Last September as I perused Garland Library’s shelves for books on South Africa, one title grabbed me, so I plopped it on top of the three biographies of Nelson Mandela I’d selected. I couldn’t possibly pronounce the author’s name (Antjie Krog), but a title like Country of My Skull, and a quick flip through assured me of a riveting read.
Now I have read three of her post-modern, lyrical and poetic works. An Afrikaans poet, philosopher, anti-apartheid activist, and radio journalist, Antjie (pronounced AnKee) has won my admiration and set my mind to thinking. Her two subsequent works: A Change of Tongue and Begging to Be Black continue the line of thought and questions that Antjie began in Country of My Skull. That work was her journal interwoven with three years of reporting on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission requested by Nelson Mandela and led by Bishop Desmond Tutu.
Antjie covers a lot of territory in her works and is not concerned with resolving as much as understanding. Her perception of “ubuntu”, that wonderful quality of the African community life which Tutu chose as seminal for the work to be accomplished in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, is broad and deep. Her respect for the cultures which Afrikanerdom dominated and diminished is admirable. I highly recommend her work for insight into the hearts and mind-set of the Afrikaaners as they hewed their own culture and history out of the rough landscape of Southern Africa’s mountains, karoos and vast veld: caught between the mighty British empire and the tangle of tribes inhabiting subSaharan Africa.
One brilliant gem she comes away with is the breadth of what forgiveness means. Believe me, I’ve read a number of books written by Christian authors (some theologians) on forgiveness. But I think Antjie has captured a key of the truly Biblical element, and sadly, attributed it almost exclusively to African culture.
“Forgiving is therefore never separate from reconciliation, but the first personal step. It demands a response from the forgiven one, to change, to become human, to share. Forgiveness is thus not an uninformed embrace of evil, it is not a miracle brought about by an individual, but an interconnected act that makes a changed relationship possible, a future, a new way of being.” (p. 212 Begging to be Black.)