characters as a catalyst to the redeeming psychological development of the whites. The usual edifying white liberalguilt trip, in other words. No matter how sympathetic these films are to the justice of the black struggle. they still watch events with what Stuart Hall has called “the colonising eye'. To be fair to black director and co-writer Euzhan Palcy. she has widened the scope of A Dry White Season beyond that of Brink‘s original (which centres on the crisis of Ben Du Toit‘s Afrikaaner identity). to make the brutality inflicted on the Soweto protesters and the Ngubene family that bit more vivid. and to draw a genuinely positive black character in the shape of lakes Mokae‘s mercurial and courageous taxi driver Stanley.
During a conversation with Mokae at his London hotel. I was struck by how the sense of independence. of not being anyone else‘s man but his own. came across in person. He‘d grown up in the Johannesburg townships before joining playwright Athol Fugard‘s theatre group The Rehearsal Room and starring on Broadway in his famous productions of Boesman and Lena and Master Harold and The Boys. Iwanted to get from him some potentially ‘juicy‘ details of his experiences when growing up. but he refused to be drawn. ‘I spent a lot oftime running. man.‘ he said with a throwaway smile that meant I wasn‘t getting anything
more. ‘We all learnt to be good runners back then.‘ I smiled uneasily. realising that I was in some way patronising the hardship he has undoubtedly gone through. He was going to tell his story and the story of his brothers‘ struggle when he wanted to. and nobody else was going to do it for him.
In Hollywood terms. Palcy might be the first black woman to helm a big-budget picture. But the time is still probably far off before a black South African will be able to call upon such resources. Given the economic situation in South Africa, blacks are excluded from creating their own representations and
playing their part in the battleground 5
ofculture. An inter-racial production like Oliver Schmitz‘s seminal Mapantsula is a start, but it lacked the technical slickness and narrative nous to reach the same movie audience who might see A Dry White Season. For all its simplifications and problems of perspective that come when the entertainment industry calls the shots, the deeply-felt efforts of Paley, Sutherland, Brando and co powerfully fulfil the need to keep the issues alive until those at the heart of the troubles are able to speak for themselves.
A Dry White Season (15) opens at the Cannon Sauchiehall Street and the Cameo Cinema, Edinburgh on Friday 9.
A D R Y W H T E S E A S 0 N “ EXTRACT J!
lam Ben Du Toit. I’m here. There's no one else but mysell right here, today. So there must be something no one but me can do: not because it is ‘important' or ‘eitective', but because only I can do it. I have to do it because I happen to be Ben Du Toit; because no one else in the world is Ben Du Toit.
And so it is beside the point to ask: what will become at me? Or: how can I act against my own people?
Perhaps that is part at the very choice involved: the tact that I've always taken “my own people‘ so much tor granted that I now have to start thinking from scratch. It has never been a problem to me betore. ‘My own people' have always been around me and with me. On the hard larm where I grew up, in church on Sundays, at auctions, in school; on stations and in trains or in towns; in the slums ot Krugersdorp; in my suburb. People speaking my language, taking the name at my God on their lips, sharing my history. That history which Gie calls ‘the History at European Civilisation in South AIrica.‘ My people who have survived for three centuries and who have now taken control — and who are now threatened with extinction.
‘My people'. And then there were the ‘others’. The Jewish shopkeeper, the English chemist; those who Iound a natural habitat in the city. And the blacks. The boys who tended the sheep with me, and stole apricots with me, and scared the people at the huts with pumpkin ghosts, and who were punished with me, and yet were ditterent. We lived in a house, they in mud huts with rocks on the root. They took over our discarded clothes. They had to knock on the kitchen door. They laid ourtable, brought up ourchildren, emptied our chamber pots, called us ‘Baas' and ‘Miesies'. We looked after them and valued their services, and taught them the Gospel, and helped
But it remained a matter oI ‘us‘ and ‘them‘. It was a good and comfortable division; it was right that people shouldn't mix, that everyone should be allotted his own portion at land where he could act and live among his own. II it hadn’t been ordained explicitly in the Scriptures, then certainly it was implied by the variegated creation of an omniscient Father, and it didn‘t behove us to intertere with His handiwork or to try and improve on His ways by bringing forth impossible hybrids. That was the way it had always been.
But suddenly it is no longer adequate, it no longer works. Something has changed irrevocably. I stood on my knees beside the cottin of a friend. I spoke to a woman mourning in a kitchen the way my own mother might have mourned. I saw a father in search at his son the way I might have tried to tind my own. And that mourning and that search had been caused by ‘my people‘.
But who are ‘my people’ today? To whom do I owe my loyalty? There must be someone, something. Dr is one totally alone on that bare veld beside the name of a non-existent station?
The single memory that has been with me all day, inﬁnitely more real than the solid school buildings, is that
distant summerwhen Pa and I were left with the sheep. The drought that took everything Irom us, leaving us alone and scorched among the white skeletons.
What had happened betore that
, drought has never been particularly vivid or significant to me: that was _ where I Iirst discovered mysell and the
world. And it seems to me I'm Iinding mysell on the edge at yet another dry white season, perhaps worse than the
one I knew as a child.
What now? Extract Irom ‘A Dry White Season' by
them, knowing theirs was a hard life. l Andre Brink (Flamingo £3.99).
The List 9— 22 February 1990 9