REVIEW: 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.
By JOSHUA TANZER
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.
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.
|LONG NIGHT'S JOURNEY INTO DAY|
|Directed by: Frances Reid, Deborah Hoffmann.|
Featuring: Desmond Tutu, Paul and Linda Biehl, Eric Taylor, Cynthia Ngewu, Robert McBride.
Related links: Official site
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."
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|
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