Vergangenheitsbewaltigung: is a composite German word that describes processes of dealing with the past (Vergangenheit = past; Bewältigung = coming to terms with, mastering, wrestling into submission)…
Two images of a famous torturer of Apartheid days in South Africa. In one he resembles Colonel Joll from JM Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians. In the next, he could be some nerdy guy you work with. Oddly, much like the word “ENEMY” is beaten off the prisoners in Waiting for the Barbarians, the words “PRIME EVIL” are stripped from Eugene de Kock do to his long term imprisonment and rejected parole. A Guardian article actually suggests that those who gave the orders he was “just following” are truly to blame and walking free.
Waiting for the Barbarians seems written in code, perhaps in response to censorship of his previous book, Heart of the Country. Interestingly, he marked the early drafts “ABANDONED” and had to strike away at the story, arriving at the final result by degrees. Perhaps the truth of a work of art is the effort and pain of creation that is left in it, like the marks the Magistrate examines on the barbarian girl’s body. Eventually, two poems help pave the way to the book’s final form, acting much like the lantern the Magistrate picks up that starts him on his perilous course toward discovering the Other. The first poem creates the idea of a man who is a “borderguard” as the main character, and the second perhaps propelled the examination of the Other. Coetzee studied Mongolia to flesh out the town. Also, the death of an activist, Stephen Biko, in his home country perhaps inspired the idea an agent coming into the town and beginning inquiries.
The book strikes at powerful, universal truths that oddly play out after its publication in the case of de Kock, showing the difficulty with arriving at truth. Colonel Joll sees truth as something that must be extracted through torture, leaving the truthteller broken in the process. Under the light of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, truth is supposed to be won through due process, but many innocent men escape justice.The need for a display of some kind to determine the truth seems crucial. As in Joll’s reckoning, that display is pain, in this case remorse.
Another torturer, who was no relation to JM Coetzee , Dirk Coetzee, exhibited little remorse, and was compared to another JM Coetzee character, David Lurie in Disgrace. For him, burning people until they were ashes was a big party, literally. He was, in fact, de Kock’s predecessor and was fired for a failed kidnapping.
Both were known for horrifically brutal acts. De Kock is the only senior member of Vlakplaas death squad serving a prison sentence, whereas Coetzee turned state’s evidence as maintained freedom. Coetzee is now dead.
Coetzee actually testified against de Kock and apparently was envious and thought he could have been a better killer.
Israel alone supported South African apartheid, also offering to sell PW Botha nuclear weapons..