Untangling the Lion's Tale: Violent masculinity and the ethics of biography in the 'Curious' case of the apartheid-era policeman Donald Card
Bank, Leslie J.
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Donald Card (1928–) is a former policeman in South Africa who became the subject of international media attention on 21 September 2004. In a highly publicised and symbolic ceremony of reconciliation inaugurating the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory Project, he handed back to Mandela two notebooks containing 78 hitherto unknown letters written by Mandela on Robben Island. A starkly contrasting image of Card as a torturer had, however, come to light during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) hearings in the Eastern Cape in 1996 and 1997. This article begins by making a case for a direct connection between these two events. We argue that the sanitised version of his life history in recent scholarship traces back to his own attempts to defend his reputation from these allegations of torture and that the Mandela notebooks served both to obscure these allegations and provide Card with a respectable, even heroic, biography. We then present our alternative version of his life history. Drawing on Robert Morrell’s periodisation of masculinities in southern Africa, we read the story of Card’s life in early–mid-twentieth century South Africa in terms of changing masculine identities, each strongly associated with violence: first the ‘oppositional’ masculinity of a child growing up in an abusive patriarchal Irish settler family, second the ‘settler’ masculinity of an athletic teenager at a white school in the former Transkei, and third his ‘hegemonic’ white South African masculine identity defined in opposition to emergent black masculinities into which he was initiated as a young adult during four months of intensive training at a police college in Pretoria. It is in this context, along with extensive new independently acquired oral and documentary evidence of his human rights abuses in East London in the 1950s and the early 1960s, that we situate the TRC testimonies about Card’s torture between 1962 and 1964.