Posted on August 29, 2013
In the struggle for South Africa's freedom against the former status quo people's personal lives, families, kinship groups/clans where destabilised in pursuit of the endeavored political ends of the time. In some instances the messiness of the past had an immense effect that is evident in the present. There are unanswered questions; unknown graves; uncertain lands; but also at the same time the desire to hold on, the fear of forgetting and the smallest amount of undying hope.

A case in point is the story of Mbuyisa Makhubo, a fellow student in whose arms Hector breathed his last breath. The now world famous photograph by Sam Nzima of Makhubo carrying the dying Hector Pieterson made headlines around the world as it portrayed 'the anger and tragedy of a day that changed the course of South African history, sparking months of clashes between police, schoolchildren and protesters'.

Makhubo had his life disrupted by all the attention that he got after the photo was published (and so did Nzima). More importantly the effect that Hector's death had on him was not taken note of. As said by his mother, 'After some time we heard that Mbuyisa was in Botswana' .It was in Botswana that life took a different cause. In Botswana he met a young lady and they had a child together, a boy.

This boy child was born and raised in Botswana and went on to take a very popular South African liberation song, secured the rights to use the song and made it a vibrant house version of 'safa saphela isizwe esimnyama', one of the soundtracks produced by Mbongeni Ngema for the movie Sarafina. He shares his sentiments of how he yearns for a father and amongst other things how the archive is the only memory he has, but how little it offers when used on a special June 16 production by Botswana Television. Whether he has relations with the surviving members of his father's family in South Africa is yet to be established. The video was shot in Johannesburg South Africa on the top of a building along Bree Street. The video constantly shows the world-famous photograph. It is the only photo that he has and has ever seen of the father he will never know.

Thus in this context the archive then becomes a place where the messiness of the past is neatly collected and stored. The archive becomes the only point of reference that exists about the past for those in the present who wish to engage with that era in history. The archive makes it safe to re-engage with the mess of the past in a manner that embraces every hiccup, every mistake and becomes valuable because it in a way is the only source of knowledge available for re-living or reconnecting with that part of history. Is it enough for people like Makhubo's son when his father is only one frozen frame in a much bigger narrative that that history has become? Is the archive ever enough?

Goa Gaberone is an Archival Platform correspondent based in Johannesburg