Human Rights in the AV Archive

20 Mar 2023 | By Andrea Walker
Two film reels, one labelled Crossroads Pre-Mix. Lindy Wilson collection
20 Mar 2023 | By Andrea Walker

This Human Rights Day, we’re highlighting the collections in the AV Archive that have a large human rights component. There are 44 collections in the AV Archive, almost entirely falling into six categories. BVF44 - Orphans, is the only collection that does not fall into a category. It is made up of those items that do not belong in a larger collection, or have been separated from their collection during the salvage. The six categories are amateur footage, community organisation footage, film festivals, professional filmmakers’ collections, news footage, and recordings from research projects.

The AV Archive has 44 collections covering a variety of subjects
The AV Archive has 44 collections covering a variety of subjects. Image © Andrea Walker

Unsurprisingly, the category with the most human rights material is the news footage. The five collections in this category are: BVF01—ARD, BVF08—Tony Bensusan, BVF16—Tony Weaver & Liz Fish, BVF18—Simon Bright, and BVF27—Clifford Bestall. ARD is the largest collection in the AV Archive, with over 7000 items. ARD is a German broadcaster, and the collection includes footage from across southern Africa. The footage is chiefly from the 1980s and 1990s, but includes earlier and later material. There is a lot of struggle footage in this collection.

Mandela giving a speech on receiving the Nobel Peace Price. ARD collection
 Mandela giving a speech on receiving the Nobel Peace Price. Image © ARD

Not all of the footage in these collections was shown on the news. During the AV Digitisation Project, the AV team worked closely with the VRTV staff. Abdul Kareem Latief, the digitisation specialist, saw footage that contradicted what he remembered seeing on the news. He told us repeatedly that the footage he saw during the project altered his perspective on events he lived through.

VRTV’s Abdul Kareem Latief cleaning tapes prior to digitisation
VRTV’s Abdul Kareem Latief cleaning tapes prior to digitisation.

Kareem worked with footage that showed Eugene Terreblanche, known for fighting for white supremacy, working with Mangosuthu Buthelezi in the late 1980s. “For me, it just doesn’t make sense,” he says of footage of PW Botha. “The stuff that we saw in Parliament on television, where he has his famous speeches of white domination. He was speaking one thing, and then when he enters Parliament there’s a different scenario. All these people are lined up there, and he takes off his cap in respect.” Who were the people lined up to greet him when he arrived at Parliament? African, Coloured, and Indian army officials.

Software digitising news footage of FW de Klerk speech surrounded by political party members and public
Digitising news footage. Image © ARD

The professional filmmakers category consists of eleven collections, and is the largest category. These are: BVF02—DOXA, BVF04—Lindy Wilson, BVF05—Ingrid Gavshon, BVF10—Stephen Schmidt, BVF15—Liza Key, BVF20—Mark Kaplan, BVF22—Donald Swanson, BVF23—Derek Lamport, BVF28—Peter Davis, BVF37—George Michael (not the musician), and BVF38—Trevor Steele Taylor. As you might expect, some of these also contain human rights material.

Two cameramen accosted and arrested on street by riot police for media coverage of unrest in 1987. DOXA collection
Cameraman Craig Matthews, depositor of the DOXA collection, and his soundman who were filming anti apartheid protests in Cape Town in 1987 are accosted and arrested by sjambok wielding riot police with orders to prevent media coverage of the unrest. Image © Louise Gubb

The DOXA collection also contains a fair amount of news footage from the 1980s and 1990s. Obtaining this footage was not always easysometimes filming protests and other events meant that the police turned their attention to you, as happened to filmmaker Craig Matthew from DOXA during the 1980s. Lindy Wilson made a number of documentary films, many of which focused on human rights themes, such as Crossroads, The Gugulethu Seven, and Last Supper in Horstley Street.

Two film reels, one labelled Crossroads Pre-Mix. Lindy Wilson collection
One of the film reels from the Lindy Wilson collection. Image © Andrea Walker

The nine collections emanating from community organisations are BVF03CVET (the Community Video Education Trust), BVF17CMT (Community Media Trust), BVF24UCT Summer School Lectures, BVF25SACHED (South African Council for Higher Education), BVF26CAP (the Community Arts Project), BVF30Black Sash, BVF40Rhodesian Information Service, BVF42SADOC (or possibly SACOD? Anyone with any information about this organisation is encouraged to get in touch as all our AV-related records were lost in the fire), and BVF43UCT Films. As can be seen from the organisation names, much of this category relates to education. We also have significant footage related to the Black Sash, outlining their role in the struggle for human rights; this collection is linked to our many other Black Sash collections, which are mostly made up of manuscript material.

The Community Media Trust (CMT) Collection houses the Treatment Action Campaign’s (TAC) footage. The struggles portrayed here interpret human rights as the right to affordable health care; this collection showcases TAC’s fight for access to proper care and treatment for those with HIV/AIDS. You can find an online showcase of digitised material from this collection on their Ibali page.

Protestors laying down outside Parliament. Community Media Trust
Protestors outside Parliament. Image © CMT

There is also human rights material in the Orphans. Many of the orphans will be returned to their proper collections once the entire audit is completed. It will then be clear which collections are missing material and we can get in touch with the donors and depositors to identify orphaned material. Unfortunately, some of the material may be permanently orphaned.

Blue video cassettes containing Truth and Reconciliation recordings. Orphan collection
Truth and Reconciliation recordings. These are currently part of the Orphan collection, as they were separated from their collection during the salvage and a number of the collections contain footage from the TRC. Image © Andrea Walker

There is also human rights material amongst the research projects. BVF41ǂKhomani San/Hugh Brody is primarily a linguistic collection, but records the landmark land claim lawsuit that granted the San access to land in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park they were dispossessed from in the 1930s. There will be a showcase of material from this collection on Ibali, but the fire halted our work on the collection. BVF45SABPMP, the South African Banned Persons Memory Project is a new collection that has been accessioned since the fire. This collection contains interviews conducted by Emeritus Professor Paula Ensor, with people who were banned under apartheid.

Khomani San women stand under tree, Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.
ǂKhomani San women in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. Image: © ǂKhomani San/Hugh Brody

These are just a few examples of how our collections relate to human rights in South Africa. As the recovery continues, these and our other collections will become available to researchers.

Human Rights in the AV Archive poster
This article was originally published on the Memory@UCT blog on 17 March 2023 by Andrea Walker. Human Rights in the AV Archive