Nelson Mandela Foundation

Reckoning with oppressive pasts has been a line of enquiry, and an institutional mandate, for the Nelson Mandela Foundation over more than fifteen years now. The underlying premise has been that if pasts are not reckoned with by a society, then those pasts will certainly reckon with society.

This was one of the contexts to the virtual dialogue September Amnesia, hosted by the Foundation on Monday 26 April. Facilitated by Kneo Mokgopa and framed as an intergenerational conversation, not surprisingly the question of reckoning became almost a sub-text to the discussion. Why does South Africa still not know who ordered the assassination of African National Congress representative in Paris, Dulcie September, in 1988? Why are archives related to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s investigation of her murder still not accessible to the public? Why only now is the French government considering reopening the official investigation into her murder?

Panelists for the discussion were Nicola Arendse (one of Dulcie September’s nieces and a social worker in Cape Town), Kelly Eve Koopman (activist, author and senior fellow of the Atlantic Fellows for Racial Equity), Enver Samuel (filmmaker and producer of the just-released documentary Murder in Paris), and Busi Seabe (activist, author and political analyst).

Arendse and Samuel offered reflections which were more personal and biographical. Arendse shared memories of her aunt – “I knew her … but I am still getting to know her” – and pondered the challenge which she feels Dulcie still poses her today, namely, “given what I did with my life, what are you doing with yours?”

Samuel talked briefly about the making of his documentary, focusing instead on the person he encountered through the production. He described her as a disciplined cadre who nonetheless always asked the difficult questions; she was someone who said it like it was. He read moving extracts from her archive – a political speech, an extract from a piece of creative writing, a letter about the benefits of yoga.

Both Koopman and Seabe offered robust political analyses. The latter talked about patriarchy within the liberation movements and its continuing destructiveness in contemporary South Africa. She pointed out how so much memorialisation of female struggle veterans either makes them accessories of male figures or subordinates their struggles to those led by men.

Koopman focused on the global apparatuses of power which Dulcie September had been uncovering through her work, and argued that these apparatuses are still very much in place and remain the primary impediment to continuing struggles for justice, in South Africa and elsewhere. She closed by reflecting on the need for younger generations to make time to listen to the stories of their mothers and grandmothers. Dulcie is gone, but others of her generation are still with us.

In their closing reflection, Mokgopa named Dulcie’s “ongoingness”. She is gone, but she lives on through the work of memory and through continuing endeavour to ensure accountability for her murder.

The Nelson Mandela Foundation has joined many other organisations in petitioning Le Président du Tribunal Judiciare de Paris to reopen the official investigation into the murder of Dulcie September.