Off the Control Track: Power, Resistance, and Representation in South African Documentaries
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Once memory enters into our consciousness, it is hard to circumvent, harder to stop, and impossible to run from. It burns and glows from inside causing anguish, new dreams, newer hopes. Memory does something else beside telling us how we got here from there: it reminds us of the causes of difference between popular memory and official versions of history. ~ Teshome Gabriel
In Theorizing Documentary (1993), Michael Renov suggests that film theory has neglected what he calls "documentary's delirious... self" by privileging its "sober" and non-fictional discursive pretensions (194). He warns against the assumption that "only fictional films appeal to the viewer's Imaginary, that psychic domain of idealized forms, fantasy, identification, reversible time, and alternative logics" (1993:3). Analyses of South African documentaries in the 1980s have all focused their commentaries on the conscious, the obvious, and the recorded narratives of resistance. In my examination of these video texts, the elements off the "control track"—those elements which fragment and blur carefully crafted images, and which listen to the crackle of delirious speech, destabilizing the coherent narratives of framed subjects—which recall, hierarchize, repress, order, and those which celebrate, shatter, and mourn the fantasies of their subjects are foregrounded.
An explosion in alternative and counter-hegemonic media production in the 1980s challenged the social identities created by the apartheid state. Individuals and small companies such as Video News Services (VNS) and Community Video Education Trust (CVET) contested the state monopoly in film and video production. Denied access to broadcasting, marginalized, sometimes operating clandestinely, often confronting the police and army in the streets—video artists produced a unique record of mass organization and the uprisings. Alternative video production is defined by its uncompromising opposition to the state and apartheid.
In this paper, I critically examine how these visual representations of revolt constructed multiple voices of dissent excluded by apartheid from civil society. While the regime utilized electronic media for surveillance of opposition, independent video producers recorded the experiences and testimony of resisters—black women, youth, workers, rural poor, political activists, white working class subjects, and students—to white domination. Consciously allied to the African National Congress (ANC), the United Democratic Front (UDF), and the emerging black trade union movement, independent video producers created an archive which records mass uprisings, police repression, and covert counter-revolutionary operations.
The indisputable heroism of youth and students, workers in the urban areas, and the mass of people throughout the country transformed not only the balance of political power but equally revolutionized alternative video production itself. Central to the techniques and discursive regularities of the visual tropes in these video productions are these images of heroism. They represent an unarmed people prepared to confront the mightiest military force on the African continent with the power of their own death. Representations of death and confrontations with the police, army, and vigilantes were central to alternative video and international news production. This focus demands a theorization and critique of ideas which invoke suffering, sacrifice, and death as necessary for liberation. In my view the body of the martyr and the defenceless crowd were key signifiers of resistance in alternative video productions of the 1980s. Therefore a theoretical exploration of the relation between power and representation needs to be located at the nexus of the site of the body and the crowd on the one hand and death on the other. I argue that these videos were crucial to the construction of new political identities based on race, class, and gender, but their status as texts embodying the "popular memory" of resistance is particularly critical. I will begin by analysing the transgressive potentialities and limitations of these documentaries as texts of "popular memory."
II. "Popular memory" and History
In "Third Cinema as Guardian of Popular Memory: Towards a Third Aesthetics" (from which the above epigraph is taken) Teshome Gabriel defines "popular memory" in opposition to "official versions of history" (1991:53). While he recognizes the complex associations of pain, anguish, and hope that are condensed into memories, it nevertheless appears as if memory functions as an independent and pure repository of historical knowledge of oppression and its causes in his argument. For Gabriel official history privileges written texts and prevents people from "constructing their own history or histories"; whereas popular memory is rooted in struggle and is "necessarily dissident and partisan"(53-4). He insists that "popular memory is the oral historiography of the Third World", and endows it with a redemptive function: "folkloric traditions of popular memory have a rescue mission. They wage a battle against false consciousness and against the official versions of history that legitimate and glorify it" (54).
In my view Gabriel's theorization of "popular memory" and of the "Third World" fails to interrogate the structures of oppression within the former colonial world. He attempts to redefine memory as the custodian of "people's primary relation to land and community" and appears to ignore the utilization of "tradition" and "culture" (derived from this association between "land" and "community") against youth, independent women, national minorities, sexual dissidents. I would argue that "popular memory" as well as "official history" are narratives employed to construct social identities and communities. Neither are static images of the past, nor can they be conveniently opposed to each other as "true" or "false"; popular memories, like their official counterparts are constant reinventions and dissolutions of identities and affiliations of community, class, language, nationality, and gender.
