While reading Country of My Skull, one of the lines that jumped off of the page for me was on page 77; the line reads, “South Africa’s shameful apartheid past has made people lose their humanity. It dehumanized people to such an extent that they treated fellow human beings worse than animals. And this must change for ever.” After reading the many stories of the ways in which victims were tortured and killed, this line held a strong weight regarding the pervasiveness of dehumanization that occurred in South Africa.
Similarly, this line also brought to mind the same concept of the cycle of violence that was illustrated in Death and the Maiden. This made me wonder what would have happened to Paulina if she was allowed a similar opportunity to “reconcile;” from my perspective, Paulina’s radical behavior was as a result of there being no opportunity for her to obtain closure of any kind. For this reason, she took the situation in her own hands and acted in a way that was significantly more violent than what likely would have occurred at the hands of the government or a higher authority. The weight of what happened to Paulina was, to me, a result of the fact that the atrocities committed against her were dismissed because they did not end in death and she had no option for reconciliation, revenge, or closure. In the TRC, on the other hand, victims who were both dead and alive were given the chance to obtain “reconciliation.” I wonder, if this had occurred for Paulina, would her appetite for revenge have been curbed?
From my perspective, the greatest strength of the TRC was the opportunity to offer acknowledgement to the victims of violence. The system was undeniably imperfect, but it is my opinion that, if this same opportunity has been offered to Paulina, much of the violence that ensued would have been avoided. Instead, she was repeatedly accused of being mentally ill and told to move on from the incident while simultaneously being denied any opportunity for closure; in this situation, it is no wonder that she reacted in a violent and irrational way. The only way to exit the cycle of violence is to provide acknowledgement of past wrongdoings and agree to move away from them – though imperfectly, I think the TRC did this well.