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Ambiguities of witnessing - Law and literature in the time of a truth commission

Ambiguities of witnessing - Law and literature in the time of a truth commission

The complex relationship between law and literature in testimony to crimes before South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission
Sanders, Mark
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Author: Mark Sanders
Publisher: Witwatersrand University Press
Johannesburg, 2007
ISBN: 978-1-86814-448-8
Paperback, 16x24 cm, 280 pages


Description:

The first book to explore the complex relationship between law and literature in testimony to crimes of apartheid before South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, "Ambiguities of Witnessing" closely analyzes key individual testimonies.

Whereas most existing books on this and other truth commissions are weighed down by abstract legal and philosophical discussion, this book does justice to witnesses' public testimony in a fascinating and theoretically sophisticated investigation of questions of human rights, mourning, forgiveness, and reparation.

Framed by the personal, "Ambiguities of Witnessing" also meditates on what it means for the writer to respond to this epochal event in the history of postapartheid South Africa.


About the author:

Mark Sanders is Associate Professor of Comparative Literature at New York University. He is the author of Complicities: The Intellectual and Apartheid (2002) and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak: Live Theory (2006).


Reviews:

Derek Attridge, University of York:
Mark Sanders shows a brilliant capacity for theoretical sophistication, careful elucidation of literary and non-literary discourses, and subtle analysis of the rhetorics and faultlines of South Africa's languages. In Ambiguities of Witnessing, he persuasively demonstrates that literature and law, though seemingly opposed, are inextricably imbricated with one another.

This book seals his reputation as a leading voice in Southern African studies and as an important contributor to discussions about the nature of the literary and its relation to the legal, the political, and the ethical.


Contents:

Preface
Prologue
Truth Commission Journal and Notes
Remembering Apartheid
Hearing Women
Forgiveness
Reparation
Literature and Testimony
Epilogue
Notes
Bibliography
Index


Preface:

In William Kentridge's film Ubu Tells the Truth (1997), a network of telecommunication operates as a network of violence. In its eight minutes Ubu Tells the Truth bears witness to how the apartheid state, in its convulsive death throes, sowed destruction far and wide. Telephonic, electronic, and phonographic recording and transmission technologies, benign and felicitous in ordinary use, tortured and killed.

When police wound up old field telephones to generate current, their trademark for electrical torture was Motorola. With the death of Bheki Mlangeni, his head blown apart by explosives put in a pair of headphones meant for someone else, his assassins had made Walkman their brand of choice.

Kentridge's film flashes us iconic reminders of those and other nodes in these violent networks. Telephones, microphones, and megaphones proliferate, a prisoner is shocked by electric current, a parcel bomb makes its way through the postal system, and, starting out as the tyrant Ubu's line-drawn eye, a camera on a tripod mutates through the artist's animation drawings into a helicopter, a radiogram, and then a gun.

Played over television images of the militarization of the South African state as it lashed back against opposition to apartheid, Warrick Sony's sound track recalls the discordant pastiche of radio music, political speeches, and other found sounds of his fringe band, the Kalahari Surfers, from the eighties-as well as the doubling, in the musician's pseudonym, of the police assassin's weapon with the ready-to-hand recording device that he would sometimes use.

Telecommunications systems and devices are ubiquitous in Kentridge's films, but in none are they as dangerous as in Ubu Tells the Truth. The technology animated in the film is at once lethal and liberatory. When Kentridge's chalk and charcoal images and Sony's music join forces with the uncanny manipulations of the Handspring Puppet Company in Ubu and the Truth Commission, a play written by Jane Taylor, there is once again an inevitable emphasis on the volatile duality, duplicity even, of technologies of electronic recording and transmission.

This time it falls on the simultaneous translators employed by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission at its public hearings, who rendered the words of witnesses for those who speak other tongues (the South African constitution recognizes eleven official languages). While an actor playing the interpreter occupies a closed Plexiglas booth, the wooden puppets representing witnesses disclose ambiguity and equivocality - a voicing of testimony but also the possibility of mistranslation and therefore of ventriloquism-of semic and thus of wider cultural violence, which may, against the best will in the world, compound the violations to which a witness testifies. From the film, the music, and the play with its puppetry we perceive how an inauguration of voice may also be an inauguration or repetition of violence.

