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Violent Accounts

Violent Accounts: Understanding the Psychology of Perpetrators through South Africas Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Robert N. Kraft
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 212
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  • Book Info
    Violent Accounts
    Book Description:

    Violent Accountspresents a compelling study of how ordinary people commit extraordinary acts of violence and how perpetrators and victims manage in the aftermath. Grounded in extensive, qualitative analysis of perpetrator testimony, the volume reveals the individual experiences of perpetrators as well as general patterns of influence that lead to collective violence.Drawing on public testimony from the amnesty hearings of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the book interweaves hundreds of hours of testimony from seventy-four violent perpetrators in apartheid South Africa, including twelve major cases that involved direct interactions between victims and perpetrators. The analysis of perpetrator testimony covers all tiers on the hierarchy of organized violence, from executives who translated political doctrine into general strategies, to managers who translated these general strategies into specific plans, to the staff - the foot soldiers - who carried out the destructive plans of these managers. Vivid and accessible,Violent Accountsis a work of innovative scholarship that transcends the particulars of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to reveal broader themes and unexpected insights about perpetrators of collective violence, the confrontations between victims and perpetrators in the aftermath of this violence, the reality of multiple truths, the complexities of reconciliation, and lessons of restorative justice.

    eISBN: 978-1-4798-7028-8
    Subjects: Psychology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction: Crimes of Allegiance
    (pp. 1-12)

    In July 1997, Captain Jeffrey Benzien sat before the Amnesty Committee of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission and gave testimony about his illegal activities during apartheid. In the course of this testimony, Benzien provided extended accounts of his activities with the “terrorist tracking unit” of the South African Police, finding and detaining antiapartheid activists and locating their ammunition and weapons. He described his general duties and he recalled the specifics of his most notorious expertise: the “wet bag” method of torture interrogation. He would force a wet canvas bag over the head of a bound prisoner and then alternately...

  5. 1 Regarding Perpetrators: Studying Collective Violence
    (pp. 13-27)

    A fundamental question confronts any research psychologist interested in studying the problem of collective violence: How does one conduct meaningful behavioral research on violence? Historically, one approach has been tosimulatecollective violence within the confines of an experiment, with the two most prominent examples being the Milgram experiments on obedience in the early 1960s (Milgram 1963, 1965, 1974) and the surprisingly destructive and illuminating six days of the Stanford Prison Experiment (Zimbardo 1973; Zimbardo, Maslach, and Haney 1999). These and other, similar experiments have provided distinctive insights from the laboratory about violence to others, demonstrating the pervasive influence of...

  6. 2 Apartheid and Amnesty: Managing a History of Sustained Oppression
    (pp. 28-52)

    Apartheid was a sustained program of segregation imposed by South Africa’s ruling National Party to maintain control over the nonwhite population of South Africa and to preserve a privileged way of life for the white minority. Through a succession of laws from 1948 through the mid-1980s, the National Party strengthened and codified its subjugation of nonwhites, enforcing its laws of apartheid through a repressive system of internal security. In the process, the apartheid government uprooted millions of black South Africans, stole their land and their citizenship, restricted their employment, divided their families, impoverished their education, banned their unions and political...

  7. 3 Understanding Crimes of Allegiance: Patterns of Violent Influence
    (pp. 53-94)

    Any study of violent perpetrators confronts a fundamental paradox: the abundance of cruelty throughout human history and the absence of people who think of themselves as cruel. To help resolve this paradox and to account for systematic, widespread brutality, this chapter analyzes the testimony of violent perpetrators, identifying the influences and choices that shaped ordinary people to behave with extraordinary brutality and the thought processes that motivated and rationalized these behaviors. The focus of the chapter is on the remembered experiences of violent perpetrators when planning and carrying out attacks on others—the phenomenology of collective violence, as disclosed in...

  8. 4 Uncovering Truth: Confronting Perpetrators and Victims
    (pp. 95-110)

    The testimony given by perpetrators to the Amnesty Committee of the TRC revealed the kinds of explanations that people give when their very lives depend on perceived truthfulness. The perpetrators recounted their misdeeds to persuade others to grant them amnesty and to organize their past experiences so they could coexist with memories of their former selves. The hearings proceeded as a real-life suspense story: perpetrators testified before the TRC and then waited—sometimes more than a year—to hear whether or not they were granted amnesty.

    This chapter analyzes the types of truth that emerged and clashed during the TRC...

  9. 5 Reconciling Testimony: A Work in Progress
    (pp. 111-132)

    The most resonant conclusion about reconciliation from the amnesty hearings is as fraught as it is direct: sincere disclosure is necessary for reconciliation. In testimony after testimony, when victims and their families responded to the perpetrators during the amnesty hearings, they reiterated the need to know who perpetrated the destructive acts, who gave the orders, what was done, and why. When perpetrators who were directly implicated in the crimes failed to testify or when those who testified failed to make sincere disclosure, victims and their families rejected reconciliation and recommended against amnesty.

    The parliamentary act that created the TRC showed...

  10. 6 Beyond the TRC: Negotiating the Aftermath of Collective Violence
    (pp. 133-146)

    To focus solely on the deep and persisting societal divisions in South Africa today is to ignore the reverberating example set by the TRC as a national institution for gathering truth and promoting reconciliation after decades of violent conflict. Even with its setbacks and limitations, the TRC stands today as an enduring example of the potential for restorative justice on a national scale and a prototype for other national truth commissions.²

    Over a span of six years following the end of apartheid, the achievements of the TRC’s amnesty hearings sent several resonant messages throughout South Africa: truths about widespread human...

  11. Conclusions: Learning from the Violence of Others
    (pp. 147-154)

    The amnesty hearings of the South African TRC provided an unprecedented opportunity to study perpetrators of political violence and the difficulties and intricacies of reconciling in the wake of this violence. The Amnesty Committee of the TRC granted complete amnesty to the violent perpetrators of apartheid South Africa in exchange for full and public disclosure of their political crimes and the reasons for committing these crimes. Perpetrators were also required to answer all questions from the Amnesty Committee and to confront their victims and members of the victims’ families. All the amnesty hearings were videotaped and transcribed, which ultimately created...

  12. APPENDIX List of Analyzed Testimonies from the TRC Amnesty Hearings: Perpetrators, Victims, and Witnesses
    (pp. 155-160)
  13. NOTES
    (pp. 161-174)
    (pp. 175-190)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 191-200)
    (pp. 201-201)