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A Human Being Died That Night: A South African Woman Confronts the Legacy of Apartheid

4.02  ·  Rating Details ·  637 Ratings  ·  63 Reviews
A Human Being Died That Night recounts an extraordinary dialogue. Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, a psychologist who grew up in a black South African township, reflects on her interviews with Eugene de Kock, the commanding officer of state-sanctioned death squads under apartheid. Gobodo-Madikizela met with de Kock in Pretoria's maximum-security prison, where he is serving a ...more
Paperback, 208 pages
Published April 19th 2004 by Mariner Books (first published 2003)
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Community Reviews

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Sep 29, 2013 11 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: glimmer-of-hope
For over forty years (roughly 1948-93) state-sanctioned assassinations, kidnappings, rapes, and other torture were a regular occurrance under the Apartheid regime. For somebody who has not lived under this system, the resulting sufferring and heartache is truly unimaginable.

Beginning in the 1990's, the perpetrators of these autrocities have been brought in to answer for their crimes. What did the victims and their relatives do? Did they rip these men limb from limb, to satisfy their desire for
Oct 10, 2011 Shovelmonkey1 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone - apartheid is a lesson and warning to humanity
Recommended to Shovelmonkey1 by: katrinat
I have to admit that this book dealt with a period of history which I am not well versed in. Apartheid ended when I was 13 so many of the key events in the history of this brutal period took place before I was old enough to grasp their significance. Of course, this is not an excuse for not learning more about the whole period as an adult but because of my work and research (and as someone who lives in Liverpool), my reading has always tended towards Colonial History and European interaction with ...more
Alice Lippart
May 22, 2016 Alice Lippart rated it really liked it
A highly interesting book. I found the authors reflections to be intelligent, respectful and honest. A bit dense at times, but otherwise, very good.
Dec 01, 2015 Laura rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Bettie
From BBC Radio 3 - Drama on 3:

1997. Pretoria Central Prison, South Africa. Psychologist Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela prepares to sit opposite the notorious Eugene de Kock, nicknamed 'Prime Evil', the head of the apartheid regime's death squads. A member of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Madikizela questions de Kock who is serving a 212 year sentence for crimes against humanity, murder, conspiracy to murder, attempted murder, assault, kidnapping, illegal possession of firearms, and fraud. Sh
Mar 25, 2009 A.J. rated it really liked it
Shelves: history-politics
For a nonfiction book, this was a surprisingly easy read. Pumla Gobodo-Madizekela worked on South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission during the aftermath of apartheid. As a psychologist, she found a personal interest in one Eugene de Kock, mass murderer and strong arm of the apartheid regime. During her conversations with him, she brings to the reader a portrait of a deeply remorseful and changed man, and through him discusses the process of restorative as opposed to punitive justice. ...more
Jun 21, 2009 Catherine rated it really liked it
This is a remarkable book - a reflective investigation of what constitutes good and evil in society, the limits and expansiveness of forgiveness, and the meaning of humanity by the only psychologist to be named a committee member for the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Much of Gobodo-Madikizela's book focuses on Eugene de Kock, the mastermind of many of the death squads who unleashed unbearable torment and killing in South Africa through the 1970s and '80s. She struggles, as a
Nov 29, 2015 Bettie☯ added it
Recommends it for: BBC Radio Listeners
Recommended to Bettie☯ by: Laura

Info: Harriet Walter's curated season ends with an acclaimed theatre production from the Fugard Theatre in Cape Town and later seen in London and New York. Based on Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela's book, Nicholas Wright's play explores the relationship between the psychologist and Eugene de Kock, the apartheid regime's most notorious assassin. Part of the BBC On Stage season.

Sound design by Christopher Shutt

Produced for the Fugard Theatre by Eric Abraham

1997. Pre
Dec 01, 2016 Katrina rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Black clinical pyschologist Madikizela is taken through the Truth and Reconciliation Commitee to interview Eugene de Kock, a man commonly refered to as 'Prime Evil' who has come to symbolise the violence and aggression of the apartheid government.
Madikizela seeks to find answers with this man, including why some of his victims families have forgiven him and feel a sense of empathy for this notorious man. She finds de Kock to be a thoughtful and sensitive man; fighting with the things he has don
Apr 24, 2007 Kecia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those who needs to learn how to forgive
Shelves: non-fiction, africa
I visited South Africa in 1997 and what impressed me the most was the dignity of the people and their hope for a better future. This book speaks to that dignity and sense of hope. To be able to see your oppressor as a human takes a great deal of compassion...a great deal of humanity. A great thought-provoking read.
Oct 15, 2012 Sarah rated it really liked it
This book gives an inside look at a woman's ability to forgive in a time when so much heart break has been experienced. This was a powerfully moving book that was a testate to the courage this woman had.
Mar 12, 2008 Aaron rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book can be hard to follow at times because she is such a brilliant woman and alot of it is written from a psycological point of view. But this book presents forgiveness in a whole new light. Everybody should be able to forgive and this book tells alot about how and why.
Jennifer Mills
Jan 07, 2013 Jennifer Mills rated it really liked it
One of the best books I've encountered on trauma, recovery and forgiveness.
Judy Croome
Sep 23, 2012 Judy Croome rated it liked it
Recommends it for: readers interested in history, apartheid, South Africa, psychology
For weeks she has lain there, in a thoughtful pose beneath the prison bars of a window high above her.

