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Ivan Mfowethu Suzman: Comments on the Videos in the Collection

The Ivan Mfowethu Suzman Maine Project on Southern Africa Video Library Collection.

Biographical information given by Ivan Mfowethu Suzman.


ANC - A Time for Candor is very powerful. It is a film which attacks the African National Congress and tries to make it appear to be a communist organization. It is one of those rare propaganda films that allows us to see a world-respected democratic institution, the African National Congress, maligned by a government clearly hostile to it, and trying to prevent its popularity from increasing.

Angola: The Struggle Continues is significant in that in the mid 80s great attention was being placed, not only on South Africa but on all of southern Africa. The Washington Office on Africa was the leading organization on Capital Hill involved in pressuring Congress to support, not only disinvestment, but also sanctions against South Africa; Angola, until it became an independent country, and against South-West Africa, until it became Namibia. This tape is unique and important in that there are very few films about the process of change in Angola. This was sent out to activists throughout the United States by the Washington Office on Africa for educational purposes.

Citibank Protest, channel 8 WMTW's news story about Rev. Chabaku's visit to Portland and Maine is no more than two or three minutes in length. Not all of this news film was shown, but just an excerpt of that on Channel 8 News, probably on Saturday night, June 17th or 18th. Soweto Day is the 16th of June, and throughout the South African community in exile and in South Africa and southern Africa, Soweto Day is remembered as the day of resistance of the South Africans in Soweto who died in thousands in 1976. Rev. Shabaku was a speaker for our Soweto Day program of the Maine Project on Southern Africa Statewide in 1989. This is simply a short Channel 8 News version of what she did. I think it includes excerpts of the Citibank vigil.

Citibank Vigil was produced by members of the Maine Project on Southern Africa, one of whom, Jeffrey Phillips, was a student at the University of Southern Maine at their Intown Learning Center on High Street in Portland, and this particular Citibank vigil film features Maine Project on Southern Africa members and others in the general public vigiling at the doors of Citibank. This was done once a week for about 18 months, at the corner of Middle and Exchange Street, in the heart of the Old Port in Portland. This illustrates one of the techniques and methods used to heighten public awareness, and it shows close-ups of people being handed flyers about Citibank's links to South Africa. It is one of the very rare films that was done of activists themselves, and was also used as an educational device for other activists organizing vigils of a non-violent nature.

City Lovers, Country Lovers were commercially shown films initially. Based on two of Nadine Gordimer's short stories about interracial relationships in South Africa, for which she was awarded a 1991 Nobel Prize, these films opened in Boston with lines around the block. They never were shown in public theaters in Maine, and we were able to acquire these films only with great difficulty through the help of South African friends. These are part of a series of films directed by Barney Simon and Marie van Rensburg, which are based on, I believe, six or more of Nadine Gordimer's short stories.

A Conversation with Jesse Jackson is simply an interview with Marvin Kalb and Jesse Jackson. He had quite an impact on the anti-apartheid movement in promoting and being part of it.

Crisis in Southern Africa: Maine's Response was taped during the time that Victor Mashebela, a representative of the African National Congress, toured Maine in 1987, just prior to the famous disinvestment vote which passed in Maine House of Representatives and Senate, if I recall, in April 1987.

Cry Freedom [Online Library Record] was shown widely in public theaters. We showed this film as an educational film, as we did with all others.

Cry of Reason [Online Library Record] is an extraordinarily valuable film in that this is one of the several films in the Ivan Mfowethu Suzman Collection which has original footage interviewing church leaders or activists from South Africa. In this particular case, Cry of Reason is the story of the transformation of the Dutch Reformed Church leader, Beyers Naude, from believing in apartheid to believing in an interracial, harmonious society. It is a very powerful film and would be highly recommended to both church audiences and students studying the evolution of the church and its role in the transformation of South Africa.

The Discarded People [Online Library Record] is one of the most moving, compelling films ever produced about South Africa. It was one of the earlier films, being produced in 1981, whereas many of the films that are in this collection date to the mid- and late-1980s. It documents the forced relocation of people from Cape Town to barren so-called homelands in distant parts of South Africa. It is extremely moving and not only shows African people being dislocated, but people classified as so-called coloreds. In the opening scene, there is a terribly tragic destruction of a so-called colored neighborhood segregated by that so-called color in Cape Town. The opening scene also shows a very, very tearful woman and her white husband, who is bedridden . She is going to be separated from her husband, and her family will be split up because of her forced relocation.

Do the Right Thing [Online Library Record] one of Spike Lee's first popular films, is an integral part of the collection because it questions what types of tactics should be used in a struggle against a racial society and a racial system and institutions that oppress people of color. It concludes with two great quotes, one from Dr. Martin Luther King and the other from Malcolm X. We acquired a certain number of films about African American history and African American current events, and we felt that this film was a really good talking point. It helped us to educate people by relating our American experiences to the experience of South Africa. One of the techniques that we used was to show two films in a film series, one about South Africa and one about the United States, and compare the content of the two films, so that we could compare and contrast the development of the Civil Rights Movements of America and South Africa.

