Imaging Africa: Gorillas, Actors And Characters

Africa is defined in the popular imagination by images of wild animals, savage dancing, witchcraft, the Noble Savage, and the Great White Hunter. These images typify the majority of Western and even some South African film fare on Africa.
Although there was much negative representation in these films I will discuss how films set in Africa provided opportunities for black American actors to redefine the way that Africans are imaged in international cinema. I conclude this essay with a discussion of the process of revitalisation of South African cinema after apartheid.

The study of post-apartheid cinema requires a revisionist history that brings us back to pre-apartheid periods, as argued by Isabel Balseiro and Ntongela Masilela (2003) in their book’s title, To Change Reels. The reel that needs changing is the one that most of us were using until Masilela’s New African Movement interventions (2000a/b;2003). This historical recovery has nothing to do with Afrocentricism, essentialism or African nationalisms. Rather, it involved the identification of neglected areas of analysis of how blacks themselves engaged, used and subverted film culture as South Africa lurched towards modernity at the turn of the century. Names already familiar to scholars in early South African history not surprisingly recur in this recovery, Solomon T. Plaatje being the most notable.

It is incorrect that ‘modernity denies history, as the contrast with the past – a constantly changing entity – remains a necessary point of reference’ (Outhwaite 2003: 404). Similarly, Masilela’s (2002b: 232) notion that ‘consciousness of precedent has become very nearly the condition and definition of major artistic works’ calls for a reflection on past intellectual movements in South Africa for a democratic modernity after apartheid. He draws on Thelma Gutsche’s (1972) assumption that film practice is one of the quintessential forms of modernity. However, there could be no such thing as a South African cinema under the modernist conditions of apartheid. This is where modernity’s constant pull towards the future comes into play (Outhwaite 2003). Simultaneous with the necessary break from white domination in film production, or a pull towards the future away from the conditions of apartheid, South Africans will need to re-acquire the ‘consciousness of precedent’, of the intellectual and cultural heritage of the New African Movement, such as is done in Come See the Bioscope (1997) which images Plaatjes’s mobile distribution initiative in the teens of the century. The Movement’s intellectual and cultural accomplishments in establishing a national culture in the context of modernity is a necessary point of reference for the African Renaissance to establish a national cinema in the context of the New South Africa (Masilela 2000b). Following Masilela (ibid.: 235), debates and practices that are of relevance within the New African Movement include:
1. the different structures of portrayal of Shaka in history by Thomas Mofolo and Mazisi Kunene across generic forms and in the context of nationalism and modernity;
2. the discussion and dialogue between Solomon T. Plaatje, H.I.E. Dhlomo, R.V. Selope Thema, H. Selby Msimang and Lewis Nkosi about the construction of the idea of the New African, concerning national identity and cultural identity;
3. the lessons facilitated by Charlotte Manye Maxeke and James Kwegyir Aggrey in making possible the connection between the New Negro modernity and New African modernity;
4. the discourse on the relationship between Marxism and modernity within the context of the Trotskyism of Ben Kies and I.B. Tabata and the Stalinism of Michael Harmel, Albert Nzula and Yusuf Mohammed Dadoo; and
5. the feminist political practices of Helen Joseph, Lilian Ngoyi, Phyllis Ntanatala and others.
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Merijn Oudenampsen ~ The Conservative Embrace Of Progressive Values. On The Intellectual Origins Of The Swing To The Right In Dutch Politics

To talk of ideology in the Netherlands is to court controversy. The Dutch are not exceptional in that sense. Ideology is known internationally to have a bad reputation. After all, the word first came into common use when it was employed by Napoleon as a swearword. But the Dutch distaste for ideology seems to have taken on particularly sharp features. The country lacks a prominent tradition of political theory and political ideology research and often perceives itself as having achieved the end of ideology. Taking recourse to Mannheim’s sociology of ideas, I have attempted to contest that image and fill a small part of the lacuna of Dutch ideology studies. The book started out with an attempt to formulate – in broad strokes – an explanation for the peculiarly apolitical atmosphere in Dutch intellectual life.

The relative absence of ideological thought in the Netherlands, I have argued, can be traced back to the historical dominance of one particular form of ideological thought: an organicist doctrine that considers Dutch society as a differentiated, historically grown, organic whole. It considers the state and the media as the passive reflection of societal developments, with elites serving as conduits. Organicism is a sceptical, relativist ideology that stresses harmony and historical continuity. Shared by the twentieth-century elites of the different currents in the Netherlands, this ideology has been depicted as the metaphorical roof uniting the different pillars. It has filtered through Dutch intellectual history in complex forms, to emerge in more contemporary manifestations such as Lijphart’s pluralist theory of accommodation.

