In Ch. 8 of Antjie Krog’s Country of My Skull, “Guilt Is on the Move with All Her Mantles,” Krog recounts the multiple versions of the Mutase murders heard by the amnesty committee. Reflecting on these testimonies, Krog writes, “Oral narratives […] are driven by remembered core phrases and images that carry the distillation of the entire story” (111). Krog goes on to explain, “It’s worth noting where the stories differ- on the question of accountability. No one will admit to killing Irene Mutase, because no political reason could possibly exist why an ordinary nurse had to be killed” (111). While reading Krog, this moment in the text in which Krog points out the lack of admission of guilt for Irene Mutase’s murder stood out to me, because I believe it gets at many of the questions about the purpose of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee that I have been thinking about as I read Krog.
If the purpose of the TRC was to provide a means for South Africans to come to terms with the horrors of the past so that they might move forward into the future, what does it mean that individuals are unwilling or unable to go public with the full truth of what happened? In my opinion, the way that those involved with the Mutase murders all admitted their involvement without admitting to the killing of Irene Mutase shows that they have not fully embraced the mission of the TRC. It is almost as if they entered their testimony as a way to get amnesty, not as a way to bring the full truth out into the open so that healing can begin. This in and of itself seems to throws the whole moral and social mission of the TRC into question.
Krog’s discussion of the telling of these narratives before the TRC complicates my thinking on this issue. According to Krog, while these narratives may not heal the wounds of the past, they do have the capacity to open the door for healing. Even though the public will not know who killed Irene Mutase, Krog points out that it is in the telling of narratives of the past that is essential in order to even conceive of national reconciliation. Krog states, “It is asking too much that everyone should believe the Truth Commission’s version of the truth. Or that people should be set free by this truth, should be healed and reconciled. But perhaps these narratives alone are enough to justify the existence of the Truth Commission. Because of these narratives, people no longer can indulge in their separate dynasties of denial” (112-13). This quote suggests that in terms of the TRC’s mission, the larger goal was to get people to begin to face up to the human rights injustices that occurred and acknowledge the ways that these injustices impacted the course of South African history. Ultimately, what I took away from this chapter is the idea that the ways that narratives can shift and change form in each telling and re-telling suggest that such an acknowledgement may often be incomplete. While the unequivocal truth of these testimonies may never be known, their telling serves to create an opening for the emergence of the full truth of South Africa’s past.