In My Country the whites have not yet apologised for their complicity in apartheid, its aftermaths and cruelty. They are rather pleading apathy and ignorace to what was on TV1 's Netwerk every night.
In the Country of My Skull the Afrikaners fail to understand why 13 years of freedom is not equal to 400 years of slavery and are marching against redressal policies.
Antjie Krog's book Country of My Skull attempts to understand. And today we give you the review.

It's quite easy to pile up awards on Antjie Krog's seminal tale of South Africa's transition from apartheid to democracy through the medium of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and its Amnestry Commission because it is a story not solicited by the nation united in its racial and ethnic diversity but told anyway. It's equally easy to rate the book as the best South African (his)story every told by an Afrikaner author caught up in the guilt of her people and the role they collectively played in the oppression of natives for over 400 years.
We, for the sake of this exercise take the context back to 1652. I read the thick 312 page book, not as a prelude to a review but as a research tool for the book that I'm currently working on about the shortcomings of the TRC titled
SIBONGILE; THE NOKUTHULA SIMELANE STORY. I read it to learn how to structure a story of a tale solicited but never told by the boers who came before the commission with ready inflated lies.

Krog writes her thought-provoking book from a seldom objective, often guilty position at seeing how former president Frederick Willem de Klerk (representing the oppressive regime), who as head of state also headed the security apparatus of the regime pleaded ignorance and over-zealousness on the part of his police at the murders that took place on his guard. While Krog is successful at attributing one or two of her obviously own disgusts to one or two of the experts she refers to so many times in the book it risks making Country of my Skull to read like a history (herstory) thesis instead of a non-fiction novel.

It's her psycholanalysis of the overly-forgiving victims that exposes Krog as a self-serving Afrikaner writer out to seek the justification of what her ancestors did to innocent people, all in the name of Afrikaner nationalism. She often over-simplifies the pain of the victims and through her contacts raises questions of collective bantu sanity beyond comprehension or mental instability, bantu numbness or a forgiving god in the form of bantu victims.
What comes across as fascinating about the book is Krog's success in telling the story of both the victim and the perpetrator with the sincerities they 'both' at times warrant. But one can ask why would a writer obsess with political correctness or seek sensible words to tell stories of white men who killed a black man who was a father, chopped off his palm and kept it in a bottle, often flaunting it to the family when bored at the police station while the poor Afrikans, indebted to their traditions wanted to bury a complete human being? Or one might seek to know why would anyone attempt to fathom words to humanise a group of men who killed then fried using diesel and dynamites another man while they also had their braai barely metres away? Why try to give the Devil a human face? Is it to be able to interrogate it face to face or to simplify its stealth disappearance within us once we are done archiving its lies as truth?

It is the strength and again the undoing of the style of narrative that Krog chose to vividly tell the gory stories. It undoubtedly is not easy to capture the atrocities of so many years and still maintain your level of journalistic sanity, which is something the author must be applauded for.
It becomes worrying when a very tiny hypocrite
surfaces at the point where she raises that one moment where Winnie Mandela, sitting with Limpho Hani said 'crazy mothefucker' at the testimony of Janusz Walusz and Clive Derby-Lewis as significant. Here the irony is temporarily lifted, since, here are two men who scored the biggest prize in the apartheid war confronting two women who lost the most. Men who managed to achieve the work the boers failed to accomplish when they invaded Lesotho in 1981 and Botswana soon later - to kill South African Communist Party leader Chris Hani. And instead of relishing the strength of the moment and the defeat of the Afrikaner vs Native dogma, Krog chooses to pick what Winnie says while later dedicating a whole lot of text to her as the feared and hated Hang Woman of Soweto to the point that her house was razed.

Krog's interpretation, through the eyes of her dodgy feelings experts, of the crimes of the Mandela Football Club leaves much to be desired or interrogated. Here, I feel that once again the author fails to carry the heavy mantle as dictated by her position when she was covering the commission's hearings. She succeeds in portraying Winnie as the cold-goddess-statured-good-mama-turned-evil, which she indeed was, according to evidence led in different forums. But it's her attempt to understand where Winnie snapped that buries the truth about Stompie Seipei and others under the rubble of guilt. Somehow one is drawn to a defeatist approach whereby Krog was somehow doubting her credentials to psychoanalyse Winnie, lest she be told she comes from the land of the windmills.