Following Ernesto Laclau's proposition that the "constitution of a social identity is an act of power and that identity as such is power" (1990:31), I suggest that laying claim to a "popular memory" is an act of power—an attempt to anchor a social identity in history. In struggles against domination and in actions to transform power relations, the recovery of popular memories, of myths, remains an important task. This "recovery" of popular memory is crucial to a politics which recognizes diversity and radical democratic practices. What needs to be explored is the potential of popular memory to celebrate rupture, discontinuity, and difference, and not the recovery of pure memory or consciousness. In his pioneering study Questions of Cinema (1981), Stephen Heath poses a series of pertinent questions on popular memory and film. He insists that "the strategy for a cinema developed to recover 'popular memory' is an idealist abstraction, an ideal of film and an ideal of history" (1981:238). While I would disagree with his claim that the act of recovery of "popular memory" is an idealist abstraction—Heath's argument that historical memory is always "a fact of representation not a fact of the past" allows a reading of film which shows the construction of the invisible ordering of memory (238) . It suggests that "popular memory" does not reside in a cinematic text. Instead, the historical, political, social, economic, and psychic relations of forces ensure that the cinematic representation of an event is an action always already performed in the imaginary of the viewer.
III. 'Their Own Place in This Conflict': Documentaries in the 1980s
What constitutes the unity of the Republic is the total destruction of what is opposed to it.
People in Sebokeng did not necessarily know what was happening in Soweto… State strategy was to block information from getting out. From people's reactions, Coming into our office and looking at particular footage, we saw that people were Starved of information, of a perspective of their own place in this conflict. So they Responded strongly to visual material.
~ Lawrence Dworkin
Video News Services (VNS) was formed in April 1985 in the midst of a countrywide revolt against apartheid. VNS defined its role as providing "people with a perspective of their own place in this conflict" between the apartheid state and the mass of the people. From Mayfair (discussed below) which inspired VNS, to more recent productions such as Fruits of Defiance, there is a clear commitment to resistance and to allowing multiple voices of dissent to contest state domination. The videos portray a crisis of legitimacy for the apartheid state in factories, schools, churches, townships, villages, and streets throughout South Africa.
In an insightful reading of anti-apartheid politics, Aletta Norval, in published correspondence with Ernesto Laclau, maintains that the emergence of the United Democratic Front (UDF) as a mass alliance of youth, civic, women's, student, worker, small business, and church organisations allowed local struggles to be taken up in a radical discourse of national liberation (1990:149-50). The UDF represented its "struggle" as a non-racial, anti-capitalist, and national struggle for democracy by the mass of the people. Norval points out that: "The unity constituted around 'the people' is viewed, not as an expression of some underlying essence, but rather as a unity which is politically constructed in a process of struggle. The people, in this discursive formation, includes not only the members of the oppressed black, coloured and Indian communities, but whites as well" (150). For Norval, the UDF succeeded in developing a "popular-democratic imaginary" even where people resisted an identification with the anti-apartheid struggle. For example, in Mayfair, where whites rejected residential integration, both the UDF and the documentarists utilized their disaffection against the state.
In reading the videos of the 1980s, the process of constructing a unified opposition through struggles against high rents, electricity charges, low wages, racist education, forced removals, military conscription, racist councils and elections, police repression, and pass laws demonstrates the mobility and fluidity of power relations. The struggles of the 1980s altered power relations between men and women, youth and elders, teachers and students, employers and workers, black and white. With multiple points of dissension and new relations of power emerging at a local level, the rigid structure of apartheid domination could rely only on repression.
May Day 1986, for instance, is a dramatic illustration of the power of organized labor. The documentary explains that in the first six months of 1986, despite a state of emergency and draconian labor legislation, 700,000 work days (excluding general strike figures) were lost to strike action. Metal workers had embarked on factory occupations in support of their demands. South Africa became one of the few historical examples where unionization grew rapidly during a severe economic recession. Despite a massive police presence and an attempt to disrupt rallies countrywide, May Day 1986 documents the rally at the Orlando Stadium in Soweto and the failure of police attempts at disruption. It is at this event that Winnie Mandela, in her first appearance at a workers' rally declared:
It is that power, the workers' power, that will liberate this country. It is you the worker who have been called upon to defend your honour and to defend your country. And, where you see those who are perpetrating actions that are against the progressive struggle, it is you who must close up that ranks, before, we, ourselves accept the challenge of the final onslaught and declare the final onslaught against Pretoria. (May Day 1986)
Winnie Mandela's presence and speech are framed and ordered by police and South African Defence Force (SADF) troops monitoring workers arriving at the rally and by a crowded stadium of listening and cheering workers.
