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Welcome to Mitchell’s Plain

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Ludmila Ommundsen Pessoa

Chapter 1

Mitchell’s Plain and the Branding of Apartheid

Texte intégral

The Birth of a New “Model” Housing Development for the Coloureds: Mitchell’s Plain

  • 15 “The stress on the discontinuity between the segregation era and apartheid is part of South African (...)
  • 16 Racial classification was a process as heterogeneous as the officials undertaking them, with much s (...)
  • 17 Details are compiled in Horrell (1950, 26). The Group Areas Act was regularly amended and re-enacte (...)
  • 18 The Prevention of Illegal Squatting Act, No. 52 of 1951, was subsequently amended in 1952, 1976, 19 (...)

1When the National Party came to power in 1948 in South Africa, the State undertook a marked escalation to control the movements and space of Whites, Africans, Coloureds, and Indians, legally reinforcing the racist segregation that predated the ascension of the Afrikaner nationalist alliance.15 The newly-elected government created a legal framework compelling South Africans to register as members of the officially designated race groups in the Population Registration Act of 1950.16 Race groups were subsequently forced to reside in specified areas under the Group Areas Act of 1950.17 This Act imposed property rights regulations and impacted interracial property transactions and property occupation. The Prevention of Illegal Squatting Act of 1951 introduced another form of control, targeting predominantly Black informal settlements.18 Up to the early 1980s, more than 3.5 million people were displaced to satisfy the geographical ideal envisaged by the ruling National Party.

2The Population Registration Act defined the Coloured group in a doubly negative manner as it included any person who was neither a member of the White group nor a member of the Black African group. The group was further subdivided into “Cape Malay,” “other coloureds,” and Khoisan. The Coloured population originated from the miscegenation among seventeenth-century White Dutch colonists (The Dutch East India Company arrived and established a colony in the Cape in 1652), their slaves from Madagascar and East Indies, and the autochthonous Khoisan peoples (also referred to as Hottentots and Bushmen). As a result, the Cape region was—and still is—predominantly Coloured: in Cape Town, “to a far greater extent than any other in South Africa, there was and is a continuum of pigmentation or ‘race,’ like Brazil’s, with no unambiguous break between White and Black” (Western 1981, 36). This singularity came under strain during the industrialisation of the country:

“[D]uring the slave owning period Whites did not need to underscore their evidently superior social rank with spatial segregation. Even after the emancipation of the slaves, when the Coloureds became servants […] the British colonial government perceived no need to provide any legal means of segregation in Cape Town, for Whites clearly dominated the subordinate Coloureds in all respects. […] However, with industrialization comes the possibility—although not the inevitability—that the demand for manual labor will not be based primarily on color, as it was on the agrarian slave-owning Cape. There is a potential for an equalization in status between White and Coloured as they become part of a single working class, that is, a potential for ‘blurred social distinctions.’ One of the ways in which this potential blurring can be countered in by the witting imposition of a more formal ‘territoriality,’ that is, by the deliberate policy of spatial segregation as exemplified by the group areas conception.” (Western 1981, 62–3)

3Before the Group Areas Act, Black African segregation constituted the primary concern. Legislation had been passed (e.g. Native Urban Acts of 1923, 1930, and 1937) to move them to the peripheries of cities. Western argues that when Black Africans were moved, it was not “under the provisions of the Group Areas Act itself, although they were being moved to fit a group areas ideal.” As the Act did not target Whites directly, he sustains that,

“It was aimed at those ‘in the middle’: the Coloureds and the Indians. By 1950 the Indians’ freedom to purchase any property in any area from a person of any race was already circumscribed; but for the 90% of all the Coloureds who lived in the Cape Province in 1950, the act was the first legal restraint placed upon their property rights, their first experience of de jure disqualification.” (Western 1981, 73)

  • 19 Gavan Grant Maasdorp and Pillay Nessen, Urban Relocation and Racial Segregation: the Case of Indian (...)

4The act would not fail to affect their voting rights because of its radical impact on Coloured housing and property ownership. As evinced by the White Paper on the Group Areas Bill, the strongest reason for the act was “to give members of the Native and Coloured groups an opportunity under proper guidance to assume responsibility for their own local government” (Maasdorp and Pillay 1977, 92).19 In Cape Town, the first Group Areas Act proclamation was issued in 1957. Among the zones proclaimed white was the Table Mountain area, which covered a large territory where three locations, in particular, had a concentrated number of disqualified families: the Leeuwenhof Road area of Gardens, Newlands and the Tramway Road area of Sea Point. The latter constituted one of the largest groups of disqualified people: 55 Coloured families and 7 Indian families, many of whom had lived in the area for most of their lives. They were among the first large stable communities to be displaced: “In 1959 when the Tramway Road residents were faced with removal, the state had just begun to acknowledge that the provision of housing for Coloureds and Indians with all its financial implications needed serious attention” (Mesthrie 1994, 73).

  • 20 Cape Times, 27 May 1955; quoted in ibid., 18.

5Most areas were not zoned until 1961. In 1950, the City Council objected to the introduction of the Group Areas Act, refusing to supply the state with detailed survey data on racial patterns of occupation and ownership (Western 1981, 121–2). When the City Council adopted a proposal for a housing survey of Cape Town in May 1955, one councillor, who voted against it, was reported by the Cape Times as saying, “I would like to know what is behind this. It seems to me to be another move toward the implementation of the Group Areas Act.”20 The Council was reluctant to cooperate with the Group Areas Board since they were elected from a voters’ roll that included the Coloureds. The Council’s resistance developed initially on the grounds that preference should be given to destitute families and not to families who were adequately housed but then living in the wrong group area:

“It may reasonably be assumed […] that the majority of Coloured people at present living in proclaimed white areas are housed in satisfactory conditions and therefore not among the 12,000 households living in overcrowded conditions. If, therefore, preference were given to the rehousing of these ‘disqualified’ families, the Council’s normal housing programme would be further retarded.” (Cape Times, 29 July 1959; quoted in Younge 1982, 19)

  • 21 Western (1981, 120–34) discusses the arguments and details of such resistance.
  • 22 “Cape Flats: Preliminary Statement of the Provisional Joint Town Planning Scheme: Outline Developme (...)

6In 1964, the Council also voted that the central city area and District Six should not be zoned for any particular group; the Cape Town Chamber of Commerce supported the decision (Horrell 1965, 212–3). The resistance21 was short-lived, first assuaged by the assurance given by the Central government to provide funds to house the disqualified Coloured families living in overcrowded conditions, then undermined by the amended and more elaborate subsequent acts. District Six was eventually reclassified as a White area in 1966; its Coloured, Indian and African residents had to be forcefully removed and relocated to the Cape Flats. The preliminary statement of the Joint Town Planning Committee on the Development of the Cape Flats in 1967 outlined that the first goal of the proposed scheme was “to develop on the Cape Flats an autonomous Coloured City within the Metropolitan area.”22 By 1972, City Engineer Morris reported that “the Minister of Community Development announced that 33,918 Coloured people (about 5,640 families), 1,494 Indians, 144 Africans and 424 Whites were still living in District Six. 9,936 Coloured people and 30 Indians had been moved” (Morris 1972, 1). The Coloureds who moved early acquired a standard of housing superior to their District Six accommodation in that their new houses were clean, had full facilities, small plots of land and modern conveniences. However, “they remained poor, and now they had to spend more money on commuting to work, as well as the often higher prices that shops and services with monopolies in the townships could charge. […] [P]eople were now living far away from kin and neighbours with whom they had built up long-term networks of support and cooperation. Now they were isolated in their poverty, made to feel it much more, and despair” (Watson 2007, 469). In her book of memories, Hettie Adams, who spent her childhood in District Six and moved out to Mitchell’s Plain with her parents, recalls how her extended family was relocated to no fewer than five different townships (Adams and Suttner 1988, 55–6).

  • 23 The figures are the following (South African 1970 boundaries): Total: 21,794,000; African: 15,340,0 (...)
  • 24 “At the national conference on ‘Education for Progress, with Special Reference to the Needs of the (...)
  • 25 “Broader Horizon – a Report on Cape Town’s Land Requirement,” dated 30th September 1965. Quoted and (...)

7In 1970, the South African Census established that while the Coloured group comprised 9.4% and the White 17.3% of the total population (21,794 million),23 more than 50% of all Coloureds resided in the South Western Cape area. At the time, Professor Cilliers, head of the Department of Economics at Stellenbosch University, later appointed ad hoc consultant on the Mitchell’s Plain project, claimed that “at least one-third of the Coloured people in urban areas of the Western Cape were either not housed at all, or were living in non-permanent or sub-standard housing.” He stressed that “between two-thirds or three-quarters of all those in the region lived in overcrowded conditions. In the Greater Cape Town area, 43 000 families were in need of housing.” The alarming assessment prompted the Minister of Planning Carel de Wet to reply. He confirmed that “new housing schemes were to be developed on Mitchell’s Plain, between the existing Coloured areas on the Cape Flats and Strandfontein Beach.”24 If the conception of Mitchell’s Plain as a physical entity started in 1965, the green light by the Department for Planning was given in 1971 only. The need for a massive housing program for Coloured families under the racist legislation necessitated new studies. These indicated that the only remaining significant piece of land was the 3,100 hectares of the property known as Mitchell’s Plain, which the Department of Planning had advertised its intention to keep for White occupation in 1966 (Brand 1980a, 1). This discrepancy caused a delay in implementing City Engineer Morris’s proposals compiled in his 1965 “Broader Horizon” report.25

  • 26 Republic of South Africa (1981, 8).

8In 1972, City Engineer Morris pointed out that “the early selection of a suitable name for the town [was] extremely desirable” (Morris 1972, 27). The development project, “equal in magnitude to many of the new towns of Britain and Europe,” representing “a major extension of the far eastern boundary of the City of Cape Town, it [was] recommended that the name Goeie Hoop should be adopted for the town as a whole” (ibid.). The new town inherited the name of the 1,540 hectares property set aside for the Coloureds, a name somehow associated with Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Collier (Cornwallis) Michell, first surveyor-general of the Cape of Good Hope.26 The recommendation highlighted in Morris’s report was not implemented. Was it an oversight? Sociologists, historians and geographers have long recognised the importance of place naming. Place names do not simply celebrate historically famous people, events or geographic features. They are symbols reflecting and embodying ideologies. The name Mitchell’s Plain was not changed; an old geography of memory and history could not be ignored or forgotten. By keeping the name Mitchell’s Plain the avant-gardist town would paradoxically continue to remember and memorialise a White-controlled and White-dominated conception of the past.

  • 27 In March 1973, the government under Prime Minister Vorster appointed the Commission of Inquiry into (...)
  • 28 “The Commission recommended drastic and widespread policy measures to eradicate chronic community p (...)

9In 1973, the Theron Commission, which included some Coloured members, was appointed to carry out an inquiry into “matters relating to the Coloured population group” (Theron 1976, 465).27 The Commissioners distinguished three groups: an established middle-class constituting perhaps 20% of the population; a middle group of perhaps 40% between the middle class and the chronically poor; and a bottom stratum of perhaps 40% perceived as trapped in a subculture of chronic and institutionalised community poverty28:

  • 29 In March 1973 the government under Prime Minister Vorster appointed the Commission of Inquiry into (...)

“What is of fundamental importance is for the pattern of socio-economic stratification, which is today still so closely bound up with the contours of ethnicity and/or colour, to undergo a drastic change. Opportunities for economic progress must be more equitably distributed and the living conditions of the underprivileged Brown people must be drastically improved as regards housing, schools, public amenities and job opportunities. Vertical stratification will gradually have to yield to horizontal stratification. Only in this way can socio-economic tensions be prevented from erupting into militant ethnic and/or colour conflict.” (Theron 1976, 465.29)

10Was the drastic improvement advocated by the Theron Commission considered, especially concerning Mitchell’s Plain? The City Council consisted of six departments (i.e., City Engineer, City Electrical Engineer, City Administrator, City Treasurer, Medical Officer of Health and the Personnel Office). The City Engineer was the biggest—it was built up by Solly Morris into an empire within the City Council and continued in this vein by Jan Brand up to his retirement in 1986 (Cameron 1988, 51). The notoriously bad relationship between the City Council and the Department of Planning came from two approaches to the project. Whereas the latter supported the idea of home ownership, the former wanted to solve Cape Town’s housing shortage in a financially meaningful way:

“Although then city engineer Solly Morris’s 1972 (Good Hope: A First Report on the Development of Mitchell’s Plain) bravely announced the project would ‘not be merely another housing scheme; what is contemplated is an entirely new and up-to-date town complex with all the essential facilities,’ what the Council was in fact planning was its biggest housing scheme yet, financially tailor-made for the poorest member of the population.” (Financial Mail Special Report 1978)

  • 30 The institutional, social, and physical design forces that shaped the ideology of Clarence A. Perry (...)

11The advent of the apartheid government in 1948 and the implementation of the 1950 Group Areas Act led to township building. The townships combined the designs of the garden city (a self-contained community surrounded by a greenbelt and composed of harmonious areas of residences, industry and agriculture) and the neighbourhood unit (a physically defined unit with schools, churches, and recreational areas at its centre).30 These townships evinced three distinctive features:

“Firstly, their location on the periphery of the city spatially asserted white supremacy over the city centre. Secondly, townships were often bounded by large swaths of open land, or buffer strips, so that they were cordoned off from other nearby suburbs and readily available for stationing armed forces in times of unrest. Thirdly, by planning only one main road entrance and a maze of interlinking roads within, townships were designed to more or less trap their residents and force them to develop a racially defined sense of community.” (Jethro 2009, 23)

12Residential segregation already existed before apartheid and progressed in a rather haphazard fashion. In Cape Town,

“[R]esidential segregation was increasing. The ever-growing urban Coloured population had filled their older working-class tracts and pockets until they were bursting at the seams. Such penetration as occurred could not accommodate this population pressure, and areas of Coloured housing to jump surrounding White tracts. New Coloured housing grew beyond any intervening White areas, towards the Cape Flats as at Athlone/Crawford […]. The ‘voluntary’ expansion of the urban Nonwhite population into de facto segregated areas like Belgravia and Gleemoor in Athlone was complemented by ‘involuntary’ segregation in the sense that municipal housing estates for Coloured only were being established. Maitland Garden Village had been set up during the 1920s, and near Athlone a generation later came Bokmakierie, Silvertown, and the wide, windswept wastes of Kew Town.” (Western 1981, 55)

13The concept of the garden city was not an innovation. It had already influenced the building of dual-class-designed and race-based model housing schemes in the previous decades:

“Attempts have also been made in the twentieth century to provide class-differentiated housing for a section of the African community. Urban policy makers and planners have tried, in some cities during the course of this century, to establish ‘superior’ housing areas for the aspirant black middle class. In Cape Town, Langa was established during the 1920s as a ‘respectable’ township and it was still the most middle class of Cape Town’s African communities when Wilson and Mafeje produced their study in the early 1960s. In the 1930s Lamontville, to the south of Durban, was designed as ‘a model village,’ to be reserved for the ‘better type of native.’ At much the same time McNamee township in Port Elizabeth was being planned as ‘a garden village.’ In Soweto in the 1940s the Dube home ownership scheme was also geared towards the urban African middle class. This policy of class-differentiated housing was very much part of a white ‘liberal’ agenda that was gaining ground in the 1930s and 1940s […] Financial parsimony meant that the ideal of the ‘model’ or ‘garden’ village was never realised. Langa, Lamontville and McNamee were far from being quaint, green and picturesque. Moreover, when the National Party government came to power class-differentiated housing was abandoned in favour of another form of differentiation—ethnic zoning.” (Maylam 1995, 29–30)

  • 31 For details, see “Planning Study: Milton Keynes: New City for the South-East” (1969).