‘Have you read Gobodo-Madikizela’s book on Eugene de Kock yet, Jude?’ my long-suffering husband asks. He’d read it on the plane to Cape Town. ‘You’ll find it interesting.’

‘Mmm,’ I mumble, trying to think of another excuse, another reason, not to hold “Prime Evil” in my hands. ‘I’ll get to it later.’

But still I resist picking it up and reading the first page.

I’ve had enough of that sort of thi
A few things stood out to me in this book.

First, that a white woman -- or someone who hasn't been through something like apartheid -- never could have written this book. Talked about the atrocities committed during apartheid? Yes. Discussed interviews with someone perpetrating those atrocities? Yes. Talked about the importance of reconciliation? Perhaps. Come to conclusions on when it is okay to reconcile with, to forgive, the responsible parties? Not when we're talking about apartheid, I think.
Jacob Lines
Apr 17, 2015 Jacob Lines rated it really liked it
Shelves: law
In this book, the author, a clinical psychologist, explores the legacy of Apartheid and does it quite well. This is a book with lessons for all of humankind, not just South Africa. Dr. Gobodo-Madikizela was a member of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, so she was in the thick of the effort to bring healing to South Africa after its transition from Apartheid to constitutional democracy. This book is truly remarkable.

Much of the book is arranged around her interviews with Eugene de Kock, on
Jan 04, 2012 Paul rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
"A human being died that night; a south afircan story of forgiveness". The book with a strong message to the world that people should be fogiven and that there is a chain of unkindness. people are abused and mistreated and go on to do things that are not who they are, crime, homicide ect. and the book does a good job of giving a different angle on the world. many times we just thnk murderers: "what disturbed people" when many have some reasons for their unjust and slowly with the help of the ...more
Aug 13, 2009 Courtney rated it really liked it
Shelves: school-books
"...for in the end we are a society of people and not of ideas, a fragile we of interdependent humans, not of stances."

This is one of my favorite quotes from Gobodo-Madikezela's exploration into the limits of forgiveness of human beings who have experienced and carried out violations of human rights, more specifically, mass genocide or war. Her narrative takes shape around an interview with Euguene de Kock, a man who became known as "Prime Evil" as he orchestrated many attacks on anti-apartheid
Feb 17, 2014 Sarah rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I've had A Human Being Died That Night on my to-read list for several years, and I finally found it at a used bookstore recently and read it. The book is centered around Pumla Gobodo-Madkizela's interviews with Eugene de Kock, the officer in charge of the apartheid death squads. From this center point she explores how people become evil and the meaning of forgiveness.

I found that she had many insightful things to say. One key point of exploration for her is that of humanness. For example, she co
Nov 23, 2014 Jill rated it really liked it
I use this book for teaching fairly often, and every time I re-read all or part of it, I am impressed by how thoughtful and nuanced Gobodo-Madikizela's exploration of the possibilities of empathy with past enemies is. She takes a position much closer to forgiveness than many would, but does so with open eyes, not ignoring any of the crimes that we might prefer to call "unforgivable." Instead, she makes an argument for why empathy and forgiveness are actually the more difficult choice to ...more
Feb 10, 2010 Siria rated it really liked it
A Human Being Died That Night is Gobodo-Madikizela's account of her interviews with Eugene de Kock—a notorious state-sanctioned mass murderer who had helped uphold apartheid in South Africa. Interspersed with those interviews are tales of victims and aggressors from both sides—people whom Gobodo-Madikizela had met during her time as part of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Moreso than a narrative, the book is a meditation on what it is that enables someone to commit atrocities ...more
Adam Hummel
Sep 04, 2015 Adam Hummel rated it really liked it
Interesting insight into forgiveness, mercy and empathy. Ms. Gobodo-Madikizela takes the readers through her encounters with Eugene de Kock in an interesting and deeply thoughtful way, showing that there is a way to speak with people who may have caused you (or your people) immense harm.