I believe that most people will accept the argument that at this juncture Winnie Mandela's "voice" symbolically represented the silenced ANC and the jailed Rivonia trialists, including Nelson Mandela. Dressed in the colors of the banned ANC, Mandela's style of address included a direct hailing of "the worker" to defend her/his "honor" and "country." She draws a clear distinction between, on the one hand, the potential and obligation of workers to liberate the country and, on the other, the insurrectionary responsibility of the political leadership. Throughout May Day 1986, only key worker and political leaders are named. A metal worker who explains the significance of factory occupations remains anonymous. Through their militant songs, nameless workers perform a popular acclamation of their named leaders. In these alternative videos the voice of a leadership silenced by the apartheid state is always represented as an embodiment of a collective will. The acts of workers, students, and women are given meaning and the agency of the mass of the people is legitimized through the voice of the leadership.
Another much later example of the visual construction of generalized opposition to apartheid is Fruits of Defiance (1990). This video utilizes music, popular poetry, and the Cape colored variant of Afrikaans to give voice to a previously marginalized community and language. Its opening titles, accompanied by chants of Amandla! (Power!) and singing, locate the background to the filming. The video contains no narration.
Title one: In August 1989, South Africans launched a peaceful campaign to defy apartheid laws. In Cape Town, the campaign was most successful, peaking just before Tri-cameral elections on 6 September. Title two: Brutal police action resulted in the death of 23 people on election night. Mass protests forced F. W. to change his government's attitude to demonstrations. Title three: The bulk of this film was shot in three weeks around this period. It focuses on Manenberg—a working class area that was one of the centers of conflict, what happened here, happened all over the 'Cape Flats.' (Fruits of Defiance)
Fruits of Defiance (1990) is a diary of the Defiance Campaign in 1989. Directors Brian Tilley and Oliver Schmitz draw consciously upon the "popular memories" and politics of the ANC and Congress Alliance Defiance Campaign in the 1950s. In this video the opposition to apartheid is also shown to be remarkably diverse. Shot primarily in the colored communities of the Western Cape, Fruits of Defiance is one of the few video productions which in its construction depicts and captures what Norval calls the "popular democratic imaginary" of resistance in the 1980s.
Early in the documentary there is a sequence of a police confrontation with students during a march (any gathering of more than three persons was illegal unless authorized by the police or a magistrate). We hear the chanting of marchers and see a shot of armed police. This is followed by a shot of African and colored students marching with their banner. The shot is accompanied by a title: "August 1989. University of Western Cape. Students March" and the sound of chanting students. A medium shot shows students with a placard reading: "Vlok [Minister of Police] and his hired assassins won't stop us." The shot is followed by police firing tear gas and a series of shots filmed on time delay and slow motion, some showing students running. Other shots drawing attention to the filming show slowed down camera movement with tear gas filling the frame and people absent from the scene. Music accompanies the last few of these shots which are then followed by a series of stills of people. The first shot of a young girl is followed by two shots of older women signifying mothers; these dissolve into one another. A shot of a young boy at primary school is followed by a youth marching with a Cape Youth Congress banner. This is followed by another shot of an older woman. Over this shot, the voice of a Manenberg activist, Marc Splinter, explains the meaning of the Defiance Campaign:
The way forward is to continue with defiance. Wherever there is still segregated places, we should go and defy that. Our comrades should do it in a disciplined manner. We should learn from the 50s and the marches then. History is repeating itself. It is only the material conditions that's changing. Our comrades, the volunteers of that time did things in a disciplined manner and we should continue in that same spirit. (Fruits of Defiance)
In this sequence a student march is stopped by police. This event is transformed by the filmmakers into a narrative of generalized defiance of mothers and children against apartheid. The voice-over invokes the events of the 1950s in support of defying segregation and attempts to establish direct continuity with "History" by following the example of "our comrades" the "volunteers of that time" ( Fruits of Defiance). In its construction, Fruits of Defiance dramatically visualizes the collapse of apartheid—it shows a parliament besieged by demonstrators, the mass arrest of women resisters, the defying of banning orders by key UDF leaders, the political defiance of church leaders, the occupation of beaches, general strikes against the elections, street clashes between police and residents, and most significantly, dissent within the South African Police with Lieutenant Gregory Rockman's denunciation of the Riot Squad. Also, central to this documentary is its depiction of colored peoples' resistance to apartheid. Colored racism and support for the National Party is a key question. Fruits of Defiance, in this context, is a record which allows the construction of a "popular memory" of African-colored unity and coalition. In their own way, each of the alternative documentaries I examined— MayDay 1986, and Fruits of Defiance—were constructed around active opposition to apartheid and repression. Mayfair (1984), one of the earlier documentaries, examines the fragmentation of white politics.
IV. Documentary's Delirious Self and Identity Politics in Mayfair
Aletta Norval's political analysis of the crisis in South Africa, foregrounds the "generalized crisis of social identities" (1990:136-7). For her, the political struggles waged since 1976 against the state have destabilized the fixed identities produced in the early years of apartheid, when, for example, "the unification of a white identity was constructed" (136-42). Norval, aware of the schematism in her analysis, nevertheless reproduces a formalism in her description of social identities which reduces them to political categories of "Left," "Center," and "Right" and political party allegiances such as "National Party," "Democratic Party," "Conservative Party," "ANC," and "UDF".
