This exhibit coincides with World Press Freedom Day on 3 May 2019. World Press Freedom Day is intended to highlight issues of censorship, restraint, and oppression, as well as paying tribute to those journalists that have lost their lives simply for doing their jobs. Reporters Without Borders maintains a World Press Freedom Index, which ranked South Africa 31st in the world and 3rd in Africa in 2019.
Had the index been around during apartheid, I do not doubt that South Africa would be far lower down the scale. Under the apartheid government, the freedom of the press was slowly eroded away, resulting in the banning of topics, publications, and even people. While the exhibit includes displays of material more broadly related to press freedom in South Africa, this blog post focuses on the Unbanned series.
In 1995 Unbanned: the Films South Africans Were Not Allowed to See was broadcast. The 16 part series was the brainchild of South African filmmaker Lindy Wilson and featured 18 films that were banned by the apartheid government because they resisted the injustice of the law, and attempted to bring these injustices and inequalities to the attention of the public both locally and globally. Some of the films were made illegally, and many were produced in other countries due to the opposition of the apartheid government. Each of the films was introduced by its director(s) and the films spanned a number of decades and a wide variety of topics.
A number of the films in the series are biographical. Biko : the Spirit Lives (1988), by Terrence Francis, which describes Steve Biko’s leadership of the Black Consciousness Movement and the events leading up to his death. The Comrade King (1994), by Ben Horowitz, which is about King Sabata Dalindyebo’s life and his reburial by the Thembu nation. The Cry of Reason : Beyers Naudé — an Afrikaner Speaks Out (1988), by Robert Bilheimer, is about one man’s journey from supporting apartheid, to his active opposition to it. The Long Journey of Clement Zulu (1992), by Liz Fish, documents the reintegration into society, and their old lives, of Ebrahim Ismail Ebrahim, James Mange, and Clement Zulu after their release from Robben Island in 1991. The Search for Sandra Laing (1977), by Anthony Thomas, tells the story of a young girl that was classified coloured, though her parents were white, and the effects this had on their family and community. Songololo : Voices of Change (1990), by Marianne Kaplan and Cari Green, focuses on Gcina Mhlope and Mzwakhe Mbuli and the ways in which culture and artistic performance contributed to the struggle against apartheid.
Some of the films were more directly about the fight against the injustice of apartheid. Compelling Freedom (1987), by Molete Mokonenyana, Laurence Dworkin, and Brian Tilley, shows the ways in which ordinary workers used their culture against apartheid. Fruits of Defiance (1990), by Brian Tilley and Oliver Schmitz, documents the period around the 1989 General Election in Manenberg on the Cape Flats. Generations of Resistance (1980), by Peter Davis, covers 70 years of resistance to white supremacy, beginning with the Bambata Rebellion of 1906.
The series included films that focused on the injustices perpetrated under apartheid. Any Child is My Child (1988), by Barry Feinberg, focuses its attention on the brutality and suffering experienced by black children at the hands of the security forces. Certain Unknown Persons (1988), by Laurence Dworkin, looks at a number of cases of assassination of anti-apartheid activists. Last Grave at Dimbaza (1974), by Nana Mahomo, examined the human costs of apartheid and was so powerful that the South African government produced a film with the specific intention of countering its claims.
Two of the films are about forced removals that resulted from the Group Areas Act. Freedom Square and Back of the Moon (1988), by William Kentridge and Angus Gibson, is about the destruction of Sophiatown. Last Supper in Hortsley Street (1983), by Lindy Wilson, follows one of the last families that were moved from District Six.
Freedom Beat (1989), by Charles Mcdougall, shows the concert put together by Artists Against Apartheid’s Freedom Festival. Have You Seen Drum Recently? (1989), by Jurgen Schadeberg, showcases black urban life in the 1950s. Passing the Message (1983), by Cliff Bestall and Michael Gavshon, is about the growth of the trade union movement. The Two Rivers (1986), by Mark Newman, traces the stories of migrants moving between Johannesburg and Venda.
The Lindy Wilson collection in the Special Collections Audiovisual Archive includes all of these films, the interviews with the directors, and documentation relating to the production of the series and the selection of the films. A far larger number of films were under consideration than the 18 that were finally selected, and the documentation shows the selection process involved. The African Studies Film Collection has copies of the films on DVD and/or VHS.