Ethnic Notions [Online Library Record]. A documentary film which demonstrates how American packaging and advertising and cartoon imagery created the savage, brutal, and less than human image of African Americans which was very much a part of the racial history of the United States, ranging from Little Black Sambo to pickaninnies and negative cartoon images of black children to Aunt Jemima. In other words, this film explored how our notions about people of color, not only white people's notions, but even black people's notions of people of color, were racialistically and racistly created through the media.

An Evening with Rev. Chabaku was taped in June of 1989 when Rev. Chabaku visited us and helped us to stand at the Citibank vigil. She also spoke statewide, and, when she spoke in Portland, at Emanuel Baptist Church on High Street, she was filmed. This also includes the singing of the South African freedom hymn, which goes back to 1897, by her and by the Cumberland Congregational Church Choir. It was sung so well that she broke out in tears, and was overwhelmed at how beautiful and how authentic it sounds. That music is the introductory musical theme to the film, or perhaps the closing music, I'm not sure which. What's particularly powerful about the film is that, again, it's Rev. Chabaku addressing the current situation in South Africa. It's original documentary footage, very valuable, very unique, and very powerful. Her name, Motlalepula means "she came with the rain". It was a name given to her because she was born in a rainstorm.

Forget Not Our Sisters, a combined slide and audio cassette show, was produced by Barbara Brown, a Boston University African studies specialist. This was used to talk about black women in the United States and in South Africa, and it was used as a tool to organize the people of Boston to realize that many of the local companies were directly involved in suppressing South African women because of the links between those companies and South Africa. There is even footage of the industrial plants in Boston - those branches of American companies which were doing business in South Africa - and also includes music and footage from the 1930s, 40s, and 50s of American black women, so it's designed for women, by a woman, to impress upon American women the lives of their sisters in South Africa. One of our goals at the Maine Project on Southern Africa was to represent women. Women are historically unrepresented or under-represented in film and this extended even into the activist world. Even activist films tended to portray men, and, with the development of the women's movement, primarily in the 70s and 80s, more and more films about women, women activist educators, and women in general, and films made by women, by and for predominantly women audiences, were developed as a genre and continue to be produced now. So this film also has a role in women's studies and in women's history, in addition to being about black women and women of South Africa and the United States.

Girls Apart is an extremely powerful film. It compares two teen-age girls, one in Pretoria, in the white section of Pretoria, and one, I believe, in the so-called black township or segregated residential area of Pretoria, to which blacks were forced to go at night after the nightly curfew, just as Soweto, Johannesburg, and each major town in South Africa,has a so-called black area, a so-called colored area, a so-called Asian area, and a so-called white area. The power of this film is in comparing the actual home of the white South African young woman, who is perhaps somewhere around 15, 16, or 17 with a young woman of similar age in the black residential area of her township outside of Pretoria. It is so powerful that we have used it over and over within our own circles.

Graceland: The African Concert [Online Library Record] is powerful in that Paul Simon was one of the first American entertainers to be involved in the boycott movement of South Africa. South Africa had built a casino called Sun City, and Sun City was the focus of the entertainment world's boycott of South Africa. When great singers like Aretha Franklin, Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon, certain of the Beatles, refused to sing in South Africa, this awoke the entire world in a way that was very powerful, because these great singers have international popularity and their music knows no cultural boundaries, and is even sung in many languages, or sung in the original English language by people of other cultures, so that when Paul Simon went to Zimbabwe to produce a concert, and was involved extensively in support of all kinds of work to end apartheid, this particular filming of the concert which he produced, called "Graceland", was very popular. It was also popular because it included Miriam Makeba, the very famous South African performer who was called Mother Africa and represented Ghana in the United Nations in her exile from South Africa. She sings the song "Soweto Blues" with her own group in Zimbabwe during this film. So it is one of the most wonderful, powerful films that includes many different performers in a kind of a Woodstock, if you will, of Zimbabwe.

Interview with Bishop Tutu is very powerful and unique. It was made in Vancouver, British Columbia, at the time that later Archbishop Desmond Tutu had been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. This is unusual footage in that it is one of the earliest films. Any films before 1985 were considered early. This was a 1984 film, which shows him at a press conference shortly after his being announced as the nominee for the Peace Prize, before his actually being selected as the recipient of it - just about the time of his nomination, I believe. And it shows the world church press of many different faiths, as well as the commercial press, such as ABC or NBC, asking numerous questions about South Africa.