It is now more than ten years since the Truth Commission held its first hearings, and the responses to it that persistently resonate for me are the work of Kentridge and his collaborators-and, of course, that of the poet Antjie Krog, whose searing and luminous Country of My Skull (1998) showed what could be done with words, as it retraced the part she played in the broadcasting of the hearings over South African radio.

With them I humbly declare an affinity. Without the operation of the telecommunica-tive network to which their work attests, and in which Krog was a material participant, my book could never have been written. In that sense it is a testing of the wager entered into by the Truth Commission - that the transmission of words, the relay of a witness's voice across distance, awaiting a response, would do: something.

My encounter with the Truth Commission took place, at first, through an electronic relay that began with the recording, translation, and audiovisual transmission of witnesses' words from its public hearings: Max du Preez's Truth Commission Special Report, of which I watched as many installments as I could lay my hands on. That initial encounter led me, when finally I had the opportunity, to travel to South Africa to attend hearings of the commission in person.

This book is about witnessing and its ambiguities. It is also a witnessing of that witnessing - that is to say, an impossible essay in the elucidation of its own conditions of possibility.
Many people have contributed to the realization of this volume. The first was Nigel Gibson, who invited me to speak about Truth Commission testimony at the African Studies Institute at Columbia University in September 1997.

Subsequent speaking invitations that led to key departures came from Rita Barnard at the University of Pennsylvania and Penny Pether at American University Law School. An invitation from Anupama Rao to write an afterword to a special issue of Interventions gave me the invaluable opportunity to develop my thoughts on founding violence in dialogue with a group of talented historians.

My book benefited greatly from the critical thoughts, especially on early versions of Chapter 2, of fellow scholars at the Society for the Humanities at Cornell University during 1999-2000. Dominick LaCapra and Kobena Mercer were particularly generous with their help. A Mazer Award for Research in the Humanities, Social Sciences, and Creative Arts from Brandeis University allowed me to perform crucial archival research in South Africa in 2002, and a Charles A. Ryskamp Research Fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies in 2003-2004 gave me the time that I needed to complete the writing.

Special thanks go to Robert Burt and Renee De Mateo of Yale Law School for allowing me to borrow the school's videotapes of Truth Commission Special Report, and to Sias Scott at the South African Broadcasting Corporation for making available to me a copy of the unedited videotape of the testimony of Lephina Zondo. The Marian Goodman Gallery in New York City kindly arranged the viewing of William Kentridge's Ubu Tells the Truth that refreshed my memory of the film.

In South Africa, I am, above all, indebted to Bongani Mabaso of the National Archives of South Africa, and to Mark Kaplan for discussing with me his films and the circumstances in which they were made. I thank Loes Nas for sending me a copy of a videotape of Jacques Derrida's lecture at the University of the Western Cape, as well as a dossier of press clippings on his visit to South Africa.

My interlocutors on topics relating to this book, I am pleased to say, have been numerous. In addition to those already mentioned, they have, at different times, included Penny Andrews, Derek Attridge, David Attwell, Mary Campbell, William Flesch, Michael Gilmore, Peter Goodrich, Heidi Grunebaum, Ron Krabill, Antjie Krog, Neil Levi, Stephanie Marlin-Curiel, Martha Minow, Tony O'Brien, Fiona Ross, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Kendall Thomas, and Howard Varney.

For their capable research assistance, I am most grateful to Lillian Atteridge and Michiel Bot.
It would be hard, if not impossible, for me to thank Louise Kuhn enough for her loving presence during the years taken up with this project.

Chapters or sections of chapters first appeared in the following sources, from which permission to reprint is gratefully acknowledged.

