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Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela: Pardon Eugene de Kock

A Human Being Died that NightPumla Gobodo-MadikizelaAlert! Of all those clamouring to comment on the pending (or not) pardon for Eugene “Prime Evil” de Kock, perhaps no one is better placed to lend insight into what the man and his deeds mean for South Africa – its past, its system of justice, its future – than Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, who interviewed him extensively for her 2003 TRC book, A Human Being Died that Night.

In a recent Mail & Guardian piece, Gobodo-Madikizela puts forth a carefully constructed argument in favour of the pardon. Her hopes are that the act would catalyse “a new politics of remembrance” among South Africans – one in which the socialisation of violence is recognised as a culprit as much as any violent individual. Keeping de Kock behind bars, she writes, “would encourage ‘the great forgetting’ – to paraphrase Adam Rothschild’s description of the forgotten horrors of colonial Europe”.

Wishful thinking? Here’s Gobodo-Madikizela’s piece:

A question that most people have asked concerning De Kock is whether he deserves to be released. Those who oppose the idea of his release say that he is too tainted with the blood of victims, too “evil” to be allowed to rejoin the world of moral humanity. Yet, how “innocent”, how “pure” is our society of free men and women? It is not very long ago that we witnessed our young white men being sent to fight the apartheid government’s war against freedom fighters across our borders.

De Kock was introduced to the badge of “evil” he has to wear through the same system of army conscription at the tender age of 16.

Where are these men who fought the same battles as De Kock in Rhodesia, Namibia and Mozambique, what did they do in the service of apartheid, and what painful and gruesome secrets do they harbour? Have we forgotten the times when we faced the cruel irony of watching or reading about black vigilante groups and young white soldiers killing black people in the townships in the name of rooting out communism?

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Recent comments:

  • <a href="http://fionasnyckers.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Fiona</a>
    Fiona
    January 21st, 2010 @22:04 #
     
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    This is an excellent article, although so hard to accept on a gut level. When I read the names "Eugene de Kock" and "Clive Derby-Lewis", I feel an instant, visceral reaction of hatred.

    "Monsters," I think, "Thank God they're locked away." But Gobodo-Madikizela is right, of course. The monster is inside me - inside all of us - and can never be locked up or made to go away. Preserving the illusion that it can only makes these atrocities more likely to happen again.

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  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    January 21st, 2010 @22:41 #
     
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    There's actually an amazing synergy of posts at the moment, each arguing very cogently for opposing and highly emotive positions. I've now watched the Zapiro cartoon interview on the issue of pardons, and read both Gobodo-Madikizela and van der Westhuizen's pieces. (And you could make the case that Allister Sparks's scathingly brilliant piece on the Neronic fiddling of our leaders is not unrelated). I'm not sure where I stand here. I like Gobodo-Madikizela's imaginative and ethical largesse -- but what about the floodgate phenomenon? If de Kock walks, then who on earth can we legitimately continue to incarcerate?

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  • Ben - Editor
    Ben - Editor
    January 21st, 2010 @23:11 #
     
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    It's developed into an uncommonly thoughtful debate, hasn't it? Here are the other pieces mentioned by Helen:

    Zapiro - http://book.co.za/5jm9
    Christi van der Westhuizen - http://book.co.za/yTen
    Allister Sparks - http://book.co.za/833u

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  • <a href="http://www.moxyland.com" rel="nofollow">Lauren Beukes</a>
    Lauren Beukes
    January 22nd, 2010 @20:10 #
     
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    I'm constantly shocked at this country's capacity for reconciliation, for the ANC government to give a state funeral to the Groot Krokodil, for Jonathan Jansen to extend a pardon to the stupid racist fratboys who tormented the cleaning staff at the University of the Free State. And then I'm shocked by my shock, by my gut reaction - my inability to see the bigger picture, to let go of the grudge, to understand the context, to forgive, to reconcile.

    But this one stretches the limits of what I can bear.

    I don't know if pardoning DeKock will bring us any closer to reconciling with the evils of the time that shaped men like him, the same way poverty and substance abuse and lack of education and opportunity are shaping violent men right now.

    In some ways I think we need a symbol, an (anti-)Christ figure to be held up in public, to suffer for the sins of others, the monsters that got away, to acknowledge the evil within all of us.

    Will his pardon not absolve those other monsters of their sins without due process? A handy get out of guilt free card without coming to terms with what they've done?

    Do symbols count? Does punishment mean anything? (Particularly in our failed criminal justice system). MUST evil be punished? What precedent does a pardon set?

    Certainly reconciliation is a harder path. Easier to throw away the key and let them rot and maybe our conscience, our deeper understanding of this, of who we are, what we're capable of, to rot in there with them.

    When is tolerance intolerable?

    I don't know. I'm struggling with this.

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  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    January 22nd, 2010 @21:51 #
     
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    Also struggling, Lauren, and for similar reasons. Mercy is the most sublime of human gestures, but but but. Reconciliation and rehabilitation are good words, but so hard to translate into practical reality.

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  • <a href="http://fionasnyckers.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Fiona</a>
    Fiona
    January 22nd, 2010 @22:48 #
     
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    Preserving the checks and balances of a liberal state are all that can stop such atrocities from happening again. Free speech. Freedom of assembly. A free press. A genuine democracy. I'm one of those apparently rare people who doesn't believe that "liberal" is a dirty word.

    We can lock up the perpetrators of atrocities, but we shouldn't fool ourselves into thinking that we are locking up the propensity to commit atrocities with them. The propensity will always be there. The trick lies in keeping the societal mechanisms in place that tend to protect people against their own tendency to turn vicious.

    The one thing that bothers me about reconciliation is this: if we extend amnesty to all those who were "acting under orders", or who believed themselves to be in a state of war, or who were under the sway of an evil regime, should we not equally refrain from punishing those whose socio-economic and personal circumstances turn them into murderers, robbers, rapists etc? Tout comprendre c'est tout pardonner. Or is it?

    Is there no place for detention, isolation or punishment in our society? And if so why extend it to one brand of murderers rather than another?

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  • <a href="http://www.moxyland.com" rel="nofollow">Lauren Beukes</a>
    Lauren Beukes
    January 23rd, 2010 @07:25 #
     
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    What she said

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  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    January 23rd, 2010 @14:37 #
     
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    I'm also with Fifi here. Punishment via incarceration seems to be one of the only ways a society can exact accountability in certain cases. In this morning's Cape Times, speculation is rife that Zuma intends pardoning de Kock so as to clear the way to pardoning Schaik. *reaches for sick bucket*

    PS: Fifi, re the "l" word: I started calling myself a radical militant feminist in my 20s. It was both true and a good rhetorical tactic (some of the responses, esp when I was wearing bright red lipstick at the time, were very funny). I've stuck with it all these years. I suspect I'm one of those folk who thank God for liberals, and dream radical dreams (free child care or tax-deductible at the very least... free health care... men to be educated re GBV... equal pay for equal work... solar panels compulsory and supplied by state... 4X4s banned unless you can prove you live at the end of 40 ks of potholed dirt road... rollout of community gardens and allotments... huge curbs on individual parliamentarian spending... proper training and respect for teachers, librarians and nurses... environment-oriented lifestyles supported by business and state... etc)

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