A fascinating piece of research from the Eastern Cape

2009-06-10 00:00


There was this Goat

Antjie Krog, Nosisi Mpolweni and Kopano Ratele

University of KwaZulu-Natal Press

BOOKS about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) are two a penny. Some of them, written by pretentious academics or people with political axes to grind, are earning the dust of obscurity on library shelves. But this one is different and deserves its readers.

Entitled There was this goat: Investigating the Truth Commission of Notrose Nobomvu Konile, the book focuses on the testimony of one of the mothers of the Gugulethu Seven, shot dead in a police ambush in March 1986. At a superficial level, Notrose Konile’s input appears incoherent and aberrant, out of line with the accounts of the mothers of other victims. Was this due to persistent trauma, a latent fear of the truth that often spelt trouble in the apartheid years, or problems of language, translation and transcription?

The answer lies in Konile’s rural roots at Indwe in the Eastern Cape and the authors concluded their investigation by interviewing her at home 20 years after the death of her son Zabonke. By this time she had retaken control of her life which had previously plumbed the depths of poverty. And the meaning of her metaphoric TRC testimony becomes crystal clear.

The essence of this book is about hearing one another: South Africa’s most intractable problem is communication and interpretation.

This is not just a linguistic issue, but one of culture and socioeconomic status too. Unlike her urban counterparts, MKonile’s view of the death of her son did not buy into the TRC’s standard litany of white oppression, heroic resistance and post-liberation triumph. Hers was a highly personalised view from the depths of rural society.

For the old-fashioned reader there is too much repetition; and far too much about the writers and their feelings. Nevertheless, this is a fascinating piece of research. And the goat? He appeared to Konile in a dream, signifying a message from the ancestors and premonition of Zabonke’s violent death.

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