The documentary Punk in Africa had its first public screening at the Durban International Film Festival (Diff) last night. The film is directed by Keith Jones and Deon Maas and is a co-production of Meerkat Media (Maas) and Prague-based producers, Peligroso Productions and Bohemian Lion.
The film, which took two years to produce, focuses on the punk sub-culture within the political and social upheavals in three southern African countries – South Africa, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. In these societies, punk represented a radical political impulse, playing out against a backdrop of intense political struggle. The history of punk, particularly in South Africa, began in the late 1970s and was a multi-racial movement. Punk in Africa features interviews with musicians from bands such as Suck, Wild Youth, Powerage, National Wake and the Kalahari Surfers.
It also deals with the militant anti-apartheid punk bands of the 1980s and comprehensively follows the movement to today, with bands such as 340ml, Hog Hoggidy Hog, Fruits & Veggies and Sibling Rivalry.
“We forget how hardcore it was under apartheid,” explains Maas. “Cops would lock you up and torture you for your political beliefs. But guitar and protest songs have walked a long way together.”
Jones says: “Nobody realises the role punk played in our history, including some of the musicians themselves. The Miriams, the Chiccos, they are all recognised, but no one recognises the role of punk music. We never made this documentary for a punk audience. It’s a legitimate and entertaining history lesson. The younger generation has no awareness of what happened to this country politically and musically.
“The film has a punk ethos, yet an aesthetically high standard.”
There are entertaining interviews with Wild Youth’s Rubin Rose, The Genuine’s colourful vocalist, Mac, and Kalahari Surfers’ Warwick Sony.
Never-before-seen footage is included, and having been part of that movement in my late teens and early twenties, it has plenty of nostalgia. It is an emotional realisation that, being part of punk at a time when the country was going through massive racial and social upheaval meant, in our own small way, we did make a difference.
We were hanging out in a racially mixed scene at a time when it was forbidden by law to do so. And because of this and because we dressed like subversive freaks, the smell of the security police was always in the air.
“A lot of it was therapy for the punks in this documentary,” says Maas. “They are better people because of punk. It was emotional for them and some of them cried.”
The producers want to take the film worldwide. They have a European agent and have sold Punk in Africa to German, Austrian and Swiss TV stations. They are also looking at cinema distribution.
“We’re trying to get it into as many A-list festivals as possible,” says Maas. “And Diff is an A-list festival.”
lPunk in Africa will be shown on August 3 at the Bioscope on Arts on Main in Joburg and at Oppikoppi on August 7.