While agreeing with Norval that political resistance and reforms, social and economic changes have all contributed to the destabilizing of social identities, I believe that the notion of a "white identity"—signifying a cross-class, linguistic, and gender unity—is oxymoronic. I suggest that historical antagonisms related to economic, gender, national, and social inequality have always threatened the fragility of a mythical "white identity". In my view, the video Mayfair sustains a defence of the proposition that a white subjectivity is a psychic site of impossible contradictions. The antagonisms which threaten its survival are either repressed or projected onto an outside which threatens to disrupt the notion of "white identity".
Mayfair records the voices of mainly working-class South Africans—African, colored, Indian, and white—who plead their case for and against forced Group Areas Act removals. As an example of direct cinema, despite its technical weaknesses, I believe it is unsurpassed in South African film production for its relentless exposition of the inherent contradictions in attempts to fix racial identities. Recent analyses of Mayfair have foregrounded the class contradictions or lack of class analysis in the video. Keyan Tomasselli's The Cinema of Apartheid (1988) is one such example of misplaced criticism.
Class analysis is often lacking [in independent cinema]. An example is Mayfair, which deals with the responses of Afrikaners, Indians and coloureds who live in this multiracial suburb, to the government's announcement that it is to be declared an Indian Group Area. This video never explains causation or context... above all, why are whites going to be moved—the first time this has ever happened to an originally white area? The producers of Mayfair should have examined the shifting class structure which created the conditions for unexpected government action on Mayfair. The analysis would have had to take account of a maturing economy which needs more skilled labour and professionals. This has led to the co-option by the state of the Indian and coloured "population groups" which, together with the alienation of right-wing Afrikaners from the national Party, has resulted in a new political alliance...[ Mayfair] misrepresents the economic determinants of apartheid. (Tomasselli,1988:211)
Tomasselli clearly constructs a notion of class in which self-definition or the claiming of an identity has no value. Mayfair is one of the few videos in which class identity is claimed by many of its participants. Tomasselli, along with many of "the right-wing Afrikaners" see Mayfair as an "originally white area". For instance, the historical memories invoked by the Conservative Party MP, S. P. Barnyard at a meeting, constructs Mayfair as a suburb where the "whites" defined as the Afrikaans, Chinese, Lebanese, and "all English-speaking people" had one thing in common, "to labor, and to toil for their families" ( Mayfair). He fails to notice how the notion of class disrupts and destabilizes "white" and "Indian" identity. A remarkable white working-class woman who attends a meeting of the non-racial organization ACTSTOP declares that the re-zoning of Mayfair as an Indian area would only benefit the rich Indians. "Dis net die ryk Indians wat dit sal kan bekostig, dis nie die arme mense, dis nie ons klas wat werkende mense is wat dit sal kan bekostig nie." ("Only the rich Indians will be able to afford it. Not the poor people, it is not our class, working people, who would be able to afford it." Mayfair:1984).
Another moment which destabilizes the notion of an homogenous racial identity is the testimony of an Indian woman who had lived illegally in Mayfair. Crying, she voices her fears: "I have been illegal in Mayfair for four years. Now I have won my case [in court] to be legal. But I am just dreading these people, the wealthy Indians that will just come and force us out" ( Mayfair). In my view Mayfair demonstrates the impossibility of a unified racial identity. One of the men who insists that if the area is declared an Indian area, "the whites will make resistance and there will be a revolution here" goes on to ask "Why is our government doing this to us? Haven't we supported our government all these years" ( Mayfair)?
This uncertainty seems to be one which can be found among those who support and those disaffected by the National Party. The danger of reducing divisions in the dominant white bloc to shifts in political alliances is one which disregards the psychic impossibility of sustaining "white identity." This instability is constantly present, it is one which is constantly attacked and defended in the cultural, political, religious imaginary of "white" subjects, irrespective of the political affiliation. There are countless examples in Mayfair of racism, of fear, of contradictions impossible to sustain. Elsewhere I have written about the area of Mayfair as a site of personal battles with identity:
My parents lived in Fietas...Our home was next to a field, and a mosque adjoined it on 23rd street. The street was the border between Mayfair and Fietas. Mayfair was a white working class area then, not the mixed-race suburb it is now. We had regular wars with the poor white kids. They were children's wars, fought with fists, sticks and stones. We were all poor, so it was not class war. Boys and girls fought on both sides in rare displays of gender solidarity. So it was not a battle of the sexes. It was plain children's war in which the dividing line was race. ("My Childhood as an Adult Molester" in Gevisser and Cameron eds. Defiant Desire: Gay and Lesbian Lives in South Africa, 1994:326)
The imagined border between Fietas and Mayfair was never really a border because we always crossed it to play in the white area, and we always shopped there. Now there is no border because Fietas was destroyed by the Group Areas Act and African, colored, and Indian people were forcibly removed. But a border remains in the unconscious of all those touched by the wars of identity. A white youth questioned about the impending removal of whites from the area remembered that border in his silence: "How can it [ Mayfair] go to the coloureds? Like they say Fietas was for the coloureds. Now Fietas..." at this point language fails him ( Mayfair). For Fietas is the site of an originary trauma, for black people a moment of the erasure of identity, for whites an assertion of power and domination. Yet, at this moment, in Mayfair, for this white youth, it represents the possibility of the erasing of his own identity.
