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Political Funerals in South Africa: Photography, History, and the Refusal of Light (1960s–80s)

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Love and Revolution in the Twentieth-Century Colonial and Postcolonial World

Part of the book series: Palgrave Studies in the History of Social Movements ((PSHSM))

Abstract

In South Africa under apartheid, funerals opened up public spaces for mourning, denouncement, and formal spectacle. Precedents around political rituals of mourning became widely disseminated through growing photographic visibility from the early 1960s to the late 1980s, generating further protest and contributing to normative ways of seeing through a convergence of politics and affect. But not all photographic work could result in love and revolution. This chapter engages with the ethics of refusal as well as the rejects of anti-apartheid photography. In a country whose history of liberation is tied to iconic tropes of racialised suffering and redemption in a modernist narrative of the emergence of the nation, it also explores questions related to unseen archives and their affective futures.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Pierre Fédida, L’Absence (Paris: Gallimard, 1978). Cited in Georges Didi-Huberman, Uprisings (Paris: Gallimard, 2016), 290.

  2. 2.

    This research is based on interviews with South African photographers active in the 1980s, together with studies of photographic collections held at the Robben Island Museum (RIM)-University of the Western Cape (UWC)-Mayibuye Archive in Cape Town, the University of Cape Town and at the South African History Archive (SAHA) in Johannesburg. Research was supported by the Department of Science and Technology/National Research Foundation of the Republic of South Africa through the SARChI Chair in Visual History and Theory at UWC (Unique Grant 98911). The author thanks all photographers interviewed and those who gave permission to publish their work, especially Paul Grendon, Santu Mofokeng, Gille de Vlieg, Guy Tillim, Roger Meintjes, and Julian Cobbing. This work has benefitted from critical feedback at various conferences, especially from Elizabeth Edwards, Lucie Ryzova, Jennifer Tucker, Marianne Hirsch, Nicky Rousseau, and colleagues at UWC.

  3. 3.

    On the photographic construction of events, see Michel Frizot, “Who’s afraid of photons?” in Photography Theory, ed. James Elkins (New York: Routledge, 2007), 280. A similar point is made regarding photographs in the struggle for Civil Rights in the American south in the early 1960s. See Leigh Raiford, Imprisoned in the luminous glare. Photography and the African American freedom struggle (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2011), 75–79.

  4. 4.

    For a comprehensive overview of the impact and subsequent memorial interpretations of this photograph, see Ruth Kerkham Simbao, “The Thirtieth Anniversary of the Soweto Uprisings: Reading the Shadow in Sam Nzima’s Iconic Photograph of Hector Pieterson,” African Arts 40, no. 2 (Summer 2007): 52–69.

  5. 5.

    All photograph captions provided in this article are derived from archival or publication captions. Where the photographer is known, the name is provided.

  6. 6.

    Jürgen Schadeberg, The way I see it: a memoir (Johannesburg: Picador Africa, 2017), 324–5. An immigrant from Germany, Schadeberg was instrumental in building the photographic department at the popular Drum magazine. On photographs of the actual shootings at Sharpeville, see Darren Newbury, “Picturing an ‘ordinary atrocity’: the Sharpeville Massacre” in Picturing Atrocity: Photography in Crisis, ed. Geoffrey Batchen et al. (London: Reaktion, 2012), 209–223.

  7. 7.

    Sylviane Agacinski, Time Passing (New York: Columbia University Press, 2003), 81.

  8. 8.

    See David Scott, Omens of Adversity. Tragedy, Time, Memory, Justice (Durham NC: Duke University Press, 2014); also Cesare Casarino, “Time matters. Marx, Negri, Agamben, and the corporeal,” Strategies 16, no. 2 (2003): 185–206.

  9. 9.

    As is evident later in this chapter, I am also interested in how they do not.

  10. 10.

