in defence of memory
Government holds the key to the nation's memory
Even though apartheid-era bureaucrats destroyed much of SA's records in an attempt to sanitise history, much survived and these have to be opened to public scrutiny in the interests of accountability
It is true that our experience of the present depends upon our knowledge of the past. Czech-born writer Milan Kundera, who at different times of his life was a supporter and critic of the Soviet Union’s Communist Party, famously wrote: "The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting." The opening of secret files in East Berlin and elsewhere in the former eastern bloc caused splinters after the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall. Kundera himself had to refute accusations that he betrayed a spy in communist Czechoslovakia. But transparency and the disclosure of the regime’s ugliness became a vital part of reconciliation and healing. In SA, apartheid-era records were famously trucked to furnaces where they were incinerated to prevent them falling into the hands of the new administration. The deliberate destruction was a way for government to rid itself of incriminating evidence of the torture, forced disappearances, spies and corrupt practices that should have...