Pambazuka: Framing the Hangberg Uprising

Framing the Hangberg Uprising

On 21 and 22 September 2010 South African police forces in collaboration with the Cape Town Metro Police conducted an operation in Hangberg, Hout Bay that amounted to an occupation by hostile forces of enemy territory. Thousands of rounds of rubber bullets were fired indiscriminately into crowds of residents of the area, resulting in four people having their eyes shot out. The entire action was conducted without a court order under the direct orders of Western Cape Premiere Helen Zille and Councillor J.P. Smith of the Democratic Alliance. The ostensible reason for this attack – which was tantamount to a civil war situation – was to evict people from dwellings built in a so-called ‘firebreak’ on the mountainside above the Hangberg community. After the police action, which destroyed all the dwellings, none of the broken dwellings were ever cleared away, and to this day the rubble and ruin of the two-day action constitutes a far greater fire hazard than when those dwellings were the proud homes of hundreds of people.

My colleague film-maker Dylan Valley and I went into Hangberg to piece together the true story of what happened on those two fateful days. We were dissatisfied with the mainstream television, radio and newspaper reports that were entirely circumscribed by the language of the City and Police press releases, defining the people of Hangberg as ‘hooligans’ and claiming that the violence was started by the people and not by the police. The result of our investigation is an 86 minute documentary called ‘The Uprising of Hangberg’ that was first screened in October 2010 in a rough edit and has been used tactically as a means of waking people up to the completely out of control police force in the Western Cape that operates with impunity against the poor, against the disadvantaged and against the landless, serving only the interests of the moneyed classes.

I was interviewed by email in January 2011 by a trade publication called Screen Africa but was really surprised to receive indication from them that my interview had been considerably cut into after a ‘legal person’ had advised the publication that ‘it would be defamatory to keep the Hellen Zille statements in.’ Pambazuka readers can read the entire text of the interview as published by Screen Africa here:

‘Police brutality seen from above’

It is really fascinating to compare what was published there with the complete unexpurgated answers that I sent to the publication, published below. What for me was most salient was question 4, where my answer touched upon the issue of how white power is entirely protected by the machinery of state force in so-called ‘post-apartheid’ South Africa. This answer was tellingly omitted from the published interview, a striking example of how white power always camouflages itself and its workings in its own media.


SCREEN AFRICA (1): You mention that you want to communicate to an audience what happened in hangberg 21/22 sep – what was your main reasons in making this doc?

ARYAN KAGANOF: ten years ago i lived for six months next to hangberg and my experiences?with the community there were extremely positive. it’s a very friendly,?tight-knit community of fisherfolk that does not in any way resemble?what i read about in the newspapers on 21 and 22 september – the?so-called “hooligans” who were “out of control”. my colleague film maker?dylan valley and i went into hangberg with young student film maker reza?salie with the intention of finding out for ourselves what was really?going on, and why the police force had shot thousands of rounds of?rubber bullets indiscriminately into this community, causing 75 people?to be injured with 4 people having their eyes shot out.

SCREEN AFRICA (2): you want to give a voice to the voiceless/the community. in what way did the media/broadcaster act unfairly in their reports on hangberg?

ARYAN KAGANOF: the reporting on the atrocities committed by the police in hangberg is?no different really from what passes for “journalism” in south africa?today. so-called journalists simply re-gurgitate official police?statementsf as “news”. there is no culture of interrogation of authority.?when the city of cape town, and in particular councillor jp smith,?issued entirely defamatory statements and photographs attempting to?prove that ikram halim and delon egypt (who both had their left eyes?shot out by trigger-happy thugs called “policemen”) were stone throwers,?the journalists never investigated the accusations, but simply printed?the photographs and accusations as “news”, thereby defaming innocent?victims of police brutality. in fact ikram halim was a hero of the day?as his purpose for being on the battlefield was to help evacuate?schoolchildren from the line of fire. yes, the police were firing into?crowds where schoolchildren were on their way to school. and all of this?under direct orders of the premier of the western cape, helen zille.

SCREEN AFRICA (3): what in instigated the incident at hangberg and what do you think could have been done to prevent the brutality?

