More than memory: commemorative space and ownership in post-conflict South Africa and Mozambique
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Commemoratives sites, as the term might suggest, are most often evaluated in the transitional justice literature in relationship to time. Scholars debate if and to what extent commemorative sites can leverage history and memory in service of peace, justice, and/or reconciliation. Alternatively, these same spaces have been critiqued as counterproductive to the transitional cause. They are constant reminders of trauma, hollow gestures, and continually vulnerable to politicization as the powerful attempt to manipulate history in service of a particular narrative. While these debates remain relevant, commemorative sites are not just analogs of memory, they are also public or communal spaces. Commemorative sites are a unique mechanism in transitional justice for their physicality, and as such, should be evaluated for their spatial qualities. This study uses planning/design literature to offer a new analytical lens to the study of commemorative sites as transitional approach. Based on observational, archival and interview case study evidence in the Eastern Cape of South Africa and Inhambane province in Mozambique, I argue that a commemorative site is more than just the product of its narration. It represents the evolution and potential of the spatial landscape in post-conflict life. In both South Africa and Mozambique, the ability to create and/or use these kinds of spaces implicate critical sociopolitical relationships for transitioning societies, particularly dynamics of ownership. Individuals and communities become stakeholders in the political system as they are empowered to or prohibited from leaving a fingerprint on the (re)design and function of their physical environment. These same consumers continue to control how such spaces are used and to what end. They can be places of gathering, exchange, interaction, confrontation, and debate, or they can be left unused and idle. Whether through assertion or acknowledgement, commemorative sites serve as a living expression of ownership over the built and natural environment. The practice of commemoration is of course highly variable across the cases outlined in the following chapters, but the question of space is hugely consequential, sometimes even superseding concerns of memory and heritage. The spatial politics of commemorative sites can be constructive or conflictual, but is exemplary of how the design and use of commemorative spaces is a layered political project and suggestive of the way in which commemorative sites might serve as a more sophisticated or holistic approach to transitional justice.