The thesis of this book is that this has resulted in a lingering tendency in the literature to downplay conflict, rupture and ideology in Dutch history. And instead to favour more harmonious portrayals of Dutch society developing gradually and continuously as a unity, as an organic whole. When it comes to the Fortuyn revolt, a similar inclination has resulted in depoliticized interpretations of the revolt as the exclusive imprint of secular trends that Dutch politics and media simply needed to reflect. Hans Daalder, the doyen of Dutch political science, argued that there is a political incentive to depoliticize matters in the Dutch political system. In the context of the close relationship between politics and social science in the Netherlands, this has given rise to a paradoxical reality: the more politically involved social science becomes, the more depoliticized it needs to become. Ironically, this means that a more autonomous social science will need to repoliticize its account of Dutch political transformation to some degree. That is what this study has sought to do.

See: https://pure.uvt.nl/Oudenampsen_Conservative.pdf

 

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Reshaping Remembrance ~ Critical Essays On Afrikaans Places Of Memory

Albert Grundlingh & Siegfried Huigen (Eds.) – Reshaping Remembrance. Critical Essays on Afrikaans Places of Memory – Rozenberg Publishers 2011 – Savusa Series 3 – ISBN 978 90 3610 230 8 – Editing: Sabine Plantevin.

In any society in the throes of transition, there is a particularly acute need to reflect upon aspects of the past that used to represent firm beacons enlighting the way ahead. This inevitably involves a broader re-appraisal of the processes which contributed to the formation of a specific historical memory in the first place.
Reshaping Remembrance includes a number of critical essays on dimensions of collective Afrikaans historical memory in South Africa. In the light of radical changes in the country, scholars from various disciplines reflect on the dynamics of historical consciousness symbolically present in various areas: the ‘volksmoeder’ image, historical events and monuments, language and music, rugby and architecture.
This work hopes to resound with a well-established intellectual tradition in Europe dealing with ‘places of memory’ or ‘lieux de mémoire’.

Contents
1. Siegfried Huigen & Albert Grundlingh – Koos Kombuis and Collective Memory
2. Elsabé Brink – The ‘Volksmoeder’ – A Figurine as Figurehead
3. Gerrit Olivier – The Location
4. Hein Willemse – A Coloured Expert’s Coloured
5. Kees van der Waal – Bantu: From Abantu to Ubuntu
6. Ena Jansen – Thandi, Katrina, Meisie, Maria, ou-Johanna, Christina, ou-Lina,Jane and Cecilia
7. Albert Grundlingh – Rugby
8. Marlene van Niekerk – The Eating Afrikaner: Notes for a Concise Typology
9. Lizette Grobler – The Windpump
10. Hans Fransen – Glorious Gables
11. Lou-Marié Kruger – Memories of Heroines: Bitter Cups and Sourdough
12. Lize van Robbroeck – The Voortrekker in Search of New Horizons
13. Christine Antonissen – English
14. Siegfried Huigen – Language Monuments
15. Rufus Gouws – The Woordeboek van die Afrikaanse Taal
16. Luc Renders – And the Greatest is … N.P.van Wyk Louw
17. Albert Grundlingh – Why have a Ghost as a Leader? The ‘De la Rey’ Phenomenon and the Re-Invention of Memories, 2006-2007
18. Stephanus Muller – Boeremusiek
19. Stephanus Muller – Die Stem
20. Annie Klopper – ‘In ferocious anger I bit the hand that controls’: The Rise of Afrikaans Punk Rock Music

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Reshaping Remembrance ~ Koos Kombuis And Collective Memory: An Introduction

As the year 2006 gave way to 2007, a song and an accompanying music video about the Boer general Koos de la Rey caused quite a stir in South Africa. When this song was played in bars and at barbecues, young white Afrikaners would stand with their fists clenched against their chests and sing along: ’De la Rey, De la Rey…’ And tears would flow. According to news reports, the ‘De la Rey thing’ had made many of them ‘proud’  of their roots. Worried ANC politicians expressed concern because they saw this as the start of an ethnic revival that could disrupt South Africa. The phenomenon even made it to the world press.

