These are the things that sit with us


“These Are the Things that Sit with Us” is a book edited by Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, Marietjie Oelofsen, and the IJR’s Friederike Bubenzer. The editors compiled a collection of short stories from people living in Langa, Bonteheuwel and Worcester, who picked from their memories and narrated the atrocities of our nation’s past; those who still today endure the impact of a violent apartheid system.

The book makes visible undocumented everyday experiences that shaped the lives of Black and Brown South Africans during the country’s brutal and painful past. It is a record of things that “sit” within all of us.

In the narration of their memories, the storytellers map the scope of the wider and difficult conversations about the meaning(s) of justice, and the parts missing in the discourse of reconciliation in South Africa. It extends the national conversation about South Africa’s history and what it means to talk to and listen to others within the context of this history.

Reading the stories contained within this book evoked a wide range of emotions within me. Moreover, it it made me realise the significant magnitude of trauma (often internalised and silenced) that emanated as a direct consequence of apartheid violence inflicted on Black and Brown bodies, and the effects reverberate to this day.

The trauma did not magically heal when our country moved into a democratic dispensation. Instead, it continued- continues!- to sit with those who were victims of an oppressive system. When one realises that those who sit silently with stories of trauma includes millions of Black and Brown citizens in South Africa the importance of the publication of “These Are the Things that Sit with Us” is important and necessary.

This oppressive silence and erasure of people’s stories severe lack of peoples stories led me to ask my 85 year old grandmother if there were any memories that stuck with her from our country’s painful past. This is her story:

“When I was seven months pregnant me and my husband were boarding a bus from Goodwood to Maitland. My husband went to the conductor and asked if I couldn’t just stand at the bottom level because I was highly pregnant. The conductor replied angrily “No, go upstairs”. Back in those days the bottom floor of the busses was reserved for white people and the top floor was for people of colour. 

I had no choice but to climb the stairs. It was terrible experience climbing those stairs, especially coming down those extremely narrow steps which were a spiral. That was an experience that I will never forget. When I eventually made my way upstairs, I wasn’t sad. I even remember thinking to myself that my husband shouldn’t have even asked the question of the conductor in the first place, because those were the rules of the times.” – Anette Erasmus, 85.


Mikhail Petersen holds a Bachelors of Social Science degree in Politics and Economic History as well as an LLB from UCT. Mikhail is an intern within the Sustained Dialogue Programme at the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, based in Cape Town.