V. The Body of the Crowd and the Power of Sacrifice
Films are full of people, but what is this 'fullness' of people in films?
~Stephen Heath The blood relation long remained an important element in the mechanisms of power, its manifestations, and its rituals.... A society of blood where power spoke through blood: the honor of war, the fear of famine, the triumph of death, the sovereign with his sword, executioners, and tortures; blood was a reality with a social function.
~ Michel Foucault (original emphasis)
In 1987, a youth in Natal told the Cape Town newspaper South that death and blood were constantly absent from his dreams. He argued that the absence was marked by the constant presence of death and blood in his waking hours. We do not know whether that youth still lives—but we know that the daily presence of death on the streets, in newspapers, on television screens is evidence of a tremendous sacrifice paid by countless people for the democratization of South Africa. Here, I want to examine how blood, death, the body of the martyr, and the presence of crowds as mourners have been constructed as signifiers of sacrifice in alternative video productions. At the outset, I want to state that the presence of death in the daily lives of people in South Africa compels everyone to speak of its futility, to speak of the rage, fear, and anguish felt by millions of people affected by the violence. Yet, this cannot mean a silence and acceptance of these deaths or a failure to interrogate our signifying practices in cultural production as they relate to this violence.
The launch of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) in December 1985 was one of the most celebrated moments in the history of resistance. Yet the opening sequence in A Giant Has Risen: The Cosatu Launch (VNS:1986) is constructed in three shots around a funeral. Zooming out from a coffin, the first shot reveals what Stephen Heath refers to as a frame "full of people." The voice-over reveals that this is the funeral of Andries Raditsela, a trade union leader who died four hours after his release from detention ( A Giant Has Risen:1986). Raditsela's memory is invoked as one of struggle for working-class unity and leadership. His martyred body becomes synonymous with the task facing Cosatu and in its way anticipates the bombing of Cosatu House. Yet, this momentary appropriation of his body in A Giant Has Risen forecloses a visual exposition of his life, the causes of his death, and his relation to his comrades, friends, and family. While the idea of sacrifice is central to many of these videos, its contextualization is never uniform.
In The Death of Chief Mayisa of Leandra (VNS:1986) a coffin is lowered into a grave in the presence of thousands of mourners. A young man is beaten and we are told that he will be hacked to death. We see the pangas in the hands of the vigilantes. The following narration explains how Chief Mayisa was assassinated:
On the evening of the 11 January 1986 armed vigilantes carried out their threats [to assassinate Chief Mayisa and civic leader Able Nkabinde] The homes of Chief Mayisa and Abel Nkabinde were attacked and burnt. Both Mayisa and Nkabinde phoned the police to report the attack. The police refused to respond. As Chief Mayisa emerged from the burning house he was hit on the back of his head with a spade. He fell to the ground and a pick was driven through his chest. (The Death of Chief Mayisa of Leandra, VNS:1986)
The commentary is accompanied by four shots. An image of a woman looking out of the window of a shack and three shots of burnt-out shacks. Over the narration relating the way Chief Mayisa's death the filmmakers reproduce a picture of the deceased in slow motion as seen earlier leading a demonstration against forced removals. This image of Chief Mayisa is used several times in the video; the opening sequence clearly establishes that we are viewing his burial, yet, the final shot is a repeat in slow motion of the deceased leading a demonstration. At the funeral service, a speaker tells the mourners that Chief Mayisa died because of the "divisions caused by apartheid" (The Death of Chief Mayisa of Leandra). In the context of learning that Chief Mayisa had opposed forced removals and "apartheid development" despite being a chief, the final image we possess of the deceased is one of a man resolutely opposed to the machinations of the state and vigilantes. Leo Bersani points out that: "the possession of others is possible only when they are dead; only then is nothing opposed to our image of them" (1990:7).