One of the more balanced reactions to the De la Rey song is an article by the Afrikaans beat poet Koos Kombuis on Litnet, ‘Bok van Blerk en die bagasie van veertig jaar’ (Bok van Blerk and the baggage of forty years).[i] In this article Kombuis confesses his conflicting reactions to the song. Rationally, he rejects the song and the Boer War elements in the music video. He sees it as ‘a call to war, a sort of musical closing of the ranks’. Some months before Kombuis had distanced himself publicly from his Afrikaner identity in a Sunday newspaper, from the ‘baggage that has been forced on me by people who have now been trying to prescribe for forty years who and what an Afrikaner is. What an Afrikaner is supposed to believe in. Whom he should vote for, which shit clothes he should wear and how he should spend his public holidays’.[ii] This notwithstanding, Kombuis is unable to offer any resistance to the emotional appeal of the song: ‘Why, if I experienced my resignation from Afrikanerdom as such a gloriously liberating step, do I feel so inexplicably profoundly touched by the De la Rey song? It is embarrassing’.

In reply to Kombuis’s question ‘why’, it can be surmised that both the song and the video, with their images of the leadership, a concentration camp and Boer fighters, draw on the collective memory of white Afrikaners, on something they learned within the family and, especially for the older ones, at school and in church. Kombuis’s reaction already points in this direction when he says that when he hears the song, he longs to be back at Sunday school and ‘feels like rejoining the army on the spot and shooting the hell out of the Kakies and other K stuff’.[iii]

The role of collective memories was first investigated seriously by the French sociologist Maurice Halbwachs in his ground-breaking works Les cadres sociaux de la mémoire (The social frameworks of memory) and La mémoire collective (The collective memory). These publications from 1925 and 1950 were rediscovered in recent years by historians doing research on memory. According to Halbwachs, every one of us obviously has his own memories, but at the same time we also share group memories. Read more

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Reshaping Remembrance ~ The ‘Volksmoeder’: A Figurine As Figurehead

The ‘Volksmoeder’ is the Afrikaans manifestation of the universal Mother of the Nation phenomenon. In South Africa she cuts a fine, statuesque figure; she is a figurehead, a figure of speech, an idealised figure of womanhood as well as a petite bronze figurine. During the course of the twentieth century this figurine became a figurehead which marshalled Afrikaner women and girls to commit themselves in the service of their families and their ‘volk’ – a nation in the making. With this call to arms, the Volksmoeder was appropriated as an evocative and emotionally laden site of memory to which several generations of Afrikaner women readily responded.

As a site of memory, the bronze figurine of the Volksmoeder still carries her years well even now in the early 21st century. One of about twenty copies of the Afrikaans sculptor Anton van Wouw’s 1907 figurine ‘Nointjie van die Onderveld, Transvaal, Rustenburg, sijn distrikt’ (Maiden from the Upcountry, Transvaal, Rustenburg district) has found a home on my bookshelf. This little Volksmoeder – rather a petite girl – has a round face, a fine, sharp little nose, downcast eyes, a tiny mouth and a somewhat cheeky fringe escaping from her bonnet. Her small shoulders are pulled downwards under the weight of her shawl and her hands are neatly clasped in front of her. At barely 40cm she resembles a fourteenth century Virgin Mary, with eyes submissively downcast, waiting pensively, patiently, politely and passively to be dusted. She is the visual shorthand of the ‘nobility and the beauty of the young Afrikaans girl which should inspire many to simplicity and greater spirituality’.[i]

Figure 2.1 A Boervrou. The ‘Noitjie’ as she was used as logo of the Afrikaans women’s magazine Die Boervrou

Between 1919 and 1932, this figurine became the trademark of the first successful and widely read Afrikaans women’s magazine Die Boerevrou, and a symbol of the idealised Afrikaner woman and of national motherhood.[ii] The motto of the magazine, an extract from a poem by the Afrikaans writer Jan F.E. Celliers – which goes, ‘I see her triumph, for her name is – Wife and Mother’, complemented the visual message that the figure was fragile yet strong, and could and would emerge triumphant in the face of adversity.

Seen against the background of the trauma of the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902), of the great loss of life of women and children, as well as of the material destruction of the rural areas, Celliers’ triumphant woman makes sense. Women needed the encouragement and reassurance that they would be able to overcome the dire post-war conditions.

