As we imagine this, we will walk. We will walk to and through these spaces. We might share some words or we might just be silent. We will carry the light from pain-infused site to pain-infused site. The musical rhythms will guide our steps. And we will add our meanings to these layers of history.
‘Place is what takes place between body and landscape’, says Michel de Certeau. He explains that it not only connects us to our world but helps us to see it differently.
Many a participant has testified to seeing the city differently after having done this walk, claiming to be unable to walk past any of the sites on the Emancipation Day route without a strong awareness of the people who had been there before, and whose localised suffering at the sites had been intense and dehumanising.
Walking to and through spaces is increasingly being valued as an impactful act of memorialisation in and of itself. Some scholars even refer to walking through spaces as a new genre of memorialisation, where the ordinary and even mundane practice of walking and making physical contact with the ground shifts the burden of memory onto the individual and transforms the act of memorialisation into a fully participatory experience.
Rosenberg refers to three distinct modes of walking: walking as journey; as transformative encounter, and as an everyday urban practice. The Emancipation Day ‘walk in the night’ (with thanks to Alex la Guma for creating a canon out of these simple words, which have become the descriptor of this annual event) encompasses all of these modes. It enables at the same time, a reflective awareness of modern-day forms of slavery and the many ways in which people are not free to exercise the mundane acts of life – even walking their streets. At this time we think particularly of the violence meted out on women and children, and the AIDS pandemic which continues to cripple and stifle life in all its fullness. As we commemorate and celebrate the end of the chattel slavery in our past, may we continue to be vigilant of the propensity for humans to act inhumanely towards other humans, and the need for us all to act against new forms of slavery which continue to rear their threatening heads.