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Reckoning with Echoes of the Past: A South African Story

Portrait of Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela
Photo courtesy of Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela

The repercussions of violent histories extend far beyond these events to engender repetitions that echo for generations. In this lecture, Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela will reflect on this problem and consider alternative ways of theorizing and making sense of the “transgenerational trauma” phenomenon, with the South African post-apartheid context as backdrop. She will show why lessons from forgiveness still matter for imagining new futures as contemporary egregious and symbolic acts to denigrate Black subjectivity attempt to revitalize apartheid’s racial order. And she will discuss how mutual solidarity can become a condition of ethical engagement and a touchstone of social justice.


Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela RI ‘21 graduated with a BA and honors in psychology from Fort Hare University, a master's in clinical psychology from Rhodes University, and a PhD in psychology from the University of Cape Town, where she lectured for almost ten years. A professor and research chair at Stellenbosch University, she holds the South African National Research Foundation Chair in Violent Histories and Transgenerational Trauma and is also the founding director of the Centre for the Study of the Afterlife of Violence and the Reparative Quest (AVReQ) at Stellenbosch University. Her research interest is in historical trauma and its intergenerational repercussions and exploring what the “repair” of these transgenerational effects might mean. She has published extensively on victims and perpetrators of gross human rights violations, and on forgiveness and remorse. Her books include the critically acclaimed A Human Being Died that Night: A Story of Forgiveness (Mariner Books, 2004), which was transformed into an award-winning play. She has edited and coedited several book volumes on the topics of historical trauma and transgenerational memory, including a recently published edited collection on Jewish-German dialogue, History, Trauma and Shame: Engaging the Past through Second Generation Dialogue (Routledge, 2020). She is the recipient of the 2021 Harry Oppenheimer Fellowship Award, the most prestigious academic award in Africa. 

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