South Africa: Introducing the 'Implicated Subject' Who Helps Propagate the Legacies of Historical Violence


South Africa is not alone in its struggles to come to terms with its past. Around the world, descendants of historic trauma, from slavery to colonialism, genocide - and apartheid - are rejecting societal status quos inherited from their ancestors and demanding acknowledgment and the righting of wrongs.

Among the keynote speakers at a conference hosted by Stellenbosch University last week titled, Recognition, Reparation, Reconciliation - The Light and Shadow of Historical Trauma, was Dr Michael Rothberg, an expert in Holocaust studies and literature based at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Rothberg's lecture, The Implicated Subject: Rethinking Political Responsibility, raised uncomfortable realities about responsibility and redress that many South Africans in the democratic era have sought to tiptoe around.

To begin with, he said, although no forms of restitution were commensurate with the brute facts of injury, death and dispossession, and that questions of responsibility tended to grow more tenuous and tangled over time, "redress remains imperative in cases where 'irrevocable' traumatic pasts continue to echo in, imprint, and interrupt...

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