembered as a testa-
ment to the Boers™ religious faith and commemorated in Pretorius™ church
forty years later in Pietermaritzburg.

There is good reason to be skeptical concerning the number of Zulu deaths because of the
relatively primitive weapons the Afrikaners possessed, their inaccuracy, and the time
needed to reload the guns after ¬ring.

Post-apartheid South Africa

Thompson (1985: 154“68) says there was little contemporaneous evi-
dence for key elements of the story concerning the covenant and that much
of it comes from Saral Cilliers™s 1871 deathbed statement focusing on the
piety of the group and his own role as its religious leader. However, I am less
concerned with the truth or falsity of the story™s details than with their
emotional power and relevance for the lessons Afrikaners drew from them a
century later. As Akenson points out in his discussion of the signi¬cance of
the memory of Blood River, ˜˜historical links do not have to be accurate in
order for them to be real™™ (Akenson 1992: 68).
For Afrikaners, December 16 is the most sacred day in their civil-
religious calendar. Akenson reports that it was ¬rst marked by a com-
memorative service on the site of the battle in 1864 and known until 1938
as Dugaan™s Day (after the defeated Zulu leader); then it was called the
Day of the Covenant, and subsequently renamed the Day of the Vow in
1980 (Akenson 1992: 66). Celebrations recount the Afrikaner struggle to
escape the yoke of British colonialism and the miracle of the Afrikaner
military victory.10 Akenson (1992) suggests that analyzing the December
16 celebrations over time offers ˜˜a useful window™™ into the half-empirical,
half-metaphorical Afrikaner self-understanding of their history. For him,
the covenantal language drawn from the Exodus story with its ˜˜prediction
of continued and wearying strife, and a prescription for how to deal
with the ever-present enemies™™ is of particular signi¬cance (Akenson
1992: 67).11
The Afrikaners created two independent states, the Transvaal and
Orange Free State, in the early 1850s, and fought a war (variously called
the First Anglo-Boer War and the ¬rst War of Independence) in 1880“81
to defend their autonomy, rejecting British colonial rule. Paul Kruger, the
president of the South African Republic (SAR) and a militant Afrikaner
cultural nationalist, sought to guard the ¬‚edgling state™s independence,
but with the discovery of gold in and around Johannesburg in the 1880s
and the in¬‚ux of thousands of people, the British were intent on con-
trolling the territory and its wealth. The result was the bloody Second
During the apartheid era December 16 was a public holiday in South Africa marking the
Afrikaner™s perseverance, faith, and triumph. Since the transition, the day is still a public
holiday, but to make it more inclusive it is now named The Day of Reconciliation. Many
Afrikaners still celebrate it as the Day of the Vow although in a much more low key
manner than during the apartheid period. Chapter 9 discusses the Afrikaner celebrations
in recent years that mark the day at Blood River.
Akenson (1992) emphasizes the power of the covenantal metaphor for Afrikaners but also
for Protestants in Northern Ireland and Jews in Israel.

Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

Anglo-Boer War of 1899“1902 in which for a time Boer forces used
guerrilla tactics to thwart superior British numbers and resources. In
response the British engaged in a scorched earth policy, and placed
thousands of Afrikaner women and children in concentration camps
where some 25,000 perished.12 For many Afrikaners, this event con-
stitutes their ˜˜chosen trauma,™™ a signi¬cant loss that a group cannot fully
mourn and integrate into the present. Asking about it today still evokes
powerful emotions. Note, however, that in this trauma the enemy is not
indigenous blacks, but the British.
The victorious British then created the Union of South Africa in 1910,
bringing together the two former Afrikaner republics and the British
Cape and Natal. While Afrikaner nationalists were defeated militarily,
they refused to give up the vision of their own state. By the 1930s the
Afrikaners were seriously split between those who were satis¬ed with the
country™s autonomy within the British Commonwealth and more anti-
British, cultural nationalist Afrikaners who favored an independent
republic. The pro-republicans had strong ties to the Afrikaner
Broederbond founded in 1918, an elite secret brotherhood emphasizing
ethnic consciousness, and the FAK, a federation of Afrikaner cultural
organizations (Moodie 1975: 99“115; Delmont, 1993: 78“80). Both
emphasized the ethnic component of culture, especially the need for the
preservation of Afrikaner culture “ particularly its language “ and
articulated a ˜˜Christian National™™ ideology that in some versions closely
resembled German National Socialism. What was central to this civil
religion was that it could be achieved only in a republic in which
Afrikaners controlled the public sphere, mother-tongue education, and
racial separation (Moodie 1975: 110“13).
The fortunes of the hard-line nationalists rose in the late 1930s when
the centenary celebrations of the battle of Blood River crystallized
nationalist fervor. As the anniversary approached, a number of plans were
drawn up including the erection of monuments to the Trekkers in both
Blood River and Pretoria. However, the most emotionally signi¬cant
part of the celebration was a symbolic retracing of the steps of the
Voortrekkers that Henning Klopper, who had earlier founded the
Broederbond, organized through the ATKV (the Afrikaans Language and
The government renamed the war the South African War in recognition that blacks as
well as whites were involved and suffered, and museum displays in Pretoria as well as in
small towns such as Ladysmith now acknowledge the involvement of all South Africans in
the war.

Post-apartheid South Africa

Cultural Union of the South African Railways and Harbours) (Moodie
1975: 176“77). This quasi-religious political pilgrimage began in Cape
Town at the foot of van Riebeeck™s statue. Following a reading of the
sacred vow, the pilgrimage wound its way to Pretoria in two replica
ox-drawn wagons used one hundred years earlier. What started as a small-
scale event continued to expand, capturing the imagination of many
Afrikaners, and a certain number of English speakers as well. As it made its
way north there were increasing demands for the wagons to visit small
towns and villages where religious services were often held (Moodie 1975).

The sacred history was constituted and actualized as a general context of meaning
for all Afrikanerdom in spontaneous liturgical re-enactment during the 1938
celebrations. Passionate enthusiasm seized Afrikaans-speaking South Africa. Men
grew beards and women donned Voortrekker dress; street after street in hamlet
after hamlet was renamed after one or another trek hero; babies were baptized in
the shade of the wagons . . . and young couples were married in full trekker regalia
on the village green before the wagons . . . At night folks would gather around the
camp¬res of the trekkers in their hundreds and thousands to sing traditional
Afrikaans [folksongs] and the old Dutch psalms, to watch scenes from the
Voortrek enacted in pantomime, and to thrill to inspired sermons culled from the
depths of civic faith . . . Wreaths were laid on the graves of all the Afrikaner
heroes . . . Holy ground was thus resancti¬ed by the visit of the wagons.
(Moodie 1975: 180“81)

Eventually, additional wagons were built and the celebrations reached
their climax when nine wagons reached Pretoria where, on December 16
over 100,000 Afrikaners gathered for the celebration and the cornerstone
was laid for the Voortrekker monument (Figure 8.2). Historians see the
intense emotional outpourings linking Afrikaner cultural and political
identity as central to the Nationalist Party™s electoral victory a decade
later in 1948. The following year on December 16, 1949, as part of an
even larger four-day celebration with 250,000 celebrants, the Voortrekker
Monument was dedicated.13
The monument is a massive stone construction atop a hill just outside
Pretoria next to Schanskop Fort, one of four built to defend the city in the
Anglo-Boer War, and in sight of the Union Buildings (Delmont 1993:
80). There is a granite laager of sixty-four wagons surrounding the
building offering symbolic protection, and on the corners of the outside

Although the cornerstone of the monument was laid on December 16, 1938, due to
World War II it was not completed until 1949.

Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

Figure 8.2 Voortrekker Monument, Pretoria. The Voortrekker Monument on
the left and a statue of a Trekker mother and child on the right located near the

of the monument are statues of three named Trekker leaders and one who
is unknown. Close to the monument™s entrance is a statue of a carved
mother and child (Figure 8.2) that ˜˜symbolizes the culture and Chris-
tianity that were maintained and developed by the women during the
Great Trek™™ (Heymans 1986: 6). Inside the monument are two signi¬cant
symbolic spaces. The ¬rst is the twenty-seven friezes made from Italian
marble that recount the story of the Trek from its beginnings in the 1830s
to British recognition of the Transvaal Republic in 1852, ¬lling the walls
of the large dome-covered room on the entrance level (Figure 8.3).14 The
second is the monument™s lower hall that contains two particularly sig-
ni¬cant objects that are visible from above: a niche against one wall
holding an eternal ¬‚ame that symbolizes civilization in South Africa, and
at the center an empty cenotaph representing the symbolic resting place
of Retief and his comrades and the Voortrekkers™ spirit of sacri¬ce and
suffering (Delmont 1993: 81). The cenotaph is laid out so that a ray of
sunlight shines on the words, ˜˜We for thee South Africa™™ (in Afrikaans)
carved on December 16.

Delmont (1993) offers a detailed analysis of the individual panels and their signi¬cance in
the Afrikaner narrative.

Post-apartheid South Africa

Figure 8.3 One of the 27 marble friezes in the Voortrekker monument showing
˜˜Battle against the Nbebelle at eGabeni/Kapain, 1837™™ one of the many attacks to
which the Voortrekkers were subjected

The 1949 inaugural ceremony celebrated Afrikaner culture while lay-
ing out ˜˜a vision of society that legitimated the social ordering of South
Africa under apartheid™™ (Crampton 2001: 224) and made up what
Crampton characterizes as ˜˜the festival community.™™ He analyzes the
core themes at the Voortrekker Monument™s inauguration that stressed
the Afrikaners as an authentic nation that had tamed the African interior,
bringing white, Christian civilization to it. There were calls for white
unity, but it was clear that while the English could be accepted as partners
in the nation-building project, it was the Afrikaners who would be the
senior members of the team.
The opening of the monument just a short time after the Nationalists
came to power and began to implement apartheid meant that the massive
stone monument symbolized Afrikaner domination and power, and
through its narrative the monument communicated, re¬‚ected, and justi-
¬ed Nationalist party leaders™ vision of apartheid. Over time, however,
key elements were challenged. By 1988, foreshadowing the changes de
Klerk would make after his election, including the release of Mandela, the
legalization of the ANC, and the negotiations to majority rule, the 150th
celebration of the Great Trek at the monument revealed important

Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

changes in the Afrikaner narrative. Speakers emphasized the forward-
looking aspects of the pioneer Trekkers and stressed the need for a new
political future requiring ˜˜sacri¬ces and compromises in an attempt to
ensure their political survival™™ meaning power sharing (Grundlingh and
Sapire 1989: 32). The new spirit ˜˜acknowledged the role of blacks, both
in the original trek itself and in contemporary South African political,
economic and social life™™ (Grundlingh and Sapire 1989: 32), and the
FAK™s public statement calling upon Afrikaners to ˜˜understand its role in
the past without ˜belittling™ any other groups and to exercise reason rather
than emotionalism in response to the celebrations, was a striking depar-
ture from the past as Afrikaners were urged to use the occasion to
demonstrate that the enmities of Blood River had ¬nally been buried™™
(Grundlingh and Sapire 1989: 32). Until 1992 when the FAK purchased
the monument in anticipation of a new government (Coombes 2000), the
government fully funded it, and during the transition period it was a site
at which hard-line whites opposed to the negotiations held rallies.
Given the monument™s close association with Afrikaner cultural
nationalism and political domination, it was not clear that the building
would survive the transition and remain part of the landscape in a new,
non-racial South Africa. A psychocultural drama over its future began that
escalated far less than many people expected. It is important for the
analysis developed here to consider why this was the case.15 For the
Voortrekker Monument to operate as a cultural site would require an
energetic effort to decouple Afrikaner culture from the politics of
apartheid. Not an easy task. Indeed there were calls for its destruction,
radical transformation, and appropriation, as noted above. The new
government, however, did not compel any change in the monument.
Nevertheless, as an independent cultural institution, it did not prosper in
the early post-apartheid years.
The Monument™s new leadership that was put in place in 2000 has
worked to recast the Voortrekker Monument as a cultural, rather than
political, institution. The challenge is how to do this while neither reviving
divisive memories of apartheid among non-Afrikaners nor seeming to
abandon the core Afrikaner values embedded in the monument. Working
toward this goal has not been easy, however, for while the monument™s

In 1992 ˜˜History Workshop™™ held a Conference at which its future was discussed and a
poster from the session shows the Voortrekker Monument teetering on its side possibly
about to be pulled over.

Post-apartheid South Africa

contents make no explicit references to the apartheid era, the iconography
and many of the objects in it were central images associated with white
rule. In the twenty-seven marble friezes, for example, the overwhelming
proportion of the images of blacks show them as ¬ghting with, and often
murdering or being murdered by the Voortrekkers, while presenting the
Boers as courageous and inspiring.
The current leadership has taken some initial inclusive steps to
emphasize the Voortrekker Monument as an Afrikaner cultural institution.
One is its effort to attract black school children to the monument; they
report that in some months there are three times more black school
children than whites visiting.16 A second is the development of a new
museum-like exhibit in the lower ¬‚oor of the monument that emphasizes
cultural history rather than political images. It contains a presentation on
the Great Trek that locates it in the context of human migrations more
generally. There is also a good deal on Afrikaner heritage through material
culture presented in displays of nineteenth-century tools, clothing, fur-
niture, and farming that emphasize details about daily life; little in this
exhibit evokes the most emotional parts of the political narrative.
A third strategy for inclusivity is emphasis on the parts of the site that
go beyond the monument itself. These are Fort Schanskop, an amphi-
theater that can seat 20,000 people, a series of hiking, bike, and horse
trails, a picnic area, an art gallery, ecology courses, and a planned
campground. Many Afrikaners support the multiple uses of the site, and
this is not surprising given Cohen™s (1969) observations concerning the
importance of cultural organizations when explicit political organization
around identity is not likely to be productive. The site leadership is also
developing a Garden of Remembrance, which will offer 6,500 niches
holding individual last remains following cremation, and will address
the ˜˜growing problems at traditional cemeteries . . . due to the general
fall in standards and the high level of crime in the country™™ (press release

It was suggested to me that black teachers are often more willing to bring students to the
monument than white ones, who because of the monument™s association with apartheid
are either uninterested in visiting it or are embarrassed to do so.
One motivation for this project arose from Afrikaner concerns about vandalization of
their cemeteries. Obviously this is aimed at Afrikaners for it is not very likely that there
will be many non-Afrikaners who seek ˜˜a digni¬ed last resting place in a culturally
sympathetic environment, in the shade of the Monument.™™

Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

A fourth step toward inclusion has been an explicit effort to legitimize
the monument by building bridges to the government agencies and
political leaders. This has led to the return of, and then to recent increases
in, government funding. In South Africa, there is nothing more valuable
for a white cultural group seeking legitimation than a positive word
from Nelson Mandela and he has spoken out in support of the site. In
2000 Mandela wrote to potential donors asking them to contribute to
the monument™s renewal projects. Then, in early 2002 he visited the
Voortrekker Monument Heritage Site, delivered a speech, part of which
was in Afrikaans, and laid a wreath beside the statue of Anglo-Boer (South
African War) war hero Danie Theron. In his remarks Mandela stressed
his esteem for the Afrikaner people and their resistance to imperial
domination. He said he had learned a good deal from Afrikaner generals
and ˜˜that shared experience of ¬ghting for one™s freedom binds us in a
manner that is most profound.™™18 He noted that Blacks and Afrikaners
shared a common experience in struggling against British colonial rule.
Finally, his inclusive comments acknowledged the role of Afrikaners in
the country™s development, noting that Theron™s patriotism ˜˜would in the
present circumstances have translated into a passion that we jointly build
and develop this country for the common good of all.™™19

Transformation of sacred spaces is most likely to be rapid when it is
imposed, as in the situations of appropriation following regime change.
In pluralistic systems where there is a reluctance to forcing change in
spaces or institutions associated with ethnic, religious, or regional com-
munities, transformation can be slow and complicated, as is illustrated in
the cases of Little Bighorn in the United States and the Voortrekker
Monument in South Africa.
Guardians of sacred spaces such as religious sites, monuments, and
battle¬elds frequently freeze a group™s narrative at one point in time,
think of it as recounting a literal, rather than metaphorical, truth, and see
defending the narrative and the sacred spaces as defending their group. As
a result, the guardians often see what appears to those outside the group
www.theherald.co.za/herald/2002/03/07/news/theron.htm. The fact that some right-
wing Afrikaner groups loudly protested Mandela™s visit in 2002 only serves to further help
the new administration separate itself from the apartheid-era policies.

