Just as stories about the past are constructed in particular ways, so too are silences
about historical events. Silences about what happened in the past are catalysed by a
range of factors including expedience, fear, perceptions of threat, a need to protect,
political amnesia, trauma and moral injury. Historical silences are constructed within
social spaces and in people’s own accounts of their personal histories and identities.
Silences are thus both personal and relational constructs that do not remain static, but
rather shift and evolve, and can be disrupted. This article reflects on work conducted by
the Legacies of Apartheid Wars Project between 2012 and 2014 at Rhodes University.
The aim of these reflections is to explore the theoretical implications of work that sought
to intervene in realms of silence and constrained memory, and invite public dialogical
engagements with the past. The aim of these engagements was to acknowledge
the complexities of apartheid’s legacies and some of the silences enfolded in those
complexities, cognisant of the dynamic relationship between speaking and silence in
how work of this nature engages with contested political, social and cultural terrains.
The work of the Legacies of Apartheid Wars Project could, therefore, be said to comprise
memory activism in the midst of ongoing contestation regarding how to make meaning
of both the past and the present in the Southern African context.