An ongoing struggle with South Africa’s indigenous community
Originally published April 1, 2016 on the Georgia Straight.
An entertainment feature that I had done for the Georgia Straight and published in one of its print editions, the piece highlights my ability to create a narrative based on little known information on the issue (aside from watching the documentary, The Shore Break) and through intensive conversation with the director, Ryley Grunenwald.
As film, music and entertainment are interests that I hold to my heart as dearly as I do when it comes to my passion for culture and cultural criticism, it was a fascinating intersection of my multiple interests.
Sitting in her office in Rouen, France, The Shore Break director Ryley Grunenwald laments on her experience with the film, having shot over 100 hours in the course of three years of filming.
Born in South Africa, she had spent most of her childhood exploring the Wild Coast. Prior to filming, Grunenwald had never really connected with the region’s indigenous people.
“I guess this was the first time that I really was getting to know about the people who owned the land,” she said in an interview over Skype with the Straight.
With her award-winning documentary The Shore Break being featured as the opener for Vancouver’s South African Film Festival (VSAFF), she hopes to raise awareness of the plight that the Pondo people have.
“My family history got me interested in the story,” she said. “The place that I loved the most in the world was threatened by the mining, highway, and toll development.”
To have 100 hours of footage condensed into a 90-minute narrative, she said there were plenty of moments that had to be cut, and as cliché as it may be, for her to tell the story as it is now, she had to go by the way of killing her own darlings.
“You’re just filming what’s happening in real life—we weren’t controlling it at all.”
What proved to be much more challenging was for her to tell the story in a way that it can resonate evenly with both South African and international audiences. She said The Shore Break needed enough context for the international crowd, at the same time for it to not be patronizing or what would be considered “spoon-feeding” to the South African community.
“It would have been easier if just [catered to one]. We wouldn’t have to be playing that balancing act for providing context,” she said. “I think we did a good job, most audiences that we’ve been showing to around the world have understood the story.”
What she had found interesting were the two characters featured in the film. Family, cousins who were diametrically opposed to each other’s point of view. With having spent three years with the community, she found her opinion divided between the side of pro-mining and that of anti-mining.
“It was only until the violence really started escalating from the pro-mining side against the anti-mining side about May last year that I guess my loyalty shifted more clearly to [latter],” she said.
“Because, until then, my opinion was: ‘I’m an outsider. It’s not my land, it’s the people who live there who must decide what they want for that land—and I guess that’s true but there’s no excuse for hit lists or the violence that’s been happening recently.”
And, like Nonhle Mbuthuma’s poignant metaphor about their struggle being an ongoing problem, the violence and notably the recent assassination of Sikhosiphi “Bazooka” Rhadebe, one of the communities most vocal opponents of the proposed mining project, is indicative of the challenges the community has been facing for more than 12 years, and likely without end.
So, long as people know that the land is the tenth largest resource for titanium in the world, Grunenwald admonished that people are not going to ever leave it alone. “Even if [Mineral Commodities Ltd.] were to back off, which at the moment they’re not willing to do, it could be another mining company.
Struggle isn’t unknown to the Pondo people. Their continued resolve can be traced back to its history. In what was called the Mpondo Revolt (1950 – 1961), a decade long struggle against Apartheid ideology that sought to have the land become controlled by their party Government, Grunenwald remarked, because of this, the people were known for being willing to die for their land and for what they believed in.
“Six months ago, some government officials went to convince the community to accept the mining,” she said. “The community told them they can come back in 100 years.
“They told them: ‘we want to protect the land for our future generations and if the future generations won’t accept mining that’s their business.’”
With the film, Grunenwald said after post-production and having it released the following fall, she never really had time to stop and relax. She hopes The Shore Break would leave a lasting influence over the interests of the affected community and that she hopes to challenge the audience, too.
“You know when you spend a lot of time with the subjects of the film, its not like a fiction where you can just walk away and they’re not real anymore,” she said. “At the moment many of them have to sleep in the forest to avoid being attacked at night.
“Aside from Madiba and his sidekicks, they need all the international support that they can get.”