Parts of Chapter 1 appeared as "Interdisciplinarity as Reading:

Truth Commission Journal and Notes" in Law Text Culture 5.2 (2001) and, in different form, as "Reading Lessons" in Diacritics 29.3 (1999), © Johns Hopkins University Press. Chapter 2 appeared as "Remembering Apartheid" in Diacritics 32.3-4 (2002), © Johns Hopkins University Press. Sections of Chapter 3 appeared in earlier form as "Ambiguities of Mourning: Law, Custom, and Testimony of Women before South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission" in Loss: The Politics of Mourning, edited by David Eng and David Kazanjian (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003), copyright © 2002 Regents of the University of California, University of California Press; and "Extraordinary Violence" in Interventions: The International Journal of Post-Colonial Studies 3.2 (2001), © Taylor and Francis (www.tandf.co.uk). Part of Chapter 4 was first published as "Renegotiating Responsibility after Apartheid: Listening to Perpetrator Testimony" in American University Journal of Gender, Social Policy, and the Law 10.2 (2002). Parts of Chapter 6 appeared in their original form as "Truth, Telling, Questioning: The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Antjie Krog's Country of My Skull, and Literature after Apartheid" in Modern Piction Studies 4.6.1 (2000), © Purdue Research Foundation, reprinted with permission of Johns Hopkins University Press, and as "Disgrace" in Interventions: The International Journal of Post-Colonial Studies 4.3 (2002), © Taylor and Francis (www.tandf.co.uk). The English version of the poem by Antjie Krog in Chapter 5 appears by permission of the author and Random House South Africa. The Afrikaans version of the same poem appears by permission of Antjie Krog and Kwela Boeke.


Index:

