34-year-old Zola Maseko was born and grew up in exile. He studied in Swaziland, in Tanzania, and at the National Film and Television School in Beaconsfield, Great Britain. He was a member of Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), the armed branch of the ANC. « A film is a war and war is a film », he writes, by way of a profession of faith, in the presentation of his company, Dola Bill Productions.
« I haven’t worked since I returned from exile in 1994. I put forward screenplays, but the local industry has not given me any work. The company that asked me to direct the series In Search of Our Roots for national television, a twelve-episode series that looks at the country’s twelve different ethnic groups, was an independent production company. South Africa has problems that are unique in their kind. Something really rotten, that are a result of history. At any rate, it’s the only country I know where the national television company broadcasts 90% foreign images instead of fulfilling its mission of celebrating the country’s culture. The South African Broadcasting Company (SABC) spends half a billion rand a year buying second-rate Western productions.
It plans to reach a 50% national, 50% foreign production ratio in ten years. In ten years! It’s crazy! The situation is so bad that a group of producers is currently considering referring the question to the Constitutional Court to force the SABC to face its responsibilities. Certain projects approved in 1997 have still not effectively been produced I myself have been left high and dry with two series projects. One of them, called Sophiatown Short Stories, proposed six episodes on life in this multiracial district of Johannesburg in the Forties.
I’ve ended up deciding to forget the SABC. The British production company, Nova Films, will finance my first feature film. Mister Drum tells the story of Henry Nxumalo, one of the greatest investigative journalists of the Fifties, the Drum magazine era. I showed it to the black journalist Zwelakhe Sisulu, who is a director of the country’s biggest black company, New Africa Investments Ltd (Nail). He wasn’t interested. He gave the dossier to the American he nominated at the head of his group’s cinema division. She chucked it straight out
If you’re black, you need foreign backing to make films in South Africa. That’s how I made The Foreigner in 1997, a short film financed by the Franco-German channel ARTE, and The Life and Times of Sara Baartman, The Hottentot Venus in 1998, financed by French television (France 3). This year, I finished shooting a new documentary, Children of the Revolution, which, at an interval of 10 years, follows six people who participated in the anti-apartheid struggle and who have returned from exile. Our new National Film and Video Foundation gave me 10 000 rand, which enabled me to shoot. I will go to look for the remaining 200 000 rand necessary for the post-production by showing the rushes abroad.
All the films about us, the black South Africans, are made by whites. Never by us. Now that we have the means to tell our own stories, no one is interested. My frustration no doubt shows how little things have changed. The majority of films produced by the new South Africa are white. Why? Because black people have no access to the means of production, which are still in the hands of the white minority.
Today, we are only free in appearance. We are still fighting for the right to represent ourselves. I’m not saying that culture is more important than housing, water, electricity, school I’m saying that culture is a very important aspect of a nation. What do we black South Africans have? Nothing! All we have is our culture, our history. That’s where our wealth lies.
Besides, South Africa is not a poor country. However, we only spend 0.08% of our GNP on film 10 million rand this year for the whole country, whereas the budget for my feature film totals at 21 million rand I don’t know why the government hasn’t done more. Doesn’t it care? We fought all those years, in exile and at home, for the Freedom Charter. People died and were tortured for the Freedom Charter. In that text, which was adopted in 1955, it was all very clearly written. In it was a vision of the country we wanted it to be. It said, in particular, « the gateways to knowledge and culture must be opened ». All that has gone unheeded, apart from the right to vote. If someone had told me to go and fight for the right to vote, I would have said: fuck off! We fought; we were killed and tortured for the Freedom Charter. Now it’s each for his own. »
///Article N° : 5526