Rina Jooste uses filmmaking as a tool to explore the complex layers of South African society with a focus on Afrikaner identity and the collective history of apartheid from both sides.
Rina, recounting Afrikaans history through film is an important part of your work. Tell us a bit about yourself, your evolution into filmmaking and your passion to tell this history.
I was born and bred in Pretoria, South Africa. At the time of growing up in the 1970’s, 80’s, during the apartheid era, the Afrikaner community I grew up in was conservative and inclusive. My parents are progressive people (in a non political sense) and exposed our family to a wider world with more options. At the time, the Afrikaners were indoctrinated into an exclusive world of Calvinism and anything that was the “other or unknown” was feared. After school I studied a three-year diploma course in progressive and jazz music and focused on piano and orchestral arrangements. I worked as a freelance musician for a number of years, often in theatre productions and then progressed into the theatre world of telling stories through drama and music. I managed storytelling through drama / music for the Department of Defence for a number of years, using drama / music to portray social messages. In this period I completed an honours degree in history through the University of South Africa. The social science discipline taught me analytical, research and writing skills that are applied today in my documentary filmmaking. I started my own company continuing to do social theatre and that led me to the world of documentary filmmaking. In 2007 I made my first documentary film, and love the medium of film to tell stories specifically relating to social, political and historical themes.
Africans of European descent are asserting their identity and claiming their experiences as part of African history, as an Afrikaans-speaking South African of European descent, how do you position yourself and your work?
Like many Afrikaners who grew up during apartheid South Africa, (excluding younger generations) I also battled with our troubled past, had questions and tried to find a place of belonging. As a result, in 2008 I produced, researched and directed the documentary film Afrikaner Afrikaan. The film uses Afrikaans music as a springboard for discussion to capture the new buoyancy and divergence in Afrikaner identities freed from the straitjacket of Afrikaner nationalism and Calvinism. This was a cathartic experience. Today I consider myself a proud Afrikaans speaking South African, with a firm place and sense of belonging in my country of birth, promoting cultural tolerance. In this regard, I have a few projects in the pipeline, addressing similar issues.
Forgotten (2007) is a film about Ziggibo Dennis Mpale, musician and ANC militant, buried in the cemetery among most of the anti-apartheid militants buried there. His son still hopes to build a “home”, tombstone for him. Who was Ziggibo Dennis Mpale, why has he been forgotten, and why did you choose to tell his story?
Forgotten only touches on Dennis Mpale, and we focus on his son Linda Olifant who mentions his father who also happened to be a musician campaigning for the ANC. The film explores what happened to musicians who left the country to join the ANC Amandla Cultural Ensemble in exile and the impact it has on their lives today. Many of the exiles returned to South Africa from 1990 onwards and it seems that many are forgotten in the new political dispensation where it is everyman for himself as opposed to the ubuntu (togetherness and sharing) that used to prevail during the struggle for liberation. I used members of the Amandla Cultural Group to tell their stories. They were in exile using music, song and dance to raise awareness of what was happening in South Africa during apartheid, touring the world with their musical production. The work they did resonated with my own background of social theatre. The group’s work is relatively unknown and it was an opportunity to showcase what they did as it is part of our collective history, and important for all South Africans to see what happened in the past, to get an understanding of each other’s cultures and experiences.
|Flowers of the Nation by Rina Jooste|
In Flowers of the Nation (2007) you trace the experiences of women who fought for and against apartheid, exiled ANC women and the parallel life of Arina Barnard an ex SADF member. Did you also arrange the meeting between ex MK member Totsie Memela-Khambula and Arina Barnard? It is interesting that the tears that are shed are by the white people, the black fighters seemed to be fortified as if by their experiences they were immune from the display of emotions.
Flowers of the Nation was also produced with the aim of sharing our collective history because it is important that all South Africans know about the troubled past we share, and about the role that ANC women played in exile. I included the role of women in the SADF because it is in such stark contrast to what their counterparts in the ANC had to go through. It is important that people across the divide see this, for a better understanding of each other’s pasts and moving forward today. I did arrange the meeting between Totsie and Arina. Totsie is a very strong woman and it does seem that she underwent so much hardship that she is immune from displaying emotion, although it is evident that there are deep seated pain and grief, especially for missed opportunities in seeing her children grow up. Totsie resembles many other women who were in the same position as she was, away from family and loved ones for many years, raising children in hostile environments or leaving them at home with family. Many Afrikaner people, in the same position as Arina, do not know about the other side’s past, think about it or consider it important; in fact, many people are completely unaware and not interested. Therefore the message; we can only build our country and society and move forward when we know about each other’s pasts, and try to understand where we come from.
