Sue Williamson | No More Fairy Tales



Overall project:

Trauma, Memory and Representations of the Past: transforming scholarship in the humanities and the arts.

Background to the project

It is now 20 years since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) opened up the evidence of many of the terrible atrocities that happened under apartheid. An assessment of that work and of the long term effects of that process is much needed.

Have the victims come to terms with the past? Have they been able to forgive the perpetrators? How has their history affected their lives today, and what has it meant to the children in those families to grow up with that history?

From the point of view of the perpetrators, have they come to terms with their past actions? Have they made the effort to meet their past victims to ask for forgiveness? Have they been able to forgive themselves?

Clearly, there is no one answer to any of these difficult questions, but it is hoped that an examination of some of the stories with the truthful accounts of the participants will begin to open up a national dialogue which will further understanding of the past.

The processes of the TRC were of great interest to me at the time of the hearings. As an activist I has been involved in a number of the cases which came up before the Commission. I subsequently made a series of works entitled Truth Games and an interactive piece called Can’t Forget, Can’t Remember, which focused on some of the interactions between victim and perpetrator.

These works have been shown extensively locally and internationally.

Thus, I had in any case been considering a new work on theme of the long term effects of the TRC, so when Professor Pumla Gobodo Madikizela, who was herself on the Human Rights Violations Committee, commissioned a work on the theme, it was fortuitous.

No More Fairy Tales

‘I think that I lost – it’s a feeling of loss. Well, the first thing that goes is innocence. I mean, there’s no more fairy tales and Bambi. That is gone. We killed a lot of people, they killed some of ours. We fought for nothing, we fought each other basically eventually for nothing. We could all have been alive, having a beer.’

– Eugene de Kock in conversation with Pumla Gobodo Madikizela

The form of the new work will be a two channel video which will examine some of the stories 20 years on. In the opening sequence of each story, on the right hand screen, the victim will stand at the site of the original event, gazing silently into the camera. The film will be shot in black and white, to indicate a revisiting of the past.

Although the person will not be talking, we will hear his/her voice, telling the story of the incident which took place.

On the left hand screen, a collage of newspaper cuttings adds depth to the account.

It’s a pleasure to meet you is a conversation between two young people who have not previously met, but share the common experience of losing their father to an apartheid assassin at an early age.

What is this thing called freedom?  Three generations of a politically-aware family, the Siwanis, discuss how apartheid has affected and continues to affect their lives, even 20 years into the new democracy.