    M.V Mrwetyana, editorial on the funeral of Steve Biko in Isaziso (Umtata, late 1977), cited as Document 120, in From Protest to Challenge. A documentary history of African politics in South Africa, 1882–1990. Volume 5: Nadir and Resurgence, 1964–1979, ed. Thomas G. Karis and Gail M. Gerhart (Bloomington IN: Indiana University Press, 1997), 745–6.

  11. 11.

    See Jesse Bucher, “Arguing Biko: evidence of the body in the politics of history, 1977 to the present” (unpublished PhD dissertation, University of Minnesota, 2010), Chapter 5, citing “Biko on Death” in The New Republic, 7 January 1978.

  12. 12.

    Fédida, L’Absence, 75.

  13. 13.

    Garrey Dennie, “The standard of dying: race, indigence, and the disposal of the dead body in Johannesburg, 1886–1960,” African Studies 68, no. 3 (Dec. 2009): 310–330. Specifically, residents objected to distinctions between white and black paupers, where no priest was deemed necessary at burial, setting the deceased black pauper outside the matters of the spirit. See also Nicky Rousseau, “Identification, politics, disciplines: missing persons and colonial skeletons in South Africa,” in Human remains and identification: mass violence, genocide and the ‘forensic turn,’ ed. Elisabeth Anstett and Jean-Marc Dreyfus (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2015), 181.

  14. 14.

    Margaret Schwartz, Dead Matter. The meaning of iconic corpses (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2015), 16–24.

  15. 15.

    For an account of this image drawing South African students into activism, see Suren Pillay, “The partisan’s violence, law and apartheid: the assassination of Matthew Goniwe and the Cradock Four” (unpublished PhD dissertation, Columbia University, 2011), 7–8.

  16. 16.

    See Rousseau, “Identification.”

  17. 17.

    Interview Gille de Vlieg, Johannesburg, 24 April 2018.

  18. 18.

    Elias Canetti, Crowds and Power (London: Phoenix, 2000), transl. Carol Stewart. Cited in Didi-Huberman, Uprisings, 324.

  19. 19.

    See Patricia Hayes, “The Form of the Norm: shades of gender in South African photography of the 1980s,” Social Dynamics 37, no. 2 (June 2011): 263–277; idem, “Unity & struggle,” in The Rise & Fall of Apartheid. The Bureaucracy of Everyday Life in South Africa, ed. Okwui Enwezor & Rory Bester (New York: International Center of Photography, 2012). The late Peter McKenzie explicitly stated that he became a photographer as a direct result of seeing Sam Nzima’s photograph of Hector Pieterson in 1976. Interview with Peter McKenzie by Patricia Hayes and Farzanah Badsha, Johannesburg, 28 July 2003.

  20. 20.

    See Hayes, “Unity and Struggle.” For a similar scenario of photographers joined in commitment to American civil rights movements, but harbouring different individual ambitions and desires, see Raiford, Imprisoned, 106–113.

  21. 21.

    Interview with Gideon Mendel by Patricia Hayes, London, 23 July 2002.

  22. 22.

    Rousseau, “Identification.”

  23. 23.

    Interview with Gideon Mendel by Patricia Hayes, London, 23 July 2002.

  24. 24.

    The late George Hallett engaged in developing and printing Lombard’s unprocessed films, and various other archival initiatives are underway.

  25. 25.

    Hayes, “Unity & struggle.”

  26. 26.

    See, e.g., Svea Valeska Josephy, “The development of a critical practice in post-Apartheid South African photography” (unpublished MA thesis in Fine Art, University of Stellenbosch, 2001).

  27. 27.

    Patricia Hayes, “Photographic Publics and Photographic Desires in 1980s South Africa,” Photographies, citing Didi-Huberman, Uprisings, 292.

  28. 28.

    By unseeable, I refer to analogue photographic film that has not yet been developed to produce negative strips that are decipherable with a focusing magnifier and lightbox, let alone the next stage of positive prints visible to the naked eye.

  29. 29.

    Martin Parr, Boring Postcards (London: Phaidon, 2000); Ricardo Rangel, Foto-jornalismo ou Foto-Confusionismo (Maputo: Universidade Eduardo Mondlane Press, 2002).

