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Focus

'I posit the contemporary as the past arriving at knowledge, and as the present unfolding, indefinable, yet begging to be understood. The contemporary frees us from the past through our ability to transform that past into knowledge. It is this knowledge that has the potential to free us from any obligation to relive the past each time it is recalled. There is no imperative to relive the past, but an absolute, ethical requirement to know it. This seems unavoidable. The value of the contemporary is in the knowledge of the past that it allows us to contemplate. It is also about the suspension and even the avoidance of judgment. In the contemporary the inherited categories melt and are reformed in new ways.' Professor Njabulo S Ndebele

The archives, epistemological and material, that impose themselves on, or lend themselves to, such negotiations of the past are the core focus of our enquiry, as are the mutually constituting roles of the epistemological archive and the storehouses of archival materials. Our local project resonates in global discussions of memory, trauma, social justice, imperialism, indigenous rights, and the practices of history, examining how those discussions direct into local developments, and suggesting what local developments may connote for those discussions.

Our project marks a moment of urgency in contemporary South Africa, one that is linked to issues of restitution and redress. The ways in which we think about and engage with the past play a critical part in shaping the present and future. This socio-political urgency at once shapes our endeavour and is that from which we also seek critical distance.