14City Engineer Brand bombastically presented Mitchell’s Plain as “possibly one of the most ambitious new town developments in the world” (Brand 1979, 24). It was a renewed attempt at the garden city in line with contemporary trends in Western countries. In fact, during the 1960s, the British government had decided to relieve housing congestion in London with new towns and thus revisited the garden city ideal. Milton Keynes was one of these, and its radical planning attracted much attention,31 notably “spacious development with good landscaping and a generous provision of open space” (Bendixson and Platt 1992, 72). Director of works Riley recorded that Mitchell’s Plain was unusual. The new development was grounded on a research that was “one of the first in its kind in South Africa,” based on “a model of a similar research in the United States of America and the United Kingdom,” and specifically conceived for the Coloured population of Cape Town—40,000 houses planned for 250,000 people (Riley 1980, 16). In City Engineer Brand’s words,

“A high standard of landscaping has been adopted not only in the public open spaces but in the road reserves (open street tree planting) and on the erven too. Every house is sold with grassing on all unpaved spaces on that part of the plot which is forward of the house itself. A nursery sales run by the City Engineer’s Department supplies householders with plants at cost and with free horticultural advice.” (Brand 1980a, 9)

  • 32 “Prior to 1974, the policy of the Cape Town City Council had been one of building houses and flats (...)
  • 33 The recommendation concludes with the following remark: “Account should, however, be taken of the f (...)
  • 34 He adds: “As the first suburb of Mitchells Plain [Westridge] would be for home ownership with a cer (...)
  • 35 Margaret Nash (1929–2011). “In 1960, Nash joined the Liberal Party of South Africa (LPSA). She was (...)
  • 36 Slayern M., “A ‘Plain’ Solution,” in “Housing in Cape Town” (unpublished), 75; quoted in Le Grange (...)

15A combination of ethnic zoning with class-differentiated housing characterised the new garden city project. Mitchell’s Plain was not primarily intended for the poorer Coloured families,32 and the first report by City Engineer Morris in 1972 makes it very clear: “It is highly recommended that the sub-economic content of Mitchell’s Plain should be as low as possible” (Morris 1972, 1).33 Thus, “it was decided that the first stage of development should not make provision for the full range of incomes which had been reflected in the surveys” (Mabin 1977, 16).34 Nevertheless, Margaret Nash (1979, 4), an officer of the South African Council of Churches (SACC) and a member of the Liberal Party,35 contended that 70% of the Coloured families who lacked adequate accommodation fell into the sub-economic group, i.e. earning less than R 160 per month. After ironising “the political pay-off of the more prestigious Mitchells Plain-type of mass-housing project,” she rebuked the Secretary of Community Development and the City Engineer: “Messrs Fouché and Brand assiduously propagate the view that most ‘coloured’ families are ‘not really poor.’ They like to believe that incomes are rising rapidly and that this trend can be expected to accelerate over the next few years” (Nash 1979, 10–1). According to Younge (1982, 27), the rationale for the State’s differential provision of economic and sub-economic housing was “to ensure the ‘co-operation’ of the upper, skilled and economic section of the Coloured population through better housing and lower rents for both political and economic reasons,” in an attempt “to exaggerate the internal stratification of the Coloured community.” Slayern (1987, 17) argues that the strategy behind the development of Mitchell’s Plain was one of social control and meant dividing the oppressed by granting concessions to some of them, essentially the petite bourgeoisie36—who strongly yearned for assimilationism:

“One of the essential features at the heart of coloured identity was assimilationism. This was less an impulse for acculturation than a striving for acknowledgement of the worth of coloured people as individuals and citizens, and inclusion within the dominant society on the principle that it was ‘culture’ and ‘civilisation’ rather than colour that mattered. Throughout the twentieth century, one of the strongest imperatives within the coloured community, especially the petty bourgeois elite, was the urge to gain this acceptance. […] Although disconcerted by each new discriminatory regulation and alarmed by the more Draconian developments, setbacks were usually rationalised as temporary reversals and acceptance into white middle-class society was often seen as something that coloured people still needed to earn and would only be attained after a struggle worthy of the prize.” (Adhikari 2006, 475–7)

16Mitchell’s Plain received extensive publicity at the local and national levels, with the “intensity of coverage in the daily press remain[ing] at a steady level since commencement of construction in 1974,” as acknowledged by City Engineer J.G. Brand (1980a, 15). The first families settled in the new town shortly after the official opening ceremony by Prime Minister John Vorster in March 1976. Mayor of Cape Town from 1996 to 1998, Theresa Solomon moved to Mitchell’s Plain with her husband at the end of 1975. She admits that “people were urged [to Mitchell’s Plain], besides those forcibly moved here, to come and live on the city by the sea. Westridge was the show area” (Ommundsen Pessoa and Le Roux 2012, 57).

17In the June 1977 issue of the Mitchells Plain News, produced in the City Engineer’s Department for use by the public relations officer for unofficial visitors and prospective inhabitants, the birth of the Coloured housing development is couched in the discourse of independence and the myth of the Founding families. Westridge is presented as an arcadia-in-the-making (“Westridge will be one of the most beautiful areas together with its natural landscape”). After a section devoted to “What’s happening,” the issue offers a nostalgic “look back” provided by the testimony of Diane Stevens dated 2 June 1976 (Mitchells Plain News 1977, 3). Entitled “My first month in Mitchells Plain,” it aims at kindling a new community spirit. The narrative cannot but conjure up the settler narrative, with the author immediately boasting the status of a founding member of the community—a way of claiming legitimacy and respectability. Credibility seems vital as “really” is repeated four times.

“A Look Back
My first month in Mitchells Plain
Being one of the twenty families to move into Mitchells Plain, I was quite thrilled, and it took me about a full week to really take in this beautiful environment, compared to where we stayed for 10 years.
Firstly, the house that we have now is spacious as we only had one room for a family of five.
Secondly, the peaceful evenings compared to the usual rowdiness we had on the estates, especially over weekends.
Thirdly, we have never had so many visitors as in this short a time. It is really unbelievable. People just flock in, and they are genuinely fascinated with our community.
Being a housewife, I have made time to get to know quite a few people, not only from my previous area, but strangers too. We have quite a few friendly people who really go all out to greet you or even smile. I feel that this is very homely, and it makes you feel like talking to a person. As we are all going to be here for a life-time, now is the time to get to know each other’s good and bad ways, so as to adjust ourselves. I have also discovered very helpful neighbours. As we have no car, my fortunate neighbours transport my husband and school-going children to and from, for which we are very thankful.
Already some of the residents have started to do some extra attractions to their homes, and you can see that Westridge will be one of the most beautiful areas together with its natural landscape. It is only up to us to keep it so. To all of us, it is the first time we own a house of our own, we know what we are faced with in our Council estates.
Here, we really have something for our children to grow up in. Also, there should be no discrimination in Westridge, no matter the type of hair you have, or the type of work you do, or religion—we are all on the same level,: Home-owners at Mitchells Plain. So let’s not look down on anybody in our area, let’s stay as friendly as we are, and where we can help our immediate neighbour, let’s do so.
With our Ratepayers Association being formed, we will be able to cope with our little difficulties—if everybody is prepared to take an active part, and not sit back. It is for your own benefit and that of your children.
I would like to end with a note to our children of Westridge. This is your community. Be proud of it. Look after it. Do not get tired of it. Remember, you’ve got a lot to be thankful for. If you did not have these wonderful parents who have and will sacrifice for you children, there would never have been a place like Mitchells Plain. Was it not for you, children, that we as parents moved here for your future.
Diana Stevens, 13 La Provence Way Westridge
2nd June 1976”

18Diana Stevens proposes a well-constructed account meant as a call for action. It starts with a rational comparison between her past and present and ends up with an emotional address to the children of Mitchell’s Plain. The rhetorical testimony evinces a new identity politics that obliquely reveals the reality of apartheid and its impact on people: Mitchell’s Plain’s residents are described as more house-centred with their lives characterised by “peaceful evenings,” “especially over week-ends.” The destabilising loss of old relations is further discernible when Diane Stevens encourages new residents “to know each other’s good and bad ways, so as to adjust ourselves.” Within this context, capital unites the community, connecting place and power (e.g. her “very helpful neighbours” are “fortunate neighbours”). The private property right is the new common denominator, and the material standard is the new identity marker: “There should be no discrimination in Westridge, no matter the type of hair you have, or the type of work you do, or religion—we are all on the same level: Home-owners at Mitchells Plain.” The passage is interesting for its ideological stance as it reassuringly relates home ownership with equality, stability and peace. Could it be categorically so when material acquisitions become the only criteria for a person’s worth and value? Diane points out that “some residents” are adding “extra attractions to their homes”—pride in the new neighbourhood or social competition cropping up? An acclaimed businesswoman in the financial service sector Venete Klein was 16 when she moved to Mitchell’s Plain with her parents. Her interview for the Mitchell’s Plain oral history project weighs in favour of the circumstantial formation of a united community of owners:

“We were one of the first families to move into Westridge. Settling in Mitchell’s Plain was challenging at first, because it was so different from the southern suburbs where I spent my early years growing up. I had to travel to Lansdowne every day until I finished my matric at Oaklands High. In no time at all, however, the neighbours bonded with each other to form a very tight-knit community. What we had in common was the fact that many ‘owned’ their first homes in Mitchell’s Plain. This created a bond so strong that, almost 40 years on, my mom, who now lives in Pretoria with us, is still in regular contact with most of the Mitchell’s Plain neighbours. They became a family to us.” (Ommundsen Pessoa and Le Roux 2012, 24)

  • 37 Mabin and Parnell (1984) examine the implications of home-ownership schemes for black working-class (...)

19Diana Stevens’s following sentences somehow amount to a wishful declaration of independence: “With our Ratepayers Association being formed, we will be able to cope with our little difficulties—if everybody is prepared to take an active part, and not sit back. It is for your own benefit and that of your children.” In 1979, the Director-General of the Information Service Engelbrecht reported that “the residents of Coloured residential areas [were] accepting more and more responsibility for the management of their areas to an ever-increasing degree” (Department of Information Report 1979b, 11). Diana Stevens’s statements seem to testify to the trend, if not try and reinforce it. Diana Stevens was the wife of Chris Stevens, the chairman of the Mitchell’s Plain Rate Payers’ Association, a chemical technician whose actions would be commented upon by Councillor Eulalia Scott, Housing Committee chairman at the City Council, to the Financial Mail reporter in 1978: “I feel for Mr Stevens, but I will fight him tooth and nail and in his own interest. Not even the most affluent white suburb’s rates are enough to pay for services; you need a fully developed commercial and industrial sector for that” (Financial Mail Special Report 1978, 32). The South African state’s housing policy was part of its grander scheme for separate development; encouraging home ownership was in line with the aim of creating autonomous local authorities for each racial group.37 According to Younge (1982, 27), the final step beyond the removal of the Coloured population to the segregated outskirts of the city—“away from strategic infrastructure and the city centre itself, the ‘traditional’ home of the working class in most industrial cities”—was “to restore the domestic property-based franchise in a segregated municipality on the Flats, which will inherit the responsibility for housing provision, for the shortage, as well as for rent collection, housing allocation, maintenance, eviction and squatter control.” Interestingly, Cameron (1988, 53) mentions an “informal chat” held in 1981 between the President’s Council and senior City Council officials about the constitutional future of local government, during which City Engineer Brand handed a copy of his report on metropolitanisation: “While not exactly recommending separate ‘coloured’ municipalities in areas like Athlone and Mitchell’s Plain, the report certainly regarded them as a fait accompli for planning purposes.”

20Diana Stevens’s final address is to the children—she would be busy setting up the first creche in Mitchell’s Plain in 1978. Diana, her husband and children, had been living in a one-bedroomed house in Heideveld, an older housing estate, described as “army camp conditions” (Financial Mail Special Report 1978, 32). In such circumstances, migration to Westridge could only be an opportunity for new beginnings (e.g. “If you did not have these wonderful parents who have and will sacrifice for you children, there would never have been a place like Mitchells Plain. Was it not for you, children, that we as parents moved here for your future”). The forced removals implemented by the Group Areas Act are not an explicit issue for apparent censorship reasons. Yet, one may wonder if the word “sacrifice” (e.g. parents “will sacrifice for you children”), i.e. submission to higher wisdom for a higher cause, does not subtly refer to the painful segregative law. The settling in Mitchell’s Plain is presented as a carefully considered decision based on a long-term desired change. It heralds the birth of a new civilisation as responsibility passes from the founders to the children (e.g. “This is your community. Be proud of it. Look after it. Do not get tired of it. Remember, you’ve got a lot to be thankful for”). The final page of the June 1977 issue of the Mitchells Plain News reinforces the founding myth: “At the time of going to press, there were some 1,120 pioneering families living in Mitchells Plain. It is strange to imagine that just a mere three years ago, it was just all just virgin countryside. It is equally strange to imagine that in another three years there will be almost 20 times as many houses and as many people” (Mitchells Plain News 1977, 4 [my emphasis]). Mitchell’s Plain is undeniably given a fundamental part in the birth of a new Coloured nation. Was Diana Stevens convincing? One thing is sure, such testimony, be it two-sided, played on people’s uncertainty and lack of information:

“Those who do not want to move are desperately asking ‘Can we be forced to move?’ Those who have struggled to rebuild a sense of community and a ‘sense of place’ after being uprooted from the older areas are being faced with a further severing of neighbourhood links and relationship. […] In their plight people are looking for impartial advice, counselling and guidance. Ratepayers’ and tenants’ associations, community organisations and churches are finding themselves caught up in the double crunch of runaway transport costs and the frightening pressure of ‘force-filtering.’” (Nash 1979, 7)

21A founding member of Mitchell’s Plain Islamic Society, Moosa Aysen was also among the first people to move to Westridge. Moosa Aysen was born in Potchefstroom on 29 March 1945 and moved to Cape Town in 1970. After getting married, he looked for a place to buy and moved to Mitchell’s Plain in 1976. He is still living there. In his interview for the Mitchell’s Plain oral history project, he acknowledges the widespread reluctance to settle so far, even if the area had been ingeniously planned. The authorities had to resort to security measures: “No one wanted to move to Mitchell’s Plain, and that is why I got a call so quickly. Mitchell’s Plain was a well-designed area. It had lots of green places and parks in which kids could play. The houses were guarded because they were empty. But believe me when I tell you that nobody wanted to move here” (Ommundsen Pessoa and Le Roux 2012, 18).

