'The horror without object' : a philosophical enquiry into photography, archives, and absence in Project Coast

Barnard, Desre (2017-03)

Thesis MA(VA)--Stellenbosch University, 2017.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: Following the 1997 arrest of Wouter Basson, South Africans watched in horror how the TRC began to unravel one of apartheid South Africa’s most sordid secrets: Project Coast, South Africa’s chemical and biological warfare programme. Although a surprising number of documents survived the various archival purges, there is a conspicuous lack of photographs pertaining directly to the project. Thus, envisioning what the project would have looked like falls largely into the realm of the imaginary. In this study, I consider the work of photographs in the service of the archive. By situating Project Coast within the visual economies of similar clandestine international CBW programmes, I argue that the lack of photographic evidence speaks to an ideology of absence, and secrecy as ideological. In the first section, I address the pictures that we do have from private and public archives in the form of news media reports and the narrativised account of Basson’s criminal trial, Secrets and Lies: Wouter Basson and South Africa’s Chemical and Biological Warfare Programme (Burger & Gould, 2002). As supplements and placeholders, those photographs which we do have fail to make present the largely fragmented project. However, I argue that this is not tantamount to the failure of the visual. In the second section, I examine the South African History Archive’s CBW Project Collection, AL2922, and begin to tease out how to recognise absence. By thinking of the absences as productive spaces, accessible by considering them as a Thirdspace (Soja, 1996), and engaging with them by seeing a-visually, I argue that the layers of secrecy can be able to be peeled back, leaving the absences that haunt the archive as potentially affective spaces. The absences in the archive have implications for trauma studies and nation-building, and as such, could be considered as imagined documents wherein we are able to project an image of what Project Coast may have looked like. The absences are far reaching, and exist not only in this archive. As such, I posit that by considering these absences as ‘sites’ worthy of critical engagement, we are able to think anew about how the secrecy of apartheid continues to haunt post-apartheid archives.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Voor die aanvang van die Waarheids- en Versoeningskommissie (WVK) se ondersoeke in 1998 was daar bitter min oor Suid-Afrika se chemiese en biologiese oorlogsvoering- (CBO) vermoëns bekend. Ná die inhegtenisname van Wouter Basson in 1997 het Suid-Afrikaners met afsku aanskou hoe die WVK een van apartheid se mees afstootlike geheime, Project Coast, begin ontrafel het. Daar is 'n beduidende gebrek aan foto's wat direk met die projek verband hou, ten spyte van die feit dat 'n noemenswaardige aantal dokumente die onderskeie suiwerings van argiefmateriaal oorleef het. Visualisering van hoe die projek sou lyk gebeur dus grootliks binne die sfeer van die denkbeeldige. Ek oorweeg in hierdie studie die werk wat foto's in diens van die argief doen. Deur Project Coast binne huidige visuele sisteme van soortgelyke geheime internasionale CBO-programme te posisioneer, argumenteer ek dat die gebrek aan fotografiese bewyse aanduidend is van 'n ideologie van afwesigheid, en van geheimhouding as ideologies gefundeerd. In die eerste afdeling bespreek ek die foto's wat wel tot ons beskikking is vanuit private en openbare argiewe, in die vorm van nuusmediaverslae en die genarrativeerde beskrywing van Basson se kriminele verhoor, Secrets and Lies: Wouter Basson and South Africa’s Chemical and Biological Warfare Programme (Burger & Gould, 2002). As aanvullings en plekhouers faal hierdie foto's om aan die grootliks gefragmenteerde projek 'n teenwoordigheid te verleen. Ek argumenteer egter dat dit nie op die mislukking van die visuele neerkom nie. In die tweede afdeling ondersoek ek die Suid-Afrikaanse Geskiedenisargief se CBOprojekversameling, AL2922, en begin ek om maniere om afwesigheid te herken, te ontgin. Deur aan die afwesighede te dink as produktiewe ruimtes, wat toeganklik is deur dit te oorweeg as 'n "Thirdspace" (Soja, 1996), en om daarby betrokke te raak deur a-visueel te kyk, stel ek voor dat die lae van geheimhouding teruggetrek kan word, om die afwesighede waarvan die argief deurdrenk is as potensieel-affektiewe ruimtes te sien. Die afwesighede in die argief het gevolge vir traumastudies en nasiebou, en kan as sulks oorweeg word as denkbeeldige dokumente waarop ons 'n beeld van hoe Project Coast kon lyk, kan projekteer. Die afwesighede is verreikend, en is nie beperk tot hierdie argief alleen nie. Ek stel dus voor dat die oorweging van hierdie afwesighede as ruimtes wat kritiese btrokkenheid waardig is, ons in staat kan stel om opnuut te dink oor hoe die geheimhouding van apartheid voortgaan om by die post-apartheid argief te spook.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/101221
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