Ask not what you did for your country

Every memorial involves revision. Here in South Africa, the celebration of ten years of democracy has been the occasion for an orgy of historical reconstruction. The state-run SABC has been running documentaries on the history of political parties, for instance. It’s a telling of history from the corridors of power that hears the protests and resistance in fields and townships only as a distant murmur. Through the echo chamber of decontextualised parliamentary politics, the legitimacy of the SA government itself is being peddled in these cosy misrememberings. As a friend said yesterday, “think about any of the number of things that people did to free Mandela. Everyone did something, a strike, a march, a walkout, something. Now they’re being told that Mandela freed them. This isn’t history. It’s theft.

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