ARYAN KAGANOF: the ostensible reason for the incident was to take down a number of?informal dwellings that were a “fire hazard”. however the city?authorities merely demolished the dwellings and left the piles of wood?and furniture where the homes had been standing – in fact a far greater?fire hazard than before! my personal opinion is that the show of force?was a clear example of the premier of the western cape wanting to punish?the community of hangberg for not playing ball with her designs on the?area. it was clearly an abuse of power, especially since most of the?dwellings that were demolished were not even standing on city owned?land, but in fact on land owned by sa parks board. this abuse of state?power, in a normal functioning democracy, would have resulted in the?immediate resignation and/or dismissal of western cape premier helen?zille from her position. simply as a democratic fact in terms of how?accountability works. perversely in south africa nothing has happened.?is this because the hangberg community are khoisan people? (previously?described as so-called “coloured” in apartheid nomenclature).

SCREEN AFRICA (4): Generally the police and politician have no respect for the citizens – what can this and does it lead to in your opinion?

ARYAN KAGANOF: i cannot agree with this statement. i think that in the south africa we?live in today the police and politicians have the utmost respect for?so-called “white” citizens. if the citizens of hangberg were so-called?“whites” nobody would have been shot at on 21 and 22 september 2010.

SCREEN AFRICA (5): What did you shoot the doc on – camera and edit on – any challenges?

ARYAN KAGANOF: dylan valley and reza salie shot on a combination of sony hdv and canon?7d cameras whilst i shot on my nokia n95 mobile phone camera. we also?used a lot of material shot on a panasonic dv camcorder by greg louw, a?community acitivist who was filming the events leading up to the police?brutality of 21 and 22 september, as well as exhaustively filming both?of those days. furthermore a number of hangberg residents provided us?with mobile phone footage they had taken of the police force’s?violations of human rights and indiscriminate shooting into crowds etc.?we also got some excellent hdv footage from hout bay resident suzette?bell-roberts who was watching the entire event from her house above?hangberg. what is unique about these events is that hangberg is on a?mountain slope and so, inlike in a normal flat township situation when?police brutality generally goes unrecorded, here the actions of the?police could be filmed from above – in some instances very very clearly!?what neither the city, nor the police, nor the western cape premier seem?to have realized is that we live in the media age where everybody has?access to filming media. this is not the time of apartheid where the?state had complete control of all access to media information.

SCREEN AFRICA (6): What were the greatest challenges in making this doc?

ARYAN KAGANOF: it was very important to have this documentary out as soon as possible.?we had the first public screening of an 18min edit of the material in a?cinema in observatory within a week of the events happening. we wanted?the documentary to be used by the people of hangberg to give their side?of the story, to balance out the incorrect version of events that the?city and state media had been propagated. so it was very very tense,?working around the clock for a couple of weeks.

SCREEN AFRICA (7): how did you go about shooting the doc – everyday at the uprising, after the event, interviews, footage etc?

ARYAN KAGANOF: we all took turns going into hangberg and working with the community. we?were greatly helped by young film maker nadine cloete who came in with?us and assisted us with the shoot. in fact it was amazing how many film?makers rallied around to help us. craig matthew loaned us a massive hard?drive to dump all the material onto and llewelyn roderick gave enormous?technical help putting it all together. even damir radovic, a joburg?based film producer who happened to be in hangberg just before the?uprising, made the material he had shot there available to us. so that?was extremely gratifying – to find out that in this cut throat industry?there was still so much generosity of human spirit and willingness to?work together against a clear example of police and state injustice to?weak and vulnerable people.

SCREEN AFRICA (8): How was the doc financed and budget?

ARYAN KAGANOF: there was no finance and budget! dylan and i spent our own money. there?simply was no time to go through the normal film financing channels.

SCREEN AFRICA (9): Where will you distribute – libraries, school and internationally – where internationally? More detail and the feedback so far on the doc.

ARYAN KAGANOF: david forbes has graciously offered to represent the film? internationally and so hopefully it will find an audience out there. we? are currently speaking to dan jawitz of fireworx about national ?distribution. thus far we have organized all screenings ourselves,?including community screenings in kayamandi (in collaboration with domus?at stellenbosch university and the ekhaya trust), the labia cinema in?cape town (thanks to ludi krauss) and one upcoming at idasa on 3 ?february (thanks to andreas spath).