ICGC Distinguished Lecture Series presented by Professor Ciraj Rassool, Department of History, University of the Western Cape
This lecture examines the centrality of political biography that found expression in the domains of public history in South African from the mid1990s, as celebratory biographic narratives, especially of leaders, constructed as lessons of the past formed a new focus of national heritage. As biography became a key feature of the postapartheid memorial complex, political funerals also became arenas for official biographic construction as well as biographic contestation. Modes of biographic narration also became incorporated into the lives that people lived through rituals of governance, political transformation and public policy, as biographic narrative became intertwined with people’s lives. In this biographic order, Nelson Mandela was singled out for special attention across a range of mediums and institutions of national heritage, as his ‘long walk to freedom’ became the key trope for South Africa’s history, narrated as the triumph of reconciliation. The most challenging methodological approaches to biography that have transcended frames of documentary realism and triumphant celebration have been in museum exhibitions, especially at the Hector Pieterson Museum in Gauteng and the District Six Museum in Cape Town. Here, attention has been paid to issues of knowledge production and mediation in the work of biographic representation in ways that have seen biography marshalled in the process of developing a critical citizenship.