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31 March 2017

South Africa must move towards an authentic freedom

Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC)
Press Release

Pretoria, Friday 31 March 2017Ahead of Freedom Month, the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) today hosted, with the Department of Science and Technology and Freedom Park, a discussion on how intergenerational trauma impacts on social cohesion and nation building in South Africa.

 The seminar looked at, amongst others, South Africa’s history of race based oppression and the long-term traumatic impact of violence that usually accompanies civil strife.  Scholars are of the view that these traumatic memories of past conflict are seldom forgotten and may affect also future generations through what is known as transgenerational transmission of trauma.

Presenters at the seminar included: Professor Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, Dr Kim Wale, Professor Sharlene Swartz, Dr Shanaaz Hoosain and Professor Maurice Apprey.  Collectively the presenters have a wealth of experience in dealing with trauma in affected communities in South Africa, and throughout the world.

 In addressing this seminal issue which can impact on the durability of our democracy and nationhood, Professor Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela from Stellenbosch University based her presentation on the case study of the Calata family.  She also shared with the participants that her work had led her to conclude that, “We must reconfigure the past to enable authentic communication” between the peoples of our nation which will result in a new way of interacting with each other.  She also spoke about the urgent need to ensure that the discourse which characterises South Africa’s view of freedom is mirrored by a supporting reality.

 Human Sciences Research Council Researcher and author of “Another Country: Everyday Social Restitution” Professor Sharlene Swartz, reflected on alternate ways to look at the concepts of restorative justice to ensure this contributes to resolution of trauma.  Most importantly, this would require changing the way in which we think about socio-economic and psychological dynamics and interactions.  We should be exploring new ways of addressing “collective trauma” concluded Professor Swartz.

 Professor Maurice Apprey, Dean of African American Affairs at the University of Virginia, presented a thought provoking paper which emphasised that accepting the fact that trauma has occurred is the first step towards resolving the psycho-social behaviour that trauma brings.  He suggested that South Africa begin to invest in programmes which contribute to transformative healing.  Identifying and talking about the trauma is only part of the solution.

 This conversation is timely in light of questions around the cohesion of South African society and what can be done to ensure the durability of our democracy.  The study of this area suggests that more needs to be done in South Africa to acknowledge the collective pain of our brutal history and to find and implement collective solutions.

 The way in which South Africa in particular, and the world in general, looks at trauma and the possible resolution, is crucial to building emotionally, psychologically and physically healthy families and communities in general and those in South Africa in particular.

 Follow the conversation on #MemoryofTrauma #HSRC

 Notes to the Editor

 About the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC)

 The HSRC was established in 1968 as South Africa’s statutory research agency and has grown to become the largest dedicated research institute in the social sciences and humanities on the African continent, doing cutting-edge public research in areas that are crucial to development.


Our mandate is to inform the effective formulation and monitoring of government policy; to evaluate policy implementation; to stimulate public debate through the effective dissemination of research-based data and fact-based research results; to foster research collaboration; and to help build research capacity and infrastructure for the human sciences.


The Council conducts large-scale, policy-relevant, social-scientific research for public sector users, non-governmental organisations and international development agencies. Research activities and structures are closely aligned with South Africa’s national development priorities.

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For more information or to set up interviews, please contact:

Manusha Pillai

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