There are certain instances whereby in analysing a visual art object one can simply commit a mistake by pitting that work against other artworks which, by some law of which one need not have to adhere to, seem to belong to the same category or genre. Such a viewing or a reading is problematic in that it delimits our independent viewing from making discoveries which can only be unearthed if that work was to be looked at in its own glory isolated from the accompaniment of other works which, if we are imbibed with an open mind, might even be proved to be inferior to it.
Such is the mistake committed by those of us who have the privilege to interact with the visual art object – looking at artworks comparatively and forgetting to acknowledge their most vital feature – autonomy. Joy is lost. Shall we not, prior to our conclusion of a viewing, let go of what is comfortable in the artist in question oeuvre and delve deeper into the unknown so as to reacquaint ourselves with the artist once more? For to claim that we know the work of an artist is the same as stating that that artist has sold out and is devoid of new ideas.
Fall of the Tomb, Pule Diphare’s documentary work in progress is on its own par. This ten year old work is incomparable to any documentary work to have come out of our country tackling issues of space ownership and rights to assert control over the form of state symbols: 1grounds of contests. These contests in this film center on our capital city. Diphare takes us to the heart of 2Pretoria – a contested ground par excellence, an environment which in the last ten years has been marked by a drastic change in the demographics of its sojourners – the proletarians, the hawkers, tsotsis and civil society and of course lately – the drastic influx of foreign nationals. As a nucleus of the film center point the colossal JG Strijdom head is revisited in its former glory at the heart of Pretoria wherein it is nestled by Sammy Marks Square, The South African State Theatre and the Absa Bank Building.
At the accompaniment of Bobo, a friend of his, Diphare shoves his feet in the role of a co-protagonist and embarks on casting questions to Pretorians as to whether memorabilia such as the head of 3JG Strijdom, now that things have changed, should be left alone as part of our history or should be destroyed to make way for the symbols of the new regime. Thus a backdrop is draped against issues of accepting change, made bare and interrogated.
Through the interviews the anger of older black generation surfaces through their remarks about the apartheid regime. This reminds us of the bitterness still felt which find a sense of relief in the change of state symbols such as buildings (as in the Transvaal Museum which is flashed briefly on the screen) and the erection of new one’s – as in the new sculpture of 4Chief Tshwane at the City Hall; which some of the interviewees both black and white have embraced. Paradoxically some of the young black South Africans interviewed, argue for a new attitude of acceptance and non destruction of symbols such as those of Strijdom to be deposited into museums where future generations will learn not to repeat the deeds of the apartheid regime than to obliterate them and blot out history and its lessons.
Perhaps without giving too much away in terms of our film, for the present article is not a thorough study of Diphare’s present work but a reflection of its most salient features, it is of noteworthy to point out that the work’s interviewee are not exclusively black but black and white. Thus the views given by those who share their opinion with Diphare as to the state of affairs of the City and our country in general speak from opposing positions. These positions are reversed now and then whereby we encounter black people who have embraced change and white people who are in opposition to it, as in the issue of the City’s name change to Tshwane. There is a scene whereby a white interviewee speaks about how, following ‘our subsequent liberation’, black people flooded into the city buying property and as a result the city has seen a drastic increase in terms of black people now living in and around the city. One can’t help but notice the displacement felt by the interviewee as uncertainty engulfs her due to the change in the City’s demographics.
Such is the tone that runs seamlessly throughout this work. What has democracy come to mean to us as South Africans – black and white? Although Fall of the Tomb does not give the answers to this question its various interviewees makes it clear to us what has happened over the past ten years in the public’s minds – young and old, in terms of change and our grappling with it though not lacking ambivalence as we go about it.
However one fact remains the contest of belonging must continue. To whom does South Africa belong? to whom does Pretoria belong? Fall of the Tomb reaffirms that it is only through a discursive grounds of contests that our flawed past can be grappled with mercilessly, looking at things as they were and are right now rather than wishing for a utopian version of our lives to meet us at our doorstep when we rise each morning.
This ten years exposition of our capital city and its symbolic meanings is reminding us of one important lesson, that change and grounds of contests as to who has the right to what are continuous engagements and should always be acknowledged in their true form.
© Mmutle Arthur Kgokong 2011
1. By grounds of contest I am referring to those social areas where one has to take a position, either in opposition or in agreement, in order to participate with the matter at hand with the objective of reaching a particular state of affairs or position.
2. I am deliberately using the name Pretoria here to evenly foreground the city as a ground of contest for identity and ownership.
3. The JG Strijdom colossal head collapsed taking part of the underground parking lot with it and was removed not restored
4. Tshwane is the name that has been proposed by the ruling party to replace that of Pretoria which is also a name by which the capital city of South Africa is known. This desire to change the name of the capital city has taken a debate that has seen opposition parties partitioning to the former name’s retention.