Long Night's Journey into Day: South Africa's Search for Truth & Reconciliation

2000, 94 minutes
Director/Producer: Frances Reid
Director: Deborah Hoffmann
Distributed by California Newsreel

Cynthia Ngewu (one of the Guguletu 7 mothers) testifying at the TRC hearing. Photo: IRIS FILMS



From 1948 to 1994, South Africa was subject to a brutal system of racial classification and discrimination. When apartheid collapsed, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was formed to review amnesty applications by those who had been involved in crimes relating to the apartheid system, whether by trying to uphold it or bring it down. The most important criteria for review were that applicants must disclose the truth of their involvement in these crimes. Glenda Wildschut, a TRC commissioner, explains the conditional amnesty as very unique in the world, and necessary to the healing process.

Long Night's Journey into Day: South Africa's Search for Truth & Reconciliation - Audience members at the TRC hearing in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Photo: IRIS FILMS
Long Night's Journey into Day focuses on four cases, revealing that the system that imposed racial separation was anything but clear-cut. In 1993, four black men murdered a white student named Amy Biehl, who had become immersed in the fight against apartheid. In an interview, a cousin of one of the perpetrators described the climate at that time as very political, a time when "everyone can do anything to everyone." Out of respect for the work of their daughter, Biehl's parents support the four men's quest for amnesty.

In another case, a black and a white police officer tell two very different stories about their involvement in the killing of seven men in Guguletu Township. At the time of the incident, the seven men were referred to as terrorists and the police claimed they were defending themselves–a story that was upheld by the white officer. The black officer, on the other hand, testified that they were sent to kill the men because they had worked as informants. Upon meeting with the families of those who were killed he is asked to explain how he could betray his own people.

Interestingly, while apartheid was upheld and enforced by a white government, 80% of those who applied for amnesty were black. Robert McBride, who participated in the bombing of a bar frequented by white police, understood the need for all those applying for amnesty to be treated equally, but likened it to allied forces in WWII being tried next to Nazis.

This compelling film concentrates on the collapse of apartheid and its ramifications. For those seeking more information on the history of apartheid, there are additional materials in the film's resource section.

With adult guidance and preparation for descriptions of violence, this film is suitable for students of high school age.


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