Distinction between a story and the truth

One thing that makes the TRC testimonies so emotionally effective is the uniqueness of each story and what version of the truth they tell. Antjie Krog examines the personalization of individual’s stories especially when recounting the murder of Richard Mutase and his wife. What was particularly interesting about this story is that there are four different narratives of the events that happened on the night of the murders. The discrepancies between these stories seem to undermine the truth: the truth of the dead, the truth of the survivor, and the mission of the TRC. Through the analysis of these stories, Krog seems to be critical of the TRC and how the stories told, especially by those who committed violent crimes and advanced apartheid, alter their truth to cater towards the audience present at the hearings, as well as the “imagined audience”, who are those that these narrators think will appreciate the personalized story the most.

What was interesting to me was that in chapter 8 there seemed to be a distinction between the concept of a “story” and the “truth”. The stories told in regard to the Mutase murders are the best example of this because while the four stories have overlapping components, it is clear that the truth is missing when the stories start to differ from one another. The stories become more about proving which perpetrator is lying, versus what is the truth of the situation, which results in a lack of justice for the victims and their families.

Truth Commission vs Eichmann

When reading the first chapter of Country of My Skull, I could not help but think about our class discussion about the first chapter of Eichmann in Jerusalem. In our discussion, we talked about how the courtroom in Eichmann in Jerusalem is set up like a theater which takes away from the complexity of the situation. This is seen when the prosecution tries to paint Eichmann as an evil mastermind who orchestrated the whole Holocaust in order to create a sense of sensationalism which is simply not correct and it undermines the whole legal process.

In the first chapter of Country of My Skull, the exact opposite atmosphere is set up.The Truth Commission is extremely complex and anything but simple. Justice Dullah Omar states the Truth Commission started because “a strong feeling that some mechanism must be found to deal with all violations in a way which would ensure that we put the country on a sound moral basis” (8). The commission acknowledges the complexity of the past political policy and understands that a magnitude of people were hurt by these policies. Most importantly they realize that not one person is responsible but that a long history of political policies and politicians are to be blamed. There is not one person to put the blame on because apartheid represents a whole political system, and it would be unfair to the victims for the process to be rushed. In Eichmann in Jerusalem, the court is less concerned with finding out the truth and more concerned about being the court that tires and finds guilty a member of the Nazi regime. Having this scapegoat takes away from the truth and the complexity of the Holocaust. Former commissioner of police, General Johan van der Merwe talks about how he was an enforcer of the law but never an advocate. He says that, “it is not the police who came up with apartheid but the politicians” (6).

The Tragedy of the TRC

Within the movie, Long Night’s Journey Into Day, we are taken through personal stories and actions during the Apartheid’s rule in South Africa which lasted from 1948-1994. This film is startling yet beautiful in the way it recounts the experience of real people with real emotions. This movie is raw and explicit, but then again, so was the Apartheid. This film follows the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the court-like body assembled in order to distribute justice after the end of the Apartheid.

As many people were put on “trial” for crimes they committed against the South African people, it was explained that it almost had seemed like the TRC was similar to the reenactment of an ancient tragic play. This was especially interesting as this association is unique when you look at the other traits of the film. “The audience actually plays the role of a chorus in [this] ancient tragic play (Long Night’s). The purpose of the chorus within ancient plays is to connect the audience deeper to the characters and play itself. As they reenact and retell the horrid stories of what happened to many innocent people, when the audience “squirms” naturally, so does the audience. Although the chorus of the TRC is a sensible and composed group of people, they are still people fighting for their freedom and justice.

In this presentation of justice you notice the audience, or the chorus, as one cohesive unit, fighting for what is right. One protester during this time is recorded saying that “when you kill [him] you create more enemies […] my family is becoming your enemy and my friends become your enemy” (Long Night’s). This reference of one united force, fighting for justice, this “tragedy”, to me, becomes a lot more of a battle cry for the citizens of South Africa.

When I first watched this movie and they brought up the connection of the play, I actually restarted the film in order to do my best to understand how they would display the trial and chorus. Although just a glance into the issues of the Apartheid, we get a close comparison of how the innocent people of this area were affected by such an actual real tragedy.

Is Justice Black and White?

There were many parts of the film Long Night’s Journey Into Day that were extremely shocking and horrifyingly true. These accounts of violence during the fight against apartheid presents the question of whether or not the crimes committed during this violent period, on both sides, are capable of being forgiven. Something that I noticed during this film is that during this time of violence, both parties had the same basic mindset: it’s us or them, kill or be killed, black or white. What the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) did well, in my opinion, was provide an understanding environment for those accused of crimes, especially those fighting apartheid. Whether or not justice was served by the commission is questionable, as seen through the hearings of those seeking amnesty and the interviews of the families who lost someone dear to them. The film left a strange, unsettling feeling as the answer is not clear. Justice is not clear cut, not black and white, rather it is a spectrum that depends on the parties involved and the crimes committed. As a side note, one thing I thought was particularly interesting was the statistic that out of the many people who applied for amnesty, 80% of those were black, which was such a jarring statistic to me since the white people in South Africa were the ones in power and they were the ones facilitating the large scale oppression of the majority population.