ArtSpoken & Reviews

A Migraine for the Ivory Tower - Decolonising Wits

Helgé Janssen
07/20/2015 11:32:47

Helgé Janssen: This Kaganof 'documoment' is a brave film - for it talks where others haven’t dared to walk.

This film thus gives credence to a small band of EFF supporters who are spearheading the drive to decolonize the University of the Witwatersrand.

There are large sections of the film without subtitles; rendering the verbal coherence of the film somewhat stilted to a cursory ‘white’ sensibility and this is done intentionally. There are no participants who have personal ego narratives (apart from Mngxitama?) while at the same time demonstrating the genesis and the accumulating awareness of the rising swell for reassessment of post-apartheid political ‘achievements’.

This small band of EFF supporters sees a larger context to their role in transformation and, as such, they take things to heart. In so doing their drive is to rebirth the root of the struggle, drawing inspiration from Fanon and Biko, amongst others. The fact that even ‘simple issues’ - like access of the disabled to the lecture rooms that has completely escaped the planning of management - is indicative of the level of thoughtlessness with which this body regards its charge and hence its planning of the future.

The hard-core reality is that ‘the system’ (as we are becoming more and more aware on FB globally) is geared to entrench its own system, and in South Africa in particular, emerging from a 45/50-year period of unparalleled stagnation, that system is revealing itself as repeatable.

“Apartheid amputated our sense of perception…..” says one of the poets at a poetry recital.

Biko remains as riveting as ever with the well-publicized German TV interview (around 1970) and I quote:

“We believe in a completely non-racist society. We don’t believe in the guarantee of minority rights. There shall be no minority, no majority – there shall just be ‘the people’ – and those people will have the same status before the law and they will have the same political rights before the law. So in a sense, it will be a completely non-racial egalitarian society.”

Kaganof himself has spearheaded many innovative creative directions both globally and locally, and is no fool when it comes to being at the cutting edge of valued (not necessarily popular) drives, particularly where the necessity has required a breaking down/investigation of taboos. And decolonizing this country is primarily a taboo: it is a taboo of white supremacy; a taboo of questioning the status quo; of questioning an institutionalised morbidity that has failed to embrace the very necessary cultural transformation (subject matter) that began in this country 21 years ago. So while the search for change has been seething amongst the conscious, educated youth, they are stymied every time they wish to pursue ‘further education’. They are faced with a monolithic control-sifting grid (that brick edifice in the opening frame of the Wits theatre) that has failed to adapt to, or even to see the necessity for, decolonization.

The point is made that ‘assimilation’ is in fact ‘co-option’. To untangle that notion is entirely daunting and is at the very heart of de-colin-i-za-tion. This word alone heralds the migraine of the Ivory Towers of South Africa.

There is a particularly riveting sequence where, in the hush of night, a soliloquy – backed by a humming chorus in the style of African story-telling - urging the participants to be aware of history (Ga-Mogale – *absolutely no historical information according to my research on the internet) and the importance of land; the remembrance of the pain of being banished to barren landscapes.

The interspersed scenes with the young rapper in the recording studio struggling to master the rapid-fire delivery in English, is particularly poignant.

There were times while watching the film that I was reminded of the anti-apartheid struggles of my youth, my personal confrontations with ‘the system’, and the type of ‘resistance’ those with a conscience were forced into, in whatever path presented itself.

We undoubtedly do have freedom: freedom of speech, access to education, of association, of information. After 21 years that freedom is just beginning to yield new leaders that are required to carry this country towards a truly African ethos.

Grab a chance to see ‘De-colon-i-sing-wits’ when next it is showing near you!

Helgé Janssen
Multimedia performance artist / freelance journalist
084 764 0794