Symposium: Interpreting Violence and Trauma in Africa

Venue: Johannesburg Holocaust and Genocide Centre

12 September 2016, 09.00 – 17.00


This symposium for researchers, students, activists and artists forms part of a two week event programme being run by the University of Leeds and the Johannesburg Holocaust and Genocide Centre from 5 to 14 September 2016.

Over the past two decades, violence and trauma have saturated the critical humanities and social sciences. Contemporary thought has focused on issues such as psychological trauma, cultural trauma and memory; genocide survival, perpetration and prevention; the environmental disasters caused by climate change; the rise of fundamentalism and terror; mass displacement and the refugee crisis; and forms of structural violence normalised by global capitalism. However, this focus has often centred on the Global North. The presence of violence and trauma in contemporary thought therefore begs a postcolonial critique. Are our theories of violence and trauma too focused on the Global North to make sense of violent and traumatic phenomena in African contexts? How are we to interpret violence and trauma in African social texts without performing epistemic colonisation via a dependency on Euro-American interpretive frameworks?

This symposium takes these questions as a point of departure.

Please register here if you would like to attend the symposium.

The programme for the day is as follows:

Arrival (9:00-9:20)

Welcoming Address (9:20-9:30)

Tali Nates (Director of the Johannesburg Holocaust and Genocide Centre)

Panel 1: Post-apartheid Trauma (9:30-10:30)

Dr. Kim Wale (Postdoctoral Fellow, Stellenbosch University): “Collective Trauma: Narratives of Betrayal and Abandonment in South Africa”

Lerato Machetela (PhD Student, University of the Free State): “Intergenerational Trauma in Jagersfontein”

Robyn Bloch (PhD Student, WiSER): “The Anti-apartheid Historian’s Struggle: Black Betrayal and its Effects”

Break (10:30-10:45)

Panel 2: Trauma and the Politics of Representation: Film, Media and Literature (10:45-11:45)

Dr. Beschera Karam (Associate Professor in Communication Science, University of South Africa): “Film as a Countermonument and the Embodiment of Negative Aesthetics: William Kentridge’s Animated Film “Monument” as a Case Study”

Dr. Mark Kirby-Hirst (Senior Lecturer in Communication Science, University of South Africa): “Digital Trauma: Remembering and Traumatic Experience in Final Fantasy XIII

Manosa Nthunya (PhD student, University of the Witwatersrand): “Giving an Account of One’s Home: Zoë Wicomb’s October and the Politics of Trauma in Representation”

Panel 3: Transcultural Holocausts: Africa, Asia, Europe (11:45-12:45)

Dr. Matthew Boswell (Academic Fellow, University of Leeds): “‘Machete words, club words’: Literary and Theoretical Responses to Rwandan Genocide Memorials, and the Limits of Holocentrism.’

Adam Levin (PhD Student, University of Pretoria): “Speaking as Witness in Elie Weisel’s Night and Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela’s A Human Being Died That Night

Dr. Elizabeth Oliver (Research Assistant, University of Leeds): “‘It freezes to the bone’: Reading the Bodies of Southeast Asian Captivity through the Post-war Transmission of the Holocaust”

Lunch (12:45-1:45)

Panel 4: Writing and Reading Violent African Histories—Skype Panel (1:45-2:45)

Dr. Elinor Rooks (Independent Scholar): “The Unacknowledged Ghosts of a Century of War: The Yoruba Wars and the Novels of Amos Tutuola”

Elliot Ross, (PhD Student, Columbia University): “‘Deaths which will change things’: Reading Mau Mau after the Reparations Case”

Panel 5: African Literary and Cultural Theory (2:45-3:45)

Elizabeth Louise Nortjé (Lecturer in South African Literature, University of South Africa): “Disgrace and the Problematicity of Violence in Post-apartheid South African Literature”

Dr. Timothy Wright (Postdoctoral Fellow, WiSER): “Afterlives of Extractivity: Reading Blood in Johannesburg Vampire Fiction”

Ryan Topper (PhD Student, University of Leeds): “Trauma and Spirit Possession in African Literature: A Critique of Postcolonial Hermeneutics”

Break (3:45-4:00)

Reading and Performance (4:00-4:30)

Théogène Niwenshuti (Poet, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein)

Closing Lecture (4:30-5:00)

Professor Mia Swart (Professor of International Law, University of Johannesburg): “African Legal Responses to Violence and Trauma”

Another seminar for postgraduate students, ‘Confronting Difficult Pasts’,  will take place in the morning of Thursday 8 September, with a workshop on ‘Holocaust Museums and Memorial Sites in the Digital Age’ in the afternoon. ‘Confronting Difficult Pasts’ reflects on the generation of cultural memory in the aftermath of political struggle. In the seminar we will reflect on emerging modes of fiction, film, and life writing in traumatized societies, and in their evolving memorialisation cultures. We will consider the impact of a traumatic past on current appeals to national identity and belonging, and the discourses being mobilized in the representational gestures that attempt to contain the excesses of the past. Please contact Professor Stuart Taberner ( if you would like to participate.

This event forms part of a programme, Remembering the Holocaust and Genocide in the Digital Age, running from 5-13 September at the Johannesburg Holocaust and Genocide Centre. For a full list of events please click here.

Image: Matthew Boswell.