05 April 2021

An Unexpected Truth from the Apartheid Regime

05 April 2021 - Written by PhMuseum

Jansen van Staden embarks on a process of personal psychoanalysis as he seeks to come to terms with his familial history, and the consequences thereof, after he discovered a document detailing his father’s previously unknown role in the South African Border War.

After the death of my father in 2011, I discovered a letter, written to his psychotherapist, about his time in the South African Border War. He dedicated his life to sustainable projects and education in African countries, and what I read in the letter took me by surprise. It was not the man I knew. The letter detailed horrific incidents he took part in, as a 17-year-old boy. One paragraph from the letter bothered me the most:

"...she stated that I joined and did what I did because I wanted to kill people. It is truer than true."

Questions started harassing me. How was he raised? What influence did the apartheid regime and its ideologies have on the family? What circumstances could lead a 17-year-old boy to have such murderous intent? Where does all this violence stem from?

Through this journey, I discovered just how much my life has been influenced by my fathers' trauma. How my fathers' siblings are still affected by the ideologies of their father. Generations of trauma, ignorantly passed on, even though our genes. My generation is the first of South Africans not to experience war. We have the opportunity and the responsibility to observe all this within ourselves. To ensure that it does not continue.

After the war, my father turned against everything he knew. He left his father, and family. He craved resolve. He wanted so badly to be free from his shadows. But the consequences of his actions haunted him his whole life. He tried his best to keep it from his children and his wives. Ultimately, it slipped through the cracks.

Microlight will soon become a book. It is a collection of anecdotes, and, through telling these stories, I hope to open this discussion. I yearn for healing. I want to understand so that I can accept, and move on.

Words and Pictures by Jansen van Staden.


Jansen van Staden (b.1986 Potchefstroom, South Africa) Strongly influenced by his skateboarding background, Van Staden uses street photography as a conceptual entry point to reflect on personal imaginaries and social constructs of belonging and disconnect. He lives and works in Cape Town and is represented by From here on, Johannesburg. Find him on PHmuseum and Instagram.


This feature is part of Story of the Week, a selection of relevant projects from our community handpicked by the PHmuseum curators.

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