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response to Barnard Arrow vol 6 no 1 contents
About borderlands Volume 6 Number 1, 2007


Response to Jaco Barnard

Kay Schaffer
University of Adelaide



1. I thank the editors for inviting me to reply to Jaco Barnard's response to my report on the Memory, Narrative and Forgiveness Conference: Reflecting on Ten Years of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (borderlands e-journal 5, 3 2006). My report was never intended to be a comprehensive review of an exceedingly complex five-day event. It focussed on one critical dimension that was occasioned by the unexpected appearance of Adriaan Vlok, that, for me, highlighted some of the more conflicted dimensions of post-TRC processes of reconciliation. If I could summarize that dimension in a few sentences it would be that: while the psychotherapeutics of healing that the TRC modelled and that many conference presentations espoused has been essential to post-apartheid nation building for South Africa as a nation and efficacious for some victims and perpetrators in carrying out the ongoing work of the TRC, it has some significant limitations. Some of these have to do with the fact that the dialogic process occurs between unequal parties and relies upon humanist principles of universality and equality. These principles can occlude the intimate complicities, moral ambiguities and messy densities of lived social relations that complicate an intersubjective dialogue between unequal parties. In addition, the process of intersubjective dialogue can re-traumatise survivors, depoliticise and compromise the work of memory, and sometimes operate at the expense not only of 'truth', 'sincerity' and 'forgiveness' but also at the expense of social, economic and material advancement for disaffected survivors and their communities. Some of these limitations were enacted at the conference around and in response to Mr. Vlok's appearance; others were expressed in the counter-discursive spaces occasionally afforded in programmed conference events (to which I alluded in what Mr. Barnard refers to as a "wholly descriptive account" in paragraph 7). In the spirit of an open dialogue and a shared hope for reconciliation, however, I do not wish to enter into a rebuttal of Mr. Barnard's remarks. I am happy to stand by my conference report. I only note, in conclusion, that Mr. Barnard's analysis of the perceptions, feelings and understandings that he attributes to me and assembles under the signifier "Schaffer", bear little resemblance either to what I understand as my experience of the conference or to what I believe is contained in my conference report. From this, however, I make no a priori judgements.


Kay Schaffer is an Adjunct Professor in Gender, Work and Social Inquiry, School of Social Studies at the University of Adelaide. She works in the areas of gender studies, cultural studies, and literary studies. Her most recent work concerns the significance of personal testimony and storytelling in human rights campaigns and contexts, including narratives of recovery emanating from China, South Africa, and Australia. In 2004 she co-authored Human Rights and Narrated Lives: The Ethics of Recognition with Sidonie Smith.

© borderlands ejournal 2007



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