"I saw a nightmare ⋯": Violence and the construction of memory (Soweto, June 16, 1976)

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The protests on June 16, 1976 of black schoolchildren in Soweto against the imposition of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction in their schools precipitated one of the most profound challenges to the South African apartheid state. These events were experienced in a context of violent social and political conflict. They were almost immediately drawn into a discourse that discredited and silenced them, manipulating meaning for ideological and political reasons with little regard for how language and its absence - silences - further violated those who had experienced the events. Violence, in its physical and discursive shape, forged individual memories that remain torn with pain, anger, distrust, and open questions; collective memories that left few spaces for ambiguity; and official or public histories tarnished by their political agendas or the very structures-and sources-that produced them. Based on oral histories and historical documents, this article discusses the collusion of violence and silence and its consequences. It argues that-while the collusion between violence and silence might appear to disrupt or, worse, destroy the ability of individuals to think historically-the individual historical actor can and does have the will to contest and engage with collective memory and official history.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)23-44
Number of pages22
JournalHistory and Theory
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2000
Externally publishedYes


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