NAMIBIA: AFRICA'S LAST COLONY
1984. 48:37 minutes. Video only. Produced by Paul Hamann and Peter Salmon, BBC. Distributed by California Newsreel.
TOPICS: About the effects of apartheid and SADF military occupation of Namibia in 1984.
USES: U, A and V
The film works through the Namibian Council of Churches (NCC) to expose the effects of apartheid and the atrocities committed by the South African Defence Force (SADF) on the Namibian population. Doctors, lawyers and social workers provide information about totally inadequate health, schooling, and housing/environment and social programs for black Namibians. These are threaded into a story of deprivation and terror by a NCC narrator/presenter. She speaks `for' Namibians, many of whom, she tells viewers, would be too frightened to talk to journalists. The narrator begins with a simple history of Namibia which emphasizes its German colonial background, and German-perpetrated atrocities, before South Africa became involved after World War I.
The film shows apartheid as more than a set of laws: the visuals show its effects on the day-to-day struggle for survival - unemployment, underdeveloped housing, poor sanitation, the constant threat of eviction; inadequate and inappropriate health, schooling, educational and other social facilities. What separated pre-independence Namibia from other Third World countries is that it is rich in minerals, hence the extreme poverty shown emphasizes the paradox.
As an insider, rather than as an invisible voice giving a God's-eye-view, the narrator evokes viewer identity with her "people"-in-struggle. The legal impediments on black access to social and economic opportunities are alluded to by the civil rights lawyer, Anton Lubowski, who was subsequently assassinated, apparently by the SADF. The legal aspects of apartheid are discussed in detail, but only in terms of the legal system's failure to prevent systematic torture, massacres, and mutilation of people conducted by the police and military. The end of the film includes graphic depictions of mutilated individuals and mass graves. Scenes of the ordered South African military are juxtaposed with the squalor of squatter camps and black townships. The film also draws implicit parallels between the South West African Peoples Organisation (SWAPO) as an armed force and the South African military. SWAPO is shown to be a popular organization rather than the `communist' threat claimed by South Africa. (The pictures of SWAPO were taken in Angola, not South Africa, as was the documentation of the SADF perpetrated Kasinga massacre.)
The only scene which breaks with this victimology is the one on community solidarity in the Lutheran school. This scene acts as an antidote to the producers' assumption of passive victims at the mercy of destructive forces beyond any kind of law. That the NCC itself was playing a part in resistance and social reconstruction in the making of the film is only an accident of conventional documentary coding. Again, the film's use of chilling headlines from The Windhoek Advertizer of atrocities committed by the South African military forces, underplays the intensity of organized
The film is useful as a document of popular resistance at the time. The theme of the Church as a site of struggle emerges from the film's, if paradoxically affirmative, sub-text. Namibia: Africa's Last Colony complements the later Destructive Engagement (1987) on the brutal methods of subjugation used by the SADF, but is only marginally less depressing in its content.
(Written by Keyan G Tomaselli and MSU Evaluators, 1990)