Country of My Skull

4 April 2003

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established in 1996 to record atrocities committed by all sides during apartheid. In two years, its committees heard evidence from 2 000 people (and written statements from another 18 000) and received 8 000 applications for amnesty for wartime crimes.

Poet Antjie Krog headed the public broadcaster’s team covering the hearings. The multiple award-winning “Country of My Skull” (Random House) is more the work of a poet than of an SABC reporter: a riveting mixture of transcript, storytelling, poetry, commentary.

One of the most acclaimed poets in the Afrikaans language, here Krog writes in English, from the perspective of a radical Afrikaner, of the searing process of confessing apartheid’s sins.

Antjie Krog Few could bear the relentless testimony, piling horror upon horror. “Some journalists ask to be deployed elsewhere”, Krog writes. “Others start to focus on the perpetrators. Some storm out enraged at parties, or see friends fleeing from them. Some drink deep gulps of neat brandy, others calm themselves with neatly rolled daggazolletjies .

“It is bitterly cold. Coated, scarved, duveted, we listen to one necklacing experience after another – grim stories, a relentless procession of faces in a monotonous rhythm.

“A man testifies about a bomb explosion in his restaurant. He says, ‘The reason why only one person died that day is because of the top-quality tables that we have at the Spur.’ And I start to laugh. ‘My friend came to me and said: Lucas, I wanted to come to you .’ ‘… But I couldn’t find my legs,’ I say to myself and collapse with laughter.

“A local journalist puts some tea in front of me and asks tentatively: ‘Have you been covering the Commission for long?’ I take two weeks’ leave.”

A bestseller in SA and successful abroad, the book has been reissued with additional material. It is also being turned into a film, currently in production.

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