-- For years her sleep was plagued with visions of that night, and
when she woke up in a cold sweat, she could still see the four white
men, running toward her, grabbing for her, spreading her legs across
the cold floor, reaching out, strangling her.
Shezi was 26 years old when a group of policemen barged into her
home in the middle of the night, beat her and dragged her off to
a jail cell over the screams of her six-year-old daughter and four-year-old
son. Once at the cell, four white policemen covered her head with
a thick, wet sack, attached electrodes to her body to shock her,
chained her feet to a table and took turns raping her.
years later in her Johannesburg office where she works as a counselor
for a victims-rights group, Shezi stretches her arms out in front
of her and examines the physical reminders of her torture, small
black scars that have faded but not disappeared.
can see these marks, they are all over, my chest and my thighs,"
she says, peering out from behind large glasses.
says she was targeted by the police because she worked in the underground
movement against apartheid as a secretary for the Soweto Youth Congress.
Her task was to transport ammunition and help target government
buildings for destruction.
gave them the information that I'm a trained terrorist," she
says, each syllable heavy with memory. She says they held her without
trial for a year, and when she was released, she says she was a
was angry, withdrawn, jumpy. Her heart raced and her skin crawled
when she stood too close to a man.
was a very angry person inside, and I was violent. I couldn't stand
to see somebody standing next to me." Her voice breaks. "I
was living somebody's life, it was not my own."
told no one about her rape. She was too ashamed. And she says when
the anger inside of her became too much to endure, she turned on
the person closest to her, her little girl.
daughter is the victim of my trauma," she says. "I used
to bang her (into) the walls." Shezi beat her daughter over
a period of eight years.
suffers from post traumatic stress disorder.
is not alone. Many people in this country have suffered great emotional
and psychological harm because of apartheid. Many have developed
post traumatic stress reactions, and they need counseling. But South
Africa is a country with limited resources, and therapy is a luxury
African National Congress, South Africa's ruling party which came
to power after the first democratic elections were held in 1994,
has done very little to directly address the problem of post traumatic
stress. But it has not shut the door on the past.
it embarked on one of the world's most extraordinary experiments
in truth-telling. In 1996, the ANC and the old National Party passed
the Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation Act, and created
an official space to listen to the screams of a nation -- the Truth
and Reconciliation Commission. The TRC, as it has come to be called,
was established to "promote national unity and reconciliation
in a spirit of understanding which transcends the conflicts and
divisions of the past." President Nelson Mandela selected 16
commissioners to serve on the TRC from a list drawn up by nongovernmental
organizations, and appointed Archbishop Desmond Tutu as chairman.
Victims of past acts of political violence and torture were encouraged
to come forward to document the human rights abuses they suffered
between March 1, 1960, and May 10, 1994, within
or outside South Africa, and perpetrators were invited to
apply for amnesty, which would be only granted for full disclosure
of crimes proven politically motivated.
the commission did appoint briefers (referred to also
as Cry People) to assist survivors when they gave testimony
at public hearings, and referred some deponents elsewhere for additional
support, there were no direct psychological services for the victims.
And the emotional responses of individuals who testified at the
many hearings held in churches and halls throughout the country
have been mixed. Many reported a tremendous sense of relief. Tim
Ledgerwood, a former conscript in the defense force who attempted
to escape and join the ANC, told the commission about his torture
at the hands of the apartheid security police and said the TRC had
changed his life.
gone to the (Commission) with my story, it is almost as if it is
all right to talk about it now, he said at a Cape Town hearing.
Slowly things are changing. As if I've been freed from a prison
in which I have been for 18 years.
a worrying number of individuals found that in the weeks following
their deposition, the symptoms associated with the original violations
resurfaced and intensified from the retelling of their stories.
Their experiences sharply contrast with the much-reported accounts
of relief like Ledgerwood's. Their experiences are complicated,
they ruin the easy narrative provided by the TRC. They reveal the
degree of ambiguity inherent in reconciliation and the trauma involved
in seeking the truth.