Investigating Trauma and its Intergenerational Repercussions

How do experiences of collective trauma remain salient after successful transition from violent and oppressive rule to democratic governments, and what are the factors that determine transmission of historical trauma across generations? In order to understand the phenomenon of transgenerational trauma in the aftermath of historical trauma fully, we have to engage multiple levels of analysis, including on the societal, community and individual levels. Our view is that the individual and structural dimensions of the repercussions of mass trauma and violence—i.e., consideration of the broader social, cultural and political impacts on the lives of survivors—have mutual significance for our understanding of the dynamics of transgenerational trauma. They are intertwined and mutually reinforcing. By adopting this multifaceted approach, we seek to widen the lens through which we investigate the phenomenon of transgenerational trauma. In doing so, we are conscious of the fact that we will encounter not only stories of how traumatic memory of the past plays out, but also stories of individual survivors and survivor communities’ memory of suffering from current daily traumas, the everyday violations to human dignity. This approach to this initiative brings a critical research perspective to bear on a question whose relevance goes beyond South Africa, and opens up space for interdisciplinary connection among history, sociology, psychology, philosophy, the arts, and other disciplines.

Field Work

We have identified three research sites for the project in the Western Cape: Bonteheuwel, Langa, and Worcester. Two factors guided the selection of these research sites: black township communities with a history of sustained violence during the years of apartheid; and areas that were represented at the Truth and Reconciliation’s gross human rights violations hearings. The first phase of data collection, conducted by trained researchers, has been completed. (Go to Research Communities for information on the training of researchers.)  This process involved individual interviews in all three research sites. The second phase of data collection, Focus Groups, is scheduled to start in September 2016.

The importance of having a reliable and trusted group of community-based implementation partners – both individuals and organizations based in the research locations/sites – cannot be over emphasised.

Research Training Gallery

Research Training Dateline


On 23 September

Training of the researchers

On 23 September 2015 a full-day meeting was organised and co-hosted with IJR to explore a research methodology that would best suit the sensitive nature of this project. The meeting was attended by Professor Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela (University of the Free State and Stellenbosch University), Friederike Bubenzer (IJR), Sarah van der Walt (IJR), Dr Samantha van Schalkwyk (University of the Free State), Dr Kim Wale (University of the Free State), Professor Anthony Collins (Durban University of Technology), Professor Kopano Ratele (Medical Research Council and University of South Africa), Stan Henkeman (IJR), and Professor Steven Robins (University of Stellenbosch).

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14 January

Training briefing meeting

On 14 January 2015, all the selected researchers attended a briefing meeting at the offices of the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (IJR) in Cape Town. Project leader, Professor Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela and IJR Senior Project Leader Friederike Bubenzer introduced the project which was also attended by project partners Dr Samantha van Schalkwyk, Sarah van der Walt and Professor Kopano Ratele. The researchers were invited to introduce themselves and to talk about their personal interest in the project. The project design, objectives, outcomes and general logistics were discussed at the meeting.


8 –12 February



All researchers attended a 5-day training from 8 –12 February, which was organised and hosted by the partner organisation, the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation. The purpose of the training was to familiarize the research team with one another, to ensure an enhanced understanding of the key themes that underpin the nature of the project and the enquiry, to equip researchers with oral history interviewing skills and to jointly work through the practical logistics of carrying out the project in the three selected communities.

Part of the facilitation team were Professor Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela (University of the Free State / Stellenbosch University), Friederike Bubenzer Senior Project Leader (IJR), Sarah van der Walt, Research Assistant (IJR), Dr Samantha van Schalkwyk (University of the Free State), Dr Kim Wale (University of the Free State), Professor Sean Field (University of Cape Town), Professor Anthony Collins (Durban University of Technology), Professor Kopano Ratele (Medical Research Council and University of South Africa), Mark Kaplan, South African film maker, Kenneth Lukuko (IJR), Stan Henkeman (IJR), and Margaret Green, Psychotherapist in Private Practice, Trauma specialist & EMDR Practitioner.

Field Training Gallery