Monday, October 24, 2011

My Traitor’s Heart Reading Response

In this section, Malan delves into the BC-UDF (Black Consciousness-United Democratic Front) aspect of black on black violence in the mid-80’s. He tries to understand the opposing sides of Steve Biko and Nelson Mandela supporters by interviewing some of them and hearing stories. There are many tales of horrific murder and casualties taken on both sides of the struggle. Then he goes into the more metaphorical realm of wishing to be blind to all the violence occurring at the time.

In the beginning of this book, Malan talked about a paradox, his struggle within it and how blacks didn’t work together. I remember pondering and writing about this question of unity. Why, if they wanted essentially the same thing couldn’t they work together to achieve it? This section brought things together. It explains the differences in the BC and UDF movements. It also answered other questions. Early on in history class, when we were just first beginning to learn about South Africa’s struggles, I grappled with the idea of good and bad. Malan sums it up by asking, “Who were the good guys? (pg. 270)” That is the exact question I struggled with and heard many others ponder as well. I believe it is deeply rooted in human nature (whether by cultural upbringing or part of our wiring I don’t know) to seek out clear distinctions between good and bad. A question frequently asked is, “Is that good or bad? Was he good or bad?” We seem to have this need to categorize by moral standing and thus orient ourselves to whatever is of question. However human nature is also such that there is hardly, if ever, an answer as simple as good vs. evil. The South African struggle epitomizes this concept fully. Originally the ANC affiliated UDF seems to be the good guys in the black war (or at least the only one a white would side with without condemning themselves). The ANC seems the logical to side with regarding the entire struggle. Their beliefs are the ones that fit closest to mine. Yet, in this section, Malan describes atrocious crimes committed by members of the UDF, committed even by Nelson Mandela’s wife. Suddenly my easy understanding of good vs. bad, right vs. wrong is shattered. It was never actually that simple, I was aware of some of the complexities involved in the whole situation, but the barrage of violent images and stories Malan showed me reiterated how complex it all is. Malan says, “In this war, as in all wars, there were no innocent parties and no innocent bystanders (pg. 260).” No one was innocent; no one was entirely “good.” There was violence on both sides, and in fact there are more than two sides. Malan talks about the paradox of being a sympathetic white during this time. “If you believe in neither [side], the paradox fractured your skull and burned its poisonous claws in your brain (pg. 276).” I can now begin to understand how Malan felt. There are no easy answers. As a learner of history I want to take sides, but there are no sides to which I feel I could belong to. As a participant during the time I can only imagine how intensified this feeling would be. It would be so much easier to just shove it to the back of the brain, to turn a blind eye. And yet just as there are no innocent bystanders in a war, there are no innocent learners of history. I believe it is my obligation to not turn a blind eye on the atrocities of the past. I must learn from them and utilize that knowledge. Only if we recognize the past, and our mistakes in it, will we be able to move forward to a better future. And there will never be easy answers, single sided stories or a clear, good and bad, but as a member of this earth; I must try the best I can. That’s all I can ask of anyone, including Rian Malan.

--Nell, Sophomore, WA

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