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Khulumani Focus Groups explore the relationship between symbolic memorialisation and reconciliation

Focus groups were held on September 6 in the Khulumani National Contact Centre in Khotso House, Johannesburg and on September 13 in Khulumani’s office in Community House in Salt River, to explore with Khulumani members who had had the opportunity of participating in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission a series of questions about the relationship between memorialisation and reconciliation.
 

The focus groups explored what survivors of gross human rights abuses think would contribute to processes of reconciliation and the inclusion of survivors into communities and whether memorialisation projects had any meaningful contributions to make towards these objectives.

These questions remain very pertinent as a heritage company called The House of Memory will be visiting Khulumani on the East Rand today to explore processes for creating a museum to commemorate the political violence that took place through the 90s on the East Rand.
 
There is a thrust underway to create Liberation Heritage Routes in different areas of the country. The concern is how victims and survivors of the events that are to be commemorated are included in their design and in benefiting from this kind of tourism such opportunity. In many areas, survivors have been left as observers of heritage processes rather than full participants and beneficiaries. Approaches that leave those who lived the experiences on the outside, add to the trauma of those who were violated.
 
Khulumani remains very anxious to be fully involved as an equal role player in the construction of heritage routes and of museums drawing on its extensive knowledge of the ways in which living memory work can contribute meaningfully to community healing and to the restoration of the dignity and the competence of victims and survivors of terrible events from this past conflict.
 
Advocate Jan Theron, a founding member of the Food and Canning Workers’ Union, in a recent address on the even of the Neil Aggett Memorial Lecture at Kingswood College, Grahamstown spoke of how memorials may be simply a way of ‘forgetting’ the devastating events of the past without learning their lessons to avoid their repetition in the future as happened, he suggests, with so many of the memorials to the massive loss of life of the first two so-called World Wars.
 
This trajectory can be changed through the participation and ongoing involvement of the survivors of the ‘horrors’ of the past as those who can share lessons with coming generations. Memorials as forms of symbolic reparation are meaningless if those who suffered these events, remain economically excluded and if only identified “great men and women of history” are remembered and honoured.

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