Marieke Breyne & Sofie de Smet

When the past strikes the present: performing requiems for the Marikana massacre

Although the positive effects of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) are commonly acknowledged, an increasing critical debate points at the limitations of the Commission’s meta-narrative approach in ‘mastering’ the cultural trauma of apartheid. It is important to find relief in drawing meaning from traumatic experiences; however, the danger of a master narrative is that it constitutes a unilateral discourse with defined characters, actions and places, excluding anything that differs from the narrative ‘mastering’ of the trauma. In this article we reflect on the exclusive mechanism of the master narrative of forgiveness, reconciliation and disclosure instigated by the TRC. The progress of the nation, put forward as the most important meta-action of the narrative, manifests a profound desire for forgetting and for a radical break between past and present. This modernist disjuncture between past and present becomes problematic in the wake of the Marikana massacre of 2012. Marikana reminded South Africa of the traumatic past of apartheid that continues into the present. This article documents the remarkable potential of the performing arts to avoid exactly the modernist time construction of a master narrative in coping with cultural traumas. Avoiding the exclusive mechanism of a hypermastery in narrating a traumatic event, the performing arts have the ability to entail multiple narratives within their non-judicial, momentary nature and to question a unilateral narrative structure. By doing so, they can formulate an alternative to the master narrative of the TRC. Two contemporary South African performances, MARI and KANA and Iqhiya Emnyama, bring together in a remarkable way the diverse, unsettling stories of victims and survivors of the Marikana massacre, while emphasizing in particular the role of the mourning women and hence entail a profound call for critical reflection on the construction of a master narrative in relation to the traumatic past of apartheid.

Sofie de Smet is a PhD researcher in Psychology and Theatre Studies at the University of Leuven and the University of Ghent (Belgium). In her interdisciplinary doctoral study, entitled „Expanding the Notion of Trauma Narration“, she explores the role of narrative and non-narrative modes of remembering and witnessing histories of collective violence in the performing arts.

Marieke Breyne is a performer and theatre practitioner working in an international context. Currently she combines her artistic work with a PhD research at the University of Ghent (Belgium). In this practice based research she focuses on the transformative power of the performer as a performative object through the design and monitoring of creative processes in diverse contexts as the University of Stellenbosch, School of Arts Ghent and Carte Blanche Theatre (Denmark).