  • 38 The Financial Mail, Rand Daily, Sunday Times and Sunday Express were owned by the South African Ass (...)

22On 5 May 1978, the Financial Mail38 devoted a 32-page special report supplement to Mitchell’s Plain. The Johannesburg-based weekly business magazine enjoyed national and international circulation. The detailed articles are highly enlightening because they provide valuable information about some scenes of the documentary Mitchells Plain. As if trying to ascertain their credibility, both the opening of the documentary film and the editorial of this special report warn against deceptive ways of seeing apartheid policies. The latter dwells upon the “myopic” perspective of criticising the 1950 Group Areas Act and Mitchell’s Plain: “Its status as a Group Area development is a glaring flaw since it precludes the first tenet of humane housing: free choice of location. Totally to condemn Mitchells Plain on that score would, however, be myopic” (Financial Mail Special Report 1978, 1). This figurative use of myopia, i.e. the impaired vision that creates difficulty in seeing distant objects properly, finds an echo in the metaphor used in the opening of the documentary. The film begins with the launch of a rocket into space, from which the viewer can see the Earth, followed by close-ups of people queuing. At the same time, the off-screen voice reflects on the deception between how man sees the Earth from space and how man experiences it: “And when from space he looks back at his home, he sees a romantic blue ball. And yet, back on Earth, he is struggling to provide decent living space for a fast-growing world population.” In both cases, the preambular correction and adjustment frame their contents within the logic of redress.

  • 39 “On 16 June 1976, police opened fire on approximately 10 000 school students in Soweto during a pro (...)

23The title of the Financial Mail special report heralds “a new era in mass housing”, as launched by Mitchell’s Plain. An article assigns a specific role to the avant-garde project: “The housing situation in area terms is the worst in the greater Cape Town where some 350 000 people are inadequately housed—Mitchells Plain is meant to be the deus ex machina” (ibid., 1, 13). As depicted, the new housing estate appears to the reader as a means of bringing order to the chaos. An allusion to the 1976 riots? Most evidently so. The 1976 Soweto riots marked a dramatic turning point in the history of the struggle nationally and internationally. Many people were injured; arrests, deaths in detention and trials followed the revolt.39 Against such background, the country’s intensifying troubles could be ascribed to unmet housing needs. The causal link, although not exclusive, would be endorsed by Secretary for Community Development Fouché in his report for 1978–1979:

“A further reason why the rate of housing provision ought not to be retarded is the importance of housing and, in particular, home-ownership, in the success of the proposed constitutional dispensation. Without positive proof that the Government is succeeding in bringing the housing question under control, it will not be possible to rely on the cooperation of the various population groups. The riots that took place as recently as 1976 serve as a reminder of the dangers in poor housing conditions which serve as a breeding ground for communism. It should be remembered that the findings of very responsible bodies were that poor housing was one of the main causes of the 1976 riots [my emphasis]. Proper housing is a fundamental requirement for the creation of a contended and productive labour force.” (Quoted in Younge 1982, 25)

24A picture of Fouché and another of City Engineer Brand illustrate an article inside the supplement. The article is interestingly entitled “The Brave New World of Mitchells Plain” after Aldous Huxley’s futuristic novel—itself inspired by the famous ironical line in Shakespeare’s The Tempest—which suggests the underlying dystopian quality of the housing scheme (Financial Mail Special Report 1978, 1–3, 14–5). The Financial Mail special report editorial uses the title of another famous science-fiction work, H.G. Wells’s The Shape of Things to Come (1933), with an added question mark. It, thus, invites the reader to wonder if, in the wake of the violent 1970s, South Africa is on its way to peace and utopia, owing to the benevolent action of apartheid authorities (e.g. “humane environment,” “humane housing,” “humane decision”)—as exemplified by Mitchell’s Plain.

“The Shape of Things to come?
Superlatives are a common affliction of journalists, though mercifully on good papers most of them (the superlatives, not the journalists) get thrown out by judicious sub-editors. But if hyperbole is a tempting trap, so is, admittedly more rarely, the tendency to overlook or downplay a local happening that is unique. One such is Mitchells Plain. Mitchells Plain, a city in the making planned for a quarter million people, is growing at present at the rate of over 600 houses a month. It was started in 1975 for completion in 1984. Its community facilities—schools, shopping, sports fields, etc.—are progressing at a rate synchronised with the housing programme. It is this combination of scale and time that this SA New Town, nestling in the False Bay dunes 27 km from Cape Town CBD, five car minutes from the Marina da Gama, is unique in the world.
That in itself could mean nothing more special than a technical feat. But judging from the international documentation on mass housing, Mitchells Plain has at least a sporting chance of becoming outstanding in a much more important sense. It may well be the first example anywhere of its size and category of a humane environment planned with people rather than for them, taking into account not just their needs, but also their preferences and future aspirations. To some extent at least.
In the purely SA context, Mitchells Plain is a major breakthrough in terms of its planning input and physical implementation. For this Cape Town City project, funded entirely by government, researched, planned and designed by a multi-disciplinary team of professionals, most of whom previously couldn’t conceive of working on a government-sponsored scheme, happens to be a New Town for coloured people. (If and when African housing is planned on identical lines, that will be a breakthrough indeed.)
Its status as a Group Area development is, of course, a glaring flaw, since it precludes the first tenet of humane housing: free choice of location. Totally to condemn Mitchells Plain on that score would, however, be myopic.
Apart from the simple fact that such free choice remain a strived-for, but so far not attained, ideal on any large scale anywhere for the economically poorer classes, the housing needs for coloureds had reached such disastrous proportions in the Peninsula by the early Seventies, that to go ahead was the humane decision that dictated itself. Scale need meant massive land requirement. The 2 400 ha of Mitchells Plain—so named after the farm that formed one of the biggest parts of the area—was the nearest suitably large piece of land to the city.
Concurrent with the decision to go ahead, Cape Town City adopted a radical change in its housing policy. It would not embark anymore on series after series of sub-economic townships catering for the neediest on the waiting list and hence perpetuate the ugly monotony that’s cheapest to build.
Instead it would build a city of 10 suburbs based on home-ownership, one of which its inhabitants could be proud—not least because they helped plan it—and that would in the process become a catalyst for upward social mobility. Fortuitously for the Council, the Department for Community Development reached the same conclusion round about the same time as far as planning for whites, coloureds and Indians is concerned.
Praiseworthy as this new policy may sound, it is the New Town’s second major flaw in the eyes of those who maintain that the bulk of the Peninsula’s coloured population will be left out in the cold. The houses at Mitchells Plain are feared to be out of their reach financially.
So what is Mitchells Plain going to be? A white elephant that may be desired but cannot be afforded by those most in need of it—or a planning dream come true? Special Report examines and evaluates, the odds.” (Financial Mail Special Report 1978, 1–2)

25Topicality and ethics are highlighted to justify the focus of the special report. The cleverly worded editorial sets the ethical tone, criticising hyperbole, “a tempting trap,” and “the tendency to overlook or downplay a local happening that is unique. One such is Mitchells Plain.” The innovative housing development is presented as a reflection of South Africa’s capacity for change, complying with both international and national standards: “from the international documentation on mass housing, Mitchells Plain has at least a sporting chance of becoming outstanding” (i.e. integrating contemporary approaches to housing, thus competing with new towns such as Milton Keynes in Britain) and “in a purely South African context, Mitchells Plain is a major breakthrough” (i.e. a collaborative project as opposed to the standard negatively connoted model of the apartheid township, its massive and monotonous spatiality—thus oppressive and repressive). As if sympathetic to the growing international criticism of apartheid policies, there comes a supposedly critical comment on segregation: “Its status as a Group Area development is, of course, a glaring flaw” (my emphasis). A euphemistic or diplomatic appraisal? The “glaring flaw” does not explicitly refer to the official racialisation of space but can be understood as an oblique allusion: “It precludes the first tenet of humane housing: free choice of location.” The argument opportunistically turns into a warning against a gross lack of perspective (“totally to condemn Mitchells Plain on that score would, however, be myopic”). It evokes market mechanism (“the simple fact that such free choice remains a strived-for, but so far not attained ideal on any large scale anywhere for the economically poorer classes”). Even though residential segregation existed before apartheid, the Group Areas Act’s implementation strongly impacted racial groups’ environmental distribution. Race differences tended to coincide with economic differences because of legal discriminatory practices giving preferences to White employment while, at the same time, allowing the exploitation of Non-White labour.

  • 40 The consequence of “not catering for the neediest” will “be felt a few years later: residential ove (...)
  • 41 “If America has stood for anything unique in the history of the world, it has been for the American (...)

26Set against a state of emergency (“the housing needs for the coloureds had reached such disastrous proportions in the Peninsula”), the building of Mitchell’s Plain can only become synonymous with moral concern and common sense (“a humane decision that dictated itself”). Hence the “radical change” of building “a city of 10 suburbs based on home-ownership” to become “a catalyst for upward social mobility”—namely, a reformist approach by authorities now cast as opportunity providers.40 This perspective makes Mitchell’s Plain a South African version of the American dream.41 It inevitably conjures up the images of the self-made man and freedom of enterprise, individual achievement and mobility regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position—or race in the South African context. Among the pictures of rows of houses and happy children which frame the editorial, what better illustration of the individual’s potentialities than the full-length portrait of a disabled young man with crutches playing soccer with his friends!

27Overall, under apartheid, the English-language press, owned by big business interests, supported the ideas of the United Party and the Progressive Reform Party (later known as the Progressive Federal Party); the Afrikaans press supported the ruling National Party and its principles. Pollak wrote at a time when the State monopolised broadcasting. It used its laws, directly or indirectly, to govern the freedom of journalists, writers, and other communicators to collect and disseminate information as they saw fit (e.g. the 1950 Suppression of Communism Act alleged protected the population from liberal and left-wing ideas). Pollak (1981, 3) believed that the English-language press was the only real opposition in South Africa: “More than any other powerful force in the country, these newspapers stand almost alone between the Afrikaner government and totalitarian darkness.” However, the English-language press was not an independent force; it functioned ambivalently as a limited opposition because of its ties and relationships with the significant industrial interests of its owners.

  • 42 Duncan (1984) examines the emergence of the Anglo American group as a major power in South African (...)

28The Anglo American Corporation occupied the economic base of power in South Africa with stakes in almost every sector, from publishing and property to steel mills and construction.42 Before being appointed Mitchell’s Plain planning director in 1975, David Jack held the same position at Marina da Gama, the Anglo American joint venture with the City of Cape Town. In 1978, he worked as municipal director for planning services (Financial Mail Special Report 1978, 16–17). The powerful mining conglomerate controlled the English Press, “consequently the newspapers [were] disinclined to offer political programmes that might jeopardise their patron’s financial hegemony. Since an end to apartheid would mean granting full political rights to the overwhelming non-white majority, editorials in the English press tend[ed] to beat round the thorny bush” (Pollak 1981, 9). The English-language press did not advocate fundamental changes to the system but campaigned for social reforms. The editorial “The Shape of Things to Come?” regrets and hopes for equality of treatment within the apartheid parameters: “If and when African housing is planned on identical lines, that will be a breakthrough indeed.” When the project’s “second flaw,” related to the financial situation of the Coloureds, is raised, it is not identified or characterised by the editor but by “those who maintain that the bulk of the Peninsula’s coloured population will be left out in the cold.”

29While praising the engineering adventure behind the planning and building of Mitchell’s Plain, the Special Report distils a severe concern over squatting and slums. The issue is tackled from a cost and management perspective, pointing to negligence and inefficiency:

“Many families were moved out of squalid slums. But there were also many for whom the new accommodation was inferior to the old and people who were living in tolerable circumstances where they could have held out for many years were moved at great cost into new houses while the squatter population, in the Western Cape particularly grew alarmingly. […] Quite apart from the breaking up of established communities where an intelligent programme of urban renewal would not only have been healthier and probably cheaper—as with Cape Town’s District Six—the Group Areas policy has another deleterious effect on the housing stock in general. That is that whole unproclaimed neighbourhoods are deteriorating fast while property owners and local authorities don’t bother with maintenance and can’t go ahead with their building programmes. The Group Areas Policy also meant that vast tracks of land for new housing had to be found in order to put as many people as possible of one racial denomination together. And, because of the mostly sub-economic structures to be erected on it, it had to be cheap land too. Large areas of cheap land invariably mean land far away from the core of the ‘white’ city and often also from the locations of industries. The result, for the lowest income groups, is not only severely slashed discretionary time but also, despite heavy subsidies, slashed discretionary income because of high transportation income.” (Financial Mail Special Report 1978, 13)

30The report is openly critical of the Department of Community Development’s attitude towards squatters:

“‘But do you think squatting is a good thing?’ Fouché asked Special Report, his voice incredulous. ‘We actually encourage self-help housing, we actually make loans available to individuals to build homes according to approved plans.’ Yes, on approved plots, in approved areas. But housing experts around the world have proved that for some people, at any one time, the jump from squatting to even lost-cost rent paying is too much. The Government […] still suffers from the burnt fingers syndrome of proliferating ill-conceived self-help schemes after Verwoerd made them legal in the Fifties.” (Ibid., 19)

31Squatters and slums were a source of concern because they posed a threat to the health of their residents and public health in general. Nevertheless, they were also a source of concern because they posed a threat to the segregationist state, which could not control and surveil them. As a matter of fact, despite the liberal rhetoric of dominant companies’ owners (e.g. Harry Oppenheimer, the then Chairman of Anglo American), which the English press echoed, their financial success was based on the exploitation of Black labour. Their aim was not to destabilise the regime. Comments upon negligence, inefficiency or red tape demanded performance (i.e. a business approach deemed realistic for its reliance on figures); they did not demand democracy (i.e. the implementation of civil and political rights). Hence, the title of the last paper of the Special Report: “Mitchells Plain is fine; but more realism towards the poorest is needed” (ibid., 31). Issues were raised. These did not challenge or oppose the segregationist system. They rather adroitly legitimised it as if establishing an open democratic debate. As Brand (2009, 10) argues, “through this process of legitimising a particular economic system and culture, the financial press in South Africa helped cement consensus among political elites (but not the broader public) about the shape of the economy.” According to Pollak (1981, 9), the English press helped deliver needed information inside and outside South Africa. To him, “The role of the English-language press is critical because it provides a highly visible forum for information and ideas inside South Africa and because its reporting has been relayed around the world by a corps of sympathetic foreign correspondents.” The worrying housing shortage mirrored and conveyed the fear of further riots, which a housing development such as Mitchell’s Plain—and all the publicity surrounding it—could, at best, delay but certainly not prevent.

  • 43 This is the focus of Brand (1980a).
  • 44 “Surveys […] were carried out by the HSRC, a quasi-state organization in Pretoria, by contract for (...)