In the case of sacrifice and martyrdom, this image we possess of those martyred, and to which nothing is opposed other than the sacrificing of lives in the battle against apartheid, is also one which possesses us. The representation of crowds of mourners at funerals underscores this sacrifice. In most of these videos the causes of death arise from fighting the police and army in the streets ( Fruits of Defiance); deaths in detention ( A Giant Has Risen); killings by vigilantes and death squads ( Chief Mayisa; Philemon Mauku; Funeral of David Webster; A Savage War of Peace); and the execution of vigilantes, informers, and black state officials ( Chief Mayisa). Death and suffering arising from events such as strikes have also signified sacrifice—in Transvaal Alloys a few hundred workers go on strike at a West German multinational based in the homeland of KwaNdebele and are sacked. After more than a year on strike and living off wild roots in the veld with their families, five strikers die of illness associated with starvation (1986).
The images of unarmed crowds fighting the police, the images of brutality, arrests and killings in Fruits of Defiance powerfully illustrates the idea of sacrifice and what Michel Foucault terms the "symbolics of blood." (1978:147-8). Following the Defiance Campaign in 1989, street battles erupted on election day between the police and residents in most colored townships; Fruits of Defiance records the deaths of 23 people at the hands of the police. The conscious political deployment and representation of death in this context needs to be analyzed.
Later in the video, a shot of journalists followed by another woman crying establishes that we are witnessing a press conference. Bishop Tutu then addresses the press about the pain and enforced necessity of publicising the private grief of parents and communities who had lost their children in battles with the police. Cheryl Carolus of the United Democratic Front explains that the riot police have become "animals and killing machines." She argues that for "thousands of young people it is not a question of protest but a matter of life and death." This is interspersed with shots of mourners at funerals and followed by a shot of a woman, Cornelia Otto, explaining the killing of her daughter. Alan Boesak translates her testimony from Afrikaans into English.
I am Cornelia Otto. My daughter walked across the road on Wednesday evening to visit her friend. And when she went there nothing was happening in the streets. When she came out she did not see the police. A police man walked up to her and shot her dead—point blank. And she was five months pregnant. Her name was Yvette Otto.
At her funeral service Reverend Chris Nissen insists that "God wants us to declare in the name of Jesus Christ who conquered death: Apartheid is wrong...Apartheid must go." This is followed by a series of funeral services and processions. Extending his sympathy to the bereaved families, De Klerk is then shown at a press conference exonerating the police whom he claimed only acted "to restore order". The killings were followed by the biggest march in South Africa up to that time which De Klerk proclaimed legal. With banners declaring "Stop The Killings," flags of the banned ANC, and posters denouncing police brutality, Bishop Tutu and Allan Boesak tell the crowds that "Our march to freedom is unstoppable." Fruits of Defiance then shows mass marches all over the country culminating in the release of the Rivonia Trialists, the unbanning of the ANC, SACP, and the PAC and the release of Nelson Mandela who declares: "It is not the kings and generals who make history but the masses of the people. I have always believed in this, but not to the extent I now believe in this basic principle" ( Fruits of Defiance).
There is a powerful cause and effect relation in the narrative structure of Fruits of Defiance. Produced at the junction of two different moments in South African history: The end of Botha's course of reform and repression and the beginning of De Klerk's strategy of a negotiated settlement with the national liberation movements—it suggests that the Defiance Campaign forced a change in National Party policies. The structure of Fruits of Defiance suggests that the resistance of the people was met with fierce repression; the riot police "killing machines" were responsible for the deaths of scores of people. Publicising the atrocities and the private grief of families produced a unified and angry response; the sacrifices were seen to have been not in vain because the leaders of the ANC were released, the organizations were unbanned, and South Africa began to experience a period of free political activity.
This narrative derives its appeal from the authority of true experience, but it is one among many truths determining the changes in National Party and ruling-class policies. It does not willfully and consciously exclude other truths, but the limits of experience are also the limits of the truth of sacrifice. Joan Scott has recently remarked: "Experience is at once always already an interpretation and is in need of interpretation" (original emphasis 1992:37). In this last section, which is really a beginning, I will attempt to interpret the experience of sacrifice and its representation. From this cursory examination of a remarkable archive recorded by video artists in the 1980s, it should be evident that "popular memories" do not inhabit these texts, they are, rather, the production of discourses which precede and succeed them. Emerging at this interstitial point, the discourse of sacrifice constructs its popular memory. The mimetic approximation to truth in these texts, derived from the experience of suffering, repression, and death enforces a seeing of sacrifice which may in fact be the constant reinvention of the originary trauma of colonial wars and conquest, racial domination, gender and class inequalities, projected onto martyred bodies.