I observe your filmmaking as it navigates through the layers of South African societies, often very different from each other. Jammer As Ek So Bitter Is | Sorry If I Seem Bitter (2009) focuses entirely on young white Afrikaner women whose issues echoe those that could be found in any Western society, psychologically damaged girls who find ways to escape. Why did you choose this subject for the film and who is your audience.
The subject for Jammer as ek so Bitter is, was presented to me by a colleague who has an interest in peer pressure and bullying in schools. I pitched a series to the SABC under the theme of violence in our schools, focusing on peer pressure and bullying. The target audience is primarily parents of teenagers and teenagers themselves, across the divide and not only in white society.
The focus on the psychological manifestations of living in a violent society leaves me feeling that there is something omitted as the visually comfortable and pleasant, even privileged setting, does not correspond to an environment that is often associated with violence and aggression. Is this violent behaviour and frustration the interiorisation of or the other side of the violence of apartheid as lived by white South African society? Perhaps I am generalising as one may find pathologies in every society. However, since I am talking about South Africa and its history I wonder what are its specificities in this regard.
I specifically chose white girls from privileged backgrounds to show what goes on in our schools in white suburbs, and that we also find many problems outside of township schools. I refer to a ‘silent’ violence of peer pressure and bullying in schools, rather than literal violence. However, I do mention the violent society that we live in today, without exploring or showing this, as this is another subject entirely.
Watching the film one gets the sense that the purported “Rainbow Nation” remains very segregated and the various sectors of the population continue to live their lives in this way. Has the film been shown among the diverse populations of South Africa? What has been the audience reaction?
This is a difficult debate and cannot use this forum to comment. However, there has been a lot of progress with younger generations who grew up after apartheid getting along and living side by side, without seeing colour as an issue. Segregation amongst older generations are still commonplace. It is difficult to change the ingrained behaviour of people. My opinion is that there has been a lot of progress in cultural and racial tolerance on ground level, and many attempts to address this amongst the people living in South Africa. But cannot comment insightfully without statistics and research, and not for this forum.
Audience reaction on the film from diverse populations has been positive. The reaction received is that it is an important message and wake up call to show to parents and teenagers across the divide, and shocking insight as to what goes on in schools. And that we need to have more films and media of such nature to show the public what is happening with our youth. The film won two South African Film and Television Awards (SAFTA) in 2011, for best director and best overall documentary.
|Afrikaner, Afrikaan by Rina Jooste|
Afrikaner, Afrikaan (2008) is a dialogue about Afrikaner identity via music culture. There are many moments of tension, self-searching and disagreement about how this identity is reclaimed or whether it should be at all. The musicians clearly have different ideologies about Afrikaner identity and how it should be expressed. How did you bring the participants of the film together? Do you feel that you achieved your goal of having them work through among themselves, this vexed question of Afrikaner identity?
I played around with ideas for the film for a long time and decided from the onset that Sean Else would be a main character because he wrote the song De la Rey that created a huge public debate about Afrikaner identity. It was decided that the song would form the central theme and the story built around it. Sean was approached to participate and was keen to take part. Deon Maas was approached because of his outspoken approach and coming from an older, yet progressive Afrikaans generation. He was also keen on participating. Johrne van Huyssteen is more moderate and on the fence so to speak, and needed his inputs for balance between Sean and Deon. He was also keen to participate. In the end, the making of the film was a very pleasant, cathartic and enjoyable experience and I believe we all learnt and grew from it. The editor, CA van Aswegen, also an Afrikaner, enjoyed the experience too, and also found it cathartic.
Professor Kees Van der Waal’s historical perspective serves as a means of mediation in some ways in that he attempts to provide a context for both sides of the debate. He explains the significance of language, identity and music, is this also the reason that you chose to approach the theme in this way?