32Mitchell’s Plain received the “Award of the Most Outstanding Civil Engineering Achievement of 1979.”43 The South African Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC)—whose political neutrality was problematic44—also published a study about the quality of life in the new housing development in 1979. The conclusion weasels about the very wording of this quality:

“It would appear that Mitchell’s Plain is more a model than a disillusionment, more a success than a failure. Of note is the fact that Mitchell’s Plain was seen by some respondents as a development mechanism; in other words, as a mechanism for changing attitudes towards both life in general and life quality in particular. It would appear that Mitchell’s Plain is capable of producing feelings of security, belongingness, privacy and territoriality and thus of improving the self-respect and dignity of the Coloured people who are fortunate enough to live there.” (Smedley and Human 1979, 24–5 [my emphasis])

33Indeed, the engineering achievement was not as outstandingly perceived by its residents as predicted or expressed by the media. The fundamental economic contradictions and ideological implications of Mitchell’s Plain were the central themes of a scathing paper delivered by Margaret Nash (1979) at the Debating Union Symposium on District Six in the presence of Community Development Secretary Louis Fouché. Her study entitled “Mitchells Plain: Valid Alternative for District Six?” was an informed criticism of government policy. It bluntly deconstructed the current propagandist discourse around the new housing development, as summed up in her introduction:

“Everyone wants a home, a safe environment for family life and the care of children. A wise government builds on this fundamental human aspiration: a foolish one ignores it or plays favourites. But what of a system which exploits people’s deep desire for a home, making it a means of control and continued subordination of one sector to another? Such a system surely perverts what is good and sows the seeds of social disintegration. In Calvin’s teaching a government guilty of such a behaviour would no longer be legitimate but tyrannical: therefore not deserving of the respect and obedience due under God to lawful authority. How does the RSA government treat Cape Town’s ‘coloured’ people and their deep desire for home and family life …?
Since the mid-sixties some 50 000 ‘coloured’ families have been uprooted under Group Areas legislation. Community Development Secretary Louis Fouché claims that ninety per cent of them were living in slum conditions and should have been moved anyway: but in fact during 1964–77 only 569 slum declarations were made in metropolitan Cape Town.
When District Six was declared white 94 per cent of its residents were disqualified. The long drawn out but remorseless destruction of the area is a blatant example of the ‘Group’ in operation. In the eyes of the world and in the experience of the people concerned, this is not slum clearance: it is ‘nazi-type institutionalised theft and violence’ and typical of what is happening, less conspicuously in so many other areas—Walmer township in Port Elizabeth ; Duncan Village East London, Ciskei, Winterveld—to millions of people in this country. All in the name of western Christian civilisation.
In reply government spokesman and supporters point to the wonders of Mitchells Plain where R500 m is being invested to provide 40 000 ‘coloured’ families with the benefits of home ownership by 1984. ‘Isn’t it better?’ they say, ‘that Cape Town should be famous for Mitchells Plain and Atlantis than notorious for Modderdam, Unibell and Crossroads; for the slum of District Six and the squatter problem!’
Government policy, supported actively by the Urban Foundation, is to promote ‘non-white ownership’ as a buffer against social instability and revolutionary tendencies. Hence Mitchells Plain, which offers a prestigious demonstration of the government’s goodwill and good intentions towards the ‘coloured’ people of Cape Town.
In the Western Cape—a ‘coloured labour preference area—an estimated 300 000 ‘coloured’’ people lack adequate accommodation. Seventy per cent of the families concerned fall into the sub-economic group. Yet Mr Fouché has set his face resolutely against ‘second-best’ or ‘instant’ solutions to the housing shortage, solutions like site-and-service or squatter upgrade. He is committed to provide ‘high standard permanent housing.’
What hope does this offer to the majority needing to be rehoused or better housed, who have a head-of-household income of less than R160 per month, and a dependency ration of 92:100 compared to 60:100 for whites? What of the hundreds, if not thousands, of families who due to factors like illegitimacy, redundancy, physical or mental disability, or alcoholism, have no full-time breadwinner, therefore no reliable source of income?
For Mr Fouché the answer lies in ‘filtering’: ‘The better off families will buy Mitchells Plain or Atlantis houses. The poor will move into the council flats they vacate. The Department of Social Welfare can look after the problem cases. The squatter camps will be demolished and the squatter problem will disappear.’ Hey presto.” (Nash 1979, 2–4)

34In conclusion she issued a warning:

“Black home ownership sounds so enlightened. But there is reason to fear that in reality it is bait for hungry fish, and that when the hook really jabs the fisherman will be shocked to find an enraged shark at the end of the line. If so, the ravaged state of District Six may yet become a grimly prophetic symbol of our national prospect.” (Ibid., 13)

35Cry, the Beloved Mitchell’s Plain? Nash was, perhaps, metaphorically recalling the concern voiced by writer and founder member of the Liberal Party of South Africa (LPSA) Alan Paton in the famous line from Cry, the Beloved Country (1948): “I have one great fear in my heart, that one day when they [the Whites] are turned to loving, they will find we [the Blacks] are turned to hating (1982, 37).” Homeownership in Mitchell’s Plain would not necessarily mean control and stability.

From the 1978 Information Scandal to the Birth of the Documentary Mitchells Plain (1980)

36Between 1961, when South Africa was declared a republic, and 1990, when President Frederik Willem de Klerk announced the dismantling of apartheid, the country was “a security state, one which used intelligence extensively to directly target its opponents both internally and externally” (O’Brien 2010, 5). More effectively so after Prime Minister John Vorster established and institutionalised the Bureau for State Security (known as BOSS) in 1968–69:

“While nominal political authority and power rested with the elected ministers who composed the Cabinet, this was not the reality of the situation. By 1970, the true centre of power resided in the central security structures of the government—led by the State Security Council (SSC); while the Cabinet oversaw and acquiesced to all major decisions affecting the country, the SSC was the ‘super Cabinet.’ In its sessions, the members of SSC made all the recommendations and decisions which affected the governing of the country; ultimately bodies such as the SCC ran the policies of ‘Total National Strategy’ and ‘Total Counter-revolutionary Strategy’ that ran South Africa. The authority of the wider cabinet would not be restored effectively until De Klerk came to power in 1989.” (O’Brien 2010, 5–6)

  • 45 “In the system of government of the apartheid era, four government ministries formed the RSA’s ‘sec (...)

37In 1978, discreditable actions involving the Department of Information came to public attention. The South African government45 faced a political scandal over a secret propaganda war designed to influence local public opinion and rebrand the racial institution internationally (the manipulation programme aimed essentially at American and British media). The “Information Scandal” was nicknamed “Muldergate” after the Minister of Information Dr Cornelius (Connie) Mulder, who, a few years before, on 22 September 1970, had shown Parliament how determined he was to glamorise the country’s image:

  • 46 Debates of the House of Assembly of the Republic of South Africa (Hansard), 22 September 1970. In 1 (...)

“[…] in countries abroad we must have every means at our disposal in order that we may present the image of South Africa as it is, namely that of a beautiful, prosperous country, in which law and order prevails and in which progress in the scientific, technical, economic, cultural and numerous other spheres is the order of the day, and where, in an atmosphere of peace and calm, numerous peoples, with different languages, cultures, religious and traditions are living together in an orderly manner, a country, furthermore, where democracy is being practised in the full sense of the word, and where political parties are represented in parliament, as elected by the people—an example to the whole world.”46

  • 47 The thorough investigation is documented in Rees and Day (1980).
  • 48 The family name was originally Pitso. The Pitsos decided to change their surname to Pieterson to pa (...)

38Rand Daily Mail journalists Mervyn Rees and Chris Day exposed the secret propaganda and influence-buying schemes.47 Public funds had been used to “patriotically” manipulate national and international media’s presentation of South Africa. Between 1973 and 1978, the Department of Information spent at least $70 million to improve South Africa’s image abroad (Houser 1984, 48). Undoubtedly, the country’s image needed an extensive overhaul in the wake of the 1976 Soweto riots and the murder of Black Consciousness leader Stephen Biko by the police in 1977. The iconic picture of dying 13-year-old Hector Pieterson (Pitso48), taken by World Newspaper photographer Sam Nzima shocked the whole world. “Had the riots lasted a week and been confined only to Soweto, the media would have dropped the matter after a few weeks,” wrote Secretary of Information Rhoodie in his annual report,

“In fact the initial reporting in most Western countries was reasonably objective in the first week. However, the continuation of the riots and the spread to other cities and to rural areas over a period of months had a devastating effect on South Africa’s image as a politically stable country.” (Department of Information Report 1976, 3)

39A year later, he was convinced that the damage was severe:

“When the General Assembly of the United Nations proclaimed on December 14 last that 1978 was going to be the International Anti-Apartheid Year, it brought to a climax the worst period of anti-South African publicity and hostility in the country’s history […]. Reporting on the Biko case was extremely negative and widespread. It received the most in-depth coverage of any South African news story since the first heart transplant and was extremely damaging […]. In volume the coverage of South African affairs in the media and on television remained at the high levels of 1975 and 1976 but in the USA it skyrocketed. […] For the first time French newspapers began to give massive coverage to South African news and France, also for the first time, began to support, openly, international punitive action against South Africa.” (Department of Information Report 1977, 3)

40Rees and Day also revealed that officials and government supporters had used public funds for their enrichment, including laundering through Swiss bank accounts. The Information Scandal forced John Vorster to resign from the Premiership of South Africa. It became a springboard for Defence Minister Pieter Willem Botha’s political ambitions. All doubts and concerns were not clarified. In his editorial of the Rand Daily Mail dated 29 September 1978, Allistair Sparks pointed out that the affair was being brushed under the carpet in the aftermath of the prime ministerial election:

“It is intolerable that this affair, with all its suspicious circumstances and large unanswered questions, should be left to lie there like an untreated cancer in our body politic. We have just seen it dominate the election of the new Prime Minister […] In the end it wasn’t so much a matter of who would be the best man to deal with the formidable problems closing on us that counted as much as the Department of Information affair. […] Mr. Botha pledged, as one of the main themes of his premiership, ‘at all times to uphold honest public administration.’ Excellent. But that means he must start with a clean slate by wiping out this sordid affair. And only a full public inquiry can do that. No more of these secret investigations into secret activities, which are only adding more doubts and questions to the whole business.” (Rees and Day 1980, 77)

  • 49 Financial Mail, 30 November 1979, 932.
  • 50 “President Botha cheered the closure, congratulating the paper’s owners and bestowing an award on A (...)

41In November 1979, Prime Minister Botha was enthusiastically given the “Man of the Year Award” by the Financial Mail. According to the business magazine, “in its 15 months as premier, [Botha] achieved more than most of his predecessors collectively.” It stressed a year “marked by a driving resolve on his part to move away from the narrow, sectarian approach which [had] characterised the regimes of other National Party Prime Ministers.” It emphatically acknowledged that “he [had] met the challenges of his office, creating the firm impression that he [sought] to serve the interests of all South Africa’s peoples.”49 Transnational corporations with interests represented in the English press profited from and sustained the apartheid regime. The nature and degree of the State-corporate relationship were rather evident when, in 1980, Botha appointed corporate representatives from Barclays, Standard Bank, Anglo American and other firms to serve on the Defence Advisory Board (DAB). This group was instrumental in securing corporate support for apartheid policies (Bond and Sharife 2009, 115). In 1985, the South African Associated Newspapers announced that they would cease publication of the Rand Daily Mail (“Newspaper Opposed to Apartheid to Close After Financial Losses” 1985). Botha cheered the closure.50

42At the international level, when Botha took office after his election by the National Party caucus, “many liberal and conservative voices in the West hailed [him] as a genuine reformer. Many Americans were given the impression by their ‘opinion leaders’ that apartheid was on its way out” (Danaher 1984, 177). Even if the situation was far from being clear:

  • 51 Chester Arthur Crocker served as Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs in the Reagan adm (...)

“[Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs] Crocker’s ‘constructive engagement’ and the Study Commission51 report differ markedly in one crucial respect. Crocker’s entire perspective is rooted fundamentally in his belief that white South African politics ‘are demonstrating a degree of fluidity and pragmatism that is without precedent in the past generation.’ He believes that Prime Minister P.W. Botha and his senior supporters ‘have been carrying out the equivalent in Afrikaner nationalist terms of a drawn out coup d’état’ with which they will build a political apparatus capable of ‘autocratic political change.’ Crocker argues that the United States has no alternative but to support Botha since, ‘apart from revolution, change can only happen this way.’ In the Study Commission’s section on support for organizations working for change in South Africa, neither Botha nor the National Party are ever mentioned as potential change agents.” (Bowman 1982, 189)

43In 1979, William Raiford, an analyst in international relations at the American Congressional Research Service, exposed the new attractive packaging provided to race discrimination. In his own words, “Initially this policy was termed ‘apartheid,’ and the government currently favors the terms ‘separate development’ and ‘plural democracy’ to describe its policy. While the name changes reflect substantive differences in policy, the system’s basic feature—a determination not to share political power with blacks—has remained constant.” Then draws a biting conclusion: “In essence, South Africa is in a state of evolution, but it is an evolution of the political economy of apartheid and a clear rejection of an evolution towards an integrated political community” (Raiford 1979, 30). The manoeuvre could easily be discernible in the proposed constitutional plan:

“The constitutional plan provides for three parliaments representing, respectively, the white, coloured, and Asian populations, with each empowered to decide on matters exclusively affecting its own group. Members are to be elected on a 4:2:1 ratio (in order to approximately proportional representation: i.e., 4.4 million whites, 2.5 million coloureds, 800,000 Asians), with a white parliament of 185 members, a coloured parliament of 92 members and an Asian parliament of 46 members. Legislation affecting all three population groups would be discussed in a Council of Cabinets which would advise the State President who would take final decisions. The State President would thus make decisions on matters affecting the country as a whole, appoint the Prime Ministers of the three parliaments and, upon the advice of each Prime Minister, appoint their cabinets as well. The State President would be elected by an 88-member electoral college represented on the 4:2:1 ratio. While the South African government emphasizes that its policy of separate development is based on a tribal principle, its policy of plural development appears to be based on a principle of designated races. Although the black tribes would be excluded from South African citizenship, the Asian and coloured ‘races’ would be embraced within the political system, albeit under an arrangement which gives them roughly proportional representation in a system designed to subordinate them to the new (sans black) white majority.” (Ibid., 31)

44Finer linguistic acrobatics characterised the new official discourse:

“The language of the Botha government has shifted away from Verwoerdian ideological orthodoxy in certain noteworthy ways, some more dramatic and sensationalist than others. […] ‘Pragmatism’ now comes before the stubborn adherence to principles for their own sake; ‘free enterprise’ and ‘economic growth’ take precedence over Afrikaner unity and an uncompromising racial separatism. The process of government is depicted as a ‘total strategy’ in defence of ‘civilised values,’ rather than a moral crusade for the protection and preservation of racial identities.” (Posel 1984, 139)

45Indeed, when Botha addressed the Transvaal National Party congress in September 1980, he stated that “the main priority facing the country” was “to maintain civilisation, Christendom and its economic strength in order to ensure the Republic’s survival” (Dynamic Changes in South Africa 1980, 12). He included the Coloureds in his vision. “I want to take millions of Coloured Christians in South Africa with me in my struggle against Godless Communism which will destroy everything in South Africa if it gains the upper hand in the country” (ibid.). The courtship of the Coloured was part of a new class-centred plan of action inscribed in a counter-revolutionary project: “The white government has no intention whatsoever of altering the fundamental aspects of apartheid. Basic policy has not changed. What has changed is the strategy of control: the government is more actively seeking Coloured, Indian, and African middle-class allies to strengthen its resistance to the democratic demands of the African majority” (Danaher 1984, 196).

