The sheer terror of it overcame me. To confess my past mistakes to someone unknown? I couldn’t do it. How many before me walked through those doors, fearing the same thing as I do right now?
Breathe in, breathe out. You can do this. I took a sip of water from my bottle, screwed the lid back on and walked through the large, wooden doors before me. The first thing that I noticed was the smell of the room – it smelled old and musty, and I could see the minute dust particles floating through the air. I looked at the far wall and saw the Chairperson sitting at his bench, awaiting my arrival. Sweating profusely, I allowed myself another sip of water before we began. I greeted the chairperson.
“Good afternoon, Chairperson.”
“Good afternoon, Mr Coetzee,” he returned. “Shall we begin?” And with that, I began my appeal.
“Chairperson, I humbly present my appeal for amnesty for a crime I’ve committed, the details of which I shall present to you now,” I began. I took a moment to breathe, and then continued, “During my time as a member of the police force, I was given orders and had to follow them, no matter what. The crime I am going to lay out for you was one such order, and I felt it was my duty to carry out that order,” I wiped the sweat off my brow, and braced myself for the next part of my story.
“We were given a tip off about a local ‘freedom fighter’, as they called themselves. I was sent to follow up on it, and it proved to be valid – we found a stash of explosives in a room of a young man – he was a boy, really – by the name of Daniel Grootbroom. We took him to our farm, and kept him there for three days. He refused to give us any information. After three days, I was given the order to kill him, and so I did,” I kept my voice neutral, not wanting to betray myself at this point in time.
“Chairperson, this is my appeal for amnesty. I solemnly swear that what I have just told you is the complete truth,” again, I forced my voice not to waver. I bowed my head and waited for the Chairperson’s dismissal before leaving the room. I immediately sat down on a cold, stone bench and focused on maintaining my breath. Now I just had to wait.
After a period of time, I don’t know how long, a man came out of the ‘judgement hall’, as I called it, and handed me an envelope before returning to the hall. With shaking hands I opened it, ripping the official wax seal of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. My eyes scanned the sheet of paper as I unfolded it, looking for that piece of information. I read it through once, twice, three times and then placed the paper back into the envelope.
I’d been granted legal amnesty.
But what did that mean?