Before the Fire and After the Fire
More than 60 000 people lost their homes and possessions in fires orchestrated by security force members and other apartheid agents in the winter of 1986. The fires destroyed the squatter settlements of KTC, Crossroads, Nyanga Bush and Nyanga Extension in the Western Cape. Representatives of these communities, assisted by the Legal Resources Centre, took the apartheid government to court. The court action dragged on for nearly two years. In the end, the government agreed to pay money into a trust fund to compensate three thousand victims of the fire – those who had made affidavits for a damages case against the government – and to the communities as a whole.

At first the TRC was reluctant to accept that arson is a gross human rights violation. It eventually conceded and an event hearing was held in KTC in June 1996. Testimonies were heard from doctors, police, lawyers, administration officials, priests and a few victims who were eligible for TRC reparations. What could a support group to do with a large membership who did not testify to the TRC and who were, therefore, unable to access reparations? The devastation of the fires of 1986 was a common theme of story-telling at Khulumani Western Cape monthly meetings from 1999. Thus, began the journey of memory work to create artworks and memory banners, with a longer-term vision of creating a museum or heritage site, and campaign for TRC recommended individual and community reparations from the South African government that would acknowledge this atrocity.

From March to May 2002, the District Six Museum and the Human Rights Media Centre supported Khulumani by facilitating art memory workshops involving 100 members in drawing exercises. The workshops were divided in three parts: life before 1986, the fire of 1986, and visions for the future. The workshop participants then selected the best drawings in the three categories and a small group with Thembeka Qangule, an artist, incorporated these drawings onto three banners (3m x 2m each) collectively titled: Before the fire and after the fire.

Before the Fire and After the Fire memory banners painted in 2002
By 2003, the exhibition had grown substantially with the inclusion of an embroidered memory cloth, cartoons about the TRC by Zapiro and 35 memory books and memory boxes made from recycled materials and 19 body-maps. Jonathan Morgan and the Memory Box Project team from the University of Cape Town assisted with the memory books and boxes workshop, and Jane Solomon facilitated the body-map workshop in one day.

Khulumani members with Jonathan Morgan and UCT’s Memory Box Project team, Community House, 2003

This body of work was hosted at the Cape Town Holocaust Centre over three days in June 2003. The first two days consisted of an educational programme involving 400 learners from five schools: St Cyprians High, Modderdam High, Herzlia High, Oscar Mpetha High and Trafalgar High, interacting with 33 Khulumani members as the educators. The guest speaker at public launch on the third day, 26 June, International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, was Christopher Till, director of the Apartheid Museum. He offered to host the exhibition at the Apartheid Museum’s temporary space with its further development.

Khulumani sharing her life story under apartheid, 25 June 2003

By June 2004, with financial support from the Foundation for Human Rights (EU), the exhibition had quadrupled and was ready to occupy the 450-meter-square temporary space at the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg. Additional art and memory work added to Breaking the Silence: A luta continue included:

  • a second memory cloth;
  • Twenty-one body-maps developed over five-days created by plaintiffs of the
  • Apartheid Lawsuit, Bonteheuwel Military Wing members and Khulumani Executive Committee members, co-facilitated by Jane Solomon and HRMC;
  • Eighty cartoons by Zapiro on the TRC;
  • Christopher Truter’s plastic grave marker (replaced with a granite tombstone);
  • Twenty-one life stories written and illustrated by Khulumani members in scrapbooks facilitated by the HRMC;
    Thirty-two artworks created by Khulumani members in a three-day art and memory workshop facilitated by the HRMC with artist Dathini Mzayiya that focused on the use of visual elements, like symbols and colour, as well as oral interpretation in storytelling. Each participant drew one A2 sized drawing about an incident they will never forget and at the end of the three-day process the stories relating to their drawings were recorded, edited and laminated together with their artworks collectively titled The Washing Line;
  • Numerous photographs;
  • Artifacts made of clay;
  • The A luta continua banner (5.5m x 3m) painted by Dathini Mzayiya and Nkoali Nawa; and,
  • Eleven storyboards explaining the contents of the exhibition to audiences.

