The ethics of nostalgia in post-apartheid South Africa

The ethics of memory, for Avishai Margalit and Paul Ricoeur, means, respectively, remembering the past so as to foster more caring relationships and seeking the truth of the past and building a better future. In post-apartheid South Africa, a variety of memory practices bring to public attention reminders of apartheid, a past that must be remembered so that it will strengthen relationships amongst once-divided citizens and so that iniquities will not be repeated. In general, these diverse efforts – official, publicly funded initiatives and individual endeavours to preserve personal memory – seek to shape collective memory in ways that invoke the horrors of the past. Native Nostalgia (2009), by Jacob Dlamini, both conforms to this trend and challenges it. It follows convention by contending that apartheid was without virtue; it defies the norm by insisting that the life that Dlamini lived in Katlehong is worth remembering with nostalgia – reflective nostalgia – because it was an ordered world in which ethically laudable principles governed social interactions, principles and practices, all of which are rare in post-apartheid South Africa.