Thursday, June 29, 2006

Conferences, Research, and Memorials

My conference is done -- my paper was well received and had one of the moments that was talked about for the rest of the meeting when a member of the audience claimed that there is no room for comparing the US and South African racial struggles because the one in the US was "merely a civil rights struggle" where in South Africa it was a "matter of life and death." I went off, listing about 25-30 men and women who died in the US Movement, told him that he disrespected their sacrifices, and that his comments were clearly more geared toward being a polemic than an interest in oopen inquiry. I got a rousing ovation. So yeay me! Otherwise in the wrapup one of the conference leaders praised my paper, and one of the journals here asked for a copy of the paper to consider publishing, which would be nice. I made some friends and networked my way into a few contacts, and in all, I had fun.

I spent today in the National Archives, where I had done some work in December. I finished up everything I will need to get from there on any of my projects for the next few years. It is weird to conceptualize my work in that kind of time span. I guess I still think like a kid, where years are abstractions, yet realistically, my next visit to the National Archives will most likely be for a project I have not even begun to conceive. On the flip side, I pretty much have all of the research that I need to get done to start writing this next manuscript. It's always nice to have excuses. For now, there are no excuses. I have saeveral projects in the hopper, I'll have a month or more before classes start when I get back, and so in between wedding planning, I have lots of writing to do.

Pretoria has been cold, but I've been able to do a bit of wandering, and the conference culminated with a treip to the future site of Freedom Park, a comprehensive plan for a vast hilly-area within sightlines of the Voortrekker Monument, the vast and forboding ediface that serves to commemorate the steely Afrkaner drive to subjugate black people. I kid, I kid. Well, sort of. The Park is one of these feel-good projects that has emerged in the wake of 1994, the TRC, and the general wave of good feeling in the Rainbow Nation. It seems committed to presenting a particular view of South Africa that I would guess will end up being more contested than they presently envision. There will, for example, be a Hall of heroes with three representatives from South Africa, three from the rest of the continent, and two or three from the rest of the world. One can imagine the politics that will be involved with that. Furthermore, there is going to be a wall of names that intends to include nameplates of all of those who gave up their lives in the quest for freedom. This to me has disaster written all over it and will surely be a situation in which they either aim to offend no one, in which case it will be useless, or else they offend vast swathes of the very constituencies they need to rely upon for support. All of this said, I'll take Freedom Park, even if it is now just a construction-pocked hill, over the homage to Afrikanerdom that is the Voortrekker Monument every day of the week.

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