Original Research

History, memory and reconciliation: Njabulo Ndebele’s The cry of Winnie Mandela and Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela’s A human being died that night

R. Goodman
Literator | Vol 27, No 2 | a190 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/lit.v27i2.190 | © 2006 R. Goodman | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 30 July 2006 | Published: 30 July 2006

About the author(s)

R. Goodman, Department of English, University of Stellenbosch, South Africa

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This article deals with two texts written during the process of transition in South Africa, using them to explore the cultural and ethical complexity of that process. Both Njabulo Ndebele’s “The cry of Winnie Mandela” and Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela’s “A human being died that night” deal with controversial public figures, Winnie Mandela and Eugene de Kock respectively, whose role in South African history has made them part of the national iconography. Ndebele and Gobodo-Madikizela employ narrative techniques that expose and exploit faultlines in the popular representations of these figures. The two texts offer radical ways of understanding the communal and individual suffering caused by apartheid, challenging readers to respond to the past in ways that will promote healing rather than perpetuate a spirit of revenge. The part played by official histories is implicitly questioned and the role of individual stories is shown to be crucial. Forgiveness and reconciliation are seen as dependent on an awareness of the complex circumstances and the humanity of those who are labelled as offenders. This requirement applies especially to the case of “A human being died that night”, a text that insists that the overt acknowledgement of the humanity of people like Eugene de Kock is an important way of healing South African society.


Gobodo-Madikizela; A Human Being Died That Night; Role Of Memory; Ndebele; The Cry Of Winnie Mandela; Truth And Reconciliation Commission


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