Adorno, Theodor W., 147-48;
"Freudian Theory and the Pattern of
Fascist Propaganda," 51-52, 54.
African National Congress (ANC), 2,
11, 15-16, 2i, 48, 62, 80-85,142-44,
171, 190
Afrikaans, 28-31, 34, 139-40, 145, 149,
160, 170, 189
Ambiguity, 4-5, 12, 45; as amb-iguity,
8-9. 13. 33. 154
Amnesty, 2-3, 82, 88, 92-97, 103-4, n5>
121, 124,168,178; committee, 15,114;
hearings, 3, 11-12,15-21, 48, 57, 93,
99-112. See also Forgiveness
Anderson, Benedict, 35
Antigone, 13, 49, 65-68, 72-74
Apartheid, 1-2, 10-12, 21, 34-60,
68-73, 75~8o, 84, 116, 121-22, 124,
134, 141, 147-51. 153. 158. 169, 174.
180,187-91
Asmal, Kader, 2
Attridge, Derek, 174
Baartman, Saartje, 83
Bakhtin, Mikhail, 44
Barnard, Christiaan Neethling, 190
Barthes, Roland, 17
Benjamin, Walter: "Toward a Critique
of Violence," 78-79, 86, 184
Benveniste, Emile, 159
Benzien, Jeffrey, 99-113, 162
Biko, Steve, 48, 164
Boraine, Alexander, 3, 41-42, 48, 62-64,
75
Borch-Jacobsen, Mikkel, 55-56
Brecht, Bertolt, 149
Breytenbach, Breyten, 35
Brooks, Peter, 8
Business, 25, 116, 121-22, 124. See also
Capitalism
Byron, Lord, 169, 180, 182
Capitalism, 38, 123-26, 128, 175, 183-84
Celan, Paul, 147
Centre for Applied Legal Studies
(CALS), 75-78, 86
Coetzee, Dirk, 41, 46-47
Coetzee, J. M.: "Confession and
Double Thoughts: Tolstoy, Rousseau,
Dostoevsky," 178-79; "Critic and
Citizen: A Response," 175,186-87;
Disgrace, 13-14, 141-44, 168-85, l%7>
Doubling the Point, 172; Foe, 84,
168, 183; Giving Offense: Essays on
Censorship, 158,169; "The Mind of
Apartheid: Geoffrey Cronje (1907-),"
38-39, 49, 55; "Time, Tense, and
Aspect in Kafka's The Burrow," 171,
181; Waiting for the Barbarians, 168,
187
Coleridge, Samuel Taylor, no
Complicities: The Intellectual and
Apartheid, 134, 144,186-87
Condolence, io-n, 31, 34-58, 96, 103,
112, 119,125,128, 133, 145, 190. See also
Mourning
Confession, 8, 94, 157, 168,178-80
Constitution, of Republic of South
Africa, 25, 70-72, 154; Interim, 2, 24,
36, 71, 178
Ctonje, Geoffrey, 35, 38-39, 169, 187
Custom, 10, 13, 20, 31, 59-75, 154
Customary law, 10, 25, 59-75, 154;
international, 121; women under, 25,
70-75
De Klerk, F. W., 48
de Man, Paul, 13, 22, 179,181
Derrida, Jacques, 6-9, 12, 61, 66, 73-74,
154, 157, 165-67; Demeure: Fiction
and Testimony, 6,157,189; "Force of
Law," 79-80, in, 116; "Forgiving the
Unforgivable," 12, 87-90, 96-97, 113;
"Freud and the Scene of Writing,"
129-30; Of Hospitality, 165; The
Other Heading, 140
Dostoevsky, Fyodot, 44, 178-79
Dispropriation, 8, 16, 18-33, 96, 103,
128,158. See also Ubuntu
Du Preez, Max, 40, 62, 64, 99, 101-2
Du Toit, Andre, 175
Edelstein, Jillian, 43, 46, 56-58
Edwards, Brent Hayes, 182
Empson, William, 5
English (language), 16,19, 25-27,
29-30, 64,130, 135, 138,149, 155, 160,
170, 175-76, 182-83, 189
Exhumations, 10, 24, 40, 62, 65, 118
Forbes, Ashley, 99-101, 104,106-8,112
Forgiveness, 11-12, 56-57, 87-113, 128,
139-40, 178, 188
Freud, Sigmund: Beyond the Pleasure
Principle, 171; "The Dynamics of
Transference," 171; The Ego and the
Id, 51; Fragment of an Analysis of a
Case of Hysteria ("Dora"), 102; Group
Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego,
35-36, 39, 49-57; "Mourning and
Melancholia," 45, 51, 53; "Thoughts
for the Times on War and Death,"
133; Totem and Taboo, 51, 56
Girard, Rene, 38-39, 55
Globalization, 1, 175. See also
Neoliberalism
Gobodo-Madikizela, Pumla, no, 113
Goodrich, Peter, 22-23
Groote Schuur Hospital, 41, 43,190
Guguletu Seven, 98
