When Apartheid Interfered with Funerals: We Found Ways to Grieve in Alexandra, South Africa
My child died and I clung to her grave. These were the words spoken by Margaret R., a resident of the northeastern Johannesburg township of Alexandra, South AFrica when offering her rendition o fthe 1976 student uprising mounted against the imposition of AFrikaans. In recalling a personal tragedy Margaret R. attests not only to her enduring grief but her behavior at the gravesite signifies her desire to resume her assumptive world. Not only does this exhibition plead for a return to normalcy, it also captures a subtle change in power. Stories like Margaret R.'s are silenced or buried under the weight of privileged discourses, but it is this project's goal to excavate those narratives and unearth their inner meanings. When discussing Alexandra most studies focus on transport, sanitation, health and protest movements such as the Six Day's war. Aside from Belinda Bozzoli's discussion of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), few studies on Alexandra focus on the issue of death. Even with these scholary works, Bozzoli analyzes the issue of loss in terms of health related circumstances and the number of children deceased. She also discusses the pageantry of funerals without interpreting the activities that precede these celebratory rites. Before funerals took place Alexandrans reclaimed the bodies, visited the sites of death, eanged in silence, sought retribution and requested compensation. These alternate strategies, I argue helped Alexandrans to defy the apartheid system when police officials prohibited and inhibited funerary rites. Before funerals took place Alexandrans reclaimed the bodies, visited the sites of death, engaged in silence, sought retribution and requested compensation. Thse alternate strategies of grieving enabled people such as Margaret R. to mourn and grieve when state officials controlled or prohibited the occurrences of funerals during apartheid's height.
Keywords: Resistance, Alexandra, South Africa, Grieving, Death
Dr. Dawne Y. Curry
Assistant Professor, University of Nebraska