Country of My Skull: Guilt, Sorrow, and the Limits of Forgiveness in the New South Africa
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Ever since Nelson Mandela dramatically walked out of prison in 1990 after twenty-seven years behind bars, South Africa has been undergoing a radical transformation. In one of the most miraculous events of the century, the oppressive system of apartheid was dismantled. Repressive laws mandating separation of the races were thrown out. The country, which had been carved into a crazy quilt that reserved the most prosperous areas for whites and the most desolate and backward for blacks, was reunited. The dreaded and dangerous security force, which for years had systematically tortured, spied upon, and harassed people of color and their white supporters, was dismantled. But how could this country--one of spectacular beauty and promise--come to terms with its ugly past? How could its people, whom the oppressive white government had pitted against one another, live side by side as friends and neighbors?
To begin the healing process, Nelson Mandela created the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, headed by the renowned cleric Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Established in 1995, the commission faced the awesome task of hearing the testimony of the victims of apartheid as well as the oppressors. Amnesty was granted to those who offered a full confession of any crimes associated with apartheid. Since the commission began its work, it has been the central player in a drama that has riveted the country. In this book, Antjie Krog, a South African journalist and poet who has covered the work of the commission, recounts the drama, the horrors, the wrenching personal stories of the victims and their families. Through the testimonies of victims of abuse and violence, from the appearance of Winnie Mandela to former South African president P. W. Botha's extraordinary courthouse press conference, this award-winning poet leads us on an amazing journey.
Country of My Skull captures the complexity of the Truth Commission's work. The narrative is often traumatic, vivid, and provocative. Krog's powerful prose lures the reader actively and inventively through a mosaic of insights, impressions, and secret themes. This compelling tale is Antjie Krog's profound literary account of the mending of a country that was in colossal need of change.
am white, that I have to reacquaint myself with this land, that my language carries violence as a voice, that I can do nothing about it, that after so many years I still feel uneasy with what is mine, with what is me. The woman next to me looks surprised when I sing the Free State version of “Nkosi.” She smiles, holds her head close to mine, and shifts to the alto part. The song leader opens the melody to us. The sopranos envelop; the bass voices support. And I wonder: God. Does He hear us? Does
in. He might not have much to say, but at least he identifies himself with his underlings, something no powerful person from the old regime has done yet. He also spells out the difference between the politician and the soldier: the one takes the decision; the other carries it out. The better you carry it out, the better soldier you are. Unexpected overtones accompany the second narrative at the launch of the book Reconciliation through Truth by Kader Asmal, Louise Asmal, and Ronald Suresh
what does it mean?” “It deals with war psychosis. It means that in the past we had no choice but to live by simple white or black guidelines. But we shouldn’t continue being dictated to by oversimplified credos during times of peace. We must try and make space for ambiguity.” When he walks off, Sello asks: “Who is that?” “The grandson of Dr. Verwoerd.” Sello stops. He gapes at me. His eyes widen. Then he sits down flat on the pavement—notebooks and cassettes scatter. “This man?” “Ja,” I say.
asked to conclude the discussion, he startles us by asking: “If truth has replaced justice in South Africa, has reconciliation then turned into an embrace of evil?” We gasp. Words like “amnesty,” “blanket amnesty,” flash through my mind. “Five years ago, if someone mentioned to me a new democracy and a genocide, I am not sure I would have fitted South Africa and Rwanda into the correct slots. What I still ask myself is whether it is not easier to live with perpetrators than with beneficiaries.”
rehabilitation policy of the Truth Commission is to be discussed at a workshop. The media are allowed to attend. The Reparation and Rehabilitation Committee could make or break the Truth Commission. It will help little if the transgressors walk away with amnesty, but the victims, who bear the appalling costs of human rights abuses, experience no restitution. No gesture of recognition or compensation. When the legislation was first explained to the commissioners, so it’s been said, some of them