Guillaume, Gustave, 171
Harrow, Kenneth W, 156-57
Hearings, public, 1, 3-4, 9-12,15-21,
24, 28-33, 40-49, 54, 59-60, 62-65,
75, 80-82, 99-112,148-51, 153-58,
160, 162-66, 178. See also Amnesty,
hearings; Women, testimony of
Hegel, G. W. F.: Elements of the
Philosophy of Right, 67-69,173;
Phenomenology of Spirit, 13, 65-68,
73-74; Philosophy of History, 67
Heidegger, Martin, 131,187
Henry, Yazir, 100-102, 104-5, 111
Hitler, Adolf, 50, 54,190
Human rights, 1-4, 9-11, 20, 23-25, 28,
36-38, 60-62, 64-66, 70, 72-77, 80,
82, 88,120, 124, 178
Human Rights Commission, 142
Indirect rule, 60, 69-70, 73. See also
Customary law
Inkatha Freedom Party, 2
Intellectuals, 35, 134, 141-44, 175-76,
186-88
Irony, 6-7, 13, 21-23, 74, 82, 157,
165-66, 168
Jacobs, Peter, 99, 106, in
Jankelevitch, Vladimir, 88-92, 94, 96,
112-13
Jaspers, Karl, 124
Jonas, Bongani, 99-101, 111
Kafka, Franz, 171, 176, 181
Kant, Immanuel, 171
Keenan, Thomas, 8, 16, 19
Khulumani, 32; lawsuit, 115, 124
Kierkegaard, S0ren, 7
Kincaid, Jamaica, 127
Klein, Melanie, 13, 56,113, 116, 127-35,
138, 141, 144, 169, 173-74; "Love,
Guilt and Reparation," 129-30;
"Mourning and Its Relation to
Manic-Depressive States," 132-33;
The Psycho-Analysis of Children,
130-31
Kriel, Ashley, 105-6, in
Krog, Antjie, 13-14, 19, 81-82, 84-85,
97,100-102, 105, in, 114, 169-70,
187, 189-90; "Country of Grief and
Grace," 134-40,145-46, 184-85;
Country of My Skull, 13,135, 140-41,
144,145, 147-68,187; "Ma," 159-60
Kruser, Gary, 99, 106-8
Kunene, Mazisi, 166
Lacan, Jacques, 172
Langa, Pius, 24, 27-28, 96
Lax, Ilan, 163-64,166-67
Le Bon, Gustave, 35, 51
Lekotse, Johannes, 147, 162-67
Lessing, Doris, 141-42
Levi, Primo, 189
Levinas, Emmanuel, 8,19, 74
Literature, 14, 86, 133, 152; African,
153-54, 156-57; law and, 4-9, 13, 16-
18, 21-23, 33> 147-88. See also Irony,
Fiction, Truth
Long Night's Journey into Day, 98, no
MacCrone, I. D., 49
MacKinnon, Catharine, 169
Madaka, Topsy, 41, 48, 57
Madikizela-Mandela, Winnie, 3, 85-86
Maduna, Penuell, 124
Mall, Hassen, 15
Mamdani, Mahmood, 60, 68-69, 7^
Mandela, Nelson, i, 12, 85, 87, 97, 109,
114,143
Mandelstam, Osip, 159
Manyano women, 189
Marx, Karl, 123
Masote, Sheila, 80
Mazibuko, Rita, 81-82
Mbeki, Thabo, 12, 61,114-18,121-22,
124, 140,143
Menchu, Rigoberta, 8
Mhlaba, Bafana Gonzweize, 15-21, 23,
28, 164
Millin, Sarah Gertrude, 84
Mitscherlich, Alexander and Margarete,
The Inability to Mourn: Principles of
Collective Behavior, 49-54, 56, 190
Mokgoro, Yvonne, 25-28
Mothopeng, Zephania Lekoane, 80
Mourning, 10-12, 31, 34-36, 39-58,
60-68, 72-75, 88, 96, 118-19, 125-26,
128, 132-34, 145,188, 190-91. See
also Condolence, Exhumations,
Ukubuyisa
Moyers, Bill,
Mtimkhulu, Joyce N., 41-48, 55-58,
189-90
Mtimkhulu, Siphiwo, 41-48, 54-58, 190
Mtintso, Thenjiwe, 80-82
Music, 14, 138, 170,182,184,187, 189.
See also Songs
Mxenge, Victoria, 43
National Commission on Truth and
Reconciliation (Chile), 1, 73
Ndebele, Njabulo, n, 21; The Cry
of Winnie Mandela, 85-86; "The
English Language and Social Change
in South Africa," 183-84
Neoliberalism, 13, 175
Netshitenzhe, Joel, 124
Nietzsche, Friedrich, 145, 167
Nieuwoudt, Gideon, 42, 47-48, 56-58
"Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika," 19, 46, 163
Ntsebeza, Dumisa, 45-47
Pan-Africanist Congress, 2, 80, 164
Pandy, Yasmina, 106,108-9
Phosa, Mathews, 81
Plaatje, Solomon T., 15, 125-26,128
Plath, Sylvia, 159
Plato. See Socrates
Prince, Mary, 8
Prisons Act, 64