Krog also successfully paints in black the post-27years in jail relationship of Winnie and Nelson, the Mandela duo who had become the torch and torchbearer of a nation cowed up under darkness of subjugation. The torchbearer fell, leaving the torch to risk dying out as the oil was gradually spilling. Then, she treats Mandela as a holy cow and doesn't want to delve much into his failures and weaknesses in the whole Winnie Madikizela-Mandela affair. At the end the saint remains while Winnie is left hanging in the court of community justice, a forum she knows too well and which has seen many victims of her reign end up at - often without a pulse.

Interesting enough, when Winnie was going to face the law in one of her felonies family lawyer George Bizos SC told etv's 3rd Degree that Nelson requested him to represent Winnie. This is after allegations that Winnie used to slap Nelson, Sunday newspaper reports that she had extra-marital affairs, notably with a young man we all so know about but will act as if we don't know to save our asses from what happened to those who dared challenge the dreadnought. He's up there with a title of a Group Chief Executive Officer of a parastatal while we opt for selective amnesia.

Nelson continued to support his failed socio-political experiment. However Country of my Skull is actually TRC and Amnesty Commission transcripts trancribed again and again by Krog. Most of the book is made up of what the victims and perpetrators tearfully said - verbatim. Krog, as Antjie Samuel was there as an SABC radio reporter and could add some flesh where the whole nation saw a skeleton and called it a ghost.

She had access to Commission Chairperson Archbishop Desmond Tutu and other important commissioners like Alex Boraine and Dumisa Ntsebeza. She fell in love with the commissioners and their work and later on in the book you realise that her objectivity falls by the wayside when dealing with the commission and its shortcomings. As an Afrikaner reporter who knew about how other political parties leisurely rhetorized about driving boers to the sea, it becomes obvious that Krog wanted the commission to succeed against all odds so that her children are not driven to the sea in the event that if failed.

One quality that can not be taken away from the book is that it is an important historic narrative that only fails by demonising the Azanian People's Liberation Army cadres who indiscriminately killed whites in bars and churches, for the benefit of Umkhonto we Sizwe. This is while at the same time she fails to cover Robert McBride's Magoos Bar bombing as similar to that undertaken by the three APLA operatives and for which they appeared before the Amnesty Commission, and for which Krog focused on the stories of the white victims instead. Instead of understanding that their shortcomings where a direct result of lack of leadership at military level that saw them pick own targets and spray innocents with bullets, Krog tries hard to understand why the African National Congress had a problem with the TRC report and why it felt it deserved carpet amnesty, even though it equally tortured and killed people at Quatro, Zimbabwe, Maputo and Lusaka and had some necklaced in its name.

Somehow, going through the book one draws a conclusion that Krog was charmed by cold-hearted killing machine Joe Mamasela and intrigued by some victims who had an overdose of humour when relating their agony. Krog treats Mamasela with the kind of kiddy gloves not afforded other similar killers. As if playing to the patriotism stereotype of post'94 she deliberately fails to inform us why Dirk Coetzee's crimes were swiftly sweeped under the carpet, which has something to do with national security. She also fails to tell us about Wouter Basson and the reason why he was not pursued with gusto to testify before the commission, which also has something to do with national security.

Krog also makes her insecutiries shine through the book. Being an Afrikaner who benefited from apartheid through entitlement because opportunities were made available to them through job reservation, she makes the most not to moralise around that. She simplifies the current quagmire of middle-aged Afrikaner oomies and tannies who complain that affirmative action is segregating them while the truth is that they can't measure up in an environment that they need to compete as equals with five billion other people. They are used to being confined to the four corners of an ossewa.
In a conversation she attributes to her black Free State friends Eddy and Mamogele, Krogs raises these dilemmas in her own subtle way, such as if darkies could, with Afrikaner Affirmartive Action manage to flourish and some become soccer club owners, tycoons, taxi operators without threatening to abandon the beloved country, what case do the bunch of whities screaming 'bloody murder!' have when they have been given a headstart by policies meant to keep the natives on their marks forever. Darkies built the taxi industry without a headstart, they started soccer teams without a headstart, they built civic movements without a headstart, they became butchery owners, tycoons, shebeen operators without a headstart. Then why should an Afrikaner be prioritised now when they had been given a headstart for 400 years? What incubation do boers want and from whom who is unaware of the unnecessary benefits they illegally enjoyed?