46Paradoxically, the Information Scandal did not have much impact at the international level, even if it provided the world with “a glimpse of the lengths to which the country would go to protect itself, and it gave further political ammunition to the still-growing anti-apartheid movement” (Nixon 2015, 100). The 1978–79 annual report of the Information Service positively acknowledged the business-as-usual course of action:

“In spite of the turbulence surrounding the former Department of Information, officials of the Foreign Branch carried on with their work as if nothing had happened. Thus it can be said, without fear of contradiction, that the normal information assignment, although at times under pressure, was continued and broadened during 1978. The so-called ‘info scandal’ has clearly, compared with other events in South Africa, had little or only transitory effect on South Africa’s image abroad, it is being viewed overseas as largely an internal affairs.” (Department of Information Report 1979a, 9)

47The apartheid propaganda machine continued to roll on. The same report was rather optimistic about South Africa’s influence on its traditional allies at the United Nations Organisation (UNO), namely the United States of America, the United Kingdom and France. A certain ambivalence was felt in the USA:

“Although the mass media’s interest in South Africa manifested negative tendencies […] there were occasional rays of light where the realities of the South African situation were acknowledged. […] The Prime Minister’s performance on NBC-TV’s programme, Meet the Press, which evoked a favourable reaction, can be referred as an example of a more positive note.” (Department of Information Report 1979b, 10)

48Difficulties had been mastered in the UK:

“Publicity given to the British Press (with its direct SA links) to the events surrounding the former Department of Information in the earlier stages undoubtedly had an adverse effect on the prestige and activities of the London Information Office. As a result a special plan for restoring the credibility and prestige of the office had to be implemented. Noticeably at one stage, toward the end of the year, important contacts were trying to minimise their connections with the office but these same persons are now once again quite prepared to give their full cooperation and to do it openly.” (Ibid., 13)

49In France, prospects were brightening up:

“The change of attitude to South Africa, referred to in the previous annual report [1978], has continued to increase and it may be said that this year the political climate is such that it has been possible to make maximum use of the basically favourable attitude prevalent in France. […] The founding of a French-South African friendship Group, and its increasing activities, offered for the first time the services of well-disposed Frenchmen, acting outside the Embassy environment, to mobilise public opinion and to turn long-standing goodwill into purposeful, constructive action.” (Ibid., 14)

50A report by the United Nations Centre Against Apartheid confirmed that, following the scandal, “the Department of Information was reorganised. Propaganda work continued, but it was to be carried out in the open. Yet, 56 secret projects were approved to be continued because of their importance to the national interest. Information on these projects [was] unavailable” (Houser 1984, 48). Rumours of this reorganisation were already circulating in the 1970s, the intense interference of the Department of Information under Connie Mulder and Eschel Rhoodie with high-level diplomacy duplicating the duties of Foreign Affairs. As of 1 April 1980,

“The joint departments now concentrated on implementing new foreign policies, communication, and propaganda efforts both abroad and domestic. The mission of the department with regards to its information resolution remained the same as the one conceived by Rhoodie, countering the Total Onslaught against South Africa by infiltrating African and international audiences with the message of South Africa.” (Haasbroek 2016, 164–65)

51Thus, post-Muldergate, “media production and liaison services continued spreading film productions, radio tapes, and pro-government publication,” targeting international anti-apartheid and anti-government propaganda films (ibid., 166–7). Why should they have stopped? In the words of Engelbrecht, the new Director-General of the Information Service, “the period under review [1 April 1979-31 December 1979] was characterised by a marked improvement in South Africa’s image abroad” (ibid., 11).

  • 52 More details on these developments can be found in Harris and Ceinwen (2003) and Cohen (1983).

52After 1945, a field of action emerged, referred to as international housing policy, after a series of development in the world. During the 1970s, the problem of urban growth in developing countries was receiving more international attention than ever before, notably with the entry of the World Bank into the housing field in 1973.52 Housing developments, such as Mitchell’s Plain, were exploited within the political arena. Burns and Grebler acknowledged this opportunism in their famous 1977 study of housing in an international comparative framework:

“Politicians are highly conscious of the visibility of housing and the attitudinal effects of home-ownership. On the one hand, an incumbent or a challenger can exploit the existence of slums as tangible evidence of the need for reform. […] On the other hand, politicians in power can point with pride at highly visible publicly-aided housing projects as a measure of their concern for people and their social accomplishment.” (Burns and Gebler 1977, 213–4)

  • 53 The authors quote an article published in The Nation in 1976, which reads, “South Africa is borrowi (...)

53According to Seekings (2000, 14), when the reformist National Party leaders recognised that they crucially needed the support of the Coloureds and Indians, the government “sought to encourage a nascent process of embourgeoisement of the Coloured and Indian working class, investing heavily in housing, infrastructural development and schooling.” Nash (1979, 4) reckoned that Mitchell’s Plain was “a fantastic technical achievement, representing a truly phenomenal input of thought and energy, skills and finance.” She stated that it had “won international acclaim and helped attract foreign loans for ‘low-cost non-white’ housing in the Republic” (ibid.). Indeed, banks, including Barclays, Citicorp, Dresdner and Commerz, financed and sustained corporations and the regime (Bond and Sharife 2009, 116).53 Hence, the apartheid government’s substantial investment in propaganda for all its returns.

54South Africa Panorama was a prestige periodical portraying the country and its people to the world, distributed through the South African embassies abroad. The illustrated monthly magazine was attractive; it contained stunning colour photography and many informative articles. It was published for the first time in 1956 in Afrikaans and English. As of 1963, with the launch of the French and German versions, the South African scene was conveyed to the non-English world (Department of Information Report 1973, 51). By 1979, it also appeared in Spanish and Portuguese, with a total circulation of more than 265,000 per edition. In 1980, the Information Service was planning to introduce the seventh edition in Italian (Department of Information Report 1979b, 20). In the South Africa Panorama edition of February 1977, a concise article—albeit with many pictures—was devoted to Mitchell’s Plain. The “20th-century city in the making,” promoted as “not a conventional housing project,” is described as “a self-sufficient city equipped with all the communal facilities, recreation centre and the infrastructure for fostering a balanced, contented community.” These are all technically detailed to present a seemingly sensible conclusion: “No wonder the Coloured population of Cape Town regard Mitchell’s Plain as a prestige development and ‘the’ place to live in” (Botha and Yssel 1977, 32–5). Residents are not interviewed or quoted; they are present in the pictures as if the proof was in the spontaneous, on-the-spot capture of the living: a man is mowing his lawn in front of his house, along a row of pleasant houses and nice cars, another is paving a path in his garden in front of his big car, a housewife is washing the family car, and another is sewing in her cosy lounge, some children are playing in the shade of a tree in a quiet cul-de-sac while two teenagers are on their bicycles and two small dogs running around, another group is having fun on the green lawn in front of the family house. Lightness and casualness shape the photographic style. The pictures evoke an atmosphere of domestic harmony and national stability—far from the dark and grave atmosphere permeating the country after the Soweto uprising of June 1976. Cameron reveals that “the brochure was not (as it should have been) submitted to the Council’s Housing Committee for approval and the chairman of the committee is on record as saying that ‘the brochure outdid Dr Goebbels at his best’” (Cameron 1986, 53).

55At the end of 1979, the Information Service published a glossy brochure entitled Mitchells Plain, an Investment in People. In Director-General Engelbrecht’s own words, “although a modest production, it gives a striking picture of what South Africa is doing in regard to the Coloured” (Department of Information Report 1979b, 20). The brochure insists on the American-dream-like dimension of the prestigious residential area. The new estate must not be confused with a council estate, criticised through the stereotyped image of the ignorant and undeserving, who are made accountable for their own misery: “it was no use building Mitchells Plain for the unemployed or the poor. People must learn to appreciate a good home, and there were even examples of rehoused shack dwellers who had chosen to return to their squalid way of life—which, of course, cost them next to nothing” (Information Service 1979, 15–6). By contrast, the residents of Mitchell’s Plain are identified as responsible people who make the right choices—among which peace:

  • 54 The Theron Commission identified the causality between the general health conditions of the Coloure (...)

“The department’s regional representative, Mr Jan Walters points out that Mitchell’s Plain was entirely unaffected by the 1976 urban riots. The active ratepayers’ association is even said to have voted against establishing a liquor store in the new city. (Alcoholism is rife in some lower income communities.)” (Ibid., 12)54

  • 55 “The report signed by the majority of the Theron Commission did not denounce apartheid and also end (...)

56The remark provides a background against which spreading anti-apartheid protests—Coloured students came out in support of the 1976 unrest much to the general surprise55—could be blamed on the uncivilised unemployed and the poor, thus associated with intoxication and moral weakness if not opportunism. Mitchell’s Plain is used as evidence of a benevolent State providing hard-working and thrifty people with the opportunity for prosperity and success together with the protection of moral standards. Shrewdly, the Group Areas housing estate becomes the symbol of progress and evolution: “If you live in Mitchells Plain you are acknowledged to have arrived socially,” says Mr Walters, “You have arrived socially. Mitchells Plain is civilisation” (Information Service 1979, 31).

  • 56 This is stressed in Brand (1980a, 15–6).
  • 57 Satellite television was officially launched by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration ( (...)
  • 58 Sunday Express, 25 January 1981, & Sunday Express, 22 February 1981; quoted in Haasbroek (2016, 101 (...)

57The South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) regularly highlighted Mitchell’s Plain.56 South Africa adopted television very late compared to other technologically advanced nations worldwide for political, cultural, and economic reasons. Prime Minister Vorster officially opened South Africa’s national television service (SABC-TV) on 5 January 1976.57 The Department of Information also provided the SABC with funds to deploy covert propaganda; investigations by the Sunday Express revealed that the SABC was still receiving money from secret state funds in 1981, which amounted to a total of R 840,000 by then.58

  • 59 It is mentioned among the productions yet to be completed in Department of Information Report (1979 (...)
  • 60 “The Department of Information was dissolved on 1 July 1978, following a decision based on a recomm (...)
  • 61 “South Africa’s first cinema houses (Africa’s Amalgamated Theatres and the Empire Theatres Company) (...)
  • 62 See transcript of documentary (appendix).

58The documentary film Mitchells Plain59 was commissioned during the International Anti-Apartheid year (21 March 1978—20 March 1979) proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in resolution 32/105B of 14 December 1977 and released the same year when the Foreign Affairs and Information departments officially merged.60 Satbel TV produced Mitchells Plain. Suid-Afrikaanse Teater Belange Beperk (Satbel) was a renowned company formed by the prominent insurance company Sanlam, which owned the film producer/distributor Ster Theatres and Films and bought out Twentieth Century Fox’s South African division in 1969.61 Mitchells Plain was conceived to ingeniously draw upon the pragmatic language of the Botha government and the Prime Minister’s image of a reformer: the housing scheme is defined as “laying the foundations of a new society” and “a nation’s answer to a worldwide problem.”62 The Department of Information used audio-visual impressions such as Mitchells Plain to counteract adverse publicity in and outside the English-speaking world:

“Apart from being available in English and Afrikaans, many of these films are also obtainable in the most important Black and European languages. Information films were also made available to TV networks in the Republic of China. The circulation of films abroad is carried out with the assistance of distributing agencies, a system that ensures country-wide viewing.” (Department of Information Report 1979b, 24)

59Overseas broadcasting in France, Australia, West Germany, the Netherlands, Brussels, Argentina, Zimbabwe Rhodesia, Britain, Austria, Portugal, Switzerland, Israel, the USA, Canada, Spain, and New Zealand provided statistics. Unlike other countries, television and film audiences in the USA were counted separately and showed impressive figures:

“TV—826 shows reaching 9 757 000 viewers. General—9,904 non-commercial shows before 464,994 viewers. Cinemas—14 615 shows before 4 013 857 viewers. A short film about SASOL was shown over 120 TV stations throughout the USA before an audience numbering more than 11 600 000.” (Ibid., 24)

60In 1974 the Department of Information was aware that “television [was] the most important publicity medium in the USA,” therefore, “to achieve maximum exposure there, the standard South African propaganda films were Americanized and shortened” (Department of Information Report 1974, 39). The Department’s strategy in the USA was highly significant, and the Information Service (ISSA) operated large-scale propaganda on behalf of South Africa. In 1977 a booklet exposing South Africa’s international propaganda machine ironically revealed that “literature and other forms of propaganda flood[ed] the United States” (Burgess 1977, 64). The extent was such “that one editor [had] observed, ‘I receive more propaganda from South Africa than from all other foreign governments combined,’ adding that ‘the only rival remotely matching South Africa’s effort [was] Taiwan, and [was] far behind’” (ibid.). The special relationship between South Africa and the USA had deep roots. In his account of the intellectual background to apartheid, Giliomee (2003, xviii) maintains that,

“the main ideological influences on apartheid were not Nazi racial dogmas but (i) the established practice of segregated schools (accepted by virtually the entire white community); (ii) the theology of the Dutch Reformed Church—a people’s church or volkskerk with a mission strategy of working towards self-governing indigenous churches; (iii) racial discrimination in the United States; (iv) imperialist ideas about indirect rule and trusteeship; and (v) emerging theories of social conflict in plural societies.”

61The United States and South Africa shared similar mindsets:

  • 63 The phrase was coined by Pierre Van den Berghe (1978).