The initial idea and planning was to let the characters tell the story and weave the narrative and not to use an academic in the film. However, Professor Kees van der Waal at the time was also busy with research about Afrikaner identity. He was very enthusiastic and passionate about his research, and we started dialogue about the theme after filming started. I decided to include his ideas because his explanation added to the debate in such a subtle manner that contributed context to the story.
Laager appears to be very specific to Afrikaner culture and throughout the film is used as a metaphor. What is this concept of laager?
Throughout its history, the Afrikaner was a minority group in South Africa. During the movement referred to as the Great Trek in the 18th century where Afrikaners moved away from British rule into the interior of the country, wagons pulled by oxen were used as the transport. At night the wagons were placed in a circle formation that became known as a laager. In simple terms, and the manner I used it in the film, it can be explained as a circle with people inside the circle protecting themselves and remaining exclusive, not reaching out to others and remaining a group on their own.
Generation Now (2007) presents the South African “rainbow generation" who came of age after 1994 and has not lived the experiences of apartheid but rather only know of it based on historical references. I found this film less convincing when there was the obvious goal to bring the races together, than the film Afrikaner, Afrikaans when the Afrikaners were working through their own identities and expressed the tensions, disagreements and differences. I also thought that the comparison between Corlea’s embracing African influences in her music is very different than the black singers in the opera Black Tie Ensemble. It was not a true parallel, as opera is not an Afrikaner or even South African tradition. Why this choice?
I wanted to show that music is a universal language that can promote tolerance amongst different groups; an Afrikaner vocalist singing African jazz and Tswana vocalists singing opera that stems from a European background, told through the eyes of the youth.
Betrayed (2007) as the title implies, is about the experiences of several white former soldiers decades after their return from the South African Border War across Namibia and Angola. Many continue to grapple with their feelings of betrayal, guilt, anger even a sense of injustice. Perhaps many of the soldiers are marginalised and live on the margins of society, however you chose to trace the lives of a few who, though deeply marked, live privileged lives compared, let’s say to the black Africans who they fought against. And while this story is about the white former soldiers, it is also about those who fought on the wrong side of history, as it turns out. One of them states, “We were involved in a war”, but they want to tell us that our names will not be put onto monuments and peace walls. I find it disturbing that they pretend that we don’t exist.” An uncomfortable, compelling film, what were your choices in selecting the stories, the footage and the editing? The sound affects are especially stirring and you also have a background in music!
As noted already, I have a personal interest in our country’s troubled past, and part of it is the Border War and manifestations thereof in post apartheid South Africa today, hence the film. I specifically chose three men who took part in the war and show how it affects them today, against the background of the manner in which the Afrikaners were indoctrinated during the apartheid era. In addition, I wanted to show how politicians use ordinary people as pawns in war situations; it is a universal concept. The stock footage was obtained from the Department of Defence Archives, and helped to tell the story. I wanted to showcase the military force of the former Apartheid government and therefore the selection of some of the footage. Regarding the choice of music and sound effects that are used to stir emotion, all credit to the editor CA van Aswegen. The film was aimed to stir emotion and create dialogue, which it did.
|Captor and Captive by Rina Jooste|
Your most recent film, Captor and Captive, full of suspense, anguish and myriad emotions, is about both a historical event in Southern African history and the personal history of Danger Ashipala and Johan van der Mescht, two men who fought on opposite sides. As I stated to you after the screening of the film, I admit that I was initially a bit unsettled by what appeared to be a focus on the white captive, as if in some way to humanise the person who was on the wrong side of history, though I have since changed my mind. What motivated you to make the film? What was your process during the conceptualisation, film production and editing. Have other black spectators, especially from Southern African, had a similar sentiment as mine. What has been the reception of the film in Nambia and South Africa?
