Naomi Roux
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Politics of recognition
The Nelson Mandela Bay Amabutho
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This chapter explores what happens when particular historical narratives completely lack a physical ‘home’. The Nelson Mandela Bay Amabutho was a group of young activists responsible for ‘making the city ungovernable’ during the political turbulence and state repression of the 1980s. In 2007, the group reformed as an activist organisation agitating for material and symbolic recognition of the role it had played in destabilising the apartheid state. This is a morally ambiguous and violent history that does not fit neatly into standard heroic narratives of struggle and overcoming. The chapter discusses the ways in which this history complicates heroic linear narratives of the past. It uses the case of the Amabutho to consider possibilities for inscribing complicated or traumatic memory into the urban landscape in the absence of public recognition, largely through performative means such as song, storytelling, protest, dance and the spoken word. Ultimately this history of the Amabutho and other vigilante anti-apartheid groups like them remains an unacknowledged scar in South African urban liberation history. Yet, these stories insist on being made visible, and in the minds of those who lived this history the city streets remain powerful if unmarked mnemonics for this past. This history continues to come to the surface in unexpected and embodied ways, ‘leaking’ into the consciousness of the present.

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Remaking the urban

Heritage and transformation in Nelson Mandela Bay


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