SOFT VENGENACE: Albie Sachs and the new South Africa
SOFT VENGENACE: Albie Sachs and the new South Africa

WITH this year marking 20 years of freedom and democracy in South Africa, it is expected that this historical milestone will be cele- brated through the arts as well.

We have seen it in a number of stage productions that ran at the National Arts Festival (NAF) held earlier this month in Grahamstown – some of which are now embarking on local seasons.

These include productions like Edmund Mhlongo’s One Among Many – a musical tribute to Chief Albert Luthuli; Bonginkosi Shangase’s Maluju Zulu; 20 Years of Democracy: Photographers’ Perspectives, curated by Eric Miller, was exhibited by ArtsSPACE earlier this year and back to the NAF there were a host of productions that interrogated and celebrated notions of heritage, roots and legacy by way of commemorating this 20 year important occasion.

The Durban International Film Festival, which ends on July 27, is no different. The event has observed the milestone by including a 20 Years of Freedom and Democracy Focus on this year’s programme.

A spread of documentaries, from South Africa and overseas, will be screened. These include productions that celebrate, explore and interrogate the evolution of democracy in the country.

Tonight was able to preview two such doccies which, in hindsight, turned out to be a good example of how varied this special focus programme is.

Here’s a glance at the two productions, which are worth catching.


• FATHERLAND: directed by Tarryn Crossman, this controversial and intimate documentary relates the experiences of a group of young Afrikaans boys who spend a few weeks in a kommandokorps boot camp, fashioned on the apartheid era National Defence Force military training camp.

The boys’ families send them off to the camp partly to experience what their father’s experienced during the years of conscription and partly for “discipline and defence” training. It’s not long into the training before the true motive for the camp is revealed, when the camp leaders begin to try to “desensitise” the boys from the “rainbow nation propaganda” they are “fed” in school and on tv.

As the boys work through their training, viewers journey with them as they navigate what they are taught against the backdrop of their lives at home: some more entrenched in an anti-black sentiment, others more liberal in their thinking and wanting to hold on more to the heritage part of this training than the hate, and some really torn apart by life and finding comfort in the one thing they know – their heritage.

I must admit that this documentary has left me scatterbrained in terms of where I stand on such issues.

I partly sat in disbelief as I watched a group of teenagers, in this day and age, being fed hate through what is essentially a “black threat” sentiment.

On the other hand, during the one-on-one’s with these boys – when their sincerest thoughts and understanding of the world they live in, and their fears surface – you get a deeper insight into the underlying factors in people’s lives that either push them in one direction or another.

And at the same time, as warped as this may be, these boys and their families are entitled to protect their heritage in the context of the freedoms we have in this country like that of choice, belief and association.

One thing I am certain of is that I am grateful for documentaries like these that not only open our eyes to the different communities that make up South Africa, but that they are done in a constructive manner. You walk away feeling a sense of disappointment, but hope at the same time.

Fatherland is a holistic experience of a particular community of Afrikaners in South Africa, it does not represent the opinion of all Afrikaners.


• SOFT VENGEANCE: ALBIE SACHS AND THE NEW SOUTH AFRICA: Albie Sachs – lawyer, writer, art enthusiast and freedom fighter – is a remarkable human being, that much is known. But what this documentary offers is a journey through apartheid and post- apartheid South Africa, hinged on Sachs’s life and, in particular, as a freedom fighter and advocate for peace in the country.

From his youth as a 17-year-old with a strong, natural desire to fight for the freedom of black South Africans, the viewer journeys with Sachs through to his days as a freedom fighter, his life in exile and his attack while in exile, to his contributions to the foundations of what we today enjoy in the Constitution and Bill of Rights and to his continued pursuit of freedom, equality and reconciliation post-apartheid.

A highly insightful documentary, not only on the man himself, but also on South Africa before and after apartheid.

And that’s where we’ll leave it, as Tonight’s Therese Owen has interviewed Sachs about the documentary. Keep an eye out for the interview in the main section of the paper.


• Fatherland screens tomorrow at the UKZN Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre and on Monday at the Southern Sun Elangeni Hotel. More details on DIFF at www.durbanfilmfest.co.za.