In the year following South Africa's first democratic elections, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established to investigate human rights abuses committed under the apartheid regime. Presided over by God's own diplomat, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the first hearings of the commission were held in April 1996. During the following two years of hearings, South Africans were daily exposed to revelations and public testimony about their traumatic past, and--like the world that looked on--continued to discover that the relationship between truth and reconciliation is far more complex than they had ever imagined.
Antjie Krog, a prominent South African poet and journalist, led the South African Broadcasting Corporation team that for two years reported daily on the hearings. Extreme forms of torture, abuse, and state violence were the daily fare of the Truth Commission. Many of those involved with its proceedings, including Krog herself, suffered personal stresses--ill health, mental breakdown, dissolution of relationships--in the face of both the relentless onslaught of the truth and the continuing subterfuges of unrelenting perpetrators. Like the Truth Commission itself, Country of My Skull gives central prominence to the power of the testimony of the victims, combining a journalist's reportage skills with the poet's ability to give voice to stories previously unheard. --Rachel Holmes
From Publishers Weekly
This wrenching book tells the vital story of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), the body charged with exploring human rights violations in the apartheid past and with recommending amnesty and reparations. Krog, a poet who covered the TRC's two years of hearings as a radio reporter, presents a national (and personal) process of catharsis, cobbling together transcripts of testimony, reportage and personal meditations. The TRC, headed by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, gave voice to the anguished, often eloquent stories of numerous victims of apartheid, most?but not all?of whom were black. It put faces on stealthy killers and torturers seeking amnesty. And while it exposed the evil of the apartheid state, it did not ignore the dirty hands of Nelson Mandela's African National Congress or of his ex-wife, Winnie. Krog?who, like some other journalists covering the TRC, experienced psychological strain?presents Tutu and the TRC as heroic. While her partisanship is mostly excusable, this book has other flaws: published last year in South Africa, it lacks analysis of the TRC's October 1998 report and recommendations. More troubling are Krog's somewhat muddled meditations on the slippery nature of truth and narrative and her implication that small falsehoods are permissible?even necessary?for the discernment of a larger truth. While Country of My Skull shows evidence of an enduring racial divide, its ultimate hopefulness counterpoints Rian Malan's powerfully pessimistic My Traitor's Heart (1990). In both books, Afrikaner authors, members of the tribe that instituted apartheid, seek a place in their tortured, beloved country.
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