Isitwalandwe (The Courage of the Leopard) is an extraordinarily rare film that goes back to 1980. This is black and white footage, but I think it is edited footage of the original Congress of the People in Kliptown, South Africa, in 1955 that was spliced together by South African exiles. The Freedom Charter was the basis of the constitution written by the African National Congress - the new constitution - the non-racial societies constitution. The Congress of the People is the most famous and first congress of the African National Congress. Delegates came on horseback, on foot, by train, by bus, and by car to a rural area of South Africa, thousands of delegates representing every single walk of life, to resist the nationalist party's growing development of the apartheid system in the 50s. The film is truly unique, and shows the original three leaders of South Africa's African National Congress: Nelson Mandela, Walter Susulu and Oliver Tambo, as well as scenes of that original congress. It's for the graduate student, the serious student, the student or the historian investigating that period of history of South Africa and is extraordinarily important for a specialist.

Jesse Jackson Live at USM was produced by the University of Southern Maine when Jackson spoke on February 11, just before he won the Maine Democratic Presidential Caucus. He spoke in Bangor and in Portland, and acquired a huge and surprising percentage early in the 1988 Presidential race. We included this in the film collection because at that time we acquired some of the relevant African American films.

The Long Walk Home [Online Library Record]. It is very valuable in illustrating the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955. It stars Whoopi Goldberg and Sissy Spacek.

Mandela: Free at Last [Online Library Record] and Nelson Mandela: The Man and His Country [Online Library Record] are two films which are very interesting, not only in that they both were made in 1990 immediately after his release from prison in February, but also in that they both show different aspects of his release. Especially interesting is the contrasting information, in thatNelson Mandela: The Man and His Country , the ABC News production, was produced by a major American commercial television network, but Mandela: Free at Lastwas produced by Globalvision, and was actually made by the people who also produced the activist television show "South Africa Now" which went on public television and was shown in Maine on Saturday mornings at that time.

Mapantsula [Online Library Record] is a very important film. This was the first film ever produced by black South Africans about their own experience and their own life. Mapantsula is a Zulu word which means "troublemaker", as far as I understand. The importance of this film is that it is a film about a petty thief who goes in and out of Johannesburg, picking pockets and stealing from white stores, but who avoids the political movement at the time, which was the late 1980s. However, eventually he becomes swept up in it because of a rent strike in Soweto, where he lives. His own rent becomes raised by the government and he becomes an activist at the very, very end of the film. It shows the politicization and the acquisition of political knowledge of people who were trying to avoid being part of the so-called movement of South African black people struggling for freedom.

Martin Luther King Commemorative Collection [Online Library Record], is a wonderful videotape which excerpts most of Martin Luther King's major speeches from the "I have a dream" speech to the speech about the sanitation workers strike in Memphis the night before he was shot. It includes commentary about his life, if I remember, by leaders such as Ted Kennedy, Coretta Scott King, Andrew Young, and others. It's a wonderful educational film about his life.

The Road to Brown [Online Library Record] is important in that, like Ethnic Notions, it is a documentary film about the American South, and American attitudes toward African Americans. It reviews the story of the desegregation of the American South, and highlights the Supreme Court case of Brown vs. the Board of Education.

Running with Jesse Is the story of Jesse Lewis Jackson. It was on PBS in 1988 on Frontline.

She Came With the Rain is a film made of myself, Ivan Mfowethu Suzman, interviewing Motlalepula Chabaku. Motlalepula Chabaku was a visitor to Maine and many other states, and is an activist. She was a high-school classmate of Archbishop Desmond Tutu. She was the leader of the South African Voice of Women, which was the newspaper of the women's movement within the African National Congress. She is an ordained Methodist minister with several different graduate degrees in the United States. She was trying to avoid deportation at the time that she was here. She had not been given a green card. She was living in North Carolina at the time, and was ministering to several Methodist churches. I do not know what has become of her. Motlapleula Chabaku may now be back in South Africa, I really do not know. It is a very powerful interview of her growing up and illustrates not only how she felt as a woman, but more importantly, it illustrates the life of a South African black person for a white American audience. It is really designed for all Americans, but especially for white Americans, and it teaches all Americans what it is like to be a South African child. She tells the story of how she grew up in the shanty town on the edge of Johannesburg. It portrays her life from her early days onward, and is unique and certainly very valuable in this collection. She is a highly significant figure in South Africa's modern activist history, but not well known because she is a woman, at least in my opinion.

South Africa Belongs to Us [Online Library Record] is one of the very earliest films about South Africa, produced in 1980, and interviews, not only Winnie Mandela, but other Black Consciousness leaders and also some of the white women of South Africa. It is a 30 minute film and runs through maybe nine or ten different women of South Africa, all in brief footage, strung together secretly, and brought out of the country. It is a great and powerful film. It was the talked-about film of the time.

