New article by Kylie Thomas, EURIAS fellow 2017-2018


'Exhuming Apartheid: Photography, Disappearance and Return'

Kylie Thomas

Cahiers d'Etudes africaines,

Photographies contestataires, usages contest├ęs, 

vol. 230, 2018, pp. 429-454.



“In a photograph a person’s history is buried, as if under a layer of snow” (Kracauer 1927: 426).



This paper argues for thinking about the relation between photography and exhumation as well as the potential for photographs to bring buried histories into the light. After the close of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, there were still hundreds of unresolved cases of people who had been killed under apartheid. The Missing Persons Task Team was established to investigate these cases and has subsequently located and exhumed the remains of many activists. This article examines the case of Siphiwo Mtimkulu, an anti-apartheid student activist who was abducted and murdered by the security police in April 1982, together with his comrade, Tobekile “Topsy” Madaka. The remains of Mtimkulu and Madaka were located in 2007, ten years after the security police who murdered them lied at the Truth Commission about the facts concerning how they were tortured and killed. Engaging with photographs of Mtimkulu taken before his disappearance and those of his mother Joyce Mtimkulu, I argue that both physical and photographic remains have a particular resonance in the wake of the Marikana massacre of 2012 and the protests against the persistence of colonialism and apartheid that young South Africans held at universities across the country in 2015-2016.


Keywords :

apartheid, South Africa, photography, Marikana, Siphiwo Mtimkulu, exhumation, protest, Truth and Reconciliation Commission, student activism