Former Visiting Scholar, Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, Wins Top Book Prize in South Africa


Gobodo-Madikizela won the South Africa’s top literary prize for her work "A Human Being Died That Night", about the crimes committed by Eugene de Kock.

Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, psychologist and former Center visiting scholar, won South Africa's top literary prize for a book about a white policeman who headed death squads during the apartheid era and was dubbed "Prime Evil" by his countrymen. The Alan Paton prize, named after the leading anti-apartheid writer whose novel "Cry, the Beloved Country" was an international bestseller, was awarded to Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela for her book "A Human Being Died That Night."

It is a non-fiction work about Eugene de Kock, who is currently serving a 212-year sentence. Gobodo-Madikizela based her book on her professional experience within South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), a tribunal created to shed light on apartheid-era atrocities and headed by Nobel peace-prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Details of the crimes committed by de Kock shocked the TRC, which began hearings in 1996 and wrapped up its work in 2003. In the book Gobodo-Madikizela explores both the man and the greater question of the evil de Kock perpetrated. De Kock, who headed the notorious Vlakplaas government hit squad, was known to incinerate and even blow up the remains of his victims so that no scrap of evidence was left. He was commended at the TRC for honesty and his willingness to identify senior politicians on whose orders he carried out his work. In her book, Gobodo-Madikizela, who was brought up in the township of Langa outside Cape Town, said de Kock showed remorse for his crimes during her conversations with him. "After the TRC we all saw Eugene de Kock as the epitome of evil," she said in an interview with the Sunday Times newspaper. "But there were extreme acts on both sides... people from both sides who are driven by an intense belief in their leaders and go so far as to cross all the borders of morality."