A Long Night’s Journey into Day is one of the most emotionally-charged documentaries I have seen in a long time and really made me question my notions of justice and what that looks like in the aftermath of atrocity. Through the stories told to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a picture of a broken nation is painted by a broken people. I acknowledged the importance in revealing the crimes of the perpetrators to the court of public opinion, but the pain it caused to the families of these victims made me wonder what it ultimately accomplished for them. What good could come from giving those who backed a racist system of oppression amnesty? It became clear to me when I heard Archbishop Tutu talk about his ideas on “restorative justice”
He mentioned that as a society, there is an emphasis on retributive justice for the victims, but that restorative could be just as impactful-if not more so. Going forward to the stories of the Gugulethu Seven was much more impactful to me after keeping the idea of restorative justice in mind. Watching the mothers of the boys as they painfully relived the experience of their sons’ deaths and came face to face with their killers. They went in unwilling to forgive, but by facing the pain and one of the men who caused it and allowing themselves to feel that horrific pain, they were able to forgive.
Before Tutu even introduces the idea it is illustrated by the Biehls and their willingness to forgive the men who killed their daughter. When confronted by the reality of her death they were able to heal and make sure that those who killed her and their families would not suffer. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was an entity dedicated to this restorative justice for not only the healing of those personally affected by the damages of an oppressive regime, but to the nation of South Africa itself. By confronting the pain caused in the past and through the acts of confession and forgiveness the hope is to absolve and to prevent the horrors of Apartheid from happening again.
One thought on “A Long Night’s Journey into Day: What does Restorative Justice Look Like?”
So glad watching the film was a powerful experience for you. If you want to think more about the “why” of restorative justice following historical atrocity and oppression, you might enjoy taking a look at Mamdani’s When Victims Become Killers as well as some of his shorter essays on the topic (he’s the one Krog quotes on the subject of perpetrators vs beneficiaries).