“Both the United States and South Africa have been referred to as ‘Herrenvolk democracies,’63 in which the rights, duties, and privileges of citizenship have been controlled by particular racial and ethnic groups. As a description of American society at least through World War II and of contemporary South African policies of apartheid, the reference is clearly accurate. In both cases, particular racial and ethnic groups appropriated control of the political community, reaped the lion’s share of its benefits, and arrogated to themselves the ability to regulate its membership in accordance with their own values and ideals.” (Hughey 1987, 23)

62However, the structures of race relations in these countries could not be considered identical due to different historical circumstances and experiences:

“In the United States, too, the cleavages of race coincide with those of social class; races are de facto segregated, the Blacks are poor, a society of laws causes Blacks to suffer many disabilities, and wide inequalities in health exist. In the Old South legal discrimination against Blacks, combined with their deprivation of political rights, made for even more of a parallel, sharpening the inequalities in health. There are large differences between South Africa and the United States, however, including the Old South, and one may ask if and how these translate into differences in health. In South Africa, Blacks were domesticated by conquest and not by enslavement. They retain their own languages, tribal affiliations and cultures and perceive themselves as Africans; this Black majority, unlike the Black minority in the United States which perceives itself as American, does not aspire to be "South African" and the subjects of a White-dominated republic. A dual legal system formally and systematically excludes Blacks from many of the rights but not the penalties of law. This legal system—a "state within a state"—ensures that, with unimportant exceptions, Blacks can own no land; that unless born in areas reserved for Whites, they can work there only as unwelcome if needed transients; that as wandering migrants they are always at risk of heavy-handed arrest. Apartheid is an ideology rooted in these circumstances. Its meld of law, doctrines of race, and the Old Testament is taken to justify the racial segregation that ensures White domination. In South Africa the constitution-unlike the American constitution which finally generated sufficient centrifugal force to undo the fixed structure of inequality in the Old South entrenches that domination.” (Susser 1983, 583)

63Within the American context, the relevance of such a documentary as Mitchells Plain resided in that racial segregation in the USA was still very much present in the 1970s, especially in housing. The 1978 Financial Mail alludes to the situation: “Altogether, some 20 million people in the US, most of them racial minorities, live in sub-economic housing” (Financial Mail Special Report 1978, 4). Besides, the issue of segregation in housing was independent of Blacks’ family incomes: “Even if black incomes had continued to rise through the 1970s, segregation would not have declined: no matter how much blacks earned, they remained spatially separated from whites. In 1980, as in the past, money did not buy entry into white neighborhoods of American cities” (Massey and Denton 1993, 85).

  • 64 “Perhaps the most portentous new arrival was IBM, which established a South African subsidiary in 1 (...)
  • 65 “The United States deepening economic involvement in apartheid South Africa was accompanied by a pr (...)
  • 66 They totalled more than $2.6 billion by 1981 (Davis 1993, 16).

64Foreign investment was vital to economic growth in South Africa, and American investments in apartheid South Africa “paid off spectacularly, generating rates of return that were consistently the highest in the world. How could one not make money in a country in which annual GNP growth, between 1948 and 1970, averaged nearly six percent, a country with a burgeoning white consumer market and cheap, politically disenfranchised black labor?” (Campbell 1998, 24).64 In 1979, the analyst in international relations of the US Congressional Research Service, William Raiford, plainly stated in his report that “foreign investment [was] of such magnitude and importance that it clearly ha[d] strengthened the South African government and, consequently, its capacity to sustain apartheid” (Raiford 1979, 32). The American deepening economic involvement with the apartheid regime made them “South Africa’s political metropole” (Campbell 1998, 27).65 Admittedly, inside the United Nations Organisation, South Africa’s infallible ally was the USA. The latter’s investment and position in vital sectors of the economy (e.g. computers, transportation, energy and steel) made it a significant component of total foreign investment in South Africa. Although the American Congress passed sanctions on the apartheid regime for the first time in 1968, by the end of the 1970s, the American investment in South Africa was valued at between $5 and $6 billion: $1.8 billion in direct investment,66 $2.2 billion in private bank loans, and an estimated near-$2 billion in portfolio investment, primarily gold stocks. It constituted over 20% of total foreign investment in South Africa—approximately double the 11% position it held in 1960—and in volume was more than ten times greater than it was in 1960. Concerning investment, Carter Administration’s statements and actions suggested the consistent pattern of continuing the long-standing policy of neither encouraging nor discouraging investment in South Africa (Raiford 1979, 33).

  • 67 “The Sullivan Principles make no reference to political change. […] The South African government ac (...)

65Interestingly, one cannot miss the presence of famous American brands in the documentary Mitchells Plain: two big bottles of Pepsi and Gillette signs at a checkout lane in the busy supermarket (figure 1.1). Gillette and PepsiCo (with its rival Coca-Cola) were among the American multinational corporations operating in South Africa and developing their business on the political and economic realities of apartheid. Gillette started operations related to toiletries and blades in South Africa in 1930. By 1980 it made and sold a variety of products. Over the years, the South African plant accounted for about 1% of Gillette’s worldwide profits (Ricardo-Campbell 1997, 55–6). The company was an early signatory of the 1977 code known as the Sullivan Principles, a set of criteria for the treatment of workers by companies operating in South Africa, starting with the non-segregation of races and equal and fair employment practices for all employees and including periodic reports on the implementation of the code. By mid-1978, 103 of the approximately 350 American corporations in South Africa had signed it67; Gillette was classified in the top levels of companies “making good progress” over these goals.

66The Coca-Cola Corporation and PepsiCo stand out as the world’s best-known soft drink brands. These global corporations are inextricably linked with the United States and the American culture. Immensely profitable, they have competed in many countries. The Coca-Cola Export Company was formed and entered the South African market in 1930, while PepsiCo arrived in 1948; by the end of the 1960s, Coca-Cola was far eclipsing PepsiCo (Moses and Vest 2010, 240–1). By 1981 Coca-Cola had become one of the largest American employers in South Africa. Its products accounted for 90% of the country’s soft-drink market.68 While both companies followed discriminatory hiring practices common in most businesses of the era, PepsiCo could boast a slightly better track record for minority involvement (ibid., 245). The association of Pepsi with Gillette in the same scene mutually reinforced the image of firms championing the Coloured minority.

  • 69 To steal market shares of worldwide dominant rival Coca-Cola, Pepsi introduced the Pepsi challenge. (...)
  • 70 The film stills showed in this book are used by permission of the Government Communication and Info (...)

67Coca-Cola’s strategy in South Africa was to build brand awareness and deep market penetration into the townships and rural areas. Instead of appealing to race sentiment, Coca-Cola appealed to both a sense of tradition and people’s passions like sports, notably soccer (ibid., 246). The Pepsi placement in the checkout lane in Mitchells Plain occurred during the soda war waged by Pepsi against the worldwide dominant Coca-Cola with its highly innovative and aggressive “Pepsi challenge” in malls and shopping centres69 (1975–1983). In contrast with the Coca-Cola drinkers, portrayed as old-fashioned and conservative, the “Pepsi generation” was youthful and trendy. The image was in line with a propaganda documentary branding Botha’s government and the birth of Mitchell’s Plain as a break from the past. As the supermarket sequence full of youngsters draws to a close, sport is enthusiastically conjured up by the off-screen voice, juxtaposing Pepsi and baseball: “And when the shopping is done, the baseball field and other sports grounds are within easy reach.” Pictures of female baseball players (figure 1.2)70.

Fig. 1.1 Supermarket in Mitchell's Plain - Gillette and Pepsi

Fig. 1.1 Supermarket in Mitchell's Plain - Gillette and Pepsi

Fig. 1.2 Baseball game in Mitchell's Plain

Fig. 1.2 Baseball game in Mitchell's Plain
  • 71 “South African Baseball Union (World Baseball Softball Confederation): https://www.wbsc.org/members (...)
  • 72 The Harris Survey, 19 January 1978: https://theharrispoll.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/Harris-Int (...)

68Colas and baseball were part of the American way of life. Baseball was a major sport in the United States but was (and still is) a minor sport in South Africa. It did not enjoy the popularity of rugby, soccer or cricket, even though the country played in the 1974 Baseball World Cup as the first African country to represent the continent in an international competition (Grundlingh 2017). The visual focus on baseball was not arbitrary as it provided enforcement of the special relationship with the United States. South African baseball has American roots. It was first introduced in the country by American gold diggers in the late nineteenth century. South Africa stepped onto the international stage in 1955 when an American team of “All Stars” toured the country and introduced the sport to some decent-sized crowds (Chetwynd 2008). During its golden years in the 1950s, locally-based American- owned companies such as General Motors extensively supported baseball games.71 In the United States, (American) football and baseball have been the top two sports for decades.72 So, a baseball scene would be meaningful and appealing to American viewers of the documentary.

69Put together, Pepsi, Gillette, and baseball are offered as evidence of an anti-Marx lifestyle revolution in a Coloured community of homeowners and consumers living in a state-of-the-art new town in South Africa. Against the background of growing international criticism, after the Soweto riots in 1976 and the murder of Black Consciousness leader Stephen Biko in 1977, the strained relations between South Africa and the rest of the world needed to be mended. By 1980, fierce anti-communist leaders such as Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had just been elected, and Republican candidate Ronald Reagan was on his way to the presidency. Botha’s new strategy was formulated to unite the middle classes against the same common enemy. In his own words,

“We hope to create a middle class among all the nations of South Africa. Because, if a man has possession and is able to build his family life around those possessions, then one has already succeeded in laying the foundation for resisting Communism. If anyone has something to protect, to keep as his own, then he fights Communism more readily.” (Nat’80s [National Party newspaper, April 1981], 8; quoted in Posel 1984, 143)

70Botha’s neo-apartheid measures with their neo-rhetoric were fundamentally part of the battle against the struggle of liberation organisations.

The Documentary film Mitchells Plain (1980): An Overview

  • 73 “Documentary film speaks about situations and events involving real people (social actors) who pres (...)

71Mitchells Plain is a documentary film in the sense that it speaks about reality, with situations and events involving real people and engaging directly with the historical world,73 i.e. Mitchell’s Plain is a real inhabited housing estate in the Cape region built in the 1970s. Indisputable facts are introduced as proofs: archival footage of the area evened out with bulldozers, the building of the business complex, the station, and the houses. However, as film scholar Nichols (2017, 24) argues, “a documentary is more than indexical images, more than the sums of its shots: it is also a particular way of seeing the world, making proposals about it, or offering perspectives on it.”

  • 74 Place/city marketing was not a new phenomenon, but since the 1980s, it has received increased inter (...)

72The eighteen-minute documentary starts with the launch of rocket Ariane in French Guiana, followed by a view from space and a series of shots of slums in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. At the same time, the off-screen narrator reflects on humanity, technology, history and urbanisation. The central part of the film takes place in Mitchell’s Plain, where a new form of urbanism is explained and advertised through archives and interviews. It sharply ends with a bird’s eye view of Mitchell’s Plain, with the off-screen voice referring to the housing project as “laying the foundations of a new society” and then “a nation’s answer to a worldwide problem,” vigorously concluding that “South Africa hails the future with confidence.” Indeed, Mitchells Plain was produced in the spirit of place marketing74 to position South Africa in international relations and economic development. The documentary fell into the framework established by the apartheid Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Intelligence: “It is information’s task to make purposeful and scientifically planned audio-visual impressions on targets; to imprint specific positive images and values, and, if need be, to modify fallacies” (Department of Information Report 1979b, 4). Like many other commissioned documentaries, Mitchells Plain was meant to counter what the Ministry deemed manipulative:

“The propagandists against the RSA are busy manipulating information which is presented in such a way that it achieves the objectives of the manipulator in creating an anti-RSA thought reference. Factors that play a role in this regard include conspiracy, half-truths, exaggerated emphasis on negative aspects, and downright untruths. Manipulation can be subtle and indirect, as in advertising.” (Ibid.)

  • 75 Unwin and Belton (1992) examine films produced during apartheid which engaged critically with the s (...)
  • 76 The chapter “Oppositional Film-making in the 1980s” in Botha (2012, 145–56) is instructive in this (...)

73The beginnings of anti-apartheid documentary films in South Africa have been traced back to the making of Come Back Africa in the 1950s and the few documentaries made in the 1960s.75 A marked new critical South African cinema started in the late 1970s with a group of independent film and video producers and directors who made films and videos about the country’s socio-political realities and the hardships endured by Black South Africans.76 These films and videos played a crucial role in the international pressure on apartheid. They had small budgets, sometimes financed by progressive organisations such as the International Defence and Aid Fund for South Africa (IDAF), founded in the 1950s by Canon John Collins of St Paul’s Cathedral in Britain. As Botha argues,

“The major audiences for IDAF productions were the international anti-apartheid movements. The work was intended to play a campaigning role for the liberation movement in South Africa and unfortunately offered an uncritical account of its policies. IDAF productions keep to cinéma vérité techniques by avoiding voice-over commentary and by using live sound and letting political spokespersons speak for themselves. Those productions unambiguously presented an ANC point of view. IDAF was instrumental in establishing an alternative news distribution office in London, namely Afravision, by providing financial and logistical assistance. […] Many South African documentaries were made with an international audience in mind in order to get support for the anti-apartheid movement and to educate an international audience to the horrors of apartheid.” (Botha 2012, 147–8)

74Among notable works released internationally in the same period as Mitchells Plain, Botha mentions two major productions about the South African liberation struggle: Peter Davis’s Generations of Resistance (1979) and Barry Feinberg’s Isitwalandwe (1980) for IDAF. Another, the squatter camp film Crossroads (1979) by Lindy Wilson, tackled the Group Areas Act and the Homelands policies. It documented some people’s lives when it seemed likely that the government would demolish the settlement housing 20,000 people just as it had destroyed others. Wilson’s documentary was found “undesirable” by the South African Publications Board for many reasons, including the “undesirable and prejudicial international reaction”—allegedly “calculated to provoke international hostility of an extreme kind against the Republic”—thus banned in South Africa (Wilson 1981, 38).

75Mitchells Plain aimed at challenging these anti-apartheid documentaries made by directors and producers in the late 1970s. Its stylistic elements were designed to adapt to their main characteristics: “A strong narrational presence in the form of an omnipotent off-screen male voice speaking in what is perceived to be a ‘white’ English accent; representation of South Africans in stark categories—all blacks are victims of oppression, all whites are oppressors; and they rely on crude statistics and stereotypical images of apartheid” (Maingard 1995, 658). Mitchells Plain similarly adopts the voice-of-God tradition—the off-screen male voice with the “white” English accent—that is the hallmark of the expository mode, as categorised by the most influential conceptual mapping by Nichols:

  • 77 Nichols (2017, 22) proposes six subgenres or modes of the documentary: expository, observational, p (...)

“The commentary is typically presented as distinct from the images of the historical world that accompany it. It serves to organize these images […] [and] make sense of them […] The commentary is therefore presumed to be of a higher order than the accompanying images. It comes from some place that remains unspecified but associated with objectivity or omniscience.”77 (Nichols 2017, 122–3)

76Mitchells Plain also introduces the participatory mode of representing social issues and historical perspective: “Filming takes place by means of interviews or even other forms of more direct involvement, such as conversations or provocations” (ibid., 22). Four Coloured individuals are interviewed: Mrs Rinehart, a housewife, and three businessmen, Mr Dudley, who represents Model Development Company contracted to build houses in Mitchell’s Plain; Mr Claasens, who owns Westridge Booksellers and Stationers; and Mr Arendse, who works for Mitchell’s Plain Housing Sales. By suggesting “situated engagement, negotiated interactions and emotional-laden encounter” (ibid., 143) to the viewers, these fieldwork-like testimonies are similar to oral histories. They create a sense of experience through the words of those who are living through it; “the articulateness and emotional directness of those who speak give films of testimony […] a highly compelling quality” (ibid., 149). Weaved together, they constitute a voice of authority, contributing to and supporting the alleged “objectivity” and “truth” conveyed by the expository mode. As Nichols reminds us, “Michel Foucault argues that these forms [of engagements] involve regulated forms of exchange, with an uneven distribution of power between client and institutional practitioner, and that they have a root in the religious tradition of the confessional” (ibid., 146). That is all the more obvious in the case of a film especially commissioned by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Information.

