Book Review: Bearing Witness

Bearing Witness:  Women And The Truth And Reconciliation Commission In South Africa, by Fiona C. Ross

This book is an example of what happens when someone whose only knowledge about the world comes from the worthless field of women’s studies and writes a book that only demonstrates her complete inability to understand what it is that she pretends to be an expert about.  To the extent that this book has any value, and it does not have much even then, it is a demonstration of the way that the author’s perspective blinds her to insight about history and political affairs.  The fact that the author cannot recognize that a state has an inherent right of self-defense against those who would wish it harm means that she simply cannot appreciate why it is that Mandela’s government sought a truth & reconciliation commission in the first place, and the author’s gender obsession similarly blinds her to the characteristic way in which black women in apartheid times were valuable for the men they were related to, which explains why it is that most of them understandably focused on the men that they were related to when appealing to the commissions, even if the author seems unable to grasp such simple matters.

This book is about 175 pages or so and it is divided into seven chapters and other supplementary material.  The author begins with a list of tables and acknowledgments before an introduction where she lays out her approach to the subject at hand.  The author discusses the making of the subject of the truth & reconciliation commission, contrasting matters based on gender (1).  After that the author discusses the testimonial practices of men and women (2) as well as the discussion of the threat to which imprisonment for political activism did to the self of the women, something that perhaps should have discouraged political activism (3).  This leads to a discussion of narrative threads on account of those who reported on the truth & reconciliation commission (4) as well as a look at what was considered harm–most notably rape and other sexual offenses in the case of women (5).  After that the author discusses the pursuit of the ordinary when it comes to women and their lives and choices (6), after which there is an epilogue (7), and two appendices that deal with South African security laws (i) and detention data (ii), as well as a glossary, notes, references, and an index.

It is particularly telling that the author shows little knowledge of political legitimacy on the part of the state and is laser focused on her support of leftist activists and her frustration at the asymmetries that exist between men and women.  Is it unjust that women face tensions between their obligations to their families and their political activism?  No, that’s just the way that life goes.  Would it be more worthwhile to seek to understand the motivations behind Mandela’s desire for a truth & reconciliation commission that sought to lower tensions than to complain about it when it was structurally biased in favor of those making accusations and unjust but not in the way that the author claims?  Absolutely, but asking the author to have something approaching sense would be asking for far too much in this particular case, which makes this a deeply frustrating book if one is seeking to understand something about the aftermath of apartheid from someone whose only interest is furthering a feminist agenda.  And, in case it is not obvious, that is not an agenda I am particularly interested in supporting especially when one is dealing with an author whose insight is so limited as is the case here.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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