Date of Original Version
Abstract or Description
This chapter focuses on the convergence of DNA and history in the context of postapartheid South Africa. It examines the relationship between the recent use of forensic DNA profiling to identify missing and disappeared (primarily black) political activists from the apartheid era, and continuing debates over the history of the anti-apartheid struggle from elite and non-elite perspectives. It also foregrounds issues of identity in a country struggling to come to terms with its past. I begin with a general overview of the issues associated with the identification process in the post-apartheid era. I then focus in detail on two specific cases, that of the “Mamelodi 4” and the “Mamelodi 10,” in order to illustrate the complexity and ambiguity of the use of DNA identification to clarify history, and perform political work, in the new South Africa. In this story, DNA is not being used to define the boundaries of race, or to trace the origins of a particular group of people, but rather to ameliorate past injustices to a historically marginalized group defined entirely by race.
Genetics and the Unsettled Past: The Collision between DNA, Race, and History, Keith Wailoo, Alondra Nelson, and Catherine Lee (eds.), 295-312.