Post-apartheid South Africa

as a modest request for change as an enormous and unrealistic demand.
Furthermore, when the guardians do show some ¬‚exibility, there are
frequently voices within their own community that accuse them of
betrayal. This dynamic means that despite the language commonly used
to describe ethnic con¬‚ict which emphasizes opposing ethnic commu-
nities as internally uni¬ed, the social and political reality is one of sig-
ni¬cant within-group differentiation. All large collectivities have diverse
voices and there is within-group political competition as various factions
claim to be the group™s most legitimate representatives.
The Little Bighorn case reminds us of how slow and complicated the
change process can be even when there is a third party “ in this case the US
National Park Service “ as the manager of a site. The bitterness between
the Custerphiles and Custerphobes made it dif¬cult to mediate between
the con¬‚icting demands. In addition, signi¬cant differences among the
Native American groups further complicated the process since they were
not uni¬ed in their demands, reminding us how hard it sometimes is to
alter a site once its meanings have literally been set in stone.
These lessons are certainly relevant to considering the possibilities for
modifying the Voortrekker Monument and the psychocultural drama that
did not escalate around its continued existence. To their credit, both the
new managers of the site and the government worked to ¬nd some
common ground and to avoid open con¬‚ict. General Opperman and his
staff emphasize the changes they have achieved in reorienting the site as a
cultural institution, and the government has recognized this through
their increased funding. To an outsider, these changes feel modest; but
those on the inside experience them as signi¬cant, a view that is reinforced
each time there are attacks on the current site leadership from hard-line
Afrikaner nationalists, such as those that occurred over Mandela™s
2002 visit.
There is certainly some shift in the Monument™s emphasis through the
development of additional activities on the site, the addition of cultural
exhibits in the new museum space, and the absence of any explicit link
between the monument and exhibits in it and apartheid. However, given
the strong political message the monument communicated in the past,
separation of the connection probably requires that there eventually be
bolder, explicit steps, not just implicit ones. When I visited in February
2003, the art gallery contained portraits of all the former heads of state
and of the Transvaal government that had once hung in the union
Buildings and Transvaal government of¬ces. While there was explicit
Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

acknowledgment that these were not consistent with the Monument™s
current mission, the staff found themselves in a position where they felt
that rejecting the portraits was not possible.20 When asked if there was
any thought about adding portraits of Mandela and President Thabo
Mbeki to the group, the response was they were concerned about the
reaction this would provoke from some Afrikaners.21
Separating the monument from apartheid and Nationalist Party rule is
a daunting task indeed considering that its entire existence until 1994 was
so intimately related to the NP rule and Afrikaner nationalism. It is not
clear whether the modest steps toward this goal are suf¬cient in light of
the very different experiences and perceptions among white and black
South Africans. Because the dominant narrative links the monument and
apartheid so strongly, explicit references are not needed to maintain it.
For most blacks the Trek was a step toward political conquest and the
creation of an Afrikaner dominated state. The connections are obvious
and seamless and the challenge is how to remove an association that is so
¬rmly established.22
Rather than demanding a change in the Monument itself, some
Afrikaners and blacks have stressed modest points of convergence
between the Afrikaner and black narratives, as in the 1988 anniversary
celebrations and Mandela™s 2002 speech at the Voortrekker Monument.
As far back as the 1980s mainstream Afrikaner leaders began to
acknowledge “ and then emphasize “ the role of blacks in the Trek and
the Anglo-Boer war. In the 1988 150th anniversary celebrations at the
monument, the FAK publications made it clear that they saw the occasion
as a moment to demonstrate that the enmities of Blood River had ¬nally
been buried (Coombes 2003; Grundlingh and Sapire 1989). This is seen
again in exhibits during and after the centenary of the South African war

Increasingly, as the country™s leading Afrikaner cultural institution, the Monument is
receiving donations of old photos, newspaper clippings, artwork, and other objects. There
is now a need to sift through these materials to decide how they should be managed and a
potential need to develop storage facilitates generally associated with museums.
The question of the appropriate pace of change in the symbolic landscape is not easy to
answer in the abstract. Those who think South Africa should move faster might re¬‚ect on
the snail-like change in the United States following the Civil War that is considered in
Chapter 10.
To an American, it is obvious that the Afrikaner narrative shares much with accounts in
the United States in its portrayal of the pioneers as freedom-seeking civilizing people
intent on building a new life and in their reactions to the region™s indigenous inhabitants.

Post-apartheid South Africa

that describe the joint suffering of both groups, not just that of the
There are additional points of agreement in the discourse between
parts of the Afrikaner and anti-apartheid narratives. Prolonged resistance
and liberation are central to both accounts and efforts to memorialize
them, and there is even agreement that there was a common oppressor
against which each struggle for freedom was waged “ British colonialism.
Of course there are also important differences in the speci¬cs, but their
convergence around metaphors of resistance and liberation, and the
identi¬cation of the same enemy has also made it possible for them to
partially converge in some interesting ways following the country™s
political transition in 1994.23
The challenge of reversing or altering this association at the monu-
ment raises the issue of what bolder steps can be taken in the near future
given the prominent positions of the marble friezes and other Afrikaner
icons in it. These are set in stone, but the problem is not in the objects but
in the values that they represented during apartheid and the need to offer
a meaningful perspective on what they mean today. Ideas such as an
exhibit presenting examples of black“Afrikaner cooperation in the pre-
NP period (and perhaps after) or focusing on Afrikaners who opposed
apartheid are currently seen as too controversial for the Afrikaner com-
munity. So is it possible for the Monument to maintain legitimacy among
mainstream Afrikaners and acceptance among skeptical whites and blacks?
The only images of blacks in the marble friezes are negative ones and
there is no acknowledgment that many blacks saw the Afrikaners as
conquerors. Perhaps this could be acknowledged textually and visually.
There could be a brochure that acknowledges the competing perceptions
of Afrikaner intentions suggesting that one reason some of the battles
took place was a result of cross-cultural misunderstandings and commu-
nication problems.24 Just as the brochures at Blood River now describe

In many ways, there are two prominent narratives: an Afrikaner and a black one “ with
variations that re¬‚ect regional and ethnic differences (e.g., Xhosa vs. Zulu). In contrast,
there is not a very prominent British narrative.
A more fundamental question is what it meant to be an Afrikaner at the time. Such a
question would problematize the standard narrative and invite additional questions such
as Zulu and other black perceptions of events, the motives and actions of people such as
Retief, and the story of the treaty he supposedly got Dignane to sign. These are not
comfortable questions for a sacred site with its established narrative literally set in stone to
pose and perhaps not appropriate for a site that sees itself primarily as a cultural
institution and not a museum with an educational mission.

Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

the presentation there as one version of the events on December 16, 1838,
the Voortrekker Monument could also be presented in more historical,
relativistic terms.25 Another possibility is that a message the monument
could offer to school children of all groups is ˜˜Never Again,™™ empha-
sizing the country™s racialized pay and how the images in the monument
and the events it celebrates pay attention to only one group.
Another approach to modifying the Voortrekker Monument™s sym-
bolic prominence is being taken by the South African Heritage Resource
Agency™s Legacy Project through a decision to build Freedom Park a
short distance from the Voortrekker Monument. This new heritage site
will contain a museum that will serve to acknowledge, preserve, and
present South Africa™s pre-colonial, colonial, apartheid, and post-apart-
heid history and heritage. Freedom Park will emphasize the country™s
long history, from as far back as 3.6 billion years through the liberation
struggle. It will also include a garden of remembrance where statues and
sculptures will be located in honor of ordinary South Africans who con-
tributed to the country™s development in different ¬elds. At the ground-
breaking ceremony on the new site, South Africa™s Minister of Culture
Ben Ngubane emphasized the intention to make Freedom Park ˜˜a place
of pilgrimage and inspiration.™™ Recounting the stories of the struggles
against colonialism and apartheid will, he said, ˜˜help us to develop a
creative response to our past and promote the process of healing™™ that
offers a model for other multicultural societies.26
Locating Freedom Park in the vicinity of the Voortrekker Monument
will offer an alternative narrative of South African history without a direct
confrontation. It will be interesting to see how the relationship between
Freedom Park and the Voortrekker Monument develops and the extent to
which visitors go to both sites. This strategy of building an additional site
rather than either destroying or taking over an existing one is highly
consistent with the South African policy of pluralism as the preferred
method for giving voice to previously unheard people and events, and is
spelled out more fully in Chapter 9.

Coombes™ (2000; 2003) analysis suggests that because of its signi¬cance, the monument
will serve as a site for reinterpretations and deconstruction from many diverse groups in
South Africa irrespective of the choices about the site its managers make.


Enlarging South Africa™s symbolic landscape

Since 1994 the symbolic landscape in South Africa has been radically
altered. As discussed in Chapter 8, transformations of older spaces such as
universities, parks, public squares, beaches, and government buildings
through appropriation and modi¬cation communicate new powerful
messages. Any analysis would be incomplete, however, without con-
sideration of new sites and cultural institutions such as monuments,
memorials, and museums that recount and legitimate the experiences of
the county™s previously politically voiceless majority and those who
actively struggled to rid the country of apartheid. The new monuments
and memorials operate as ˜˜gestures of compensation™™ in an effort to
mediate between the past and present and to acknowledge the events and
experiences that went unmarked for so long (Marschall 2004).
Of¬cial and unof¬cial new sites throughout the country present a new
and different symbolic landscape in a variety of ways. There are, however,
certainly themes and images that are common across these new sites. For
example, most include visual images and other references to Nelson
Mandela, whose picture was banned from the country for almost thirty
years, in telling the story of the ultimate triumph over apartheid. Accounts
of the story of survival and the inclusive narrative of struggle and resistance
are widespread, emphasizing that people from all groups were active in the
¬ght against apartheid and that the previous regime™s focus on race and
racial differences was an explicit construction. There are some dramatic
ways in which this is communicated. At the Apartheid Museum, located in
Gold Reef City between Soweto and downtown Johannesburg, visitors
receive entry tickets, randomly distributed, that oblige them to enter
through a door marked ˜˜Whites™™ or ˜˜Non-Whites.™™ Upon entering, there
is an explanation of the arbitrary nature of apartheid™s racial categories that

Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

sometimes resulted in members of the same family being classi¬ed
differently, an explanation of the appeals process that could lead to
reclassi¬cation, and the tests that government of¬cials designed to place
people in one of the four racial groups (black, colored, Asian, and white).
Common too are accounts tying suffering and resistance to speci¬c places of
memory. For example, the Hector Pieterson Museum in Soweto (Figure 9.1)
focuses its account around the 1976 uprising that began in that township
when young schoolchildren protested the imposition of Afrikaans as the
medium of instruction in local schools (Marschall n.d.).1 The District Six
Museum in Cape Town tells the story of forced removals under the Group
Areas Act and uses a large map on which former residents are invited to
mark the location of their former homes.
The focus of this chapter is on the strategy of addition “ the con-
struction of new sites of commemoration that are central to the pro-
duction of public memory through the narratives that circulate about
them (Doughty in press). A decision to give voice to previously unmarked
events and silenced narratives is relatively easy to make; however, as
Linenthal (1993; 2001a) has observed, the speci¬c choices that are made
about a new site™s location, as well as the selection of objects for inclusion,
the design and size of the structure, and the degree of government sup-
port it receives can all become points of contestation. My goal here is not
to document the myriad of projects in South Africa. Rather I discuss three
heritage sites to re¬‚ect the range of new narratives and to analyze some of
the opportunities and complexities involved in changing the country™s
symbolic landscape.
The ¬rst, the Ncome memorial, is adjacent to the Blood River
Battle¬eld Heritage site, which is a sacred location for Afrikaners, cele-
brated as the site of their ˜˜chosen glory™™ (Volkan 1997), the victory over
the Zulu in 1838, discussed in Chapter 8. As in the case of the Voortrekker
Monument, the issue of Blood River™s place in the new South Africa was
not easy given that the event celebrated there is intimately related to racial
domination and oppression. However, the government did not propose
speci¬c changes at Blood River, but rather decided to build a memorial at
Ncome, the Zulu name for the site, just across the small river, to facilitate

Pieterson was a 13-year-old student killed the ¬rst day of the uprising, made famous in a
Life magazine picture in which a running man is carrying the wounded boy in a manner
resembling a pieta, while his sister runs alongside (Figure 9.1). The boy became a symbol
of resistance to apartheid and the regime™s brutality. This image appears widely in the
country in accounts of resistance as well as in wall murals and in books.

Enlarging South Africa™s symbolic landscape

Figure 9.1 The famous photograph of Hector Pieterson, the young student who
had been shot at the outbreak of the Soweto uprising in 1976, as it appears in front
of the Hector Pieterson Museum in Soweto.

Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

reconciliation between the descendents of those who fought on opposite
sides 160 years earlier, to acknowledge black suffering in the battle, and to
offer a narrative of events that took place re¬‚ecting the Zulu and other
black perspectives.2 Coming to this decision, however, was problematic,
according to Marschall:
Unbeknown to many, the government™s initial plan was to have only one monu-
ment on this site, which would commemorate the battle and symbolize reconci-
liation. This might have entailed a replacement or inclusive modi¬cation of the
existing monument(s) at Blood River “ a thought that was completely unac-
ceptable to Afrikaner representatives. For conservative Afrikaners, Blood River is
hallowed ground, a sacred place, closely linked to their sense of identity and the
foundation myth of the Afrikaner ˜nation™.
(Marschall forthcoming)

The process of building Ncome offers insights into the complexity of
constructing new memorials in close proximity to older ones whose
narratives they are challenging (Dlamini 2003; Ehlers 2000; Girshick
The second site discussed is Robben Island, a barren 3 square miles in
Table Bay, 7 miles from Cape Town. Robben Island has a long history as
a site of banishment for those who opposed white rule in South Africa.
Often compared to Alcatraz, Robben Island served for many decades as a
detention center for criminals and political opponents and then as a
hospital for the insane, lepers, and the sick poor (Deacon 1998: 162).
However, its most recent notoriety came when the apartheid regime
decided in the 1960s to use it as a maximum security prison to hold black,
coloured, and Asian political prisoners (white political prisoners, although
often subject to the same mistreatment as blacks, were held at different
locations) (Buntman 2003). The island™s most famous prisoner, Nelson
Mandela, and all of ANC™s top leadership not in exile were held there. In
1996, the government decided to convert Robben Island into a museum; a
visit there is one of the most painful, as well as inspiring, ways to explore
issues of memory and memorialization.
The third site considered is located in District Six, which was a large
neighborhood near the center of Cape Town with some 60,000 racially
diverse residents when in 1966 the South African government declared it
a ˜˜Whites Only™™ area under the Group Areas Act and ordered it

Building a site with an alternative narrative near Blood River is like the construction of
Freedom Park virtually adjacent to the Voortrekker Monument described in Chapter 8.

