Long Night’s Journey Into Day

Frances Reid and Deborah Hoffman

USA 2000, 95 min.

The police shot down seven unarmed black youths in cold blood in the Guguletu township in South Africa. In an emotionally-charged sequence in Long Night’s Journey into Day Thapelo Mbelo, a black police informer who helped set up the murders, walks into a room to confront the seven bereaved mothers. One says to him, “My son Christopher was thrown away like a dog, shot and dragged away on a rope…. As Christopher’s mother, I forgive you. You and Christopher are the same age. I forgive you, Thapelo, because my child will never wake up again, and I don’t want to hold this wound against you, the evil you have done. I feel compassion for you, I want to get rid of this burden I have inside, and be at peace.”

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A portrait of South Africa’s long dark nights of soul-searching at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, this film is clearly a labour of love: the filmmakers’ passionate allegiance to the process shines through. They’re right to underline that South Africa has come up with a unique solution to the excruciating dilemma facing any society trying to heal the wounds of past injustice – forgiveness or retribution, amnesty or prosecution?  But I can’t help feeling that the film would have been richer had they taken a slightly wider view: I missed hearing the voices of South Africans like Steve Biko’s widow with her radical critique of the whole ‘Truth and Reconciliation’ enterprise for letting the Apartheid regime off the hook far too lightly. The dilemma is more acute than this documentary reveals.

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