concerning skin (The Movie) and gender

January 25, 2010

I’m busy reading Knowledge in the Blood, and Jansen’s exploration of the knowledge of the post-Apartheid Afrikaner children had me thinking at one point that we really need more popular arts to help in the remembrance and and memories of Apartheid. Maybe it was Invictus that also got me thinking. I didn’t really follow the conversation about Skin until I went to watch it, but this exactly the kind of films that we need.

It tells the story of a girl, Sandra Laing, born of white parents, but of polygenic inheritance; meaning that there was black blood in their line, and although it didn’t show in her parents, it reappeared with her. She was a nobody. Officially white, but the older the got, the more she appeared coloured. Times Online has a good article on her story.

The film depicts the complexities of Afrikaner people trying to make sense of the laws which at times simply doesn’t work. It beautifully show how kids were indoctrinated at school, and the culture that taught white kids that only white people require respect. And it shows how powerful political voices can ruin the life of children. It also points out how some Afrikaner people started realizing that they were wrong, in this case the official that was responsible for Sandra’s reclassification from white to coloured.

The school from which Sandra got expelled was Piet Retief primary. The school that I attended as a child. A place that I really loved. The town that rejected her, was my beloved hometown, Piet Retief. The church that didn’t stand up for the voiceless, was the congregation that formed my faith maybe more than any other. Suddenly the perpetrators of Apartheid is no longer people by the names of Botha, Vlok, Malan. But a headmaster from this small school. That not only did what he had to do, but took the initiative to get rid of this kid with her dark skin. I know people who was living in this town at that time, I know a number of people who had to be kids in this school at the time this happened. These people were our friends, people I looked up to, and still look up to. This reality have me want to take the Klopjag route, simply trying to forget that Apartheid ever happened, because the reality of how my own people participated, is just to grave. This is the stories that we would need to work through if we are to develop healthy post-Apartheid cultures.

One thing that I believe the film beautifully portrays, and that I haven’t read anywhere, is the role of gender. Apartheid is a white-man’s system, and the battles are between white men and black men. The woman seem to find ways of overcoming their differences, even in these difficult circumstances, which men find impossible. Sandra and her mother can work on their relationship after she ran away with Petrus, but her father cannot accept this, and rejects his daughter. When the struggle gets bad in the 80’s Petrus continues to blame Sandra, even though she has totally become part of the black culture. But Petrus’ mother, a gogo to Sandra, can keep the relationship open. All over the story woman find ways of building relationships much more effectively than men. Even in the way Sandra two children react to the situation. The importance of woman’s voices in reconciliation is still underestimated! And the importance of woman’s voices in politics, economics and society, to help us in preventing similar atrocities, is still under-appreciated.

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3 Responses to “concerning skin (The Movie) and gender”

  1. angstycrayon Says:

    “The importance of woman’s voices in reconciliation is still underestimated! And the importance of woman’s voices in politics, economics and society, to help us in preventing similar atrocities, is still under-appreciated.”

    I’m calling bullshit on that comment.

  2. Steve Says:

    Powerful stuff, Cobus.

    I haven’t seen the film, but I’ve read several reviews apart from yours. And a few days ago watched a genealogy programme about a guy researching his family history in the West Indies, and found, to his horror, that some of his ancestors were slaves, and some were slave owners.

    The thing I found most horrifying, however, was that one of his ancestors was a slave overseer, and had a child, born in slavery, by a mother who was a slave. And he was paid a bounty by the government for breeding slave children. I know it has been common in history, but it brought home to me the horror of parents selling their own children into slavery.

    And then, reading about the Sandra Laing story, there was her own brother, who apparently even to this day does not recognise her or want to see her.

    We all know that apartheid broke up families and destroyed family life, but that the demon still has not been exorcised 15 years later shows that we are still living with the aftereffects of apartheid, and will do so for a long time to come, even to the third and fourth generation.


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