Enlarging South Africa™s symbolic landscape

destroyed.3 There was great opposition to the decision and the last
residents were not evicted until 1982. Although the neighborhood was
bulldozed, most of the land remained vacant in the face of continuing
organized resistance to its redevelopment. In 1988, there was strong
support to build a museum that would tell the story of the forced removal.
A District Six Museum Foundation was established and held a two-week
exhibition that presented photographs from District Six in 1992 in the
old Methodist church at the edge of the district. In late 1994, the new
government™s minister of justice and ex-District Sixer, Dullah Omar,
opened a more ambitious exhibit, named ˜˜Streets: Retracing District
Six.™™ Although it was to be open only for a few weeks, Streets never closed
due to the tremendous interest the museum generated in the issues of
memory and community (Coombes 2003; Rassool and Prosalendis 2001:
vii). Soon the museum expanded its presentations, and supported former
residents and their descendants in their efforts in pursuit of land resti-
tution claims in the courts.
Post-apartheid South Africa pushes us to consider the extent to which
the symbolic landscape can present competing narratives in a multi-
cultural society. Can the country allow space for the monuments and
narratives that supported apartheid, while also constructing new sites that
recount the trauma of the apartheid years, resistance to it, and its ultimate
defeat?4 The tentative answer a dozen years after the 1994 election is yes
and to the extent that we can understand the underlying dynamics at
work, there may be signi¬cant lessons for other post-con¬‚ict societies. At
the same time, consideration of the symbolic landscape raises questions
about the role that cultural enactments and expressions play as re¬‚ectors,
exacerbaters or inhibiters, and causes of new relationships in the country.
All three sites discussed below challenge earlier exclusive, apartheid-
era narratives and offer more inclusive, accessible images and accounts
and new, more inclusive narratives. Although the museum at Ncome is

District Six is only one of many areas in Cape Town and in other cities that were
demolished under this legislation. In and around Cape Town, there were some forty areas
where non-whites lived that were declared whites-only under apartheid. Fredericks (2003)
and Angelini (2003) report that during the apartheid era over 4 million people suffered
from forced removals as the government especially targeted mixed race neighborhoods.
An important question is how to speak about the experiences of most South Africans whose
daily goal was that of survival and who as a result never resisted or spoke out about
apartheid. In addition, the structure of the economic and political system meant that many
people both white and black engaged in activities that either directly or indirectly
supported the regime.

Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

small and the exhibits simple, its presence forces visitors to consider
previously unasked and unanswered questions concerning the perceptions
and actions of the Zulu and other blacks in the area at the time of the
battle and today. No longer is the story of the battle only about
the Voortrekkers™ trials and tribulations; it is also about black reactions to
the Trekkers™ arrival and settlement. The addition of Robben Island as a
heritage site appropriates a locale of banishment and transforms it into
one with an entirely different meaning with lessons about the ˜˜survival of
the human spirit™™ for the new nation. Here, not just the defeat of
apartheid, but the detailed account of how the prisoners resisted daily
humiliation and degradation, and the inner strength with which they
emerged from Robben Island, are at the core of the new narrative
(Buntman 2003). The District Six Museum provides a narrative built
around the thousands of forced removals and destroyed communities that
both recovers former residents™ memories and provides a strategy of
political empowerment and action. Its stories are not those of renowned
national heroes, but rather those of ordinary people whose everyday
experiences recreate the emotional community and connect former resi-
dents and ¬rst-time visitors to the daily suffering apartheid caused.
The South African strategies, and the outcome of these strategies to
date, invites us to consider the hypothesis that under certain conditions
cultural enactments and expressions are an effective vehicle for con-
structing widely shared, new narratives in societies emerging from
trauma. The narratives articulate experiences that were previously absent
from public consciousness and in so doing help people consider their own
feelings of loss, shame, guilt and renewal. To the extent that new and
modi¬ed sites activate personal experiences and emotions, they serve as
focal points for grief and mourning, and contribute to the growth of new
community self-images, new relationships, and new institutions in the post-
con¬‚ict period. New narratives about the past can not only help people
make emotional sense of what occurred, but also facilitate the creation of a
political space that facilitates coexistence among former adversaries.

Strategies for linking memory and politics
Rassool describes two alternative strategies linking memory and politics in
South Africa. The route that is most prominent, and featured in many of
the SAHRA Legacy Project™s initiatives, is biographical, using commem-
oration sites, plaques, and monuments that recount the accomplishments
Enlarging South Africa™s symbolic landscape

of leading ¬gures in the resistance movement such as Nelson Mandela,
Walter Sisulu, and Govan Mbeki who ˜˜achieved honor against great odds™™
(Rassool 2001: 4). As a result, ˜˜a biographic character was thus being given
to the cultural landscape, with the life of leaders a central focus™™ (Rassool
2001: 6). It is not surprising that Mandela™s life is especially important in
celebrating the country™s transition, and in the new master narrative; the
message is both inspirational and didactic, using national heroes™ lives “
and especially Mandela™s “ to illustrate and teach lessons about nation
building and reconciliation.5
There is no doubt that Nelson Mandela is particularly effective in
communicating the meaning of sacri¬ce, humility, and reconciliation to
South Africans and others. By any standards he is a true national hero
who possesses a rare legitimacy and credibility and a capacity to com-
municate great sincerity and generosity to all groups. South Africans
readily recount dozens of stories about Mandela™s symbolic gestures that
have become apocryphal tales ¬lled with moral lessons for the nation.6
His autobiography makes it clear, however, that Mandela™s positions
evolved over time. Many grew out of re¬‚ections during his prison years,
and were not necessarily those that he held throughout his life. For
example, for some time he was ambivalent about the role of whites in
the liberation struggle and distrustful of their motives, before coming to
the non-racial position with which he is now clearly associated (Mandela
It is not hard to ¬nd people, in South Africa and elsewhere, who give
Mandela full credit for the democratic transition and South Africa™s spirit
of reconciliation and multiracialism. Without denying his incredible
importance as a transformational, visionary leader, there is no good
theory that permits us to argue that one person alone can transform a
country solely through the force of his or her own personality.7 We must

A foreign visitor might expect even more reliance on Mandela™s story than currently exists.
Apparently both Mandela and the Nelson Mandela Foundation are concerned about this
issue; and about the exploitation of Mandela for commercial gain. Nonetheless, he is the
focus of important heritage projects such as ˜˜The Long Walk to Freedom: The Mandela
Trail,™™ which takes a visitor to signi¬cant places in his life including his homes, of¬ces, and
the sites of his trials, and the Statue of Freedom in Port Elizabeth.
One of the most famous is when Mandela donned a jersey of the once all white and very
Afrikaner Springboks Rugby team to congratulate them after they won the 1995 World
One important in¬‚uence on South African leaders is that of Gandhi and the mutual cross-
fertilization of ideas around peaceful resistance that went on in Inanda near Durban

Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

consider not just the role of the ˜˜seller™™ of ideas, but the reasons the
listener ˜˜bought™™ his argument. To do this, it is important to consider the
degree to which, and the way in which, Mandela™s successful leadership
grew from to his capacity to articulate incredibly effectively positions that
resonated with long-standing widely held South African cultural values.
My argument is that Mandela™s style and ability to make explicit what
resonated for many people built support for initiatives that became widely
accepted positions of the ANC establishment, and were institutionalized
in the norms and practices of the government following the transition.8
Whatever social science theory says about the role of an individual
leader in change situations, it is evident that telling the story of the South
African transition through Mandela is powerful and effective, meaning
that large numbers of people accept the core message, adopt parts of it as
their own positions, and make an effort to behave in ways that are con-
sistent with it. Heritage sites such as Robben Island and other places
where Mandela lived and worked are ideal for teaching the narrative of
resistance and ultimate triumph to adults as well as children.
South Africa is investing a good deal in heritage sites, and one reason is
the belief that their messages are crucial to the country™s political trans-
formation.9 This emphasis on symbol and ritual is not especially dis-
tinctive. What is striking, however, is the extent to which discourse in
South Africa is inclusive and has avoided simply replacing the language
and images of the apartheid period with a new set of racially exclusive
stories and rulers. It is also interesting that while Mandela™s biography is
central to many of the presentations, there is no cult of personality and
there are many other people from all groups whose experiences are also
featured in the narrative. In part, this is because Mandela was imprisoned

between Gandhi, Luthuli, Dube, and Shembe “ all prominent leader ¬gures associated
with this fascinating place and perhaps inspired by his genius.
If Mandela had said and done some of the things he did in Northern Ireland, Israel“
Palestine, or Sri Lanka, it is not clear that he would have been a successful leader.
Consider, for example, Martin Luther King and his organization™s effectiveness in
mobilizing protest in the American South versus his lack of success in Chicago. One
hypothesis is that the problems were organizational; another is that even though many
Chicago blacks came from the South in the previous one or two generations, his religious
appeal and imagery were not as powerful with the urbanized population. This points to the
great importance of the interaction between context and culture in explaining the
dynamics of social change.
Sometimes it is suggested that much of the presentation of the struggle in heritage sites
also represents a need to compensate for the long years in which the opposition to
apartheid had few successes.

Enlarging South Africa™s symbolic landscape

for twenty-seven years and had no public role in many events in the
country during this period. Another reason is that Mandela worked so
hard to stress the collective and cooperative nature of resistance rather
than emphasizing the bold actions of single individuals, including himself,
as in themselves decisive.
The second, very different, and more complex path joining memory and
politics that Rassool (2001) identi¬es is found in more grassroots projects
emphasizing the rich diversity in the details of ordinary people™s experi-
ences. Heritage sites developed using this perspective work to uncover and
explore the ˜˜archeology of memory™™ in communities, the impact of
apartheid on daily lives and routines, and local forms of resistance. They
draw attention to tension and diversity in local communities and some-
times question conventional, even romantic, ideas about the past while
problematizing commonly used categories, such as those employed to
discuss race and ethnicity. This approach to heritage emphasizes popular,
publicly articulated memories to build local empowerment and engage-
ment with on-going issues of justice and restitution for past mistreatment.
Grassroots approaches begin with the lives of ordinary people, using
their mundane, everyday experiences to develop an account of survival
and daily existence as they worked, raised their children, and engaged in
cooperation and con¬‚ict with each other. These sites seek to offer an
alternative discourse that ˜˜transcend[s] uncritical frameworks of tri-
umphalism and celebration™™ (Rassool 2001) while recounting the com-
plexity of experience and memory through the joys and tribulations that
all people experience. As independent sites of engagement, they are works
in progress that attempt to ˜˜reconstruct the material fabric and social
landscape . . . in imaginative terms™™ (Rassool forthcoming), emphasizing
heritage as an on-going participatory process, rather than one frozen in
time, that rekindles community memories and mobilizes community
action. Rassool emphasizes how such sites of memory can serve for
recovering community and dignity while mobilizing legal and political
demands to provide some redress to those who suffered. These sites, such
as community museums, are interactive and political, challenged by the
need to link what is presented and the discourse used to present it to the
shifting needs and demands of the people it serves.
The three sites discussed below have taken on very different tasks and
are quite different from one another. Yet each reveals particular ways in
which South Africa™s symbolic landscape has changed. Ncome is the most
modest in terms of size, cost, and the ambitiousness of the project and yet,
Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

perhaps ironically, has had the greatest dif¬culties in expanding the
narrative about the Battle of Blood River. In the effort to offer a broader
perspective, it has raised the ire of Afrikaners as well as many black non-
Zulu. Robben Island is without a doubt the leading site where the master
narrative surrounding resistance to and triumph over apartheid is told in a
compelling manner. The District Six Museum offers a very different story
of resistance focusing on the countless people whose lives apartheid dis-
placed and disrupted. Neither heroic nor grandiose in any conventional
sense, the museum emerged on the margins of the national memory
project to offer a powerful account of displacement that perhaps as many
as 4 million South Africans experienced, to challenge the racialized order
that dominated the country for so long, and to offer nuance and com-
plexity rather than simple categories and answers.

South Africa™s rede¬ned and new symbolic spaces

Blood River/Ncome
For Afrikaners, the saga of the Battle of Blood River contains all of the key
elements of their core narrative that was discussed in Chapter 8. Akenson
(1992) describes it as an Old Testament Exodus narrative that includes
suffering and subjugation, exile, the search for the Promised Land
and freedom, the sacred covenant, and the miracle of redemption. For
Afrikaners the 1838 battle site is sacred ground and each year prayer and
ceremony mark December 16 as a special day (Girshick 2004).10 For
example, in 2002 the Blood River Heritage site (now managed by the
Voortrekker Monument Trust), organized a four-day weekend program
that included recreation, trips to historical sites in the area including
Mgungundlovu, the place where Retief and his group were killed, and to
Trekker leader Piet Uys™ grave, as well as videos, singing, and religious
services. On the morning of the 16th, there was a ¬rst light ceremony, a
devotional service, a reaf¬rmation of the Covenant, and wreath laying,
singing, a church service, a lecture on the history of Blood River, and
¬nally a barbecue and a movie.11

Ehlers (2000) describes contestation over the meaning of the day, its transformation into a
sacred, religious day that met Afrikaner political needs, the weakening of this interpretation,
and efforts within the Afrikaner community to transform December 16 into an inclusive Day
of Reconciliation rather than a celebration of exclusive Afrikaner nationalism.
Entrance of right-wing nationalists who caused problems in the past is now restricted.

Enlarging South Africa™s symbolic landscape

Given the emotional signi¬cance of Blood River and its close association
with white domination and apartheid (as with the Voortrekker Monument),
it was not evident what would happen to Blood River in the post-apartheid
era. Many asked openly how the monument at Blood River, which com-
memorates what some believe is the divinely inspired victory of a few
hundred Boers who managed to kill 3,000 Zulu warriors in 1838, could
continue to present the same account of the battle and its signi¬cance as it
had earlier.
As is the case with many events that are now central to core narratives,
the battle of Blood River was not marked in the years immediately after the
battle took place.12 Only in 1866, twenty-eight years later, did people
come to Blood River in forty to ¬fty wagons to mark the battle site. They
placed rocks in a cairn to mark the center of the 1838 laager and set
commemorative plaques with words of the Covenant in Afrikaans and
English on either side of it. The church that was promised in Sarel Cilliers™
vow was built in Pietermaritzburg, miles from the battle¬eld (now part of
the Voortrekker Museum). Yet several decades later the site and memories
surrounding it were crucial for Afrikaners, and the 1938 centenary cele-
brations increased memorialization at Blood River. A large granite wagon,
˜˜a symbol of the Pioneer™s (Voortrekker) home, stronghold and church™™
(Blood River Heritage Site, information guide) was built and placed along
with the cairn that ˜˜stands as a beacon of the renewal of the Covenant.™™
The wagon was moved to the site™s entrance in 1971 when a full-sized
bronze 64-wagon laager was built on the site of the original one (Figure 9.2).
The Afrikaner message at Blood River is one of struggle, courage,
faith, and liberation, communicated through a detailed account of the
battle.13 Like the Little Bighorn narrative before recent changes, it offers
the perspective of whites moving into the country™s heartland with no
attention to the perceptions of the Zulu and other blacks who are simply
presented as the bloodthirsty enemy. In 1998, the government™s Legacy
Project launched an initiative to make noble the loss of Zulu life and extol
Zulu bravery at the Battle of Ncome (the name of the river) (Dlamini
2001; Girshick 2004). Prior to the decision, a panel of academic historians
was asked to consider ways to expand the interpretation of the battle. The

Connerton (1989) notes that this is common. Bastille Day, he says, was not celebrated in
France until the 1880s.
Some suggest that there is good reason to doubt many of the heroic details in the standard
account, including the number of Zulu killed that day.

Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

Figure 9.2 The upper picture shows the shield covered outside wall in the new
Ncome Museum located across the small stream from the Blood River Monument
(below). Each is visible from the other, but the small footbridge linking the sites
has yet to be built

Enlarging South Africa™s symbolic landscape

report from the historians did not concern itself particularly with the
details of the battle (Arts, Culture Science and Technology, n.d.). They
did, however, focus on the Zulu interpretation of the battle and on events
leading up to it and some of this material is incorporated into the new
Ncome museum. The panel said that correcting the present imbalance
required a presentation of the context in which King Dignane acted and
argued that the ˜˜encroachment of the Boers into the Zulu kingdom . . . [and]
the perceived treachery and greed of the Voortrekkers, whom the Zulus
portrayed as landgrabbers™™ created the context in which the Zulu acted
(Dlamini 2001: 130).14 They suggested constructing a wall of remembrance
that would include the names of Zulu warriors who died in the battle and
building a footbridge over the river to link the two sites in a gesture of
reconciliation. The government also decided to build a small museum that
would present and interpret contemporary cultural activities (Figure 9.2).
A central goal of the state commemoration of the Battle of Ncome was
to achieve some measure of inclusiveness and reconciliation between Zulu
and Voortrekker descendants through various symbolic elements including
mutual acknowledgment of sacri¬ce, and most obviously symbolized by the
footbridge. The project was conceived to promote these principles and
values, which included forgiving and reconciling and would represent
congruence among citizens of the new state under construction. ˜˜The
Battle of Ncome project was to serve a symbolic function in the promotion
of these principles and values™™ (Dlamini 2003). In addition, it proposed that
the new site be named the place of reconciliation.15 The unveiling cere-
mony for Ncome was held on December 16, 1998 “ with the footbridge
connecting the two not yet built “ and those present included Deputy
President Thabo Mbeki and other top leaders of the country, among them
a few Afrikaners who called for reconciliation (Ehlers 2000). However, not
all Afrikaners were pleased. Hennie De Wet, executive director of the FAK,
an Afrikaner cultural group, said, ˜˜we should also recognize that we are
different and cannot commemorate this day together™™ (Dlamini 2003: 18).
In addition, a group of right-wing Afrikaners in view of those assembled at
Ncome laid a wreath in the middle of the Blood River laager while ¬‚ying
¬‚ags of the old Transvaal Republic and raising a banner proclaiming in
Afrikaans ˜˜Apartheid is Holy™™ (Dlamini 2003: 18).
The exhibit in the Ncome Museum that I saw and that is described in Dlamini (2001) and
Girshick (2004) has since been modi¬ed.
Since 1994 the Day of the Covenant has been kept as a national holiday in South Africa
but is now called the Day of Reconciliation.

Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

The Ncome project was also caught in the web of Zulu nationalism and
the goals of the Inkata Freedom Party in the region. Dlamini (2001; 2003)
reports that the panel charged with making suggestions for the site was
asked to investigate the question of the participation of people other than
the Zulu and Afrikaners in the battle; he concludes that Zulu nationalists
shaped the museum and its exhibits in ways that ignored black participants
other than the Zulus. As a result, he argues, the site presents an exclusive
and essentialized view of Zulu ethnicity and ignores the role of other
blacks in the political and military developments at the time, presenting
Zulu culture as more uni¬ed than it was and even displaying objects in the
museum that are not really of Zulu origin at all.16 In the process it also
˜˜erases from the history of the battle ˜other non-Zulu™ Africans “ the
Tlokoa in the Nquthu District™™ (Dlamini 2001:135). ˜˜Clearly, reconci-
liation and nation-building cannot be served by this™™ (Dlamini 2001:135).
Thus, Ncome provides a cautionary example reminding us that a ˜˜rainbow
approach™™ may serve to essentialize rather than provide a path toward a
non-racialized future.
Transformation of a site through addition is attractive but it can be
dif¬cult, as is seen here. The strategy of not seeking a direct change in
Blood River but adding an additional memorial on the other side of the
river at Ncome was probably a good one in this situation. However, the
dual political problems of Afrikaner resistance and Zulu political needs
reveal important limits to this strategy. While the Blood River site, now
managed by the Voortrekker Monument, offers both a video and booklet
saying the narrative of the battle presented at Blood River is one among
several interpretations, meaningful transformation of the site has not yet
occurred. SAHRA is still engaged in negotiations for constructing the
small footbridge across the river. Perhaps the absence of the symbolic
footbridge best symbolizes both the absence of connections and the
absence of a more inclusive presentation of the events and the memories
of them.

Robben Island
Throughout South Africa there are dozens of new heritage sites that
mark the struggle and resistance against apartheid. While there is great
˜˜In its presentations of simpli¬ed polarized public history and in its exclusion of
signi¬cant actors of the past . . . the Nquthu area is being ˜Zulu-ized™, and its past
reordered in a revival of an exclusive ethnic nationalism™™ (Dlamini 2001: 137).

Enlarging South Africa™s symbolic landscape

variation in what exactly is recounted and the way in which it is presented
across sites in terms of Rassool™s (2001) distinction between the bio-
graphic and the grassroots perspectives, it is not surprising that less than a
decade after the transition, the majority of new heritage sites emphasize
the actions and sacri¬ces of men (and an occasional woman) who actively
opposed apartheid. In this emerging standard narrative, the heroes™ lives
are a powerful tool for communicating details about the struggle and for
drawing lessons relevant to the country™s present and future development.
Nowhere in the country is the story of the apartheid regime™s inhu-
mane treatment of opponents, Nelson Mandela™s vision and wisdom, the
ANC™s coordination and control, and the triumph of the human spirit
told more powerfully than in Robben Island. The barren island, once the
symbol of the oppressive power of the apartheid regime, has been
appropriated and radically transformed into a museum that recounts how
the political prisoners refused to give up the hope that one day there would
be majority rule in South Africa and that the ANC™s non-racial vision for
the country would prevail. Its future-oriented message communicates an
inclusive optimism. ˜˜While we will not forget the brutality of apartheid,
we will not want Robben Island to be a monument to our hardship and
suffering. We would want Robben Island to be a monument . . . re¬‚ecting
the triumph of the human spirit against the forces of evil. A triumph of
non-racialism over bigotry and intolerance. A triumph of a new South
Africa over the old™™ (Kathrada 1999).
To get to Robben Island a visitor departs from the new Nelson
Mandela Gateway in the heart of Cape Town™s spiffy refurbished Victoria
and Alfred waterfront on a 30-minute ride in Table Bay. The boat arrives
at the same wharf where thousands of prisoners once disembarked, and
the two and a half-hour tour has two parts. In one, visitors board a bus
and are driven around the small island where they see the house where
Robert Sobukwe, the PAC leader who organized the Sharpeville protests
in 1960, was held; the remains of the leper colony™s cemetery; a church
which is the only standing building from the leper colony era; the island™s
only school; the governor™s house; blockhouses built to defend the harbor
during World War II; and the limestone quarry where Mandela and other
prisoners worked and were refused such amenities as sunglasses that
would shield their eyes from the bright sun or masks to protect their lungs
from the ¬ne limestone dust they inhaled day after day.
On the tour a visitor hears an inspiring narrative of struggle and
resistance. One is told how Sobukwe, who was prohibited from speaking
Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