South Africa Unedited [Online Library Record] is a very powerful film. The British filmmakers, Afravision, assembled this movie clandestinely and smuggled it out of South Africa. It's not only powerful because it was smuggled out of South Africa, but it actually shows you the brutal slash marks and welts on people's backs from police beatings, which were, of course, claimed not to be occurring by the South African police. Some of it is graphic in nature.

Sun City [Online Library Record] is a film which features 30 or 40 different musicians, ranging from Miles Davis to Bonnie Raitt, from Bruce Springsteen to the Beatles' drummer, Ringo Starr, and many others. It illustrates what musicians were doing in the mid-80s to educate the public about apartheid, who refused to go to South Africa, and who would not play Sun City. It is an excellent movie for a younger generation of viewers, perhaps in their teens, and certainly is valuable as historical information about how musicians responded to the crisis in Southern Africa.

Tribute to Martin Luther King was made by Karen Hendry of Freeport, and was her student project at the University of Southern Maine Intown Learning Center. This is a documentary that she made as a tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, and is a unique and individual film.

We Shall Overcome [Online Library Record] was one film that we used many times to interest people in the power of that individual hymn. It is a wonderful film which uses Harry Belafonte and Pete Seeger to explain the story of its origins from the "negro" spiritual "I Shall Not Be Afraid of the Lord". It evolved into "We Shall Overcome", and it traces its roots back to the a cappella singing in the small rural black churches of Georgia or South Carolina, or thereabouts. It was a very useful film to us because "we shall Overcome" is certainly an anthem of change, not only in South Africa and the United States, but throughout the world. In the ending of the film it shows how the music became symbolic of struggle and change in many different forms, including the Palestinian Liberation Organization, the women's movement, and many other situations.

Witness to Apartheid is comparable in some ways to South Africa Unedited. It was produced and directed by Sharon Sopher in England, and again shows police terrorism and brutality in the townships. It also shows Archbishop Desmond Tutu. It is a very powerful film in that it shows original footage of South Africans in Soweto. It was smuggled footage, edited together outside of the country. This kind of filming was highly illegal. I think Sharon is white, and for her to even be in Soweto filming in and of itself would be in violation of the South African Group Areas Act and other laws at the time.

A World Apart is the story about South African ANC Leader Ruth First, who was the spouse of Joe Slovo. He was one of the leaders of the South African Communist Party, which was one of the reasons why the government called the ANC a communist organization, in that communists, among many other people, were part of the ANC. He was married to Ruth First, who was in exile in Mozambique when she died because of a letter bomb being sent to her. This particular film is the story of her daughter and herself. It is a wonderful film about the relationship between a mother and her daughter. Her daughter is shown in this film as not wanting her mother to be an activist, being angry that her mother is always out protesting, being angry that her mother is in jail. Why couldn't this girl have a normal life like other girls, especially young 13- or 14-year old girls, especially in South Africa where families are so precious. She actually loses her mother to the movement, but later acquires her own political knowledge when her classmates shun her because of her mother, and eventually herself becomes an activist. It is a very wonderful and powerful film.

Woza, Albert! [Online Library Record] is a film which is pretty much an adaptation of the play that ran, I think, off-Broadway and in London. It is something that I'm not as familiar with as people in the field of theater, but it is a film I remember, and it stars two South African actors, Percy Mtwa and Mbongeni Ngena. These two black actors portray a series of different South African scenes on stage with nearly no props at all, and these scenes also have the underlying theme that Jesus (or Morena) or the Holy Spirit is going to return to South Africa and liberate it from the evil and the viciousness of apartheid. The film is old, made in 1982. It's significant in that it was one of the early anti-apartheid educational films made, and also significant in that its only two characters are two black South Africans.

You Have Struck a Rock [Online Library Record] was a film that was a must for every activist to see. A film that couldn't be missed. A great film of its day. It was produced in 1981, and it is the story of the South African women's movement and it has much historical footage going all the way back to 1952 when, I think, 20,000 women marched on Pretoria, refusing to carry passes, the so-called identification documents that were carried around by people in order to pass from black to white areas to go to work. For example, domestic workers, house cleaners, cooks, and maids, and child-care workers were required to transport themselves from Soweto to white areas of Johannesburg or similarly from black areas of other major cities or small towns to the white areas, carrying these identification documents. If they didn't have the so-called pass with them, they could be arrested for not being in the racially assigned area that they were supposed to be living in. The women resisted the pass laws, and this is the story of the resistance. It is very powerful, it's based on the Sotho saying, which I cannot say in Sotho myself, but which is "when you have struck a woman, you have struck a rock; a rock that cannot be moved". It is a wonderful film for not only people interested in the women's movement of South Africa and feminism and the women's movement in general, but also for people just generally interested in the South African resistance.

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