Catherine M. Cole


On her book Performing South Africa's Truth Commission: Stages of Transition

Cover Interview of February 11, 2010

A close-up

While most of my book is about the TRC as performance rather than artistic performances about the TRC, the final chapter returns to the aesthetic realm by examining Philip Miller’s REwind: A Cantata for Voice, Tape and Testimony.  The controversy and production challenges surrounding the REwind cantata are quite revealing of contemporary South African ambivalence about the past, and how the work of the TRC remains both unresolved and ongoing.  The composer immersed himself in the raw archival material from the hearings, especially the sound recordings.  What emerges is the potency of performance, the nuance of meaning in a hesitation, an inflection, in the grain of the voice. 

The cantata provided yet another iteration of those TRC stories that were performed and embodied, and like the hearings themselves, it relied upon the presence of an audience to receive and be part of the process.  Ultimately it is this encounter between speaker and audience that most expresses what made the commission so extraordinary: it demanded face-to-face encounters between witness and audience, an apt format for expressing the Zulu notion of ubuntu upon which the TRC is based.  “A person is a person through other people” says ubuntu, and it is through performance that such a concept is fully realized.