Foucault argues that in contemporary social formations "power establishes its dominion" over life and that "death is power's limit, the moment that escapes it; death becomes the most secret aspect of existence, the most "private" (1978:138). Yet, for him this "power over life" never completely supplants what he calls a "symbolics of blood." Grounded in distinct regimes of power, the symbolic reality of blood emerged at different political junctures to provide mythical and historical justifications for wars of honor. While Foucault sees Nazism as the extreme limit of the symbolics of blood, we can detect its echoes in colonial wars of liberation—across the religious fundamentalist cries of Hamas in Palestine, in the rhetoric of Buthelezi, and of course on the side of the liberation movement. (Foucault, "Right of Death and Power over Life" in History of Sexuality,Volume 1: An Introduction: 135-59)
How do we read the ritual invocation of sacrifice in video? While death is the limit of power, sacrifice brings a different power relation to bear on the symbolism of death. The private moments of death become timeless public images of sacrifice. The barricades in the streets are transformed into an iconography of death in life.
In most of the videos I have discussed, the representations of crowds of demonstrators and mourners at funerals confront the rigid domination of the apartheid state with the power of death. The social power of masses of people defying death on the screen allows the viewer both a necessary distance from death and an identification with the body of the martyr. This body is no longer the actual body of the deceased but the real and tortured body of sacrifice, the image of heroic resistance which substitutes for the ceaseless moments of compromise with white domination that every South African fails to escape.
In our representations of death, it is necessary to critique the notion that sacrifice is essential to resistance and the transformation of power relations. Living in Africa on a continent which signifies death and destruction in the imperialist imaginary, it is imperative to uncouple sacrifice from resistance. Faced with the denial of state responsibility for basic conditions of life in villages, towns, and cities across the continent we cannot indulge the genocidal fantasies of sacrifice. Hence, it is disturbing to read filmmakers who insist in valorising sacrifice and torture as a necessity for the pastoral reinvention of Africa as Teshome Gabriel seems to suggest:
In a recent film, Witness to Apartheid by Sharon Soper, we have an account of tortured bodies as memories. The film portrays excessive violence and brutality on the part of the South African police... These violated and tortured bodies, more than any written form, reveal the law of the land. But in another sense they mark the index of a world yet to come. For the flip-side of such memory, born out of suffering and pain, is ferocious and unyielding. These young South Africans, though physically brutalised, openly confess their determination to fight back even if it means joining the ranks of those who have already fallen. We are thus witnessing the re-emergence of new persons in Africa, who perhaps represent the climax of a long struggle that began with the invasion of the continent, and the kidnapping of her sons and daughters to faraway places, five hundred years ago.
In Gabriel's version of popular memory, the emergence of new persons in Africa is dependent upon the qualities of iron determination derived from suffering and torture. These actual bodies of African youths are marked and burdened with an originary trauma of invasion, exile, and slavery. Their dreams are denied the horror of blood because a vision of liberation fills their waking hours with the pain and shock of wounds sustained in daily battle against tyrants who invoke myths of tradition and culture to retain their domination over women, youth, workers, the rural poor, people with HIV. Yet, maybe there are other visions; not visions of an African person new or old, nor visions of tradition, but their constant dissolution, not visions of sacrifice but of joyful militancy in which millions of people in Africa in all their diversity combine to achieve their basic needs and more than realize their desires. In this way we might ensure that death once again becomes the limit point of power and an eternal moment of privacy.
Zackie Achmat is a South Africe filmmaker, activist and scholar. He was the researcher and scriptwriter for "Aids. Spread the Word, Not the Virus" and the director and scriptwriter for "Die Duiwel Maak My Hart So Seer (The Devil Breaks My Heart)," the award-winning documentary on children in South Africa. In addition to work on other documentaries, Mr. Achmat is participating in the reformulation of anti-discrimination legislation relating to the rights of workers and HIV-positive people. This activist work is being done with the Centre for Applied Legal Studies at the University of Witwatersrand. Mr. Achmat is also completing research on his M.A., with the provisional topic: "Discourses of Male Homosexuality in South Africa, 1900-1948."
A control track is an electronic signal which stabilizes the video image and allows it to be played back. In concept, "the control track is similar to sprocket holes in film." Stephen Browne, Videotape Editing: A Postproduction Primer, London and Boston: Focal Press, 1989, 213. I would like to thank Jerry Brotton and Rachel Holmes for their resistanz to American spelling, and with Jack Lewis for their comments on this paper and Video News Services for permission to use their material. The AIDS Law Project at Wits generously allowed me time off work to prepare this paper. Thanks.
See Lynnette Steenveldt's "Reclaiming History: Anti-Apartheid Documentaries" (1992) also Chas Unwin and Colin Belton's "Cinema of Resistance: The Other Side of the Story" (1992) for a useful historical overview and political contextualization of the documentaries I examine in this essay. However, they refuse to interrogate the signifying practices of "resistance cinema," "anti-apartheid documentaries," or notions of "popular memory". Most of my knowledge of early South African film production is derived from Thelma Gutsche's The History and Social Significance of Motion Pictures in South Africa (Cape Town: Howard Timmins, 1972). There has been no real comparable study with the same depth of research for the last fifty years of South African cinema. Keyan Tomasselli's The Cinema of Apartheid: Race and Class in South African Film (1988) is useful and owes much to Gutsche's work, yet it lacks the theoretical force promised in the title.
