While I was thinking about what Freedom Day represents, my mind wondered to a play I watched at Johannesburg’s Market Theature during the recess, A Human Being Died that Night by Nicholas Wright (Wright’s play is based on the book A Human Being Died that Night: Forgiving Apartheid’s Chief Killer by psychologist Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela.) The play narrates a series of interviews conducted by Gobodo-Madikizela with Eugene de Kock, nicknamed “Prime Evil” for his role as commanding officer of the South African police’s counter-insurgency unit that kidnapped, tortured and murdered anti-apartheid activists. Gobodo-Madikizela, who served on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), interviewed De Kock (who was serving two life sentences and a 212-year sentence for crimes against humanity) after he volunteered to appear before the TRC.
It was a fascinating play and I could write a year’s worth of editorials on it. Even though the plot is set in 1997, the play questions assumptions that repress our freedom in 2014.
The first, and most obvious, of these is De Kock’s surprise that Gobodo-Madikizela, a black woman, is a psychologist. Was it impossible for a black person to rise above circumstances characterised, amongst many other injustices, by the appalling quality of education offered by the state? Was it impossible for a woman to earn not only an undergraduate qualification, but also a postgraduate qualification? Some people today are going to answer “Yes” to those questions. Too often, our chances of success are judged on our backgrounds: our race, what language we speak, where we come from, what school we went to, whether we did a GDE or an IEB matric, and our gender (my favourite topic).
The next assumption links to gender. De Kock is shocked to learn that Gobodo- Madikizela, who was 42 years old in 1997, isn’t married. Doesn’t a woman – or a man – have the freedom to be single after a certain age? Even worse, it seems, Gobodo-Madikizela actually divorced her husband. Can divorce only happen to women? Can’t women initiate divorce if they no longer wish to be married?
I’ve been mulling over this play for two weeks (this, I think, is the mark of a good work of art). It reminded me of the value of my freedom as a South African and of the terrible suffering that brought it about. On another important public holiday coming up on 7 May, let’s vote to continue to expand freedom.