Category Archives: The Uprising of Hangberg

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).

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

The Uprising of Hangberg

The Uprising of Hangberg

Sean Jacobs

“The Uprising of Hangberg” is filmmaking at its incendiary best. Part agitprop piece, testimonies, campaign document, and popular history, the film recounts the violent events of September 2010 when municipal police on the orders of the Cape Town’s Democratic Alliance (DA)-run council invaded the favela on the edge of the Hangberg mountain in Houtbay, outside Cape Town. What transpired is now the common response by authorities in South Africa when the poor majority demand rights. Houtbay, for those trying to place it, situated on the southern edge of Cape Town, is a combination of declining fishing industry and a reservoir of cheap black and coloured labor on the one hand, and, on the other, white privilege. With scenes recalling Apartheid’s police state, cops stormed into houses, dragged out residents, shot people in the eyes and assaulted pensioners and pregnant women. The residents are mostly coloured and loyal to the DA. The city council’s spin doctors quickly framed events in the local, compliant, media. As reports from Hangberg filtered over local radio and on TV news, a template emerged: the Hangberg residents were illegal squatters, were living on a firebreak, most of them were criminals selling drugs (especially the Rastafarians amongst them), and the city and provincial government (personified by its “Iron Lady” Premier, Helen Zille) had residents’ best interests at heart. Filmmakers Aryan Kaganof and Dylan Valley, decided to drive out to Hangberg and film events. What they pieced together–with help from footage shot by local activists–puts a lie to mainstream propaganda. Affected residents also turned on the DA. So much so that the city, and the DA tried to astroturf the film (see also below) with little success. With local government elections looming in South Africa, it is unclear whether the events will cost the DA, but the film suggests it may portend a shift in local politics–especially coloured working class politics–in the town and perhaps further afield in the Western Cape province. I sent Dylan Valley a few questions.

How and why did you get involved in the events at Hangberg

The politics of the events are complex, as the City of Cape Town went in to remove what they called “unoccupied” structures from a firebreak (a path that prevents fires from spreading and for fire fighters to gain access to fires) in Hangberg, Hout Bay. Hangberg is a “coloured” neighbourhood in the town of Hout Bay, one of the most picturesque areas in Cape Town and, as such, prime property. It turns out that people were getting evicted [without a] court order, [that] occupied structures were being demolished and people were literally dragged out of their homes by [the city’s police force]. The force with which the police went into the area was totally uncalled for, and at least four people had each lost an eye in the clashes with cops. I was not planning to get involved initially with Hangberg at all. I heard about it through the local media, but didn’t get a real sense of the urgency of what was happening there. The media reports, while seeming balanced, were very much one sided and made the residents seem unruly and violent. My co-director, Aryan [Kaganof] actually suggested we go and find out what was happening or possibly film some stuff. He llived in Hangberg briefly a few years ago and knew that the community he knew was not the one that he was reading about in the papers. Something was wrong with the picture.

Did you expect the kind of hysterical response from the governing party in the Western Cape, including what is probably a fake, negative review of the film.

I was actually expecting the worst. This project really opened my eyes to how easily disinformation can be spread. The same DA councilor, JP Smith, who forwarded us that review of the film, had hosted a press conference where he released photos of 3 of the Hangberg residents, who had each lost an eye, throwing stones at the police in a group photo. The intent was to show that their story of innocence was false, and that they had deserved to get shot. However two of the residents, Ikram Halim and Delon Egypt, were falsely identified in the police pictures, i.e. it wasn’t them. In the local newspapers, The Voice and The Cape Times, the Hangberg residents were branded as liars, totally unquestioning Councillor Smith’s story. In the film we expose this and find and interview the actual people in the police photograph.

How would you describe the Cape Town media’s reporting of class and race inequalities in the city?

