It took some doing. She had to identify her attackers in a line-up. There would be 15 men, she would look at them. Just before they had attacked her they had murdered a woman in her 80s. She would need to point them out.
We went down to the police station. White officers from the Free State. They wanted her to go up and put her hand on the shoulder of each of the suspects. The men who had raped her and slashed at her with pangas. This is no longer police procedure. I was English-speaking and ignored by the police. Irrelevant, one of the enemy.
So she did it. She went up and looked at each of them and put her hand on their shoulders in turn. The police photographer took a photograph, She was calm as a stone. I had been afraid that the suspects would be aggressive or jeer at her. They were thin with AIDS, looked as if they had been beaten up, subdued, half-starved, sleepless. South Africa is a brutal country.
This morning she said to me she felt sorry for them. They will not see sunlight again. They must have suffered so much to make them so brutal, she said. They behaved so violently during the attack, like animals, she said. So young, so small now, she said. Shrinking as I looked at them, she said.
The police attitudes stayed with me. The same old nightmare. Anger like a choking bone in my throat. Anger like a burning knot in my gut, the anger of detention without trial, anger at dead friends, anger at the obtuseness, at lack of change, at the helplessness I felt 20 years ago.