77Succinctly, Mitchells Plain shows Coloured victims, squatters and those inadequately housed, who become beneficiaries of housing development projects, as illustrated with Mitchell’s Plain, by White decision-makers and solution providers, Parliament, The Department of Community Development and City council/City engineers. The latter claim to have managed to neutralise and overcome a natural socio-environmental oppressor, namely the pressing housing shortage resulting from worldwide post-war socioeconomic circumstances (migration-inducing industrial growth). The Coloureds are offered a sea-change experience: they go from the state of nature (slums) in survival mode (inadequate sanitation and lack of running water; children fighting; substandard trap-looking flats) to that of culture (Mitchell’s Plain as a state-of-the-art housing development with ample facilities including a large central business complex), enjoying their new lives in epicurean conditions (adults are eating, drinking and dancing; children are playing, reading or listening to music and looked after). The sense of otherness (as symbolised by nameless idle or inactive squatters and poorly housed people who are voiceless) gives way to identity (home-owning residents with names and functions who supposedly speak their own minds during the interviews). The documentary Mitchells Plain displays what one could characterise as the law of compassion leading to order and progress. The most vulnerable (migrant squatters) are living in such extreme conditions that “the South Africans [are] shocked to the core,” and overcrowding conditions in older housing schemes are causing “serious headaches.” Authorities are reactive (“Parliament voted millions of rands for housing schemes, and the Department of Community Development set to work to eliminate the pressing housing shortage. Vast housing projects were launched”). These create a harmonious whole and set an innovative example assimilated to a rescue operation (“Alongside the blue depth and foam-tipped crests of False Bay, Man, with his skill, is painting a living colourful picture of a happy community. Like Ennerdale, Eldorado Park, Atlantis and Phoenix, this is a nation’s answer to a worldwide problem that is also threatening our people, thus laying the foundations of a new society”).

78In Mitchells Plain, the only acknowledged oppression is the shock felt by the South Africans at the sight of slums. It has a silver lining as it generates a generous multimillion-rand vote and prompts action for housing relief. Whites, as represented by the authorities and official institutions, are cast into the role of rescuer. They seemingly proceed to the speedy and spontaneous launch of projects nationwide (“Vast housing projects were launched: Eldorado Park and Ennerdale between Johannesburg and Vereeniging, Atlantis on the West Coast near Cape Town, Phoenix in Natal and Mitchell’s Plain”). The role verges on that of the liberator when social, physical, and mental freedom permeates the sequence in the busy Westridge community hall, where a crowd of smiling young people and dignified older adults dance to a live band. Such display of happy gatherings and dancing was in line with the country’s contemporary cinema in presenting “apartheid as a natural way of life” (Tomaselli 2014, 11). These scenes positively deny the reality of the damaging effects of constant subjection to institutionalised racism on the mental, physical and social health of all South Africans: “Apartheid and health are not only antithetic but are mutually exclusive,” stated Comlan Quenum, Regional Director for Africa in the World Health Organization in 1981, “exploitation and oppression in the South African socioeconomic framework induce the oppressors the complacent, sado-masochistic idea that the oppressed are physically, mentally, and socially inferior” (World Health Organization 1983, 7). Deprived of freedom of movement and expression, “Black South Africans experience[d] powerlessness, discouragement, and despair because they [were] not in control of their own political, economic, and social destiny” (Kagee and Price 1995, 739).

79Politically cautious in its discourse strategy, the documentary makes no linguistic reference to the three racial categories instituted by the 1950 Registration Act, even though Whites, Africans and Coloureds are present as social actors. The linguistic choice is all the more noticeable since race was “common sense” in South Africa: the country was one of the most thoroughly racialised social orders in the world with the advent of apartheid and the implementation of the Act. As Posel (2001a) argues, official categories of race were defined and enacted in ways which connected them closely to factors of lifestyle and social standing rather than based on any scientifically measurable biological essence so that “racial common sense” infiltrated the processes of racial classification. These categories were powerfully rooted in the materiality of everyday life, and “it would be difficult to deny the extent to which the demarcation of South African society into Whites, Indians, Coloureds, and Africans has been normalised—for many, a ‘fact’ of life. It is no surprise, then, that despite the repeal of the Population Registration Act, these racial categories are still writ large in the everyday life of the citizens of the ‘new’ South Africa” (ibid., 109). Yet, the documentary operates a visual segregation that could go unnoticed: no image ever shows people of different ethnic groups together. Some scenes have White people only (e.g. people queueing up outside an office), and other scenes have Black people only (e.g. crowds in the streets), but the words “White” and “Black/African” are never employed by the narrator. The “Coloureds” are also visually segregated, but since they are the actual residents of Mitchell’s Plain, the reference to the racial category could not be avoided. It appears twice: in both cases at the beginning of the documentary, when the housing project is introduced, and astutely, among sentences referring to land and ownership (the opposite of dispossession and removal):

“Mitchell’s Plain, one of the most exciting housing projects in the world, is situated in the heartland of South Africa’s Coloured community above 25 km from Cape Town and within the city’s municipal boundaries. A metropolis of a quarter of a million people in 40,000 houses is being developed here by the Cape Town City Council in cooperation with the Department of Community Development, which was set up to deal with the establishment of communities and the housing of all South Africans. For the Mitchell’s Plain project, the Department made lands available at a low-interest rate to the Cape City Council through the National Housing Fund and the Council, in turn, planned and developed the townships and sold the houses to prospective Coloured owners at a very low deposit and with subsidised bond interest rates.” (My emphasis)

80Stating that the housing of “all South Africans” is organised by the same Department of Community Development (i.e. the Department in charge of group areas decisions) is a deliberate attempt to convey the impression that the law applies indiscriminately to and impacts equally all race groups. The linguistic manipulation circumvents the truth without elaborating on a lie. Factually, Black African people were no longer citizens of South Africa then because the Bantu Homeland Citizenship Act of 1970 had changed their status, requiring them to become citizens of one of the ten self-governing territories (or Homelands). Thus, the “heartland of South Africa’s Coloured community” romantically covers the spatial reality of the Group Areas policy.

81It is worth noting that using “Coloured” would not so much shock American or British viewers as the word was also commonly used for their demographic realities. The American “Colored” stood for African Americans, while in Britain, the adjective “Coloured” often applied to the immigrants born in the former Indian Empire or British Caribbean territories. The reference to the “Coloureds” in the documentary could opportunistically bring some confusion as to what “all South Africans” really included, thus forming the wrong impression that the Botha government regarded—or even treated—all ethnic groups equally.

82In June 1979, the Institute for Sociological, Demographic and Criminological Research (ISDCR) of the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) carried out a field-work in Mitchell’s Plain: “Quality of Life in Mitchell’s Plain: An Exploratory Study Using the Delphi Technique” (Smedley and Human 1979). Significantly the documentary film does not fail to challenge and neutralise the two strongest negative factors identified and promote the strongest contributors and positive factors highlighted. These are listed in the summary table below:

Quality of Life in Mitchell’s Plain: An Exploratory Study Using the Delphi Technique (HSRC) (Smedley and Human 1979) Documentary Mitchells Plain (1980)
Factors and key findings Sequences, shots and scenes Transcript/relevant passages
Mitchell’s Plain’s strongest negative factors: – Transport/distance from employment opportunities and lack of adequate mass transportation links (22.9%) – Facilities/lack of shopping centres (18.8%) Central business complex – Construction site with cranes and workers – Aerial view of the construction site – Images of the railway station under construction In addition to the shops in every township, a large central business complex is being built by the Department of Community Development. This centre, which will cost more than R15 million, will eventually form the heart of the new city. It is expected that more than 5,000 people will be employed in its shops and offices. Right next to the city centre, the main railway station is near in completion. Altogether 3 stations will serve the town’s 30,000 to 50,000 daily commuters. Altogether 40,000 workers are employed in building the town and many opportunities for enterprises have been created.
Mitchell’s Plain’s strongest contributors to happiness and meaningfulness: – Family life (28.3%) – Financial security (15%) – Personal/egocentric factor (13%) The Rinehart family – The Rinehart bungalow with its flowery front garden – Medium close-up shot of Mrs Rinehart being interviewed – Images of her three daughters listening to music, crocheting and hanging out the washing Mrs Rinehart describes her own experience: “It was such a change for me coming from Bonteheuwel to Mitchell’s Plain, especially with my children, you know. They, Adelaide and Dominique, Penny did not want to go to school there, and I thought ‘what is going to happen to these children one day?’ But here Adelaide wants to become an air hostess, even Dominique. The facilities that they have here… Dominique is going to the Far East in a few months’ time, and Penelope would like to become a doctor. As far as crime rate is concerned, there is nothing that we have to worry about. Mike is going out; he can come home any time. There is time that they forget my front door open, standing open, and nothing happens”’
The Arendse family – The whole family watching television – Close-up shots of the three smiling youngsters – The youngsters together in a bedroom: the older daughter is playing the guitar while the others are quietly listening – Medium shot of Mr Arendse being interviewed – Images of Mrs Arendse cooking in her kitchen and Mr Arendse washing his hands in the bathroom This Mitchell’s Plain businessman Mr Arendse is proud to be able to raise his children in a home like this: “Now I was fortunate to get a job for the Mitchell’s Plain Housing Sales as you can see I bought a little place, a choice I’m just so proud of because I now have a room for each of my children. And I have got onto it very easily by paying a R 100 deposit and only R 92 a month.’’
Mitchell’s Plain’s positive factors: – Facilities (in particular schools) (25%) – Feeling of Independence (25%) – Physical environment /aesthetic qualities and tranquillity (23,1%) Education – Aerial view of school buildings – Wide shots of school buildings, pupils streaming out of them and crossing an avenue showing a long row of houses On completion, Mitchell’s Plain will be served by 66 primary and 22 secondary schools. Technical training, as well as higher education through an extramural division of the University of the Western Cape, are also envisaged here.
Mr Claasens : The self-made man – Medium close-up shot of Mr Claasens being interviewed – Mr and Mrs Claasens having a bountiful meal After a hard day’s work, a businessman can relax in the comfort of his own home and plan for the future. Someone like Mr Claasens: “Two years ago, I opened a bookshop in Mitchell’s Plain. The name of the shop is Westridge Booksellers and Stationers, and I must say that the business came very well. So much so I have decided to open one in the town centre. The town centre is a R20 million project and there I can’t let out. There I intend to expand my business into another bookshop because there will be big business houses.” A peaceful supper at home made with a woman’s love and a glass of good Cape wine. What more can a man ask?
Environment – Images of drawings showing the variety of house designs – Aerial views of Mitchell’s Plain – Travelling shots of streets showing the different patterns of the houses and their nice gardens. With the accent on house ownership rather than rented accommodation in Mitchell’s Plain, a wide variety of designs is offered to prospective buyers. After a survey of potential owners’ tastes and preferences, the planning division of the Cape Town City Council created no less than 70 house designs for Mitchell’s Plain. The positioning of the houses on the stands was planned to provide the maximum variety and privacy. […] Quality houses have been built, and much has been done to beautify the area. Residents own their homes, and they have pride in the fruits of their work in the neat gardens. For most of them, Mitchell’s Plain means not only new houses but a new life.
  • 78 This is the case in Department of The Prime Minister (1972).

83Ingeniously, the off-screen narrator uses the word “township” without referring to the segregated township, a prominent feature of the South African landscape. Instead, “township” is used in its legal meaning related to cadastre (e.g. similar to the “survey townships” of the USA and Canada) as a group of pieces of land, a land subdivided into erfs (stands)78:

“For the Mitchell’s Plain project, the Department made lands available at a low-interest rate to the Cape City Council through the National Housing Fund and the Council, in turn, planned and developed the townships and sold the houses to prospective Coloured owners at a very low deposit and with subsidised bond interest rates. […] When Mitchell’s Plain is completed, 15 million cubic metres of earth will have been moved to make room for 160 townships. […] In addition to the shops in every township, a large central business complex is being built by the Department of Community Development. This centre, which will cost more than R15 million, will eventually form the heart of the new city. It is expected that more than 5,000 people will be employed in its shops and offices.” (My emphasis)

84Contemporaneous removals were not slowing down, and townships remained the most common destination for displaced families. Mesthrie (1994, 78) acknowledges that “in many ways, while group area removals were harsh, Coloureds and Indians were granted some courtesies by the State,” as opposed to “the drama of—for instance—the removals at Sophiatown.”

  • 79 The Black Sash was founded in 1955 by 6 middle-class white women: Jean Sinclair, Ruth Foley, Elizab (...)
  • 80 The Bantu Authority Act, no. 68 of 1951, provided for the establishment of Black homelands (https:/ (...)
  • 81 “The first [crucial development] which I can note only briefly, is the suburbanization of economic (...)

