Who's Sorry Now?

Compared to this, Krog's private struggle with her own Afrikaner inheritance— in particular her brothers' armed attempts to defend their farm against raiders— is a little tame, but it does show how the forging of a new country on the steel of the past tempers everybody, from Dr. Verwoerd's descendants to "the ordinary cleaning woman" who finds her voice on the radio news one lunchtime: "Someone fell from the upper floor past the window. . . . It was my child . . . my grandchild, but I raised him."

The truth ("I hesitate at the word," says Krog. "Even when I type it, it ends up as either turth or trth") is viewed from a more oblique angle in Goodman's book, as longer, more-intensive interviews try to get to the heart of what has happened in South Africa over the past half century. The interviews with the Verwoerd family are particularly interesting, as are the details concerning the assassination of their Nazi-sympathizing ancestor. The "culprit" was a half-Greek, half-African immigrant from Mozambique, Dmitrio Tsafendas, who stabbed Verwoerd while working as a parliamentary messenger. At the time, he claimed that a giant tapeworm in his body had ordered him to kill Verwoerd, and he was accordingly committed to a mental institution; recently he has said that his own racial persecution at school— where he was known as "Blackie"— was the motive for the attack. ("History will prove whether I am right or wrong.")

Mogopa villagers gather to resist a forced removal, 1983.
Paul Weinberg
Mogopa villagers gather to resist a forced removal, 1983.

Details

Country of My Skull: Guilt, Sorrow and the Limits of Forgiveness in the New South Africa
By Antjie Krog
Times Books, 404 pp., $27.50
Buy this book

Fault Lines: Journeys Into the New South Africa
By David Goodman
University of California Press, 400 pp., $29.95
Buy this book

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Verwoerd's grandson, the nervous theologian turned activist, says that his grandfather's legacy is "like walking around with a stone in your stomach." As the metamorphosis of the new South Africa continues, that heavy legacy remains. But the beast has been killed: better a stone than a tapeworm.

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