Why Vearey’s critique is welcome

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IOL ct shanties four corners

Four Corners aims to draw attention to a community often described as 'forgotten' by its own members and the legacy of apartheid in its creation, writes Ian Gabriel.

CApe Town - Major General Jeremy Vearey’s insightful full-page article, “Youth in awe of the gangs” (Cape Times, April 1) discusses the Number Gangs and mentions our film Four Corners, alongside a poster-sized picture from the film, released in cinemas last week.

Some journals have quoted Vearey’s statement, “Youth seem to relate to organised gang violence, depicted so authentically in Four Corners…its prevalence is deemed normal, or worse, acceptable” as evidence of Vearey’s possible condemnation of the film.

However. in a separate statement which Vearey made on Facebook on the same day, he indicated that he had just seen Four Corners this past weekend and had found it “excellent” and that he “disagreed with critics who suggest, that because the film deals with South African youths and gangs, the film may provoke further gangsterism.”

Part of the aim in making Four Corners was to recognise and draw attention to a community often described as “forgotten” by its own members. More broadly, the aim now is to have the film seen by as many South Africans as possible and thereby to draw all South African communities into a real debate about the conditions of life faced daily by people in all marginal areas across South Africa – as experienced as a daily occurrence, on the Cape Flats.

Given the fact that Four Corners is a film construct reliant on sound and picture, the level of background insight into the gangs, and more especially the century-long history of the Number gangs can never hope to be as profound or as detailed as Vearey outlines in his article.

Nevertheless the research into Four Corners and the back story of the film’s main character Farakhan, a general released from prison, was intensively researched before scripting by our writer Hofmeyr Scholtz who also spent a large amount of time on the ground with police in police activities and with inmates at Pollsmoor. Our intention throughout was to access and portray reality through meticulous research.

The history of the Number gangs some of which is covered in Vearey’s article) is a subject in the film that required extensive historical research, in order to bring a light to shine on the mythological shadow world that 19th century Nongoloza created as a response to the harshness of Victorian life in South Africa for young black men, like himself, headed to the mines often as a first short step on their way to a lifetime of incarceration in South African prisons.

The rules of the Number gang that originated from that nascent experience are strict and all pervasive, likened in our film to the unbreakable rules on a chess board.

Because Four Corners is a work of fiction, it poses a seemingly unanswerable question (Vearey points out the Numbers’ answer to our fictional question, an answer we quote in the film “daar’s hekke vi” in, daarsie hekke vi’ uittie”) that sets a challenge for Farakhan’s journey through the film.

Vearey’s research and conclusions, coming as they do from a life- time of empirical research is clearly far more penetrating than ours, and more absolute, but I hope we have nevertheless managed to stir some necessary interest and debate around the subject and the prospect of potential reform despite the absolute stance implied in the statement “daarsie hekke vi’ uittie” (no gates outside). We thank Vearey for his interest in illuminating things further.

Nathaniel Roloff, a gang intervention specialist who has seen Four Corners and who you have published on these pages, (http://www.iol.co.za/news/gangs-a-mirror-of-society-s-shortcomings-1.1655565), had this to say of the crime, applicable both to the Flats and to other marginal areas.

“….these manifestations (of gang activity) are direct holdovers from the apartheid era and the trauma suffered from the segregation and forced removals of communities to the Cape Flats.

“The result of this displacement, only decades later, reveals the long-term effects of the apartheid regime. We cannot wish this away, but must take responsibility for this culture, engage it, and provide healthier and more attractive alternatives to coping with the immense challenges and significant losses these youth face every day. We must offer opportunities for them to build themselves up and construct realistic expectations for what success requires. We must look toward inclusive activities rather than attempt to extricate or isolate them from the values we expect youth to keep.

“Gang and youth violence can often be a salient litmus test for the manner in which a nation deliberately builds social mobility. South Africa needs to ask itself honest questions around deliberate equity and opportunity if it intends to stem the consistent gang-related violence. It is not a problem that many countries have ever been successful at policing away. The real problem is in the development of the nation, and that task rests on all of our shoulders. Politicians, civil society, police and non-governmental organisations should be focused on inclusive growth.”

As a small business enterprise, the Four Corners film-makers worked on the Flats and were able to supply sorely needed work and training opportunities not only for actors, and musicians, but for hundreds of extras, transport and security and some crew personnel as well. In the long run it may be that this type of intervention, by small South African businesses bringing investment, jobs and training to people living in areas once deemed to be no more than labour dormitories, will prove the most beneficial in terms of its long-term effect on South Africa’s marginal societies. More so, we acknowledge, than the debate Four Corners hopes to generate around its viewing.

Additionally we believe that highlighting the great work of actors such as Brendon Daniels, this year’s Fleur du Cap Best Actor Award winner and the lead in Four Corners, along with Irshaad Ally, Abdurahman Adams and many others, all talented products themselves of lives lived on the Cape Flats, contributes by creating positive role models for youth, and provides a glimmer of positive hope for future generations.

Speaking out against the loss of young lives on the Flats, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu had this to say a fortnight ago:

“The power that common purpose achieves is unstoppable. People wield power when they join hands. It is when the whole neighbourhood is switched on to looking out for its children that a community can begin to heal. It is only then that the village can raise the child as it should…What occurs in Manenberg or Khayelitsha does not only affect the people of Manenberg and Khayelitsha, it affects each and all of us.”

In the meantime, filming Four Corners and releasing the film into the South African filmgoing community has enabled us to generate and be part of a societal debate that should continue about the conditions of life under which violence among youth flourishes in our society. This debate, together with job creation on the Flats and the creation and celebration of positive Cape Flats role models, is what we believe to be necessary first steps towards building a better more inclusive, less “forgotten” future on the Cape Flats. It is certain that other views prevail. We urge the holders of those views to come forward so that this debate reaches out to all of Cape Town – and hopefully society – as it should.

* Gabriel is the director of Four Corners.

** The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Independent Newspapers

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