  30. 30.

    François Laruelle, The Concept of Non-Photography (Falmouth: Urbanomic, 2011).

  31. 31.

    Shawn Michelle Smith, At the edge of sight. Photography and the unseen (Durham NC: Duke University Press, 2013), 2.

  32. 32.

    Michael S. Roth, “Photographic Ambivalence and Historical Consciousness,” History and Theory 48, no. 4 (December 2009): 83.

  33. 33.

    Frizot, “Who’s Afraid of Photons?,” 280.

  34. 34.

    Frizot, “Who’s Afraid of Photons?,” 281.

  35. 35.

    Jenny Robinson, “(Dis)locating historical narrative: writing, space and gender in South African social history,” South African Historical Journal 30 (May 1994): 144–57. Cited in Gary Minkley, Ciraj Rassool and Leslie Witz, “Oral History in South Africa. A country report,” in Unsettled History. Making South African Public Pasts, ed. Leslie Witz, Gary Minkley and Ciraj Rassool (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2017), 40–41.

  36. 36.

    Minkley et al., “Oral History,” 41.

  37. 37.

    Interview with Eric Miller, Cape Town, 5 August 2002. The term “liberation script” is from João Paolo Borges Coelho, “Politics and contemporary history in Mozambique: a set of epistemological notes,” Kronos 39 (2013): 20–31.

  38. 38.

    Gary Minkley and Ciraj Rassool, “Photography with a difference: Leon Levson’s camera studies and photographic exhibitions of native life in South Africa, 1947–50,” in Unsettled History, ed. Witz et al., 154. The authors also draw attention to the problematic way curators and historians have turned Levson into the “father of documentary photography” in South Africa.

  39. 39.

    Minkley et al., “Oral History,” 41.

  40. 40.

    Isabel Hofmeyr, ‘We spend our years as a tale that is told’: oral historical narrative in a South African chiefdom (Johannesburg: Wits University Press, 1994), 12. Cited in Minkley et al, “Oral History,” 43.

  41. 41.

    Frizot, “Who’s Afraid of Photons?,” 281.

  42. 42.

    Elizabeth Edwards, “Discussion 1” in Appendix, in Imaging the Arctic, ed. Jonathan C.H. King and Henrietta Lidchi (London: University of Washington Press, 1998), 233.

  43. 43.

    Minkley et al. argue that in its epistemological disengagement, social history has recourse to “a philosophical elsewhere, to a truth formed and received outside” of its own categories of thought. Minkley et al., “Oral History,” 41, citing Michel de Certeau, The Writing of History (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998), 57.

  44. 44.

    Nancy Luxon (ed.), Archives of Infamy (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2018), Kindle loc 104/iii.

  45. 45.

    Rousseau draws the more nuanced associations of the term from David Scott, Conscripts of Modernity: the Tragedy of Colonial Enlightenment (Durham NC: Duke University Press, 2004).

  46. 46.

    Rousseau, “Identification,” 182.

  47. 47.

    Ibid. See also Editors’ Note in Iris Tilman Hill and Alex Harris (eds.), Beyond the Barricades. Popular Resistance in South Africa (London: Kliptown Books with the cooperation of Afriapix and the Centre for Documentary Photographs, Cape Town, 1989), 72. Such restrictions applied from 1986 under the State of Emergency. The book states that authorised mourners limited to 200 persons were to be issued stamped permits, and police had to approve the date, time, and venue. Only ordained ministers were authorised to speak. For those who selected the photographs, Beyond the Barricades was conceived as a photo-essay going from “meeting to funeral” (interview with Omar Badsha by Patricia Hayes, Pretoria, 18 June 2003). However the book generally and the Editors’ Note only refer to ANC funerals; the number given for authorised mourners is elsewhere cited as 800.

  48. 48.

    Nomavenda Mathiane, “South Africa: The Diary of Troubled Times,” Frontline (December 1989): 21–3. Cited in Tom Lodge and Bill Nasson, All Here and Now: Black Politics in South Africa in the 1980s (Cape Town: David Philip, 1991), 279.