I think we as a middle class have become quite used to media reports of “service delivery protests” that never quite convey the situation on the ground. Also in their subtle use of language, they generally seem to be on the side of the local government. I actually know someone who is a reporter, and who said to me once, “People in townships just want to catch on kak (cause shit).” And even when the journalists do try; I think the term “service delivery protest” is very similar in effect to what was called “unrest” during Apartheid. When middle class people read it they immediately think “that doesn’t really have anything to do with me” or “the government needs to do something” or “these people are just complaining for nothing.” I think people have an immediate response to the term, without going into the specifics of every incident or story.

City officials and the Premier of the Western Cape province, Helen
Zille, and some in the mainstream media, quickly declared the protests being the work of “The Rastas,” who were deemed as violent (as having provoked the police violence) and of doing drug dealers?

That was the most ridiculous thing. They singled out the rastas in the media because they are an easy target. Also the Rastas in the Hangberg are very politically savvy and are spreading an ideology of reclaiming their indigenous Khoi heritage. The Khoi were an indigenous group in Southern Africa, and are often spoken of as “the original people.” Most of what we call coloured people today in South Africa have some Khoi or San heritage. However with the creation of coloured identity in the South Africa, which was seen as better than black, an institutional rejection and amnesia of the Khoi and San occurred and people generally didn’t want to identify with any kind of African heritage.

Helen Zille is the face of government in the Western Cape and also the focus of residents’ anger. She is good with spin and PR. She also enjoys good press and can’t do no wrong, yet recently some of her government’s decisions have been exposed for its callousness, the toilet saga in Khayelitsha and now Hangberg. Did she and the DA overreach here? How are her whites constituents and supporters responding to it? How are her coloured constituents responding?

Helen Zille and the DA-run city council definitely overreached here … One white person who reviewed the film said he always supported and appreciated Helen Zille, but after watching the film he is questioning everything he believed about her. The majority of the (coloured) Hangberg community actually voted for the DA, but there is an overwhelming backlash against the DA now. We have yet to see what other “coloured” DA supporters think, but think that sentiment will spread as far as the film spreads. You can’t watch it without realizing how little they care for the poor. I also want to make clear however that it wasn’t our intention for people to vote for another party (like the ANC), but rather to expose the hypocrisy of the DA- led City of Cape Town.

Cape Town and the Western Cape is a graveyard of populism, pandering and divisive race politics to which both the governing DA and at times even the ANC are equally guilty of. What do you think are the hopeful politics that can emerge out of Hangberg? What is next for the people of Hangberg?

I don’t think party politics as the answer, as I believe none of the major parties in the Western Cape really care for this type of community. A unified community with strong leadership reaching for the same goal is the solution. I think this attack on the community has actually helped to bring people together. Also they have taken their case to not be moved to the Cape High Court and it is imperative that the community wins; which could have serious repercussions elsewhere in the country. Most of all, I would like for them to be acknowledge as the descendants of the Indigenes of the area, the Khoi peoples. There is a growing movement in the Hangberg community to embrace their Khoi heritage, as opposed to the blanket “coloured” identity.

You have been showing the film in venues around Cape Town. What has this taught you about film exhibition in postapartheid South Africa? Are you going to put the film online?

Well there is only one independent cinema in Cape Town, where we screened the film. We haven’t really tried to screen it in the mainstream cinemas, but unlikely that we would have been able to. Since we don’t have distribution funding as of yet, and we are not aiming to make a profit out of the film, we’ve handed out quite a few DVDs and they are apparently doing the rounds; people are copying the film and passing it on. We just want to get the story out there. We are planning to eventually put the whole film online. There is a condensed 6 minute version on

News 24: Hangberg protest documented

Hangberg protest documented

Hlengiwe Mnguni, News24

Cape Town – On September 21, the community of Hangberg on the slopes of the Sentinel mountain in Hout Bay was catapulted into the spotlight when an operation by the City of Cape Town to demolish illegally built homes quickly degenerated into a violent confrontation between the police and residents.

