Pursuit of Justice or Vengeance?

The gruesome documentary, Long Night’s Journey Into Day, takes a look at the apartheid that took place in South Africa from 1948-1994. Before watching this documentary, I had no idea what the apartheid was and I knew no information about it. I think it is very interesting that the creation and implementation of the apartheid was done by white people, yet 80% of the 7,000 perpetrators who applied for amnesty were black. The fact that the majority of the people who applied for amnesty were black from a law that was instituted to be racist towards black people, goes to show that the black were fighting against the inequality and injustice they were faced with on a day to day basis; however, I found myself torn between looking at the actions of the blacks as fighting back for justice, or violently seeking vengeance . 

To say I was torn on my viewpoints of the actions taken during the apartheid would be an understatement. The first story told of Amy Biehl, the American student killed in 1993, was a pretty sad story to watch and listen to. What really struck me was the fact that her parents were so accepting of what had happened, and did not hold any animosity towards the men or their families. The parents were so forgiving towards the mothers of the convicted men, which is a very powerful message to send, and is fundamentally what the TRC was created for. I personally felt some levels of hostility towards the men because of the fact that they went after and murdered an innocent woman simply because she was white and white people were their oppressor; it was killing for the sake of killing. On the flipside, the second case with the “Cradock 4,” was a complete display of injustice and racism against blacks by the police. The four men were out to attend the United Democratic Front when they were approached by police and killed. This was also pretty hard to take in, and to see the outcry of the community for the wrongful death of these men. The cop that came forward for amnesty, Eric Taylor, believed it was his “duty” to attack them, which again, was nothing but wrong and racist. 

Around this point in time, in the United States, Martin Luther King Jr. was fighting against blatant displays of racism as well through peaceful protests and was successful. Looking at how MLK went about handling the injustice black Americans faced, it makes me question whether or not the blacks in South Africa could have taken the same approach. But on the other side of that, they not only were faced with inequality, but were also being killed, so desperate times can influence desperate measures, however I believe the line was crossed into vengeful action when innocent people were being murdered for the sake of making a statement.

One thought on “Pursuit of Justice or Vengeance?”

  1. I really love that you used this post as an opportunity to articulate and work through your own strong and sometimes conflicting responses to this film and the challenges it presents to us as viewers in terms of how to make sense of the justifications for violence under apartheid. Part of the answer to your big questions, especially your comparative question about the U.S., needs to be answered by history: the circumstances of state-sponsored racism in South Africa are certainly different from those in play here, and so there’s an earnestness to *both* Eric Taylor *and* Amy Biehl’s killers’ articulation of why they understood their actions as politically necessary. (That is not to say that we have to accept those articulations at face value, but rather to acknowledge the context in which those articulations are possible, which in some sense is exactly what the TRC was set up to do.) Lots more to say about this, and I hope your reading of Krog has helped further develop your thinking – I’ll be eager to hear about how you’re responding to her in class today.

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