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A Human Being Died That Night: A South African Story of Forgivenessby Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela
Synopses & Reviews
An acutely nuanced and original study of a state-sanctioned mass murderer. Not since Dead Man Walking have we seen so provocative a first-person encounter with the human face of evil.
Eugene de Kock, the commanding officer of state-sanctioned apartheid death squads, is currently serving 212 years in jail for crimes against humanity. Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, who grew up in a black township in South Africa, served as a psychologist on that country's great national experiment in healing, the Truth and Reconcilation Commission. As this book opens, in an act of inescapable, multilayered symbolism and extraordinary psychological courage, Gobodo-Madikizela enters Pretoria's maximum security prison to meet the man called "Prime Evil." What follows is a journey into what it means to be human.
Gobodo-Madikizela's experience with and deep empathy for victims of murderous violence, including those killed by de Kock and their families and friends, become clear in arresting scenes set during the TRC hearings, in which both perpetrators and their victims are given voice. The author's profound understanding of the language and memory of violence, and of the searingly complex issues surrounding apology and forgiveness after mass atrocity, will leave a mark on scholarship as well as on our emotional lives. Gobodo-Madikizela's journey with de Kock, during which she allows us to witness the extraordinary awakening of his remorse, brings us to one of the great questions of our time: What does it mean when we discover that the incarnation of evil is as frighteningly human as we are?
"Gobodo-Madikizela's purpose in this gracefully written account is less to condemn than to document, understand, and ultimately forgive....There's much forgiving to be done in this world, and this primer in compassion makes a fine start." Kirkus Reviews
"[G]ripping stories....This is a refreshingly psychological study into society's ability to cope in the wake of great tragedy." Publishers Weekly
"More focused than most books about South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission....No easy answers, just the hope embodied in the TRC that cycles of political violence can be broken and that there are alternatives to revenge." Hazel Rochman, Booklist
"A talented author, Gobodo-Madikizela paints chilling scenes of total brutality while relaying de Kock's matter-of-fact account....A short, disturbing, well-written book that should find a strong readership..." Library Journal
"There is no more unsettling mystery than what allows an apparently normal human being to take part in institutionalized mass murder. Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela has every reason to loathe renowned death squad chief Eugene de Kock. But in this searching look at him, she gives evidence of an even greater human mystery: the capacity for understanding and compassion." Adam Hochschild, author of King Leopold's Ghost
"Through her encounters with Eugene de Kock, notorious as 'Prime Evil' when he headed up the apartheid government's killing farm, Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, wrestles with the agonizing perplexities of whether perpetrators of gruesome human rights violations and atrocities can or should be forgiven. This is not a cold or detached discussion, but a book that tugs at our humanity, compassion, and integrity." Archbishop Desmond Tutu
"A Human Being Died That Night is a disturbing voyage into the heart of a professional killer and a coolly intelligent analysis of how the conscience gets to be numbed, but also an exploration of the workings of forgiveness, a persuasive argument for the South African formula for reconciliation via the road of truth, and, not least, a testament to the author's powers of sympathy." J. M. Coetzee, author of Disgrace
"Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela has the nerve to look at a perpetrator as a human being, and the further nerve to tell us what she sees. Hers is a vision of moral clarity, compassion, and courage. Her telling is heartfelt, eloquent, and true." James Carroll, author of Constantine's Sword
Book News Annotation:
A clinical psychologist who served with Archbishop Desmond Tuto on the Human Rights Violations Committee of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Gobodo-Madikizela recounts how she interviewed Eugene de Kock, known as Prime Evil for his relentless pursuit and extermination of anti-apartheid activists, and the journey that sent her on into the far reaches of human cruelty, and how she has had to redefine the value of remorse and the limits of forgiveness. Annotation (c)2003 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
In this acutely nuanced and original study of a state-sanctioned mass murderer, Gobodo-Madikizela, a psychologist who grew up in a black South African township, enters Pretoria's maximum security prison to meet a man called "Dr. Death" who is serving 212 years in prison for crimes against humanity.
A Human Being Died That Night recounts an extraordinary dialogue. Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, a psychologist who grew up in a black South African township, reflects on her interviews with Eugene de Kock, the commanding officer of state-sanctioned death squads under apartheid. Gobodo-Madikizela met with de Kock in Pretoria's maximum-security prison, where he is serving a 212-year sentence for crimes against humanity. In profoundly arresting scenes, Gobodo-Madikizela conveys her struggle with contradictory internal impulses to hold him accountable and to forgive. Ultimately, as she allows us to witness de Kock's extraordinary awakening of conscience, she illuminates the ways in which the encounter compelled her to redefine the value of remorse and the limits of forgiveness.
Includes bibliographical references (p. 149-176) and index.
About the Author
Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela served on the Human Rights Violations Committee of South Africa's great national experiment in healing, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. She lectures internationally on issues of reconciliation.
Table of Contents
Contents 1. Scenes from Apartheid 1 2. An Encounter with Apartheids Crusader 13 3. The Trigger Hand 37 4. The Evolution of Evil 48 5. The Language of Trauma 79 6. Apartheid of the Mind 104 7. I Have No Hatred in My Heart” 117 Appendix: A Short History of Apartheid 137 Notes 143 Acknowledgments 171 Index 176
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