What are the things that sit with us?

By Published On: 29th August 2019

Reflections from IJR’s Friederike Bubenzer

‘This is my legacy’ says Aunty Fachmieda Young from Bonteheuwel as I hand her a copy of ‘These are the things that sit with us’. Her eyes gloss over as she reaches for the book, pages through it and eventually finds her portrait and story. She leans back in her chair and sees her younger self look from the pages in the book.

We’ve been on a long journey together. Aunty Fachmieda and I have known each other for many years through IJRs community healing work. Our friendship developed later as a result of her participation in a research project titled ‘Trauma, Memory and Representations of the Past’ led by Professor Pumla Gobodo Madikizela at Stellenbosch University, in partnership with IJR. The project started in 2015 and generous funding was obtained from the United States’ Andrew W Mellon Foundation. Researchers on the project interviewed 60 individuals in Worcester, Langa and Bonteheuwel to understand, through life story interviews, how South Africa’s brutal past continues to linger in and disrupt the present. Fachmieda was one of those story tellers and I was lucky enough to be the one who interviewed her.

Once all 60 stories had been collected, transcribed, translated and filed; it became clear that we needed a vehicle to place the stories in the public domain. That these stories, which document the lives and memories of ordinary South Africans; so many of whom had never had the opportunity to be heard and acknowledged; could be used as an igniting force for a much broader conversation about how the past is not passed. In what seemed like no time, donors, a publisher, photographers and an editorial team came together and a little more than a year later the book was born. The SA Akademie for Wetenskap en Kuns paid for all stories in the book to be translated into Afrikaans and isiXhosa. The offers of support that were received throughout the book project from a broad spectrum of people, emphasized to the editorial team and the storytellers that SA was ready and hungry for a book of this nature. And from the response received in terms of sales, attendance at launches and media coverage, it is clear that SA needed this small contribution to stimulate the kinds of honest, acknowledging and difficult conversations we are not yet having enough of.

On a cold winter’s day, 100 residents of Bonteheuwel cram into the partially window-less Bonteheuwel Multipurpose Centre for the launch of ‘These are the things that sit with us’. Pumla Gobodo Madikizela and Kim Wale lead an emotional interactive conversation with the 10 storytellers from Bonteheuwel. Abdul Baasit Jeppe, a local caterer and one of the storytellers, has brought his team to feed participants. Hot cups of tea and dripping sweet koeksusters are passed around as the audience hangs on to the words of each storyteller.

Peter Felander’s story is titled ‘We lost everything on that piece of land’. When it his turn to speak, he stands up, breathes deeply and says ‘I just want to say that thanks to my story being in this book I feel lighter; like a 1000 weights have been taken off my shoulders. My story has been heard.’

These are the things that sit with us. Edited by Pumla Gobodo Madikizela, Friederike Bubenzer and Marietjie Oelofsen. Published by Jacana media. ISBN 978-1-928232-74-2. Available at all good book shops.

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