'No," Gobodo-Madikizela says, "I do not think that De Kock is a psychopath. For one thing, he showed real remorse."
As she writes in A Human Being Died That Night : "I looked at De Kock, searching deep within his eyes, reading between the lines for signs of evil, of malice. His eyes were filled with suffering. I felt nothing but pity, the kind one feels when a friend is in pain."
Gobodo-Madikizela cuts an authoritative figure in a black trouser suit with a swathe of Ndebele beads. Her speech is cogent and shapely and spools out with no hesitation, as if each sentence is fully formed in her head before being delivered. I frequently have to wait for a pause to pose a question. Just as frequently, she says: "No, let me finish what I was saying."
She was brought up in Langa near Cape Town. Her father had trained as a teacher but, disliking Bantu Education, refused to teach. "In Cape Town he worked for a Jewish tailor," she tells me, "selling suits in the township and eventually he became a buyer for these suits."
However, her parents managed to scrape together enough money to send her to Marianhill, a private girls' school near Pietermaritzburg. Today she is an associate professor of psychology at the University of Cape Town.
"After the TRC we all saw Eugene de Kock as the epitome of evil," she says. "[But] there were extreme acts on both sides. Some of the necklacing was murderous. You have no idea how gruesome. I realised how similar these stories are - 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."
De Kock, who was sentenced to hundreds of years of imprisonment, was only 17 when he joined the army. "He came from a family that was Nationalist through and through. His father was a Broederbond member. So many white people hated black people not because there was anything wrong with them, but because they were taught that this is what you do. It was an entire system that created a warped mind. I found that people who are driven by belief can justify any act to themselves. However, when they go to the depths of their hearts, they do know what they are doing."
I wave feebly, trying to part the words with my hand to ask, "Do they have hearts?" She answers: " There were some who could very happily describe the most horrendous acts. That made me think, 'Oh my goodness, who is this monster?' "
There were others who Gobodo-Madikizela believes had hearts and consciences. She feels De Kock fits into this category. "De Kock really wants to redefine himself. He has reflected and he doesn't like what he sees. He would like to wipe away the past, but can't, and he wants to help people learn more about the situation."
She believes he seeks atonement. "I think in a symbolic way he is trying to cleanse himself of the past. There is a feeling with psychopaths, an emptiness. I had 46 hours with De Kock and I was searching for that heart."
She says that in the end she found it. "Over time you know when you are being manipulated. [But] right from the first meeting... there was a human connection. There was a common idiom of humanity."
I suggest that, like many psychopaths, De Kock may have charm. "No," she says, " He is articulate, yes, but charming, no. His face was full of pain but definitely not charm. He's very plain. You don't look at him and think, 'what a pleasant face'. He is very ordinary."
A problem with trying individuals who committed crimes under order of their governments is that the law focuses strictly on the question of individual responsibility. According to Gobodo-Madikizela, the prosecutor in De Kock's case paid little attention to the surrounding ideological philosophy, the setting up of Vlakplaas and the system that directed De Kock to commit these crimes.
Gobodo-Madikizela says she "absolutely believes" that De Kock was a scapegoat. "What the prosecuting lawyer said was a denial of what De Kock had been doing for all those years when he was working for the apartheid government. He said, this is a pure crime. This is not a political crime."
One of the defining moments in the book is when De Kock asks her: "Pumla, h ave I ever killed any of your friends or family?" She says: "If I have any doubt that De Kock was not troubled by what he had done, I always recall this. You could see that he was really struggling to ask the question. He looked at that moment so tortured and anguished."
Gobodo-Madikizela knows that this might be difficult to believe unless you have talked to De Kock personally. "It is easy for us to make judgments, but I believe that people can change."
Her voice is a singular and heartening sound in a world low on mutual understanding. "We must be careful about classifying people as psychopaths, otherwise we might believe that everyone who worked for the apartheid government was one. To experience empathy for someone who has committed terrible acts against other human beings, as I did with De Kock, puts one in a strangely compelling and confusing relationship with the perpetrator."
It also makes Gobodo-Madikizela a very special human being.