The exhibition was titled Breaking the silence: A luta continua by Khulumani members at a public meeting and was launched at the temporary space at the Apartheid Museum on 26 June 2004. Maureen Mazibuko and Cleo Visagie were the exhibition guides.

Guests at the launch of Breaking the silence: A luta continua at the Apartheid Museum – 26 June 2004. Christopher Till, museum director, standing on the left

Cleo Visagie and Maureen Mazibuko, Breaking the silence exhibition guides at the Apartheid Museum.

In 2006, with a small grant from Hoskin Consolidated Investment (HCI), the project partners, HRMC with Khulumani Western Cape, embarked on the Rural Life Story Project to include rural narratives from Mossel Bay, Beaufort West, Worcester, Robertson and Ashton. The book The eye has never seen enough, the ear has never heard enough, three memory banners and 12 scrapbooks were added to the exhibition when it was launched at the Iziko Museums of Cape Town’s Slave Lodge in July 2006. Maureen Mazibuko was the exhibition guide there.

In collaboration with Creative Partnerships, St Bernard’s Girls Highs School, and Slough Museum, the exhibition went to London from March – April 2007 and Maureen Mazibuko was its guide there as well.

St Bernard’s learners visiting the exhibition at Slough Museum

Jillian Smith and Celia Hodgson, master’s students from the Centre for Applied Human Rights (CAHR), University of York, did their internship at the HRMC in December 2008. Their project was to fundraise and organise for the Breaking the silence exhibition to travel to York. The exhibition was hosted by St Martin-le-Grand for three weeks in May 2009. Parallel activities were organised by CAHR on the International Apartheid Lawsuit. The British Council of South Africa supported this project as well as UK funders.

Breaking the Silence Exhibition at St Matin-le-Grand in York. Seated is Sindiswa Nunu, the exhibition guide.


(Download the brochure)

This eight-page foldout brochure about the exhibition provides a text and visual summary of Breaking the silence: A luta continua’s core themes and content. National Arts Council of South Africa funded for the brochure in time for its launch at St Martin-Le-Grand in May 2009. The exhibition guide in York was Sindiswa Nunu.

Memory work with Worcester Bomb blast survivors in 2016

On Thursday 28 January 2016, HRMC made a presentation to a group of survivors of the 1996 Christmas eve bomb blasts at the Breede River Municipality offices, outlining two memory work processes they were invited to participate in for the purposes of education and advocacy. This participant recruitment process was suggested at the meeting of senior Khulumani members in Zweletemba on Sunday 17 January 2016.

The meeting was held in the evening to accommodate those employed and after an in-depth conversation some survivors committed to the body mapping process, others to the autobiographical writing workshop that included drawings to illustrate their stories in shweshwe-covered scrapbooks, with a few wanting to participated in both workshops.

The 4-day body mapping workshop took place from 9 to 12 February 2016 in a small venue at the Zweletemba Community Centre with most of the participants drawn from Zweletemba. Participants included: Funeka Hlazo, Ester Cenga, Neliswa Busakwe, Emily Phapiso, Olga Maclingwane and Marius Amererra. Shirley Gunn facilitated the workshop, Zukiswa Puwana was the translator | administrator, Dathini Mzayiya assisted with artistic representations, with assistants Ramah Awad and Rachel Samuels from Stanford University’s BING programme interning at HRMC.

The 5-day autobiographical workshop from 7 to 11 March 2016 took place at the Blind Spot in the heart of Worcester, with the majority of survivors drawn from the coloured communities that included Dorothy Issel, Emily Phapiso, Ester Cenga, Emma Hermanus, Fatima Omardien, Fransiena Saal, Funeka Hlazo, Hajiera Ismail, Lizle Philander, Rushieda De Koker, Neliswa Busakwe and Olga Maclingwane. This workshop was facilitated by Shirley Gunn, Zukiswa Puwana was the translator | administrator, and Dathini Mzayiya provided creative assistance with illustrations.

A wrap-up meeting with participants was held at Klein Plasie Kibbutz on 21 March 2016. This meeting paved the way for HRMC to exhibit Breaking the Silence, including the Worcester memory work, at SAHA’s programme at Constitutional Museum Ramparts from April to May 2016 marking 20 years since the first TRC hearing titled The Battle Against Forgetting. 

Exhibition Components