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Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela
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A Human Being Died That Night

4.09  ·  Rating details ·  904 ratings  ·  83 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
Published (first published 2003)
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Oct 09, 2011 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
Apr 13, 2011 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
Alice Lippart
A highly interesting book. I found the authors reflections to be intelligent, respectful and honest. A bit dense at times, but otherwise, very good.
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.
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 28, 2015 added it  ·  review of another edition
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

Isca Silurum
Thought provoking, whilst reinforcing my contempt for psychologists. Agree with Eugene, the erm noise, irritated me far earlier than it did him. Will try to find further works by the author; maybe. Does highlight the double standards and holier than though attitude we all show at times. Politicians of all colours and persuasions. the weathervanes of all that is bad in public opinion.
Mar 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I’ve struggled with the concept and ways of forgiveness all of my life – I won’t bore you with the details – so it’s a theme I’m always interested in exploring in my reading, and it has led me to read quite a lot of holocaust literature. But rarely do I find anything that overtly addresses my issues as this book has done.
Naturally, being on the South African Truth and Reconcilliation Commission has meant a lot of struggling with the same (much worse in magnitude, of course) questions for Pumula
Mar 12, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 24, 2007 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.
Mar 02, 2008 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.
Oct 15, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Judy Croome
Sep 18, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 25, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The subject matter, message, and voice of this book were amazing and it felt like a truly important book. Dr. Gobodo-Madikizela explores the specific history of some of the darkest crimes committed in one of the worst regimes our planet has ever known – South African apartheid. But she explores it not by telling the story of the victims so much as trying to get a glimpse of the point of view of one of the worst perpetrators, Eugene de Kock.
Gobodo-Madikizela made a number of points that resonate
Moses Hetfield
Nov 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Moses by: Prof. Jim Campbell
This is one of those books that forces its readers to think deeply about ethical and philosophical issues in real-life scenarios. How does a country move forward after decades of rule under an oppressive system like apartheid? What is to be done with the former oppressors when they make up a large fraction of society? How can oppressors and oppressed live side by side in a new society? What is the nature of evil, and how should we combat it? Who should be held responsible for state violence when ...more
Zach Smith
Jun 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
As a white South African, living among white South Africans, Eugene de Kock and other, similar people are still largely seen as vastly different from "regular" people (who, unlike Eugene de Kock, are actually the prime beneficiaries of the Apartheid system).

This book presents a larger perspective where you can see how people can do extremely evil things within the bounds of the law - and shows that you cannot lay accountability for a thing such as "Apartheid" at the feet of a few people.

Jan 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was a thoughtful and moving recollection of both the dynamics of forgiveness as well as interviews with Eugene de Kock, nicknamed "Pure Evil" for his command of the state-sanctioned death squads that carried out ritualized torture and murder during the reign of apartheid. She approaches the topic from a very cerebral yet human perspective, and, through her words, you can truly feel her grappling with her growing empathy for the remorse exhibited by a man who committed so many crimes against ...more
Itumeleng Mehale
May 10, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jul 30, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The book is a revelation. Pumla has contended with an extremely difficult topic, at once personal and academic. To weave decades of research on violence, its origins and its psychological impact with comparisons of different state sponsored violence in human history (Nazism vs apartheid) and humanise it with the personal stories of tragedy from the TRC is immensely challenging - intellectually and emotionally. Pumla shows she is truly upto the task.

A book that makes one think and leaves behind a
Reina-Marie Loader
Mar 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
I have been meaning to read this book for a long time and finally got a copy. What a profound book on the memory of apartheid, the TRC and the value of forgiveness! It is a book that everyone should read who is interested in what drove the TRC. One paragraph stood out to me given its global relevance: “The question is no longer whether victims can forgive ‘evildoers’ but whether we - our symbols, language and politics, our legal, media and academic institutions - are creating the conditions that ...more
Mar 15, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Read this in just a couple of days which says a lot seeing I am not reading a lot lately! I expected this book to be about Eugene de Kock, Apartheid's Chief Killer, about his psyche, his life, whatever made him what he became. However, he is not the focus of the book. Gobodo-Madikizela is a Clinical Psychologist and this book is rather about how evil people can be understood and forgiven, told by the example of de Kock who she interviewed. I was a little disappointed at first but the clarity in ...more
3.5 rounded up. A worthy, thought-provoking read about morality, forgiveness and the philosophy of reconciliation and justice. The latter portion of the book is the strongest while the earlier part of the book rambles a bit.

The author assumes some familiarity with the history of apartheid in South Africa and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and jumps right into her narrative. There is a very good short history at the end of the book but even so, if the history is unfamiliar, some
Oct 11, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: em-mussar
I learned a lot from this book. I wish it hadn't jumped around so much, and I was left with a lot of questions, which I've since learned would have been answered if I'd been referring to the footnotes. Inquiry into forgiving and whether we can stop generational violence and live together. It seems we can, based on stories from South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, of which I'd heard but about which I didn't know much. Nice mix of reporting and pondering.
Joel U
Mar 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“Hope is where transformation begins; without it, a society cannot take its first steps toward reconstructing its self-identity as a society of tolerance and coexistence.”
-Puma Gobodo-Madikizela

Incredible statement to come from the post-Apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission process. Lot of TRC lessons can be applied across the world in 2017. Be optimistic and work hard!
Maxine Beecroft
I thought this book would be more in depth about Eugene de Kock and his life as a Death Squad Commander, but it only touched on his personality. The book was really about looking at the meanings of empathy, compassion and forgiveness and what allows a person to do such evil in the name of politics. An interesting read nonetheless.
Marita Snyman
Feb 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This account of how remorse and forgiveness restores human dignity touched me deeply. Of course not a comfortable read, but Gobodo-Madikizela's calm and reflective writing guides the reader deeper into the humanness that connects us all
Alice Wheeler
Dec 28, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I love the subject matter and find the book fascinating because of this. The story of the TRC is one of a kind. I felt the book could have probed deeper, but thoroughly enjoyed it all the same.
Sadiya Patel
Nov 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An emotionally moving and intellectually spurring book.
Jan 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A compelling exploration of truth-telling, forgiveness, and the many ways to move forward after gross crimes against humanity.
Rachel Brill
May 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Wow! Highly recommend for anyone -- an incredible piece about forgiveness and atrocity.
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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.” 8 likes
“Perpetrators of human rights violations redefine morality and start believing that they can commit systematic murder and other atrocities "for the greater good." The distance between evil and sickness is not that great. The evil component of crimes against humanity is the moral failing. The sickness aspect is the defect in perspective, the distortion in mental processing that both precedes the evil and is intensified by it.” 1 likes
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