donal mccracken on heritage in post-revolutionary ireland and south africa


Donal P. Mccracken, ‘Equivocators or zealots? Post-revolutionary re-imaging colonial languages, names and name change in Ireland and South Africa’, Critical Arts: South-North Cultural and Media Studies 26, 4 (2012).

Successful revolutionaries often find themselves in a distinctly uneasy position vis-à-vis the cultural burden of the pre-revolution which they inherit. Establishing a stable and effective government often means alienating their own ‘wild men screaming through the key hole’. Yet, they also need to stamp their revolutionary credentials both on the new society they wish to construct and as a territorialising edict to the defeated. This also serves as an implicit edict to the defeated that their day has passed. To achieve this, manipulation of imagery is fundamental in the successful revolutionary’s arsenal. This article documents the reaction of two very different counties, Ireland and South Africa, in their post-revolutionary eras. It notes their differing, and at times bizarre, attempts at re-branding nationhood in the image of the successful revolution. Ireland after 1922 was on the whole more restrained in its image-making than was South Africa after 1994, yet both, for reasons of revolutionary fervour, revenge or strategy, showed the old order that change was non-negotiable, be it in language policy, civic honours and titles, emblems and symbols of state, or simply in place and street names. In such instances heritage is frequently the handmaiden of political necessity, often crude but sometimes subtle.

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