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Seperating The Sinner From The Sin


Travels of trouble by Kole OmotoshoTHE occurrence of betrayal by radical activists of their previous radical beliefs and their former colleagues to their former common enemies is getting greater and greater representation in the literature. From Latin America under the dictators, to Asia under American boots to the Middle East and Africa, fighting governments and principalities, individuals are betraying themselves, their former friends and their causes. In the process they give information on their former colleagues. These former colleagues are hunted down and killed by the government forces.

In a comprehensive documentation of one these betrayals, Jacob Dlamini writes about a man who was simply known as Mr. X1. He had worked for eight years for the armed wing of the ANC in Swaziland when he was supposedly abducted by the apartheid government and taken to the notorious farm known as Vlakplaas. There he was turned against the struggle and made to work for the apartheid government for the next seven years. Then, now and into the future, one would continue to ask: “Why would black people voluntarily submit to a system that systematically discriminated against them and which, in addition, made them complicit in the oppression of other black people?”

At a time in the history of the South African apartheid regime when the government was trying desperately to combine repression with dubious reform of the apartheid system, black spies and black police were deployed to execute the repression part of the policy of repression and reform. Why did they accept to do it? They were tortured until their bodies gave up and their spirits succumbed to the dictates of the torturers. They were compensated with money and conceptions like smoking, drinking and family visits. Are these gifts worth the lives lost as a result of the betrayal? What about those who endured the brutality of torture until their bodies gave up and their lives were terminated rather than betray their comrades? Or would that be mere fiction, that nobody could stand it and all must betray?

What is the effect of torture on the one who has gone through it? According to those who study torture: “Whoever has succumbed to torture can no longer feel at home in the world. The shame of destruction cannot be erased. Trust in the world, which already collapsed in part at the first blow, but in the end, under torture, fully, will not be regained. What takes over the psychic space left by one’s destroyed trust in the world?” Torture has an indelible character, whoever was tortured stays tortured.” If this is so, is it possible that Mr. X1 still believed in the ideals of the ANC and the armed wing of the liberation movement? Or had he come round to believe in the apartheid policies of his new masters?

The white officer who was the boss of Mr. X1 in Vlaplaas insists not only that Mr. X1 still believed in the ANC but also a man of integrity during this time he was working for apartheid and destroying his former movement. Worse than this, is the idea that in fact Mr. X1 was a good man, a moral man, a human being. According to this white officer Mr. X1 would today have been the Head of the army or Head of the Defence or Minister of Defence. So in a sense, we not only destroyed his life, we also left his family with a handful of ashes. Regarding his brothers and sisters and parents, we left him in a situation where they didn’t know whether or not he was a traitor or whether he could be trusted. By interfering in his fate, we destroyed a person who could today have acted for us in the same stature as some of the greater military leaders that we have known. That is the man I knew. We interfered with one of the best persons available to us in the country and this is one of the things which still affect me today.”

Those who betray their former movements and their former colleagues seem able to forgive themselves if they have learnt to stay sober. But, who can persuade those they have betrayed to forgive them? If those betrayed die there is no way of finding out about forgiveness for the person who betrayed them. But what if they survive? The wounds are so permanent and for ever that it is impossible to forget it. Forgive it? That is another matter.

Hugh Levin served seven years on Robin Island after he was betrayed by a friend. The friend left South Africa, studied for a Ph.D in London and returned to South Africa after 1994 and sought Hugh Levin to forgive him. He had written and published an article in which he confessed that “I gave the names.” The article was praised for its honesty and the power of its prose. Hugh Lewin said: “I didn’t know how I would take it. I expected it would make me angry and that I would brush the anger aside and feign my usual indifference. But that’s not what happened. “I gave the names” affected me deeply. It was as if I’d been waiting for it for years: this explanation, which didn’t duck any responsibility.” Reacting further, Hugh Lewin, recalling his incarceration and his feelings after the betrayal, said his experience of prison made him feel ‘morally unassailable” unlike those friends and comrades (black and white) who betrayed us. The ones who turned state witnesses; The ones who stayed outside while we circled the exercise yard. I used to believe that they had put themselves inside a different kind of jail: a jail that had no keys. We served our sentences and were released, I used to say. They bought their freedom with pieces of silver and they would live with that knowledge for the rest of their lives. It feels less simple, now.

Hugh Lewin chose to forgive his friend because he said he could no longer continue to be the guardian of his friend’s guilt. He was also tired of living with bitterness. But the most difficult reason he gave for forgiving him was that it could have been either of them!

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