Country Of My Skull Summary

Antjie Krog

Country of My Skull

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Country Of My Skull Summary

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Country of My Skull: Guilt, Sorrow, and the Limits of Forgiveness in the New South Africa is a 1998 nonfiction book by South African author Antjie Krog. It focuses on the findings of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, serving as an intersectional look at the Commission’s effects on post-Apartheid South Africa. Combining first-hand accounts and testimony from the Commission’s hearings with an analysis of political and moral philosophy inspired by the leaders of the era, it is also an autobiography of the author’s life growing up as a white woman in apartheid South Africa. Combining journalism, prose, biography, and poetry, Country of My Skull is considered one of the defining works of the post-Apartheid era in South Africa, and by far the most acclaimed work written from an Afrikaner perspective. It was adapted into the 2004 film In My Country, starring Juliette Binoche and Samuel L. Jackson.

Country of My Skull focuses on the hearings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which was formed in the aftermath of the fall of the Apartheid regime. Brought into effect by the reforms of the final white Prime Minister of South Africa, F.W. de Klerk, and overseen by Nelson Mandela, the Commission was formed to investigate the crimes committed by both the Apartheid regime over decades, and the insurgent movements led by the African National Congress that were key in eventually taking down the regime. A key part of the Commission was the amnesty process, through which former officials in the Apartheid regime would testify about their crimes and in exchange for honesty be released without charges to allow for a fresh start. Antjie Krog, a renowned South African journalist and activist, had long been one of the strongest anti-apartheid activists in the Afrikaner community, and she was asked to bring her experience on the issue to the process and cover the findings. She spent two years travelling across the country from large city halls to small community centers, and her comprehensive account forms the core of the book.

A large part of the narrative follows Krog’s early life and how it shaped her role as a prominent anti-apartheid activist. She was born into an Afrikaner family of writers in Kroonstad, in the Orange Free State. She grew up on a farm and attended a good school in the area, and that was where her activism began. In 1970, at the height of the particularly brutal era of John Vorster (when Nelson Mandela was sentenced to life in prison), she wrote an anti-apartheid poem for her school magazine titled “Give me a land where black and white hand in hand, can bring peace and love to my beautiful land.” This outraged the conservative Afrikaans community in the era, and brought national media to her parents’ house. However, she was undeterred, and went to college where she received a teaching degree. She became one of South Africa’s most renowned poets, and led a progressive Afrikaans journal as editor. By the time de Klerk’s government began to dismantle the apartheid regime and allow for universal suffrage, Krog was one of South Africa’s most trusted journalists.

The Commission received over ten times the number of applications for amnesty than expected. Thus, the planned hearings grew into something much larger and more all-encompassing than had been anticipated. Although de Klerk was seen as dodging responsibility for the actions of his early years as Prime Minister, and former leader P.W. Botha refused to appear before the commission or acknowledge its legitimacy, countless former officials and foot soldiers of the apartheid era testified in exchange for immunity, and their testimony provided an extensive picture of the overwhelming brutality that had been perpetrated against Black South Africans for decades. Many members of the African National Congress testified about their actions as well, and the Commission was seen as largely going easy on them. This was controversial among white South Africans, but was largely seen as a necessary step in the peaceful transition of power and the calling-to-account of the apartheid regime. Krog’s coverage of the commission’s work over two years gave her a wider perspective of the country she had grown up in, and was considered the defining work of journalism relating to the massive transformation that South Africa underwent in the 1990s.

Antjie Krog is a South African poet, academic, journalist, and author who is currently a member of the Arts faculty at the University of the Western Cape. A lifelong progressive activist best known for her work in the anti-apartheid movement, she is best known for her coverage of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in the 1990s. The author of fourteen works of poetry, three works of poetry for children, five prose books, a play, and three translations, she is highly decorated, being a two-time winner of the Hertzog Prize, as well as the 2000 winner of the Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation Award.