The events of that day are portrayed in The Uprising of Hangberg, a documentary by Aryan Kaganof and Dylan Valley, which they say aims to tell “the other side of the story”.

In an interview with News24, Valley said his interest in the Hangberg saga had been piqued after fellow filmmaker Kaganof – who happened to have lived in the area for some time in the past – told him there was something wrong with the way that the community had been portrayed in the media by the City of Cape Town and Western Cape Premier Helen Zille.

“He said there was something very wrong with the picture. That community is not the way they were portrayed….violent hooligans.

“We needed to tell the other side of the story,” Valley said.

And the story, as told by the residents – sometimes though tears, sometimes through laughter and sometimes through sheer defiance – is a complex one that spans allegations of human rights abuses, service delivery issues, lack of media representation, questions of identity and land ownership, party politics, the divide between the rich and the poor and human dignity.


Valley said although the film, which has been shown in Hangberg and in venues around Cape Town, is still “a work in progress” it is important that it be put in the public domain as soon as possible.

“Media reports don’t show the urgency of the situation. There’s also been misinformation on the part of the City [which] slings mud at them [the Hangberg community] so nobody cares,” Valley told News24.

One point of focus on media “misinformation” involves how the City of Cape Town apparently incorrectly identified a number of people who lost their eyes when hit by rubber bullets during the violent standoff as having provoked the police into retaliation by throwing rocks.

“I was just shocked at the basic human rights violations from police,” said Valley as he recalled accounts made by some residents in the documentary.

Despite all the upheaval on the mountain, Valley said he was heartened by the warmth of the people as he interacted with the community while making the documentary.

“I was impressed by the solidarity…by how people helped each other in the area… the sense of community….at how nice and normal everyone was.

“They don’t want anything else [but land]. They don’t want a house or a job. They don’t want violence. Nobody wants that. People want basic human rights and to live where they want to live,” he said.

Opposing views

Community leader Greg Louw – who also shot some of the footage for the documentary – said he, like a number of other residents present at one screening, was pleased that the truth about Hangeberg had been told.

“The documentary brings out the truth about what exactly happened here. We are hoping the documentary will bring out the truth about non-delivery,” he told News24, adding that the police’s actions on September 21 were “uncalled for and inhuman”.

But the view of what is wrong in Hangberg as captured in the documentary could not be more different from that still held by the City of Cape Town and Zille, who also features on clips of news interviews and on footage of the community meeting that broke down a few days before the violent confrontation.

Instead of a community standing in solidarity against the demolition of their neighbours’ homes, the City and Zille see a community in the grip of “a rise of a criminal settlement” which unsavoury elements want to turn into a “police no go zone”, according to City of Cape Town Mayoral Committee Member for Safety and Security, Alderman JP Smith.

Asked whether he had seen the documentary, Smith said he had not, but that a colleague had.

“It sounds painfully like a pre-election roadshow,” he told News24, accusing Louw of heading an anti-DA operation in the area.

“I doubt that it’s a sincere attempt at telling the story,” he said calling the documentary one-sided with a jaundiced slant.

Pure error

Asked about the revelations made in the documentary that some of those who had been identified as having thrown rocks before they were shot at by police were wrongly identified, Smith said there had been no sinister motives on the City’s part.

“When the photographs were brought in, we did so in good faith,” he said adding that it was pure error on their part.

Sixty-two people were arrested on September 21 while an unconfirmed number of residents and 15 metro police officers were injured.

On October 11, the sheriff of the court handed out notices to certain Hangberg residents informing them about a high court application by the City of Cape Town to evict them from the Sentinel.

The matter has been postponed to November 29 to give the parties a chance to find a solution out of court.

According to the notices, 54 structures have been erected illegally on a firebreak and on a nature reserve and will have to be demolished as they pose a fire risk.

– News24

Who shot first? The Uprising of Hangberg

Click here for more information on this film.

