Dulcie September: All consuming story had to be told
Share this article:
Durban - Struggle hero Dulcie September was assassinated in the heart of Paris on March 29, 1988. Five shots were fired. She fell at the door to her apartment, the key in the door. Four years later the case was closed and to this day, the mystery of her killers lingers.
Now award winning filmmaker Enver Samuel hopes his documentary Murder in Paris can change that. The film explores why the former school teacher from Athlone and ANC representative in France was murdered. It does so through the investigations of veteran Dutch journalist Evelyn Groenink who had doggedly tried to piece together why September was killed.
Released for Human Rights Day this year and proving a huge success at the recent Encounters film festival, the documentary is one of the highlights of the forthcoming Durban International Film Festival.
For Samuel, this was a story that had to be told.
The prolific producer and director of television locally and abroad since 1994 was behind the big reality series like Masterchef, Survivor SA, Come Dine With Me SA, and SA’s Got Talent. He adds sports to the mix with Football and Religion and Sheroes as well as travel shows.
But it’s his documentaries that include Walter Sisulu, Oliver Tambo, Indians Can’t Fly, Unsung Heroes and Someone To Blame that excite him.
Joburg based, Samuel says he’s “been around the block” but documentary filmmaking is his passion.
“The other work pays the bills. In the last seven or eight years I found my path, one that fulfils me.
“It started by chance with the documentary Indians Can’t Fly, which focussing on the Ahmed Timol case and I made a follow-up in 2017 when the inquest was overturned. Finally someone was to blame,” said Samuel.
“I was at a documentary festival in 2017 in Switzerland when Randolph Arendse, who is married to Dulcie's sister, said to me ‘why don’t you do something on Dulcie September?’ It wasn’t because I had a calling to make the film, I barely knew who Dulcie was. But it shows how the unsung foot soldiers of the struggle, those who paid the ultimate price, are erased.
“In 2016 Ahmed Kathrada gave a speech in Cape Town saying something like ‘I'm not deserving of this award. It should go to the Dulcie Septembers. We were safe in prison. These foot soldiers paid the ultimate price’.
“That drove me even more to tell her story.”
Samuels contacted her family in Cape Town and got their buy-in and worked on it for the next four years, travelling all over the world.
“I didn’t want it to be a history lesson. I uncovered Evelyn Groenink, who is married to Ivan Pillay and living in Pretoria, and her investigation into the murder.
“The story started to possess me. I would make sure the film would be made, that the story would do justice to her name and her family.
“Finding footage from a French national archive was a turning point. Getting articles and photos is one thing, but to get the footage of Dulcie speaking, she now became a three-dimensional person. For Dulcie, leaving South Africa, there was no turning back. People say ‘oh she was in exile having parties in Paris’ but it wasn’t like that. There’s the weather, the loneliness, it's very hard. Being in exile is like taking a child away from its mother. It wasn't all fun,” he said.
“I was blessed that in France in 2018, to mark the 30th anniversary of her death, they had a one-week celebration of her life. There was absolutely nothing in SA. So I went to Paris. I was contracted on one of my reality shows ‒ My Kitchen Rules ‒ but gave up the contract three weeks in to get to Paris. That’s where I got to speak to her colleagues and friends, her interpreter.
“There was archive footage of the streets of Paris at the funeral. This was the funeral of a rock star. Oliver Tambo’s words are still ringing in my head. ‘We will leave no stone unturned to find her killers’. And it's 33 years later.”
The second part of Murder in Paris is told through Groenink’s eyes.
“I explored Evelyn’s hypothesis of the painters and the coincidence of them being there. It’s enough interest in using the documentary to get new evidence to reopen the case, because this wasn’t explored in the official inquest. And there are moves afoot in France to do that. After all, the Timol case opened the door for the rest.”
It was fortuitous that during French President Emmanuel Macron’s recent visit to South Africa he viewed an exhibition about September on a visit to the Nelson Mandela Foundation.
“It was serendipitous. Macron interacted with the exhibit and said to his aides ‘make sure we have some action on this’. It’s amazing to have a head of state saying something ‒ not a mid level politician.
“Dulcie’s life is a reminder to us today that all the sacrifices and struggles of the past were not in vain and that a fair and decent South Africa is still a possibility. Her story will inspire those who strive for democracy and social justice and highlight the role of a selfless unsung heroine,” Samuel said.
When he’s not pouring his soul into telling South Africa’s untold stories, Samuel is a keen mountain biker and trail runner, the veteran of two Comrades and two Two Oceans.
“I can’t shut off,” he said. “That’s the time when I think.”
Murder in Paris will be part of the Durban international Film Festival from July 22 to August 1. The film includes unique footage of the 30-year commemoration of September’s death in Paris as well as archive images never seen before in South Africa.
The Independent on Saturday