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.

The TRC – Just or Unjust?

While reading Krog’s “Country of My Skull” and watching the documentary “Long Night’s Journey into Day” I was very focused on the portrayal of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee in both. As I mentioned in my previous blog post, prior to watching and reading about South Africa and the violence within its apartheid society, I was completely unaware of it. The TRC especially interested me, because it is very different from the justice system here in the United States. The United States is primarily focused on incarceration (although many say it is also focused on rehabilitation) – while in South Africa it is shown that the TRC’s main focus is reconciliation as a form of justice.

One thing I think is a positive about the TRC is that the victims often get some form of closure. In the documentary, the perpetrators were brought forth in front of the TRC and confessed their crimes to the families and friends of the victims. There were also scenes where the the families got to meet face to face with the perpetrators and gain some sort of explanation and apology for the crimes committed against their loved one. Similarly, in “Country of My Skull” the TRC was in place to offer some sort of reconciliation and to try and move forward from South Africa’s dark and disturbing past.

Krog tells a narrative of her experience reporting on the TRC, and although the purpose of the TRC is supposed to be positive, there are many upsetting and unjust scenes told within her novel. In fact, in the introduction Krog states “And while some victims and survivors of the apartheid government say their agony won’t end so long as perpetrators get amnesty and victims get next to nothing (reparation, for those who qualify, comes to less than $200 per victim), others say that learning how and where their loved ones met their end has provided a certain closure, a measure of peace” (pg 10). This brings up the question if the TRC really does provide justice or if it is inherently unjust. 

Contrast Between Personal and Humanitarian Justice

William Tradd Stover

Long Night’s Journey Into Day explores South Africa’s implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee and tells four separate stories that piece together to form a rather emotional, complex narrative. Of the four stories, I was struck most by the first one about the Biehl family.

This story sort of introduces to the viewer what the TRC is and what it is meant to accomplish. The film as a whole forces its audience to think about life from all different perspectives, as there are many diverse backgrounds and experiences in South Africa. In this case, Amy Biehl is killed because of pure anger that the activists had for white people. At the time, they did not much care who this white person was, they only knew that they despised the horrors and prejudices of the Apartheid and needed to make themselves known. Little did they know, Amy was fighting for the same change that they were.

Amy’s parents’ response to the killing of their daughter is shocking and beautiful in a way. I would like to think that most people would be enraged if their child was murdered, especially while trying to do something good for others. Her parents, instead, chose to understand where that anger came from and react in the way that their daughter might have preferred. This plays into the complexity of how crimes are perceived in South Africa under Apartheid rule. Obviously, this murder was a crime onto the Biehl family, but the perpetrators’ entire lives had been filled with crimes committed against them by the system. Does that fact justify an act like this? I do not think there is really an answer to that question, and the movie shows this. The Biehls wanted amnesty for the people who took their daughter’s life. They chose to look at the bigger picture and to carry on Amy’s wish for change in South Africa. It could be understood, however, how the victim’s family in another case could want to deny the men’s amnesty.

I was surprised by this first ‘chapter’ of the film because of the nature and victim of the crime. I expected to see only the crimes that those affiliated with the Apartheid committed against those who they deemed lesser. We got those stories as well, but this one was the most effective for me. It alludes to the idea that many, not only those in South Africa, were ready to rid of the apartheid’s oppression. Overall, I see this film as wildly complex because of the nature of each individual circumstance. Can we blame an officer for doing his duty? Can we blame Amy Biehl’s killers for being red-eyed and violent? It is always difficult to ponder questions that have no direct answer.