Promotion of National Unity and
Reconciliation Act, 1, 4, 9, 36-37, 93,
116-17
Rabie, Jan, 35
Radio, 1, 9-10, 42,135,148, 160
Randera, Fazel, 29
Rape, 32, 80-82, 85,142-43, 177, 179-80
Reagon, Gail, 108
Recognition of Customary Marriages
Acr, 72, 75
Reparation, 3-4, 9-10,12-13, 33> 36,
39-40, 46, 49, 52, 56, 58, 96, 103-4,
109,112-13,114-46,188,191; aporia
of, 114-18, 141,146; business and,
121-22, 124-25; German after World
War I, 128, 131; German-Jewish,
127-28; guilt and, 141-44; manic,
133-34,1(>9> 181-83; mourning and,
132-34, 145; phantasies of, 9, 129-34,
144-45; proxy sttucture of, 9, n-12,
40, 112,121-22, 128, 164-65; slavery
and, 122-23,126-27; symbolic, 13,
115, 118-19,128,132,141, 180. See also
Klein, Melanie
Report, Final, of Truth and
Reconciliation Commission. See
Truth and Reconciliation Commission
of South Africa Report
Responsibility, 9, 12, 16-20, 23-25,
27-29, 31-33, 34, 36, 50, 54, 60-61,
65-66, 75, 95,102-105, m> 116,119,
121-22, 124-26, 129-33, I39-4I> 144-
46,155-56,162, 164,169, 175, 186-88
Robben Island, 108-9
Robinson, Randall, 122-23, 126-27
Roodt, Dan, 134
Rousseau, Jean-Jacques, 182
Shelley, Percy Bysshe, 135
Shezi, Thandi, 32
Slave narratives, 8
Socrates, 6-7,13, 165. See also Irony
Songs, 19-21, 46, 114,163, 189-90. See
also Music
Sophocles, Antigone. See Antigone
Soyinka, Wole, 54, 123
Special Report on Truth and
Reconciliation. See Du Preez, Max;
Reagon, Gail
Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty, 13, 22, 74,
130,182
Steele, Shelby, 127
The Story I'm about to Tell, 135
Substitution, 9, 12-13, 16, 23-24, 28,
33, 40, 48, 55-58, 75,103-4,12.2.
148,156, 161. See also Reparation,
proxy structure of; Responsibility;
Transference; Ubuntu
Television, 1, 9-10, 42-43, 56-57,104,
148,
Testimonio, 8
Tradition. See Custom
Transference, 31, 33, 40, 67, 75,109,102,
109, 112-13,155-56,162-65
Transitional justice, 2, 4, 88
Translation, 25-27, 49, 65-68, 90, 98-
99, 130-31, 160,180; simultaneous, 9,
16, 19, 21, 29-30, 33, 42-43, 155-57.
164
Truth, concepts of, 3, 5-7,17-19, 33, 46,
107-9, :49-57> 159-60, 163, 167-68,
178-79. See also Irony, Lirerature
Truth and Reconciliation Commission of
South Africa Report. 2-4, n-13, 17-18,
24-26, 28-32, 36-40, 48, 76-77,
86-87, 114-24, 126-28, 135, 137, 141,
145, 148-57, 162,164, 167-68, 187
Truth Commission Special Report. See
Du Preez, Max
Tswana, 28-30
Tutu, Desmond Mpilo (archbishop),
1, 3, 11-12, 25, 29-30, 37, 94-98,113,
151,191
Ubuntu, 9,11-12, 20, 24-33, 95-98, no,
113,119-20,126,128, 144-45, !53> 189
Ukubuyisa, 10, 119
Umkhonto weSizwe, 28, 62, 80-81, 99,
162
University of Cape Town, 175
University of the Western Cape, 87
Van der Merwe, Susan, 28-31, 62, 145
Violence, n, 21-22, 39, 55-58, 75-80,
83-86, 103,121, 130, 133,141,143-45,
151, 161-63, J66, 168,170, 173,176-
77,179,184-85, 188
Volksmoeder, 11, 84
Walaza, Nomfundo, 81, 97-98, 140, 144
Weber, Max, 175
Weinberg, Paul, 43
Wicomb, Zoe, n; David's Story, 82-86;
"Shame and Identity: The Case of
the Coloured in South Africa," 84,
173; "Translations in the Yard of
Africa," 180-81
Wigmore, John Henry, 5-7, 107, 171
Women, testimony of, 10-11,13-14,
32-33, 59-86; under customary law,
25, 70-75. See also Volksmoeder
Women's National Coalition, 71
Xhosa, 42, 45, 56-57, 97-99,183, 189,191
Yengeni, Tony, 99-101,104-110, 112-13
Zondo, Aiken, 64
Zondo, Andrew, 62-67
Zondo, Lephina, 62-68, 72-75, 190
Zulu, 10, 15-21, 26-27, 3°, 64, 67, 96,
145,189