I’ve had A Human Being Died That Night on my to-read list for several years, and I finally found it at a used bookstore recently and read it. The book is centered around Pumla Gobodo-Madkizela’s interviews with Eugene de Kock, the officer in charge of the apartheid death squads. From this center point she explores how people become evil and the meaning of forgiveness.
I found that she had many insightful things to say. One key point of exploration for her is that of humanness. For example, she comes back multiple times to the moment where she touched de Kock’s hand and felt empathy for him, exploring what it means for her to feel empathy for an “evil” man and how this is frightening for her. Extending this, she explores the threat people in general feel in recognizing the humanness of people who do evil things. On the other hand, she goes into depth on the topic of forgiveness, pointing out that in some cases it allows the victim to regain power, by saying that the perpetrator no longer has power over them to make them feel hurt, angry, or resentful. One of the key prerequisites for forgiveness, however, is for the perpetrator to demonstrate genuine remorse and apology.
Overall I thought she presented a nuanced look at evil and forgiveness. I appreciated that she explors the gray areas and the question of being human, while still being clear that the evil acts committed are morally reprehensible. Although far shorter and more focused, I found A Human Being Died That Night to be a more insightful look into the question of evil than Phil Zimbardo’s The Lucifer Effect that I read a few years ago.
I highly recommend A Human Being Died That Night.