Though South African, with a pretty good basic knowledge of apartheid South Africa, I had no idea of the actions of the Vlakplaas or de Kock's death squads, and was also unfamiliar with a lot of the technicaliti
Nic Adams
Sep 04, 2015 Nic Adams rated it it was amazing
In the words of Madiba..............
This is an extraordinary human story based on a series of interviews with Eugene De Kock by Professor Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela in an attempt to understand what motivated him to commit the deeds he engaged in.
This book does not condemn yet it explores the multiple dimensions of an ideology that made a man.
This book also details the role that South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission played in uncovering the causes, motives and perspectives of oppression
Jun 28, 2009 Angela rated it really liked it
This psychoanalysis of Apartheid South Africa by Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela was one of the most fascinating reads I've had in a while. I'm not much of a non-fiction reader to begin with but after reading her account and analysis of the atrocious acts that happened in South Africa and how the country is in the process of healing and transforming has made me rethink my reading habits. She explores the minds of killers and victims and at the same time relates it back to everyone and the things that we ...more
Apr 21, 2007 Kendra rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people interested in South Africa, current events readers
This book is capitvating, disturbing, insightful, and chilling. It's the account of a psychologist and panelist during post-apartheid South Africa's Truth & Reconciliation Commission hearings. The emotions of the victims and families of the victims extremely raw and accessible to the reader, as is the author's own inner turmoil, which is the heart of this book. She must reconcile her feelings about a notorious leader of the South African police and the atrocities over which he presided, and ...more
Jul 25, 2012 Mike rated it liked it
A psychologist attached to the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission recounts her interviews with Eugene De Kock, a South African government death squad commander during Apartheid serving a 212 year sentence for his actions in the 1970's and 1980's.

It offers an insight into the psychology of both the victim and victimizer during this time period, the constructs under which they labored and how it shaped their lives under the Apartheid regime.

It's not quite an uplifting read, but you
May 28, 2011 Douglas rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-i-own
Not what I expected at all. I approached this book with a bit of trepidation because of the person who recommended it to me, but I am glad that I did read. It's a powerful little volume on the immense power of forgiveness and the national healing in South Africa in the wake of apartheid. Its as an important a book as Elie Wiesel's Night and should be on any reading list that includes Night.
Apr 08, 2013 Jay rated it liked it
Lots of good contemplation of what forgiveness means for both the victim and aggressor, what makes a true apology, how far can we forgive, and how healing for individuals and societies are played out in this realm. Other accounts of the South African TRC (like Country of My Skull) have deeper insights to the stories and immediacy to the process. This also gets caught in the celebrity of de Kock with only surface level personal investigation as to what draws Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela and others to ...more
Junyan Boon
Jun 17, 2010 Junyan Boon rated it it was ok
I didn't make it through this book as the author's judgments (sentiments) of the criminal she was interviewing was so intrinsic to her writing that I didn't feel compelled to continue.

There is often a notion that criminals are not people. The label "criminal" allows us to dehumanize people like Hitler and other "notorieties". I do appreciate movies like Downfall however for helping us to remember that people are people. This book likely does the same as one continues through- however I am happy
Mar 27, 2011 Michael rated it it was ok
As far as the subject matter goes, this book rates with some of the most interesting things I have read in a long time. The work of the TRC in post-apartheid South Africa is compelling and draws the reader in.

The writing of this book, on the other hand, is of a rambling stream of thought that covers different stories and doesn't pull together into a coherent narrative until the very end of the book.

I would not recommend this book unless the reader already had a fairly well grounded knowledge of
Apr 14, 2013 Alyssa rated it really liked it
This book almost received three stars from me, but the last chapter essentially put into words why I get angry every time a person who commits a terrible crime is referred to as "evil" or "the face of evil" or something else that essentially dehumanizes them to create an "us" vs. "them" dynamic where an every day person could never do those things. Because of the entire last chapter I couldn't give this book less than four stars.
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“A genuine apology focuses on the feelings of the other rather than on how the one who is apologizing is going to benefit in the end. It seeks to acknowledge full responsibility for an act, and does not use self-serving language to justify the behavior of the person asking forgiveness. A sincere apology does not seek to erase what was done. No amount of words can undo past wrongs. Nothing can ever reverse injustices committed against others. But an apology pronounced in the context of horrible acts has the potential for transformation. It clears or ‘settles’ the air in order to begin reconstructing the broken connections between two human beings.” 7 likes
“That one is not confronted with the choices de Kock could have to could not have made, that one was not a member of the privileged class in apartheid South Africa are matters of sheer grace.” 1 likes
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