Category Archives: Jean-Pierre de la Porte

The one utopia that South Africa may be able to avoid?

The one utopia that South Africa may be able to avoid?

Dylan Valley and Aryan Kaganof’s documentary on the siege of Hangberg is a textbook of orienteering: it brings together the overarching questions South Africans use to make sense of their experience.

What would white-styled rule in post 94 South Africa look like? Valley and Kaganof show us the Western Cape’s Helen Zille managing her way through civil disobedience. Her burial of history and larger issues in favor of bureaucratizing each social problem is caught in its zero hour. The Zillean society as well run corporation and parties as management stylists is shown as a simple failure of political imagination as blood flows and lives are ruined for the sake of a council by-law.

What are the rights of people other than those genial ghosts profiled in the constitution? Valley and Kaganof show how ambiguous rights can become at the edges of administrative classifications : homeless in a firebreak, poor infiltrators into a holiday home paradise, descendants of imported slaves, Muslim; these are the category-busting stereotypes that trigger bureaucracy to excesses.

Valley and Kaganof show the people of Hangberg as vulnerable and in need of greater consideration and protection in a democracy.They do this simply by talking to them and hearing what they have to say. In the DA’s Little Britain world of orderly haves and embarrassing have-nots, mocking the weak has become acceptable, since their own failure to be prudent and follow the rules has brought their every misfortune upon themselves – the vulnerable are dunces.

How does a society that prides itself on multiculturalism deal with cultural enclaves? Impeccably – as long as they are quaint enough to attract tourism and help fill the revenue pot at the end of the rainbow. Valley and Kaganof show the limits of this lip service in the scapegoating of Rastafarians for their courageous disruption of the naive overadministration of the people of Hangberg.

The list of questions could go on and so could Valley and Kaganof’s sly and sagacious answers; but these questions dont need listing for they are already the legacy of each South African, the daily prayer orientating them in one another’s reality. The return of wised-up white rule,the infantilising of politics transfigured into a business school gimmick,the dangerous fates of enclave cultures, the internal emigration to the Western Cape and to Orania or to housing estates, the mercenarisation of the police into watchdogs of the wealthy; these are the questions that Valley and Kaganof ask in order to allow the people of Hangberg to answer.

The documentary film maker is shown as an embattled counterculture to news media. Nobody could fail to notice the undignified, self-righteous and hasty spins of the Hangberg siege as they collapsed like failed gags across the media. Such sanitary campaigns eventually create a demand for facts – or better than facts – direct access to the people of Hangberg themselves; an obvious role for social media.

Valley and Kaganof’s work seems to have been shown in quite rarefied contexts to small if influential audiences. It is in fact a masterpiece of editorial summary – fuel for public opinion and civil society rather than media markets. It goes beyond social media through the constructional and design skills that are the legacy of both film makers. Kaganof, whose SMS Sugar Man drew social media into fiction now leads them to fact in The Uprising of Hangberg. This film is the beginning of an era in which unclassifiables like Valley and Kaganof become rarer while cults of administrative apocalypse proliferate.

Jean-Pierre de la Porte