Dr Stephen Symons

Keywords: Apartheid, military spaces, conscription, counter-memory, forgetting, hyper-masculinities, memory, militarisation, nostalgia, post-apartheid, South African Defence Force, whiteness

Dr Stephen Symons’ postdoctoral “SAYING NO!” project articulates, curates and interrogates white apartheid-era militarisms in a contested present by creative means, drawing on various disciplines; including art, literature, music and photography from the past and present. This allows for an unprecedented public and academic record of an oft-hidden archive, which intends to encourage open conversations relating to the histories of militarised white South Africans. Dr Symons builds on his PhD research and continues to explore issues of masculinity, whiteness and militarised pasts, specifically the conscription of white males in apartheid South Africa. His research proposes new vantage points within the framework of visual studies and literature that act as alternative articulations in terms of knowledge production.

Additionally, the SAYING NO! project will continue to “live” and “resonate” within the digital domain via a website and series of e-catalogues. The virtual environment of the website will act as a forum for continued reflection, restoration and meditation, encouraging the exploration of inter-disciplinary methodologies aimed at traversing and mapping other silenced narratives of South Africans. It is hoped that the project will contribute to further alternative methods of scholarly research that ultimately humanises the past and contributes to peaceful and productive co-existence and acknowledgement. The project intends to draw attention to the importance of multi-methodological research within the academy and emphasise the importance of the creative arts as a legitimate means of research.

Publications in peer-reviewed/refereed journals (submitted)
“Casting Shadows” Militarised boyhoods in apartheid South Africa during the 1980s
International journal Childhood, Childhood Special Issue on Children, Childhoods, and Everyday Militarisms, SAGE – Routledge
Due for publication end of 2020

Published full-length conference papers/keynote addresses

‘Contemplating shadows under a different sun’
An examination of a personal photographic archive of a militarised childhood and subsequent induction into the South African Defence Force of the 1980s
The abstract can be accessed from here: http://tiny.cc/e19sbz
The paper can be accessed from: http://tiny.cc/lz9sbz

Solo exhibitions related to PhD research

NUTRIA exhibition at Castle of Good Hope, Cape Town (6th to the 16th June 2017)
NUTRIA 2 exhibition in the Humanities building foyer, University of Pretoria, Pretoria (9th February to 31st March 2018)
Visit: http://www.stephensymons.co.za for more info

SAFM Interview relating to research

PhD thesis title: Shadows asking an echo to dance – Navigating ambiguity: How former conscripts (1980-1990) navigate memories of induction into the South African Defence Force (SADF) in post-apartheid.
PhD thesis link: https://repository.up.ac.za/handle/2263/72697


PhD website: http://www.stephensymons.co.za
Postdoctoral website: https://sayingno.co.za/



How British war comics of the 60s, 70s and 80s aided the formulation of a militarised state-of-mind among white English speaking boys during apartheid.

CAST member Dr Stephen Symons’ exhibition explores the under-researched domain of British war comics and their indelible influence on English speaking boys during apartheid. It examines how war comics aided the tacit construction of a militarised state-of-mind, effectively buttressing the ideologies of the apartheid regime and former South African Defence Force (SADF).


The exhibition NUTRIA 2 – Imprints of Conscription into the SADF seeks to interrogate the manner in which memories of the conscription of white males into the former South African Defence Force (SADF) enter a contested present. South African society was gradually intruded upon and militarised by the Nationalist government, reaching its apogee in the mid-1980s. This involved a nuanced and complex ideological architecture in order to preserve the status quo of white minority rule. These largely silenced ‘militarised journeys’ began in childhood and have entered a contested present often imbued with a sense of nostalgia and romanticism. The post-post apartheid space and its dominant political discourses have prompted memories of conscription to assume the guise of counter-memory. American sociologist, George Lipsitz’s concept of counter-memory describes how memories unearth the past, exposing ‘hidden histories’ that have been excluded from dominant narratives (Lipsitz 1990).

Unless these memories of a militarised past are addressed with honesty and humanity we are doomed to separate futures that essentially ignore the ‘lived realities’ of others. Decades later ex-conscripts continue to grapple with lingering issues of accountability, compliance and trauma. I believe these memories can be navigated, acknowledged and disrupted effectively within a creative sphere.

The exhibition NUTRIA presents a series of creative engagements exploring the militarised pasts of ex-SADF conscripts, in the hope of encouraging open conversations relating to the hidden and oft silenced histories of all South Africans.

Stephen Symons
February 2018

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