Week number two passed as quickly as the first, likely because I have been busy doing a little bit of everything. I started the week by playing student and attending a fascinating lecture at the beautiful Wits University campus. The seminar included a list of well-known scholars including UC Berkeley's Judith Butler (go bears!) and Achille Mbembe, each of whom gave a riveting discussion about the effects of violence in democratic states.
Most importantly, this week I had the opportunity to interview my first victim. While I have been doing research and reading about some of the horrible acts committed during the apartheid, that is nothing in comparison to sitting in front of an individual as he relives those atrocities. This young man came to us and told us about how his family was victimized because his father was a MK commander. He told us how men would come weekly to their home, knock down their door, drag his grandfather away to the jail, and beat him. Even as kids, this man and his siblings were knocked around by these security men.
The conclusion of this story is far from uplifting. The father was killed in July, 1978. The family, however, was not given notice of the death until October when they were forced to "identify" the severely decomposed remains. The remains were then tossed into a coffin which was destroyed by bullet holes and given a simulated grave. To this family, and especially this young man, this is the highest form of disrespect. In South Africa, burial is immensely significant as they believe that death does not end the life but only causes a change in its conditions (expressed by the concept of "ancestors"). This young man is tormented by his father, who is unable to rest in peace unless given a proper burial. Further augmenting the injustice, this family was left completely destitute and never given their deserved reparations from the government.
Khulumani's response to this injustice is threefold. First, we will help conduct a proper re-burial in order to achieve some closure for this family. Next, we will initiate a lawsuit in which to seek the reparations owed to this family so that they can be granted a fresh start. Lastly, we will be looking at a larger scheme for assuring military veterans and their families get the justice they deserve.
While this story was hard to hear, it only further solidifies my decision to work in South Africa this summer. I hope that, in some little way, I can help improve the lives of some of these individuals who were forced to experience a terrifying world, one that I will likely never know.