Wednesday, 9 September 2009

"District 9" se moer!

Random thought : I think that if cell phone technology had been available even 20 years ago in SA,that apartheid would have ended quicker,and that less people would have died.

A few months ago my darling daughter,-who is involved in the film business in SA-,told me about a new film called "District 9".She predicted it would be a big hit and she is being proven right.Indeed,someone even posted a comment yesterday suggesting I go and see it.

Its about aliens stranded in Jo'burg and is in fact a "new" look at racism and xenophobia.

I won't be going to see it.

I believe in the concept of the 'narrative life',a psychological construct which suggests that people in fact view their life as being like a appears to be open-ended;there is an implicit assumption that you can re-write the dialogue or the main characters or even change the location of the movies of your life.
You can see your life as a Rom-Com or a war movie or...even...(I wish)...a porno movie.It is a concept that I use in the thanatology work that I do;and with patients who are emotionally 'stuck' and who are nevertheless keen to change their life for the better...although all change is presumed to be 'for the better'...its actually called "Re-scripting"

Anyway....I have also appeared in my fair share of documentaries about medicine and politics in SA over the years...

But a key part of this movie is that it apparently features real TV footage of apartheid riot police officers having a go at anti-apartheid protesters.
Now I'm not the blinkered left-wing apologist that so many people think I am...but lets not pretend that apartheid was a good idea.

And be perfectly honest,I'm angry that real people,fighting for their freedom,are now reduced to being simply stock footage,mere 'b-roll' for some directors wet dream.

I don't really know what it was like to be a black south african living in a township in the 1970's and 1980's and even the early 1990's...because I am a white south african and at the end of my day in whatever township I had been in...doing all the weird stuff that I was doing....I could always go home to my nice clean house with running water and a fridge full of ice cold Castle.

But I can tell you that it was always...always...scary.

Let me tell you a story.

In the winter of 1992 I was working as a Peace Monitor with the Wits Vaal Peace Secretariat,working out of the Joint Operations center (JOC) at Natalspruit hospital on the East Rand.
My daily job was mediation:- essentially trying to prevent the ANC cadres from killing IFP members;stopping the IFP from killing the PAC;stopping the PAC from killing the 'Boers';and stopping the Police from killing everybody.
So we shared the JOC with representatives from all the political organisations and from the Military and from diverse organisations such as various Church groups,MSF and various fire departments.

In truth,the work was often boring,entailing standing in the hot sun with a water bottle and a cheap crap walkie-talkie whilst listening to crazy people tell me why they should be allowed to kill each other.
Or not.

I would drive around a large area with representatives from the IFP,ANC and occasionally the PAC...they had a real problem with me because I am white...anyway...

I had a good working relationship with an IFP member called Jeff Sibya who was the de-facto leader of an IFP hostel at the end of Khumalo street,about 2kms from the JOC.
Now the SA Government had deliberately set up IFP hostels in ANC or PAC areas to try and cause dissent and chaos...and unfortunately it was a very successful policy.

In this particular hostel there lived a number of women and children,which was contrary to the rules of the hostel...and they were effectively trapped within the walls...unable to work,to take their children to school or to hospital...even to shop.

I had earlier in the week,against the rules of engagement and indeed against common sense...entered the hostel to provide first aid to three men who had been shot.Jeff was desperate and concerned that his people were going to die.He claimed to have no idea who had shot them.

He had asked the Army or the Ambulance team to take them out but the rules of engagement were quite clear about Governmental forces entering daylight anyway!

I used to wear a red-striped was my lucky shirt...(it really worked...I'm still alive)...and I had told all of the 'stake-holders' at the JOC where I was going and what I was going to do when I got there.
I drove carefully, avoiding all the traps in the road,parked the car,grabbed my jump kit,and with my hands held above my head in the universal 'I surrender'...please...please don't shoot me' supplication mode,entered the hostel.

One man was shot in both legs,one man had been shot in the arm whilst the third had been shot in the face.Having dripped them all,secured an airway in the GSW-face man and having dressed their wounds I was then stuck as I had no way of getting them to hospital .

At this point the embarrassed Ambulance crew radioed and offered to fetch them for me if I would take the injured men outside the hostel.

