Award-winning author kicks off 2023 DHHS Seminar Series

Posted on March 01, 2023

The author of Bloody Sunday: The Nun, the Defiance Campaign and South Africa’s secret massacre (Tafelberg; 2021), which won the 2022 Sunday Times Literary Award for Non-Fiction (former Alan Paton Award), Mignonne Breier, kicked off the Department of Historical and Heritage Studies seminar series for 2023. What an auspicious start the webinar proved, notwithstanding the setbacks caused by the Stage 5 load shedding schedule.

Breier, a “third space academic”, as she referred to herself, comes from the professional, administrative services in higher education and not directly from the academic track. She retired from UCT Research Office in 2019 and is currently an honorary research associate at the UCT School of Education.

However, firstly being a trained journalist and then a researcher in education proved their mettle both in her completing her PhD and then producing her award-winning account of a historical moment that continues to linger in the shadows of the national anti-apartheid struggle history.

Her entire book is about upsetting received wisdom, poking her fingers into forbidden places from the secrets in her own family and community in the Eastern Cape to that of academics and professional historians who would not dare tread into these forbidden spaces of our past for fear of serious repercussions and other setbacks.

This award-winning publication signals the significance and remarkable contribution of her passion, persistence, and perseverance in the face of great odds, a characteristic that is essential in critical scholarship in our country and elsewhere.

Breier’s work further demonstrates how personal interest in contemporary history can lead to unearthing “hidden histories” with great consequences not just for what we know about the past, but how we understand the present as well. In Bloody Sunday, Breier shows that the massacre in Duncan Village on 9 November 1952 during the Defiance Campaign, was a far greater massacre, if not the greatest massacre in the entire anti-apartheid struggle history. 2022 was the 70th anniversary of the 1952 Duncan Village massacre. Notwithstanding, it continues to languish in the public imagination as little mention or attention is given to this historical event and story.

It is hoped that Bloody Sunday will rekindle interest in this event and have new scholars pursue different threads of enquiry arising out of her majestic lifting of the veil behind a tragedy we should all be very sorry about and learn from as best as possible for posterity.

- Author Edwin Smith

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