  49. 49.

    Mathiane, “Diary,” cited in Lodge and Nasson, All Here and Now, 281.

  50. 50.

    Ibid., 282.

  51. 51.

    Ibid., 280.

  52. 52.

    Ibid., 279.

  53. 53.

    See the cover photograph of a funeral parlour on fire in Koen Wessing, Momentopname Suid-Afrika. Flashes from South Africa (Amsterdam: Fragment Uitgeverij, 1993).

  54. 54.

    Peter Williams, “Belgravia High proud of its political contribution,” Cape Argus 6 Oct. 2016; Peter Williams and Premesh Lalu, “Honouring Belgravia High’s political legacy,” Cape Times, 28 Sept. 2016.

  55. 55.

    Minkley and Rassool, “Photography with a difference,” 154.

  56. 56.

    Todd Gitlin, The whole world is watching. Mass media in the making and unmaking of the New Left (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980), 1. Cited in Raiford, Imprisoned.

  57. 57.

    Frizot, “Who’s Afraid of Photons?,” 272.

  58. 58.

    Thanks to Penny Siopis and Jo Ractliffe for their critical insights here. See also the discussion on Barthes and shadow in Simbao, “Soweto Uprisings.”

  59. 59.

    Patricia Hayes, “Santu Mofokeng, Photographs. ‘The violence is in the knowing’,” History & Theory 48, no. 4 (December 2009), 42.

  60. 60.

    Laruelle, Concept, vii.

  61. 61.

    Ariella Azoulay, Civil Imagination. A political ontology of photography (London: Verso, 2012), 53.

  62. 62.

    This has been technologically assisted by the contemporary printing involved. Fine art printer Heath Simpson at Steidl printed tritone from the offsets of digital scans, then sought to find the right “colour”, warm or cold, in the attempt to access “what the photographs were trying to do”, Heath Simpson, personal communication, Kliptown, 10 May 2019.

  63. 63.

    Smith, At the edge of sight, 4.

  64. 64.

    Patricia Hayes, “Night, shadow, smoke, mist, blurring, occlusion and abeyance: Santu Mofokeng,” Art South Africa 8, no. 2 (2009): 66–71.

  65. 65.

    Hayes, “Santu Mofokeng,” 44.

  66. 66.

    Teresa Stoppani, “Dust revolutions. Dust, informe, architecture (notes for a reading of Dust in Bataille),” The Journal of Architecture 12, no. 4 (2007): 437.

  67. 67.

    Marianne Hirsch and Leo Spitzer, “Vulnerable lives: secrets, noise, dust,” Profession 1 (2011): 55.

  68. 68.

    Andrew Benjamin, Working with Walter Benjamin. Recovering a Political Philosophy (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2013), 213.

  69. 69.

    See Colin Bundy, The rise and fall of the South African peasantry (London: Heinemann, 1979). Mofokeng did extensive photography in parts of the former Orange Free State when employed at the Institute for Advanced Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand, as part of a historical research project on sharecropping.

  70. 70.

    See Marilyn Ivy, “Dark Enlightenment: Naito Masatoshi’s Flash,” in Photographies East, ed. Rosalind Morris (Durham NC: Duke University Press, 2009), 230.

  71. 71.

    See Thabiso Sekgala, “Second Transition,” in Transition, ed. François Hébel and John Fleetwood (Paris: Xavier Barral, 2013), 8–19.

  72. 72.

    Cited in Raiford, Imprisoned.

  73. 73.

    See Simbao, “Soweto Uprisings.”

  74. 74.

    Laruelle, Concept, 3.

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Hayes, P. (2021). Political Funerals in South Africa: Photography, History, and the Refusal of Light (1960s–80s). In: Arunima, G., Hayes, P., Lalu, P. (eds) Love and Revolution in the Twentieth-Century Colonial and Postcolonial World. Palgrave Studies in the History of Social Movements. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-79580-1_11

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