Heath's remarks here are directed against Michel Foucault's 1974 interview with the French journal Cahiers du cinema. Because I have not read the interview in question, it is difficult to comment on Heath's interpretation. However, elsewhere Foucault refers to genealogy as the "recovery of local memory" in association with erudite knowledge. Anyone at all familiar with Foucault's writings on history will acknowledge his powerful critique of traditional history, its insistence on objectivity and the construction of false continuities. In this instance, it is to Foucault's celebration of rupture, discontinuity, and transformation that I will look in redefining and appropriating the concept of "popular memory" in struggle against the domination of memory. See M. Foucault. "Nietzsche, Genealogy, History" in Language, Counter-Memory, Practice, and the interviews in Power/Knowledge.
In her reading of the first Rodney King trial verdict, Judith Butler demonstrates that the seeing of a cinematic text is always and simultaneously a reading, because the visual field is not neutral. In their use of the video evidence, she argues that the threat the jury imagined emanating from King's body "is an action that the black male body is always already performing within that white racist imaginary, has always already performed prior to the emergence of any video." "Endangered/Endangering: Schematic Racism and White Paranoia," in Reading Rodney King: Reading the Urban Uprising, R. Gooding-Williams, ed., London and New York: Routledge, 1993.
Dworkin, along with Brian Tilley (responsible for most of the camera work and direction), and Nyana Molete (primarily an editor) established VNS. Initially, Rapitse Montshwe was also a member of the collective. VNS was represented internationally by Afravision which raised funds through the International Defence and Aid Fund and other anti-apartheid agencies and governments.
Fruits of Defiance was the first VNS production with a full list of credits. Given the conditions of secrecy under the States of Emergency, most of the video productions circulated illegally, avoiding the censors and the security police.
My usage of the concept "power" owes much to the work of Michel Foucault—particularly in his emphasis on the relational nature of power, his distinction between power as productive and mobile, and domination as static and oppressive. See History of Sexuality, Volume 1: An Introduction (1979) and one of his last published interviews "The Ethic of Care for the Self as a Practice of Freedom" in The Final Foucault, ed. James Bernauer (1991).
In 1979, for instance, FOSATU, the most organized network of independent black unions, was launched with 20,000 members. Six years later FOSATU merged with other independent black trade unions to form COSATU with nearly 500,000 workers. Most crucial to the development of the labor movement, the mineworkers had begun organizing. See Jeremy Baskin's Striking Back: A History of COSATU (1991).
I would speculate that the political crisis surrounding the actions of Winnie Mandela has had a profound impact on the representation of the symbolic voice of leaders in South African politics. While much has been written in the popular press about Winnie Mandela's excesses and even more voiced through popular reminiscence, there is a dearth of political and historical analysis of her politics, role, actions, and their effects. Rachel Holmes's "'White rapists made coloureds (and homosexuals)': The Winnie Mandela Trial and the Politics of Race and Sexuality" is an exception. See Defiant Desire: Gay and Lesbian Lives in South Africa, edited by Mark Gevisser and Edwin Cameron, 1994.
Lynnette's Steenveldt's "Reclaiming History: Anti-Apartheid Documentaries" utilizes an unreconstructed class analysis in her reading of Mayfair. She comments that the disaffected Mayfair residents allowed the Conservative Party to "woo people from the Nationalists, using the class rhetoric, as it is the white working class that the Nationalists have abandoned in their alliance with capital." (1992:311) Here, Steenveldt assumes that the Nationalists did not previously have an alliance with capital and that the white working class inhabits psychic identities which are reducible to political allegiances. She appears to avoid the racist discourse of the white residents and the contradictions which destabilize Indian identities.
Such an analysis points to the impossibility of sustaining any identity. I would argue that all identities based on exclusion and antagonism are constantly attacked and defended in the collective imaginary.
I cannot reference this interview beyond the source. My dates are probably wrong. But the words of this youth are powerfully inscribed in my memory and are constantly reinscribed by the violence of Inkatha and Royalists against the Zulu people in Natal and elsewhere.
My theoretical debt in this reading of the body, death, and the crowd as signifiers of sacrifice is wide-ranging. My influences include Georges Bataille's Erotism: Death and Sensuality (1986); Leo Bersani's analysis of death in The Culture of Redemption (1990), and Michel Foucault's History of Sexuality, Volume 1: An Introduction (1979)and Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (1981). I find moments of striking clarity combined with the certainty of confusion surrounding death as a signifier of resistance. Reading and seeing the deaths of friends, comrades, and enemies known and unknown marks every South African and positions us at a crossroads where we contemplate our own death.