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Force or Choice?

I was confused at first as to why Krog would include a story from her personal life in her accounts of the amnesty cases in Country of My Skull. The story of her brothers and the cattle thieves in Chapter 1 seemed unrelated to the topic of the book for me. That is, until her brother used the word ‘force’ and it reminded me of something in Long Night’s Journey into Day. When the film reviews the case of the Gugulethu 7, one of the perpetrators, Thapelo Mbelo, who was a part of the Vlakplass police force, says “I was forced to do it.”.  Mbelo is being confronted by the mothers and wives of the men who were killed. One of the women accuses him of selling his blood, giving up his black brothers and sisters in exchange for money. And he agrees, but he says he had to take orders and he is asking for forgiveness because he was the one being told, not the one doing the telling. One of the mothers says that he did not have to go against his own community but he still implies it was the government that ultimately ruled him to do the killings. Same with Robert Mcbride who was a policeman who bombed a restaurant and killed three women. He, too, says that he was pressured to do it and that he only wanted to assist in ending apartheid; he thought that the government was trustworthy. Both allude to the authority of the government as reason for their actions. But some, like the mothers of the Gugulethu 7, would argue however that in the end these men still had a choice, even if the government made it their only choice. 

Similarly, in Country of My Skull, Krog tells of how her brother was ‘forced’ to kill the cattle thief. He says, “He who is trespassing and breaking the law – by running away, forcing me to shoot him – he is forcing me to point a gun at another human being and pull the trigger… and I hate him for that,” (16). He claims that the thief is forcing him to do it. But again, it is technically his choice. He could have taken another course of action, but Krog suggests that this is the only choice that will make the thieves learn, because in their society there would be no repercussions for the thieves unless the brothers had taken action themselves. 

In all of these situations, the men claim to have been forced to kill another person. Though, some would argue that they had a choice. It may not have been an easy choice, but it was still a choice. The government provided them with the option of taking another person’s life, or risking the lives of their families. So is this still considered force?

2 thoughts on “Force or Choice?”

  1. I think this is a super interesting point you’ve made in that numerous sides of the conflicts used being “forced” to participate in the violence as justification for their actions. This definitely complicates the blaming process, because it’s never quite apparent who exactly forced each party to do what they did. This also reminds me of Eichmann in Jerusalem, with the idea that when everyone is guilty, no one is.

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  2. I love that you brought these two moments together across the different texts in which they appear. There’s more to think through in terms of where each speaker imagines the “force” originating from. In the case of Krog’s brothers the imperative has to do with protecting property and family. The “force” in question for Biehl’s killers is a little more abstract, but also arguably a little more in line with how we understand wartime aggression. I wonder whether protecting one’s land could be understood as a kind of wartime stance, too, actually…


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