Like Celliers, his poetic counterpart, Van Wouw was intimately involved in the postwar project of visualising the Volksmoeders as ultimate victors in the struggle for life and survival. In a vein similar to his figurine’s, Van Wouw’s 1913 majestic group of three women in bronze at the Women’s Memorial in Bloemfontein, commemorating the suffering of women and children during the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902), depicts Afrikaans women as patient and long-suffering Volksmoeders. Larger than life, elevated on a podium at the base of a sandstone obelisk, they transcend the death and suffering commemorated by the Memorial. They survey the landscape and the future, fully conscious of their assigned calling to struggle on behalf of the nation. Rather than remaining victims of war, women’s dignity and worth needed to be restored by portraying them as heroines who made great sacrifices at the altar of the nation. In this manner, an attempt was made to deal with the trauma of war and the huge loss of civilian life, especially that of children.[iii] The Boer woman needed to be reassured that despite the grievous loss of her children she remained a good wife and mother, and that indeed she was the mother of the future nation. The Federasie van Afrikaanse Kultuurverenigings (Federation of Afrikaans Cultural Organisations (FAK)) contended:
‘Despite the humiliation, the wretchedness and suffering, she keeps her head held high as if she sees the unseen – the resurrection of her nation’.[iv] During the first half of the twentieth century the Volksmoeder became an important component in the propaganda arsenal of Afrikaner nationalism. The formal description – her verbal image – appeared just after the Afrikaner Rebellion (1914) and the end of the First World War (1914-1918). In 1918, the women of the Free State Helpmekaar Kultuur Vereniging, (Free State Mutual Aid and Cultural Society) commissioned Dr Willem Postma (aka ‘Dr Okulis’ – Oculis) to write a book Die Boervrou, Moeder van haar Volk (The Boer Woman – Mother of her Nation). His description of the Volksmoeder is closely correlated with the visual representation of both the figurine and the bronze composition at the Women’s Memorial in Bloemfontein. He echoes the need to provide reassurance and positive reinforcement to the Boer woman:

We need not feel shame for the Boer woman. We have every reason to honour and love her. No better, more noble mother than the Mother of the Boer Nation has in a more complete and richer sense ever nurtured a nation. Her history, her life is beauteous, pure, honest and dignified.[v]
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Reshaping Remembrance ~ The Location

1.
I must have been in about standard six when I first heard that the location in our town also had a name: Sandbult. I can’t remember whether I heard this by accident or whether I had asked about it, but I do know that I heard the word for the first time from my father. He was the mayor and could be assumed to know the names of the town’s suburbs: Harmonie, Buytendag and Murrayville, where the white people lived, and, at the edge of the town, the place I could never think of as a ‘suburb’ but which was later to become known to me as Sandbult. And that’s what it was: a sandy hill next to the Stormberg Stream. There was also a location for Coloureds, with a name reflecting higher aspirations or maybe just the name-giver’s mischievousness: Eureka. Names that were not known to many people apart from city planners and municipal officials, names which appeared on town maps in a dusty office, but nowhere else. For the rest of us, white and black, these were simply ‘locations’.

Such places are not supposed to exist anymore. Some circumspection has crept into the definitions provided by dictionaries – and soon the little sloppy research I start doing begins to feel like a rather scandalous undertaking. Boshoff and Nienaber[i] report in their Afrikaanse etimologieë that the word ‘location’ was, according to the New English Dictionary, first used in the United States as a name for the place where one lived. They trace the origin of the term to the Latin locus (‘place’) and locare (‘to appoint a place’). Jean and William Branford[ii] define the historical meaning as ‘the land granted to a party of Settlers’ – a meaning which is recorded in detail with reference to the United States of America in the Oxford English Dictionary. In A Dictionary of South African English the current meaning of the word (‘a segregated area on the outskirts of a town or city set aside for black housing or accommodation’) is marked as ‘obsolescent’.[iii] The Handwoordeboek van die Afrikaanse Taal (HAT) from 1965 is more matter-of-fact and succinct: ‘Residential area for Coloureds or Bantus, usually near a town or village’.[iv]

Thirty years later the Woordeboek van die Afrikaanse Taal (WAT) declares that the word ‘is felt to be discriminatory and derogatory, particularly in its application to the policy of apartheid’, and adds a meaning which I haven’t come across in other sources: ‘inhabitants of such a residential area’.[v] The WAT also refers to a meaning which deviates from the standard according to which the location is always situated close to or directly adjacent to a town or city: ‘Administrative area comprising land for Black people that includes, apart from residential areas, farm-lands and pasture, and which as territorial unit also forms a geo-political and administrative unit, usually under a headman.’[vi]

What real help does an Afrikaans-speaking person in his fifties get from these lexicographical sources, in a book on places of memory? The starting-points provided by the dictionaries are scanty, with too little history, too little inspiration, and research in historical and sociological works does not appear to me to be the right place to start. So I decide to go looking for help in the place where one can find the proverbial needle in a haystack: Google. Read more

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