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Refereed articles

The past is a foreign country: Official public memory in South African constitutional jurisprudence

Irma Kroeze considers the question whether the Constitutional Court has assumed the responsibility of creating “public memory” in South Africa. While history and the past must be remembered, it is also susceptible to distortion and reconstruction. That is why the past often seems like a foreign country – one that bears little or no relation to one’s own recollection. The author argues that South Africa has been concerned with that foreign country called the past for quite some time. 

In the author’s view it would be better to characterise that concern, in Jean Baudrillard’s terms, as a perverse fascination with our own origins, “a collective attempt to hallucinate the historical truth of evil”. The author suggests that the Constitutional Court has been involved in the creation of what has been termed “official public memory” and looks at the way in which some of its decisions have arguably been instrumental in doing so. In conclusion, problems resulting from the conception of “historical truth” are examined.

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