Overall, if you have never read the book I will advise you the same way reviewer Alistair Boddy-Evans noted,"If you want to understand modern South Africa you must understand the politics of the last century. There is no better place to start than with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). Antjie Krog's masterwork places you in the mind of both oppressed black freedom fighters and entrenched white Afrikaner."

From our side we don't want to quote Krog's laid out thesis since we heard some Merafe (hip-hop group) saying, 'o sek' a rasa o tla e senya' (don't shout you'll mess it up). But we are tempted to give you these lines, before you go and buy the book for posterity sake, "During the period looked into by the Truth Commission, 2500 people were hanged in the country - a hundred peopel each year. Ninety-five percent of those hanged were black - 100 percent of those who sentenced them were white. By 1989 there were 80 people on Death Row in Pretoria for politically related offenses. In that year, in what came to be known as "the Christmas Rush", 21 people were executed during the third week of December - seven on Tuesday, seven on Wednesday and seven on Thursday" (Paula McBride) - Page 198

And then the majority of whites dare say that they didn't know, never took part or never condoned the oppression of natives, please excuse the darkies' cynicism of your plastic remorse. 'Malcom X said that racism was like a Cadillac - ', Krog wrote, 'there's a new model every year. The latest model is the denial of whites'.

* In My Country (country of my skull take 2)

Antjie Krog's beautiful book was defeated by the attempt to make it a 105 minute film which's working title was first Truth before it was finally titled In My Country. Jim Corveddu wrote these lines in his review for PulpVideo, "I think the weakest elements of this film are in screenwriter Ann Peacock's dialogue and in the construction of the Anna Malan and brother Boetie characters. The first for taking on just a little too much burden of responsibility, especially in one somewhat uncharacteristic scene at one of the hearings with a particularly gory testimony, and the latter for being incomplete when a key development occurs that should have played more into the storyline and into Anna's reactions."

Now look, one author whose works has been adapted into screen once told me that the easiest way to be bored with your own creativity is to give it to the Americans and the British to write the screenplay. "You will not recognise your own creativity once they are done programming your free thoughts into their stereotype framework".

Well, I don't know if Krog was happy with the folks who played characters in the reeler emanating from her realer because for me what was strong about the book was not victims crying and some losing consiousness but Krog's exploration of her own community's understanding or lack of it, of why darkies were so overly-forgiving. Why darkies didn't demand that the countries that subsidised apartheid contribute billions into South Africa post-'94 the same way Germany built Israel. The book raised moral questions which were airbrushed by the surreality of secondary storytellers limited to less than two hours of reel.

I have always believed that scriptwriters must be creative people who can spark ideas without relying on authors to research books for them to adapt to screenplay. Write your own shit people. In My Country fails the beautiful work that gave Country of My Skull all the awards. No wonder In My Country didn't quite become the 1970s thriller All The President's Men the makers wanted it to become.

The book captured the army general's denials to co-operate, the police's top brass' sending of footsoldiers to take the Tutu bullet, PW Botha's aquatic circus, de Klerk's balding comedy, Thabo Mbeki's greying outburst, Mandela's undue diplomacy, Tutu's bastardized threats and prayers, Ntsebeza's near implication in an attack etc, and much more stuff the film failed to capture with the emotion the incidents deserved.
Corveddu finally wrote, "From what I've heard about the book by Antje Krog, I can understand why anyone who had read it before seeing this movie might be disappointed, but it was certainly clear to me by the marketing that this was a romance and not a cinematic litany of the horrors of Apartheid.". Kasiekulture couldn't agree more.

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