Again, making this film Captor and Captive was motivated by my personal interest in our troubled past, and in this instance telling it through people’s experience of the Border War. The story of Johan van der Mescht has not been told before. I met him in 2007 through the film Betrayed and decided that it is a story that needs to be told. From the onset, I decided to find Johan’s captor and include that in the story. Everyone knew that SWAPO captured Johan, no one knew who the person was. I only located Johan’s captor, Danger Ashipala in 2009 and had to work through the Minister of Defence in Namibia to gain access to the SWAPO people. Both Johan and Danger were very keen to meet each other after 30 years and it was arranged shortly after meeting Danger for the first time. I took Johan and his family back to Namibia to meet with Danger and visit the site of his capture, 30 years later. The day of the first meeting between Johan and Danger in Windhoek was completely natural and nothing was set up except that I arranged for the two to meet each other. The film played out naturally after they met. They travelled to the place of the capture the following day and we filmed the events as it unfolded naturally. My aim was to tell the story of two enemy soldiers from opposing forces, with the underlying theme of reconciliation. The film is more focused on Johan, and the reason is both logistical and economical. Danger was only located in 2009 and lived in Namibia. Johan was located in 2007 and lived in South Africa, in close proximity to myself. The film took three years to complete, due to lack of funds and difficulty in locating Danger. I filmed Johan in phases since meeting him in 2007 and used parts thereof in the film. By the time that Danger was located in 2009, most of the research was in place and the remainder of the filming then took place. The editing also took place in phases due to lack of funds, but was eventually completed with the support from the National Film and Video Foundation of South Africa. The rest of the film was funded by myself—a passion project—only to be done once in a lifetime.
The film has been well received by black audiences in both South Africa and Namibia, and they had a different understanding than you. In South Africa the general feeling amongst black and white audiences are very positive and people experience the reconciliatory effort. Feedback mostly received from black audiences are that they are seldom presented with the history from the other side and welcome the information in order to have a better understanding of our collective past. This was the same experience with the film Betrayed. And also interesting to note that former enemy soldiers are comfortable after meeting each other, since they have similar experiences, it is when the politicians start interfering that things go wrong.
The film was received very well in Namibia. Danger Ashipala is a national hero of the liberation struggle and the fact that he captured Johan was a huge propaganda victory for SWAPO at the time. Up to today, Danger is remembered for capturing Johan. It was important for Namibia to show this story to its people, and the national broadcaster bought the film. No one in Namibia filmed or recorded the story of Danger Ashipala before. Sadly, he passed away in May 2010, months after he was filmed and met Johan.
Your work on documenting history through film lead to your academic studies in history. You are currently pursuing a Masters Degree in History at Stellenbosch University and your film, Captor and Captive, will form part of the thesis. Talk about the process and how the film and Masters studies will come together.
I am busy writing a thesis with the theme: Representing history through film, based on the film Captor and Captive. A lot of research was done to inform the content for the film. The content was not found in history books since this is current history and was all sourced through various documents in archives, newspapers and primary sources, memories and information from people who took part in the war. This came to the attention of the Head of the History Department at Stellenbosch University. He offered me the opportunity to enrol for a Masters in History where I submit the film in addition to the written thesis; the two products complement each other. It will contribute to the historiography of the Border War in South Africa. The thesis addresses the actual story/content of the film, reflecting on the filmmaking process and realities thereof, and how history can be represented through film, as opposed to written text only. The film is already submitted and the written thesis will be completed end of January 2013.
As a body of work your films so far attempt to peel through layers of a society that has myriad opposing histories that have yet to be resolved, and most especially Afrikaner history fraught with a troubled, violent past. Do you see your work continuing in this direction? Would you also like to broaden your scope to deal with other themes?
I have many projects in the pipeline addressing similar issues/themes, including the entire South African society. At this stage, I would like to continue in this direction since there is so much more to uncover and explore, and it falls within my field of interest and research. However, i am also telling stories with different themes like the most recent film completed in December 2012, The Doctor and the Miracle Pill. This is the story of an accidental discovery that woke up a comatose patient after being given a sleeping pill. The story revolves around Dr Wally Nel, a general practitioner from a mining town east of Johannesburg who stumbled upon this discovery in 1999, and how it is changing people’s lives, 13 years on. It focuses on the work he does in campaigning for the Stilnox (Ambient/Zolpidem) pill to be recognised to help people with brain injuries and the obstacles he encounters from the medical profession in doing so.
In the context of the growing discourse on African cinema culture and identity, how would you define your filmmaking?
I believe my themes address issues of identity across all divides, with more focus on Afrikaans speaking people.
Interview with Rina Jooste by Beti Ellerson, December 2012.
Film Trailer of Captor and Captive
Film Trailer of The Doctor and the Miracle Pill