- Sophiatown as lieu de mémoire
- African Studies
- Volume | Issue number
- 74 | 1
- Pages (from-to)
- Document type
- Faculty of Humanities (FGw)
- Amsterdam School of Historical Studies (ASH)
Sophiatown has often been presented as a symbol of a vibrant interracial urban culture that was destroyed by the racial segregationist policy of the apartheid regime. In reality, however, there are many ‘Sophiatowns’. By using Pierre Nora's well-known concept of lieux de mémoire and the related notion of ‘placemaking’, this article deals with the issue how different people imagine the space and place they live or have lived in, in order to make claims, shape identities and define belonging. Three historical phases are identified in the history of Sophiatown: as unknown place (up to about the 1910s), place of conflict (from the 1910s to 1955), and place of forgetting and nostalgia (the post-1955 period). By underlining the process of remembering and forgetting, of inclusion and exclusion, Nora's concept helps us to question the presuppositions and representations of the existing histories of Sophiatown. Instead of ‘celebrating’ the old Sophiatown or duly presenting the familiar ‘grand narrative’ of its history, this article analyses what Sophiatown meant in the past and still means today. It infuses urban history with a new dimension, that of history- and memory-making.
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