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Creating shared meanings of history, and building for the future

We had a wonderful opportunity recently to work with 5 young intern journalists from the Mail and Guardian newspaper.  The interns were a mixed group – Ngoako Matsha, Sibongile Nkosi, Aphiwe Deklerk, Sipho McDermott, and Ayanda Sithole.  The interns are on a year-long programme that has over the years produced some outstanding journalists in South Africa.

Our brief was to explore issues of racism, anti-Semitism, and genocide as part of history, and to build and understanding of how such issues need to be thought about in our current discourse in building our shared future.

Over the period of a week we had the opportunity to visit Constitution Hill, the Apartheid Museum and Zoo Lake, and to have fascinating conversations with Lewis Levin and Tali Nates – both of whom are involved in conceptualising the new Holocaust and Genocide Centre that is being built in Johannesburg.

This led to wonderful insights about the value of making meaning by gaining understanding into different perspectives on history, and by noticing that things sometimes look different depending on where we stand and the angle from which we see events.

Also, what was reaffirmed was the value of place in understanding history – that by standing in places where historical events happened it is possible to gain unique perspectives on the significance of those events.

And, fundamentally, how a rich understanding of history needs to leave us all with a sense of choice – about the meanings we wish to attach and the learnings that we carry forward into the future.