Heike Becker (Kapstadt): Falling Monuments, Rising Memories: The Politics and Aesthetics of Postcolonial Memory Cultures and Urbanscape in Southern Africa.

Even after the end of apartheid the public space of Southern African cities like Windhoek and Cape Town remained dotted with monuments that celebrated colonial triumphalism. South African and Namibian urban landscapes obliterated a painful history until the early years of the 21st century.

This talk examines how the persistence of the past has been challenged by different actors in recent years. The assessment of the aesthetics and politics of postcolonial interventions in the public space starts with the introduction of state-sponsored new monuments, which were erected to anchor memories of anti-colonial resistance and national liberation in the public space. These include prominently North-Korean built sites such as the Namibian National Heroes Acre, and the Independence Memorial Museum that was built in the space formerly occupied by an infamous colonial monument.
The talk further considers how colonial monuments in Southern Africa have come under civil society pressure exerted by young anticolonial activists. Best known for Cape Town’s 2015 Rhodes Must Fall movement, they inspired the global decolonial movement. Young Namibian artists and activists have also come together with the aim of decolonising the public space through combined street protests and social media campaigns. The talk concludes with a critical consideration of the different perspectives on the politics and aesthetics of decolonising the public space, which have been embraced by Namibian and South African state agents and civil society actors.

Prof. Heike Becker is a sociocultural anthropologist and author. She is Chair of the Anthropology Department of the University of the Western Cape in South Africa, where she teaches courses about anthropological theory, visual culture, popular culture, and the politics of difference. Her research interests have focused on the politics of memory, popular and visual culture, and social movements of resistance in southern Africa (South Africa and Namibia). She currently also works on decolonizing the public space, memory activism and anti-racist politics in Germany and the United Kingdom. She has published widely on monuments, commemorations and public art in Namibia and South Africa, among others, ‘Changing Urbanscapes: Colonial and postcolonial monuments in Windhoek’ (Nordic Journal of African Studies), ‘Commemorating heroes in Windhoek and Eenhana: memory, culture and nationalism in Namibia, 1990-2010’ (Africa. Journal of the International African Institute), and ‘Remembering Marikana: public art intervention and the right to the city in Cape Town’ (Social Dynamics), and together with Carola Lentz a special issue on ‘The politics and aesthetics of commemoration: National days in southern Africa’, (Anthropology Southern Africa).