Figure 9.3 A cairn in the limestone quarry in Robben Island where prisoners
worked. During a reunion there Nelson Mandela picked up a stone and placed it
on the ground in an open space in the quarry. Other prisoners did the same as a
way of marking their shared experiences there

to other prisoners, would pick up a handful of sand and slowly let it fall
through his ¬ngers as prisoners walked past “ his only available means of
greeting other prisoners. In the quarry, visitors are shown the small toilet
facilities where prisoners exchanged written messages and could talk in
private, and learn about the development of the secret Open University in
which prisoners taught each other a range of subjects as they prepared
themselves for their future leadership positions. In the center of the
quarry there is now a cairn made of stones piled there during a 1995
reunion, when Mandela placed the ¬rst stone and was followed by many
others (Figure 9.3). The message of the narrative is clear: no matter how
oppressive the system and the guards, the prisoners clung to the belief
that they would eventually prevail and become democratic South Africa™s
rulers. Finally, the narrative emphasizes the fundamentally non-racial
character of the resistance and stresses that there were whites deeply
involved in the struggle against apartheid and that there were blacks, such
as prison guards, police and army of¬cers, and black homeland leaders
who pro¬ted from, and worked to maintain, apartheid.
The second part of the tour goes inside the prison where an ex-prisoner
leads the visitors into his former cell and recounts his own treatment and
experiences in ways that ˜˜authenticate™™ and increase the power of the
Enlarging South Africa™s symbolic landscape

narrative tremendously and shows visitors Mandela™s small cell. The story
one hears about torture, mistreatment, and daily degradation is not pretty.
At the same time, the details of what the prisoners endured only make more
poignant their inner strength and resistance that sustained their mutual
support and shared vision. One also learns about their creative commu-
nication methods involving garbage cans and toilet seats, the painstaking
translation, copying, and distribution of newspapers, and their commitment
to focus on governing an non-racialized country, rather than to pursue
racialized vengeance, when they gained power.
The Robben Island Museum and its af¬liated Mayibuye Archives at the
University of the Western Cape are centers for heritage activities. There
are programs that highlight the importance of Robben Island, including
school tours, and there are youth camps (also known as ˜˜nation building
camps™™) that explore issues such as racism, xenophobia, education and
training, sustainable development, sexism, and gangsterism. The Spring
School is an annual event with a different theme each year that brings
together participants from schools and museums for a seven-day program
on heritage that includes educator and museum educator training. Lionel
Davis, a 67-year-old ex-prisoner and well-known Cape Town artist who is
involved with the education programs emphasized that blacks need heroes “
including whites “ who fought against the British, racism, and for human
rights. A challenge he identi¬ed for the education programs is to emphasize
the ˜˜equality of victimhood™™ and the need to build a country in which
children develop self-esteem and respect for all (personal interview).
Because many South Africans cannot get to Robben Island, there is
now a ˜˜Robben Island on the Move™™ program that brings its message to
other parts of the country. Colloquially called the ˜˜Apple box™™ program,
it was designed by the 1998 Spring School participants. The colorful
name comes from the fact that released prisoners carried their personal
possessions out in the boxes growers used in transporting apples to stores
and markets. The program goes to small places in remote regions and
explains the history of the prison at different periods with an emphasis on
the recent past. The presentation is also linked with dramatic perfor-
mances that engage young people and offer an opening for heritage
educators to discuss apartheid and the rise of resistance to it.
The museum™s Reference Group program conducts four-day work-
shops that bring together former prisoners and their families to talk about
speci¬c aspects of their Robben Island experiences including the trauma
resulting from them. One task the program has undertaken is to connect
Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

the families of former prisoners with one another, and for a time there was
a widely praised exhibit at the Mandela Gateway on the impact of
imprisonment on the prisoners™ wives and children, who in many ways
were often more isolated from support than the prisoners who were so
close to one another.
Finally, Robben Island has a training program that seeks to fast-track
the transformation of the country™s heritage sector by helping staff
working in museums across the country to move from lower positions in
museum hierarchies to middle and top management. To this end, the
museum has formed a partnership with the University of the Western
Cape, Robben Island Museum, and the University of Cape Town to
create a post-graduate program in Museum and Heritage Studies.
Although Robben Island is not readily accessible physically to many
South Africans “ it is not centrally located in the country and requires a
boat ride from Cape Town “ it is very available emotionally and is
easily South Africa™s most prominent heritage site. It has been declared a
World Heritage Site and this further enhances its symbolic signi¬cance
and the universal message it communicates. The transformation in the
island and its meaning from a repressive prison to one of sacri¬ce and
triumph over evil is dramatic and easy to comprehend. Emphasis on the
details of the personal experiences of Mandela and other political pris-
oners is emotionally engaging and compelling. The ex-prisoners who
conduct the visits to their former cells and describe their treatment and
the details of prison life have real credibility. The basic narrative of tri-
umph and liberation following decades of struggle is an incredibly opti-
mistic one that even includes accounts of present-day friendships between
ex-prisoners and their guards to which many people in all groups can
connect. Finally, the Robben Island narrative™s optimism is inclusive,
recognizing the role that people from all groups in South Africa played in
opposing apartheid, and inviting people from all groups to participate in

District Six Museum
Under apartheid, South Africa™s non-whites had few rights, and power
inequalities made effective resistance especially dif¬cult. Although protest
groups continued to resist the government™s racialization of daily life, the
differential treatment of whites, coloreds, Indians, and blacks (and eco-
nomic and cultural differentiation within each of these categories) meant
Enlarging South Africa™s symbolic landscape

that South Africa by the 1960s had constructed the world™s most self-
consciously institutionalized racial society. Through the establishment of
rural homelands and urban townships, non-whites were marginalized
from cities and industrial centers physically, economically, socially, and
politically. Despite the overwhelming power that the government did not
hesitate to employ, there was intense con¬‚ict and resistance to its policies
as many non-whites and a good number of whites refused to accept
apartheid as morally or politically just. Nevertheless, many whites refused
to believe the accounts of government and police practices used to
maintain the regime.
The TRC documented thousands of cases of physical, emotional, and
psychological abuse under apartheid. What people elsewhere consider
normal in daily life was unknown in South Africa; for many years all social
interactions and privileges were organized and distributed through a
racial ¬lter. In the past dozen years, South Africans have worked hard to
¬nd ways to express and understand what happened during centuries of
white domination that extend back far before the apartheid period and to
employ these insights as building blocks in the construction of a more
inclusive and more just society.
Robben Island tells the story of resistance and triumph in South Africa
through the lives of national heroes; the District Six Museum joins
memory and politics in a very different way through its grassroots
exploration of the community™s ˜˜archeology of memory™™ (Rassool 2001:
6). Through an emphasis on the daily lives of the area™s 60,000 residents
before they were shattered through forced removal, and their varied forms
of resistance to apartheid and exclusive white rule, memories and a sense
of dignity are recovered. Here memory is not just a mechanism for a
nostalgic view of the past, it is mobilized for the restoration of the dis-
trict™s unjustly appropriated and still undeveloped land. As a result, since
its establishment the museum has pursued two goals: to tell the story of
District Six and other forced removals, and ˜˜to mobilize the masses of ex-
residents and their descendants into a movement of land restitution,
community development and political consciousness™™ (Rassool and Pro-
salendis 2001: viii). In the view of the directors, process is key to the
museum and its presentations should re¬‚ect changing present needs and
interests, not a static view of the past.
District Six is an old Cape Town neighborhood not far from the city™s
downtown port, where there had been forced removals going back to the
arrival of the ¬rst Dutch settlers in the mid seventeenth century. Although
Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

there were a number of white residents in District Six in the early part of
the twentieth century when many Eastern European Jews lived there, by
the mid 1960s District Six™s more than 60,000 residents were primarily
coloured (mixed race in South African parlance) although there were also
blacks, Indians and Malays as well. District Six™s prime location made it an
obvious target for appropriation and in 1966 it was declared a White
Group Area under the apartheid government™s Group Areas Act. Removal
of residents to more remote colored and black townships in Cape Flats
took until 1982, by which time virtually the only buildings remaining
were the District™s schools, churches, and mosques. The religious insti-
tutions refused to sell or deconsecrate their buildings and many former
residents continued to travel back to District Six for religious services.


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