On History and Mythmaking in South Africa

The Decolonial Quest for Truth(s) and Relevance

  • Olga Bialostocka


In responding to Ng˜ug˜ı wa Thiong’o’s decolonial call for ‘a quest for relevance’, this essay deals with the issue of removal of colonial and apartheid-era monuments in South Africa as a way of creating a ‘liberating perspective’ and shaping a new national identity of the country. With a view to throwing light on the value and functionality of past vestiges, the paper engages with the definition of ‘heritage’ and its meaning for present-day communities. By examining the process of the selection of historical material and ways of assigning meaning to the relics of the past in heritage practice, it raises the question of power in historical knowledge production. By interrogating the concept of the truth of historical narratives, it discusses the plurality of interpretations of the past to stress the need for an ‘ecumenical heritage’ that would be relevant to the realities and self-image of South Africans today.