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      Long Night's Journey Into Day
    The truth hurts

    "Long Night's Journey into Day" provides a fascinating glimpse into South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission and some of the cold-blooded killers who came forward to admit their crimes.


    One of the most amazing dramas in the world has been South Africa's nonviolent transition from the murderous apartheid era to all-inclusive democracy, and "Long Night's Journey into Day" brings one fascinating part of that drama to life. The documentary follows four cases before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the panel empowered to offer amnesty for the most appalling crimes of the apartheid period if the perpetrators will simply tell what they know and what they did. This deal sounds unbelievably charitable, but the new leaders of South Africa decided that exposing crimes and rehabilitating the people responsible was the surest path to democracy and trust.

    Directed by: Frances Reid, Deborah Hoffmann.
    Featuring: Desmond Tutu, Paul and Linda Biehl, Eric Taylor, Cynthia Ngewu, Robert McBride.

    Related links: Official site
    The film notes that 80 percent of the amnesty applicants were black, and it follows two cases of white-on-black violence and two black-on-white, including the notorious murder of American student Amy Biehl by three black youths. The filmmakers also interview a bomber who killed both white soldiers and civilians, a policeman who helped kill some community organizers, and a black cop who infiltrated a group later slaughtered by white police.

    The most interesting thing to watch is the psychological tightrope walked by each of these murderers. They make their apologies before the committee, but none seem to have truly looked within themselves to confront the evil that led them to kill. White and black, they excuse themselves on the grounds that the political climate was heightened during the apartheid years and so their actions were understandable. One of Amy Biehl's killers says he found out later that his victim was an American working to fight apartheid and he realized, "We killed the wrong person."

      Long Night's Journey Into Day
    A white cop named Eric Taylor comes the closest to self-understanding when he describes his feelings after seeing the American film "Mississippi Burning," the story of a group murder little different from the one that he helped carry out. "I saw that that was not what policing is all about — it ought to be about protection, not assassination," he says.

    This, you'd think, would be the least of the epiphanies that the perpetrators of violence underwent, but it's the furthest anyone is willing to go. Even Taylor seems to excuse his own actions as a simple case of keeping the peace: "There was only one way to stabilize these areas, and that was by neutralizing [slaying victim] Mr. Goniwe and his like." What is most remarkable about the tragic stories told in "Long Night's Journey into Day" is not the reconciliation promised by the TRC but the unwillingness of its witnesses to confront the truth.

    Still, commission chairman Bishop Desmond Tutu believes that this extraordinary process by compelling the truth has served the important purpose of establishing a new society. "We make the mistake of conflating all justice into retributive justice, whereas there is a thing called restorative justice," he says.

    MARCH 28, 2000

    Reader comments on Long Night's Journey Into Day:

  • request for a copy   from cecil, Sep 11, 2001
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