Friday, March 21, 2008

A Long Night's Journey

“Long Night’s Journey into Day” is an optimistic name for this documentary that describes South Africa’s unique situation in coming to terms with the consequences of Apartheid, through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). Throughout the film, I was struck by the strong emotions exhibited by the different sides. It managed to give me a slight peek into the complexities involved in day-to-day existence in present day South Africa. To me, the most striking aspect of the film was that it managed to convey a feeling of hope, even when it seemed that there was no room for any.

The cases profiled in the documentary were, for the most part, similar in one aspect: the racial demarcation between aggressor and victim. I think it is easy to draw lines and assign roles such as “good” or “evil” when differences between groups are clearly visible. That is, after all, human nature. Thus, with the concept of a non-white majority being oppressed by a white minority in the back of my mind, I pretty much expected that the same pattern would be revealed in the cases presented before the TRC.

Even when the violence was reversed, with the non-whites being aggressors against whites, it still fitted in with the simple idea that it was a war between races. It is for this reason that the involvement of Thapelo Mbelo, a black South African, in the deaths of fellow blacks, the Guguletu seven, stood out.Thapelo’s case was significant to me because it served as a reminder that the processes that South Africa had gone through had fractured the nation along several lines. The complexity of the situation was disheartening.

I found myself wondering what hope there was for this nation in which even the lines between foe and friend were not clear-cut. Was the long night’s journey really ending, and were the South African people emerging into the daylight? That was and still is a hard question to answer.
It was sad and somewhat ironic that Thapelo was the most unambiguous individual about the crimes that he committed. It seemed to me almost as if he was describing someone else committing the acts. At no point did he try to claim innocence or to hide behind false justifications. I have to wonder what it is like to be Thapelo, to know full well that the people you are killing could easily be your own family, and to have to deal with that reminder everyday. It obviously was not easy. As he admitted, when his conscience started acting up, he would drink to forget.

I hate to be pessimistic, but when I think about South Africa’s present situation, I see generations marked by a policy of hate. I do believe that with time, the society will return to what we tend to perceive as normal. In the meantime, however, thousands or more continue to live with burdens on their consciences, and others feel that their actions were justified.

Is it possible to un-train a person trained to hate to save his life? Is it possible to destroy all the institutions (including religions) that perpetuated this system of hate? All human society is struggling with this question in one way or another. In that way, South Africa is not unique. The long night’s journey is still continuing. In that vein, the mothers of Thapelo’s victims were able to find it in their hearts to forgive and to embrace him. That is the primary indicator that there is hope. It is true that South Africa saw humans pushed to the extremes of hate. On the other hand, the other extreme, love and forgiveness was just as important a part of the picture. It is this complexity that we should keep in mind always: the fact that human nature and life are colored by both ends of the spectrum.

Creative Commons License This essay is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License. Please feel free to use my writing for non-commercial purposes and do credit my name, Rose Kahendi, as the writer.

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