Sure enough,about 10 minutes later, an Nyala armoured car screamed down the road and disgorged 5 or 6 riot cops who formed half a defensive shield.They were followed by the Sandton Fire Department Casspir armoured ambulance,whose paramedics were both wearing helmets and bullet-proof vests...and they in turn were followed by a second Nyala with a few more cops who formed the other half of the defensive perimeter.

Don't you have any protection ? I remember one of the paramedics asking me

"Sure I do" , I said. "I've got gloves on....I'm practising universal precautions."
And then I stared to laugh at the absurdity of it all.

Jeff then asked me to try and get food-parcels into the hostel.Again,the Army and Police and naturally all the good christian church groups felt that they couldn't be involved.

So I asked the paratrooper colonel to get his men to open all the boxes in front of the ANC and PAC members so that they could see it was indeed food and not firearms or ammunition;and then loaded the food into my car and did several trips down to the hostel.

It was now about 1600 and dusk was fast approaching...and even I wasn't stupid enough to drive around the Kathorus area at night as a single white man in a car.

So I arranged with Jeff to meet him the following morning at 0740 outside the hostel to carry on with the food supply.
I was specific about the time.
Not 0735.
Not 0745.
This gave us both a measure of safety that neither of us would be waiting in plain sight of either the PAC or the 'Third Force' snipers.
Cell phones didn't exist then in SA..and the walkie-talkie belonged to the JOC so Jeff wasn't allowed to keep one overnight.

I drove home,had a shower and remember going the Northcliff Milky Lane to have an "afwul-afwul" ice cream dessert.Later that evening my ex-wife phoned me to ask me if I could have my children for an extra day as she had to fly to Paris on business in the morning.

And so...happy at the prospect of an extra day of my children...I rushed over and fetched them.

Of course,I had no way of contacting Jeff.

But I had been very clear in my instructions to him....I had told him that I would be there at 0740 and that he was not to get there any earlier and he also was not to wait for me under any circumstances.

Later that day,driving around the Krugersdorp Game Park with the kids,I heard on talk radio 702 that Jeff had been involved in a fire fight that same morning outside the hostel,with some paratroopers...the same paratroopers I had spoken too the day before.

Now...either he was waiting to kill me....not an unreasonable assumption...or...someone was waiting to kill both of us,and when I didn't arrive they killed him.
I was later told by a member of the CCB that we were both targets.

So you'll excuse me when I get irritated that TV footage of people like Jeff is now used to provide entertainment .


  1. I saw the movie, and enjoyed it. I had no idea beforehand that it used real world footage, though I must admit that wouldn't have swayed my interest. With all due respect to your experiences, I don't think you are being fair to the context that the footage was used in. Many movies show real world footage, often times as it relates to the atrocities of humanity throughout our history. In the context of this movie, the plot carries a message about how savage humanity can be, and about how the main character is part of that. Over the coarse of the movie though, as the viewer starts to see that the aliens are the victims and how the human sides(both the military-isk guys and the within-district faction of arms dealers) are both largely the same, motivated by personal gain and willing to commit all forms of inhumane actions that it takes to reach those goals. The aliens prove to be more humane than the actual humans. Within the context of the movies message I don't personally see any reason to think the usage of real world footage is in any way an exploitation of any real world actions or the people shown theirein. Yes the movie is ultimately about entertainment, but it had a powerful message as well, as many movies do. I just don't think it's fair to grossly oversimplify the movie as some flick devoid of any compelling reason that real world footage might further solidify the message. I'm not familiar with exactly what footage was 'real world', but I would agree that it would be in very bad taste and disrepectful if their was any real world footage of people actually dieing in it. Beyond that I don't think we should bury past events and expect them not to be seen again, especially when real world events so easily provide strong examples that support a stories plot, and ultimately a serious message. That's my 2c anyways. Context is everything IMO.

  2. i like this post: it shows passion and makes me realise you are more than just a nurse in a uk hospital. a whole lot more.

    mind you i did a long day in the nhs, drank wine and watched the film. the beginning bits are the best, i suggest you leave half way through. i did laugh...........and van der merve. if this is what it takes to remember Sofia town. well, what ever. Nice to see my old pals from the kaprivi strip.

  3. Thank you.

    I've been having some Issues with explaining apartheid to some South Africans who thought it was "mistake" but don't see how it might affect people today.

    And I did not know about the footage. I wanted to see District 9, too. That is a big problem.

  4. Nice post - brings back memories, some long forgotten - or is that hidden? - and yes, we did a lot of things in the past - but will never get recognition for.