Inspired by testimonies heard over the radio broadcast of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Amnesty Hearings, Judith Mason painted the triptych The Man Who Sang and the Woman Who Kept Silent (1998). The work speaks to the final acts of the two ANC cadres, Harold Sefola who asked for permission to sing Nkosi Sikelel before being electrocuted, and Phila Ndwandwe who refused to become an informant and was therefore assassinated.
South Africa’s TRC ran from 1995 to 2002 during which it received over 22,000 statements from victims of gross human rights violations and held public hearings across South Africa where victims of gross human rights violations could give testimony. In addition, the TRC received more than 7,000 amnesty applications and grated 1,500 amnesties for the crimes committed during apartheid.
Phila Ndwandwe joined uMkhonto weSizwe in KwaZulu-Natal in 1985. She was part of the unit responsible for the infiltration of ANC cadres into Natal. From about July/August 1988 she became the acting commander of MK in Swaziland. In October 1988, she was abducted by the Port Natal Security Branch in an effort to turn her into an informant. However she refused to work for them and for that she was shot in the head while kneeling on Elandskop farm, 80 meters from her family’s home in KwaZulu-Natal.
This information came to light during the TRC Amnesty Hearings, which received seven amnesty applications from members of the Port Natal Security Branch. Using these hearings and Mason’s piece I look at how art has been used to address apartheid violences. Inspired by the work of Saidiya Hartman, I read for Phila Ndwandwe in the transcripts and Mason’s piece. I read for her body, in how it is described and depicted, focusing on the relationship between the body, violence, and the body as archive.