Who shot first? The uprising of Hangberg
October 27, 2010

“Who shot first?” That’s the pivotal question in Dylan Valley and Aryan Kaganof’s The uprising of Hangberg , screened last night at Labia on Orange.

The documentary presents overwhelming evidence that metro police used unwarranted force when they arrived in Hangberg on Tuesday, 21 September, to demolish informal houses built on a fire break.

The film uses a series of interviews to argue that the police violated standard procedure by aiming at people’s heads. A number of bystanders lost an eye as a result of rubber bullets. One of them describes to the camera how they aimed at his face at close range.

The impression I got from the media a month ago was quite different. I knew that clashes between the police and Hangberg residents took place but it seemed to me that the law was sorting out a group of troublemakers. To get an impression of how the same event can be portrayed in different accounts, compare this article with this one.

It’s an issue of objectivity and it’s hard deciding from whose side to see it. Valley and Kaganof portray the police as the aggressors while most of the news articles I read portrayed the protestors as the guilty party. This series of photographs on news24 is more sympathetic to the police. Notice for instance how the caption for image 11 states that “the policed fire[d] rubber bullets in retaliation”. The Uprising of Hangberg shows that residents retaliated with rocks after being shot at.

At one stage in the documentary, they slow down footage taken moments before the police started firing. We see people walking down the hill to meet the police. They do not appear hostile and they are not throwing rocks. The footage cuts then, for some reason, to seconds later. The police are firing rubber bullets and residents are running in different directions. It’s not clear whether the editor removed the in-between footage because it weakened the “police shot first” argument, or whether it was lost because the camera wasn’t recording.

What does seem clear though is that the police arrived with a hostile attitude. The documentary shows a series of witnesses that say the police used abusive language. A pregnant girl is shown crying because a police officer slapped her. A 14 year old boy alleges that police assaulted, detained and threatened him with a firearm aimed at his balls.

The documentary asserts that Helen Zille should be held responsible for the human rights violations that took place in Hangberg. It ends with a call for her to step down as premier of the Western Cape. If more people see “The uprising of Hangberg” it could be a serious blow to her reputation. It could be her Fahrenheit 9/11, though that didn’t stop Bush from getting reelected.

I’ve been a Helen Zille supporter for the last few years, but it’s hard for me to reconcile the events of Hangberg with her image as a champion of justice. An interview shows that she’s taken quite a dismissive stance to the issue. She argues that it’s actually a small group of Rastas causing trouble and preventing peaceful negotiation. When she said this, it reminded me of an angle the apartheid government used to take. They used to say that township protests are caused by a small group of communist agitators that do not reflect the will of the people. We now know that that was propaganda, but it’s an argument that can be quite appealing.

It’s easier for us to dismiss the brutality if we say that they’re just a bunch of Rastas, drug dealers or “zimbabwean style land grabbers”. But the documentary gives reason to believe that it’s not just criminals, but a whole community that is upset. In one scene, the filmmaker proves that residents who lost their eye were falsely labeled as rock-throwing protestors. He shows a newspaper article that erroneously identifies people with eye injuries as rock-throwers in another photograph. The director seeks out the rock-thrower and injured man to show that they are completely different people.

I’m worried, however, about ethnic mobilization in the film. Some of the residents argue that they have a right to live there because they are Khoisan and the land belongs to their forefathers. In the same way that the Afrikaners created the mythology of the Great Trek to claim ownership of the land, one resident says he has a right to live on Hangberg because the mountain resembles the face of his ancestor. I realize that this sort of thinking can inspire people, but I don’t think it’s right way to go.

When residents assert ownership based on an ethnic identity and proudly say that they’ll only leave to the graveyard, it gets dodgy. That type of thinking leads to the type of conflict seen with Israel/Palestine. Hangberg should be an issue of human rights not ethnic rights. The events that took place on 21 September may be investigated and declared a violation of human rights, but we’ll have to wait and see.

Update: For more on the “Khoisan nation” idea, as well as its flaws, read this piece by Patric Tariq Mellet