85In February 1980, the Centre for Intergroup Studies of the University of Cape Town expressed a concern in the Black Sash Magazine that “removals [were] being carried out by the Department of Community Development more vigorously than ever before, with residents offered little choice in their place of resettlement. Often the offered alternative [was] miles from their work, hospitals and schools,” pointing out, about the area of District Six, that “most of those who ha[d] been removed from their homes ha[d] been moved to the bleak townships on the wastes of the Cape Flats. Some ha[d] gone to Mitchells Plain” (“District Six—Apartheid Wins, the Nation Loses” 1980, 21).79 As the statement implies, Mitchell’s Plain was perceived differently, possibly as a better option—which is not necessarily synonymous with a good option. Interestingly, an enthusiastic 1979 Cape Times paper advertising the “controversial, exciting” Mitchell’s Plain admitted: “it has been said that it is a ‘homeland’ away from the City for coloured people” (Cassere 1979, 17). So, Mitchell’s Plain was not seen as a township but possibly as a homeland (i.e. the delimited territory conceived as a reserve of Black labour for the South African industries80). That might explain why Mitchell’s Plain is defined as a project “situated in the heartland of South Africa’s Coloured community” at the beginning of the documentary. If so, the image of the homeland is rapidly dismissed with an aerial view of a remarkable construction site described by the off-screen narrator: “a large central business complex is being built by the Department of Community Development. This centre, which will cost more than R15 million, will eventually form the heart of the new city. It is expected that more than 5,000 people will be employed in its shops and offices.” The change allows for Mitchell’s Plain to be grasped as a body of residents who are modern business people, therefore dispelling the image of the traditional and isolated rural community. The imposing pictures of the mall establish the dominant ethos of consumerism—to be understood as a source of power. It identifies the area as part of the first world and exudes what Campell (1998, 28) sees as the “Americanization of South Africa” through its “mallification.”81

86Mitchells Plain is an audio-visual illustration of what Posel (1984) defines as the post-1978 language of “effective government” within the new legitimatory rationale. The off-screen voice and the Coloured interviewees give statistics, figures, and much information. These are introduced as diverse and reliable sources for forming beliefs about South Africa, therefore, exploited to contribute and erase what is designed as a stereotyped image: apartheid. At the documentary’s end, Mitchell’s Plain turns into “a nation’s answer to a worldwide problem that is also threatening our people.” The film pointed to a unique achievement in terms of planning and construction for the actual relief of massive housing crises (i.e. accommodation for 250,000 people in one hit) within the financial and technical capabilities of the country (i.e. the partnership between the Cape Town City Council and the National Housing Fund). It offered a model to the rest of the world. Besides, it artfully suggests that South Africa has devised and applied its local solution to a vexed question posed by (so-considered) foreign migration waves brought by international history—in the case here, World War II. The stance echoes the National Party’s recurrent justification of apartheid, also endorsed by Botha in 1980, blaming British Imperialism for having moved different peoples within the borders of a White South Africa:

“The complexity of South Africa’s population structure and that the political aspirations of the divergent communities can be accommodated only in a system in which the rights of minorities—all minorities can be protected. The South Africa mosaic of peoples is perhaps more complex than any other country on earth. More than a dozen distinctive peoples were brought together within the borders of one country, not at the whim of South African Whites, but by history, more particularly the dictates of British Imperialism which had reached its zenith of its power in Africa by the end of the last century.” (Dynamic Changes in South Africa 1980, 14 [my emphasis])

Notes

15 “The stress on the discontinuity between the segregation era and apartheid is part of South African liberal mythology. The idea that the National Party government reversed the liberalising urban policy of the previous United Party government and United Party-controlled city councils is untenable. There is so much evidence to show that the Group Areas Act was very much in line with the earlier plans and practices of United Party policy makers. Many cities—Durban, Pietermaritzburg and East London, among others—are known to have been pretty thoroughly segregated by 1950. Cape Town, often projected as the 'liberal city', had a tradition of segregation. United Party-controlled councils had envisaged and planned the destruction of black urban communities—such as Johannesburg’s Western Areas—long before it was eventually carried through by the National Party Government.” (Maylam 1995, 34)

16 Racial classification was a process as heterogeneous as the officials undertaking them, with much scope for capricious and arbitrary judgments, as analysed by Posel (2001).

17 Details are compiled in Horrell (1950, 26). The Group Areas Act was regularly amended and re-enacted in the Consolidation Acts of 1957 and 1966.

18 The Prevention of Illegal Squatting Act, No. 52 of 1951, was subsequently amended in 1952, 1976, 1977, 1980, 1988, and 1990.

19 Gavan Grant Maasdorp and Pillay Nessen, Urban Relocation and Racial Segregation: the Case of Indian South Africans (Department of Economics, University of Natal, 1977), 92; quoted in Younge (1982, 17).

20 Cape Times, 27 May 1955; quoted in ibid., 18.

21 Western (1981, 120–34) discusses the arguments and details of such resistance.

22 “Cape Flats: Preliminary Statement of the Provisional Joint Town Planning Scheme: Outline Development Plan for the Cape Flats” (1969), 17; quoted in Younge (1982, 19).

23 The figures are the following (South African 1970 boundaries): Total: 21,794,000; African: 15,340,000; Coloured: 2,051,000; Indian/Asian: 630,000; White: 3,773,000. See Statistics South Africa (2000), “1.4 Population at each census by population group and gender, 1904–1996.”

24 “At the national conference on ‘Education for Progress, with Special Reference to the Needs of the Coloured Community,’ which was convened by the Institute of Race Relations in January [1971], Professor S. P. Cilliers, head of the Department of Economics at the University of Stellenbosch, gave a paper on the socio-economic status of the Coloured community. It was estimated, Professor Cilliers said, that at least one-third of the Coloured people in urban areas of the Western Cape were either not housed at all, or were living in non-permanent or sub-standard housing. Between two-thirds or three-quarters of all those in the region lived in overcrowded conditions. In the Greater Cape Town area, 43 000 families were in need of housing. […] The Minister of Planning said in the Assembly on 9 June that new housing schemes were to be developed on Mitchell’s Plain, between the existing Coloured areas on the Cape Flats and Strandfontein Beach.” (Horrell, Horner & Kane-Berman 1972, 159)

25 “Broader Horizon – a Report on Cape Town’s Land Requirement,” dated 30th September 1965. Quoted and discussed in Morris (1972, 1–2).

26 Republic of South Africa (1981, 8).

27 In March 1973, the government under Prime Minister Vorster appointed the Commission of Inquiry into Matters related to the Coloured Population Group under the chairmanship of Prof. Erika Theron. It consisted of 18 members (11 from the National Party, 1 from the United Party and 6 from the Coloured community). Its report was presented in April 1976.

28 “The Commission recommended drastic and widespread policy measures to eradicate chronic community poverty. Almost four decades later one may well ask how much the situation has improved; it appears that, despite the poorer parts of the coloured community having made progress in some respects since the mid1970s, delinquent behaviour is still endemic amongst a large part of this community (alcohol abuse and crime are two areas of particular concern) and they still do not appear to have found a ladder out of poverty… The historic evidence presented shows those today classified as ‘coloured’ set out as a rural proletariat, owning few agricultural assets, in a country in which urban-rural divisions became quite strong. With little prospect of securing occupation in the formal, mainly urban economy, they had little incentive to invest time and effort in education and left formal schooling fairly young and failed to progress to higher levels of education. With little education they could not readily be absorbed into the modern economy and they found it difficult to make inroads into the secondary and tertiary sectors of the economy. In the 1950s, for example, coloured males were dominantly in agriculture and industrial occupations. The position of coloureds in the mid-20th century was still much the same as in the nineteenth century, i.e. with a strong presence in the primary sector and in low status occupations, with almost no progress into professional and managerial positions, despite the fact that rural-urban migration grew rapidly in the 9th century.” (Du Plessis and Van der Berg 2013, 73–98, 77, 96)

29 In March 1973 the government under Prime Minister Vorster appointed the Commission of Inquiry into Matters related to the Coloured Population Group under the chairmanship of Prof. Erika Theron. It consisted of 18 members (11 from the National Party, 1 from the United Party and 6 from the Coloured community). Its report was presented in April 1976.

30 The institutional, social, and physical design forces that shaped the ideology of Clarence A. Perry and influenced his development of the “neighbourhood unit” concept, including the Garden cities movement, are presented in Lloyd Lawhon (2009).

31 For details, see “Planning Study: Milton Keynes: New City for the South-East” (1969).

32 “Prior to 1974, the policy of the Cape Town City Council had been one of building houses and flats at minimum cost for occupation by the many thousands of poorer Coloured families on the Council’s waiting lists. National Housing funds were available only for the dwellings and basic services and the Council had been obliged to provide all amenities from its own limited financial resources. As a result, the townships lacked adequate amenities and community facilities; this was a source of considerable dissatisfaction to their inhabitants. The building of more expensive dwellings for home ownership was restricted by availability of national housing funds and this form of development received a lower priority than that accorded to the building of low cost lettings. […] Agreement was reached with central government that Mitchells Plain would be financed entirely by the central government, including all amenities, and that it would be built to concepts of planning which were largely new to local authority housing in South Africa. The objective was to plan a series of new suburbs, each self-contained in respect of a wide range of community facilities. The decision was made to build for home-ownership as far as the market would bear and thereafter to build for rental, but to a similar standard and with the option to purchase.” (Brand 1980a, 1)

33 The recommendation concludes with the following remark: “Account should, however, be taken of the fact that housing estates planned for Manenberg, Parkwood and Hanover Park contain rather more sub-economic housing than is justified by the current waiting list. […] Had my original proposals for a larger number of sub-economic dwellings in Hanover Park been accepted, the need for sub-economic housing at Mitchell’s Plain could have been further reduced” (Morris 1972, 20).

34 He adds: “As the first suburb of Mitchells Plain [Westridge] would be for home ownership with a certain prestige attached, it was planned almost exclusively for the upper echelon of householders, with income from about R300 to R400 per month. Although this cost structure has restricted the sale of houses to existing Council tenants to those with relatively high incomes it has certainly established a prestige value to the area. 29% of the houses so far sold have been purchased by Council’s tenants” (Mabin 1977, 16).

35 Margaret Nash (1929–2011). “In 1960, Nash joined the Liberal Party of South Africa (LPSA). She was a member of various anti-Apartheid organisations, among which the Black Sash (member of the National Executive committee) and the Christian Institute. She was also involved in the Anglican Board of Social Responsibility and the South African Council of Churches. […] She devoted most of her time to writing reports on living conditions of people under Apartheid South Africa. The best known of these was published in 1980 and concerned the government’s policy of forced removals, particularly in and around Cape Town. Her report was presented to the United Nations, Europe and Britain in 1984 shortly ahead of a tour by South Africa’s then President, P W Botha. It caused international outrage and was a great embarrassment for the South African government, contributing to the end of forced removals soon after. Her report mentioned that she had calculated the number of people who had been forcefully removed out of their homes to be between 2.5 and 3 million.” “Margaret Nash,” South African History Online: https://www.sahistory.org.za/people/margaret-nash [archive]. See also “Margaret Nash (d. 2011),” Black Sash: https://www.blacksash.org.za/index.php/our-legacy/515-margaret-nash [archive].

36 Slayern M., “A ‘Plain’ Solution,” in “Housing in Cape Town” (unpublished), 75; quoted in Le Grange (1987, 17). There is no date recorded for Slayern’s paper. The references listed in this part of the dissertation were published either in the late 1970s or early 1980s.

37 Mabin and Parnell (1984) examine the implications of home-ownership schemes for black working-class South Africans.

38 The Financial Mail, Rand Daily, Sunday Times and Sunday Express were owned by the South African Associated Newspapers (SAAN). “The Financial Mail, South Africa’s first free-standing financial newspaper, was launched by South African Associated Newspapers in 1959… In South Africa, the financial press has throughout its history been sponsored and subsidised by the markets and corporations it covers. Financial news organisations draw their advertising from the corporate world. […] With its dependence on advertising from Anglo American, which at that stage controlled a quarter of the market capitalisation of the stock exchange, the Financial Mail could hardly be expected not to reflect the interests of the mining industry. The Financial Mail in its early years steered clear of politics, except when it considered that a political issue would affect business. […] Given the Financial Mail’s self-conception as a “non-political” journal – which was shared by other financial publications of the time – as well as the fact that the financial media have never catered for mass audiences, the question arises whether the financial press could play a role in the political process? […] The financial press throughout its history has reflected and interpreted not mass opinion but the values and views of a narrow elite, including businessmen, economists and political agents. In this way, the financial media have played – and still play – play a crucial role in spreading economic ideas and ideologies and setting the parameters of debate about economic issues.” (Brand R. 2009, 9–10).

39 “On 16 June 1976, police opened fire on approximately 10 000 school students in Soweto during a protest against the compulsory use of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction in schools. The shootings provoked extensive unrest and protest throughout Soweto, spreading over the following months to several other regions in South Africa, particularly Cape Town. Around 575 people were killed, 390 in the Transvaal and 137 in the Western Cape. Over 2,000 people were injured. Arrests, deaths in detention and trials followed the revolt, and the first members of the ‘Class of 76’ left South Africa for training in armed resistance.” “Soweto Uprising.” Glossary, Truth Commission Special Report. http://sabctrc.saha.org.za/glossary/soweto_uprising.htm [archive].

40 The consequence of “not catering for the neediest” will “be felt a few years later: residential overcrowding in Mitchell’s Plain is a problem exacerbated by the perennial failure of authorities to provide adequate housing for low-income communities in Cape Town. Thus, low-income communities are housed in existing informal settlements and existing housing stock. One finds that in low-income communities, many existing formal dwellings have been extended or backyard dwellings built on the property for accommodation purposes” (Spocter 2007, 165).

41 “If America has stood for anything unique in the history of the world, it has been for the American dream. […] that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. It is a difficult dream for the European upper classes to interpret adequately, and too many of us ourselves have grown weary and mistrustful of it. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.” (Truslow 1931, 135, 404).

42 Duncan (1984) examines the emergence of the Anglo American group as a major power in South African manufacturing and finance.

43 This is the focus of Brand (1980a).

44 “Surveys […] were carried out by the HSRC, a quasi-state organization in Pretoria, by contract for the government family planning organizations. Accordingly, the survey results are taken to be confidential government material rather than a resource open to researchers and to the general public. This is partly in keeping with the system that evolved after the Nationalist electoral victory in 1948, whereby close and confidential relations were forged between the growing, and largely Afrikaner-staffed, public service and quasi-state research organizations centered on Pretoria that shared a common view about the destiny of the country. In the case of fertility surveys it is also explained by the fear of providing evidence that would politicize a population program adopted by a government based on a minority electorate.” (Caldwell and Caldwell 1993, 229)

45 “In the system of government of the apartheid era, four government ministries formed the RSA’s ‘security family,’ all of whom discussed matters of state security, with the Office of the Prime Minister at the summit of this power structure. This quartet comprised the Department of External Affairs (renamed Department of Foreign Affairs in 1961); the Department of Finance; the Department of Defence; and the Ministry of Information.” (Onslow 2005, 369)

46 Debates of the House of Assembly of the Republic of South Africa (Hansard), 22 September 1970. In 1972, Connie Mulder appointed Dr Eschel Rhoodie as Secretary of the Department of Information. Rhoodie’s book—The Paper Curtain, written in 1969—argued that unconventional methods should be used to fight the curtain of lies and communist propaganda against South Africa.

47 The thorough investigation is documented in Rees and Day (1980).

48 The family name was originally Pitso. The Pitsos decided to change their surname to Pieterson to pass as Coloured.

49 Financial Mail, 30 November 1979, 932.

50 “President Botha cheered the closure, congratulating the paper’s owners and bestowing an award on Anglo American chairman Harry Oppenheimer, though it has never been confirmed that there was a causal connection between the two events.” (Louws 2005)

51 Chester Arthur Crocker served as Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs in the Reagan administration from 1981 to 1989. The Rockefeller Foundation-funded Study Commission on US Policy Toward Southern Africa initiated a study of the “South African problem” in 1978 and published a detailed report in 1981: South Africa: Time Running Out, The Report of the Study Commission on US Policy Toward Southern Africa (Thomas 1981) which reads: “In discussions of U.S. policy toward South Africa it is frequently said that the region is not of vital importance to the United States compared with Western Europe, Japan, or Latin America. While this is true, all the ingredients of a major crisis are present there. The dangers of political instability, large-scale racial conflict, and the growth of Communist influence are real. The initiative now lies with the South African government. It has the power to minimize these dangers by adopting policies that produce constructive change and movement toward a genuine sharing of political power. Or it can reject that course and try to reinforce the status quo. […] There are, as we have suggested, no easy solutions in South Africa. Change will be a piecemeal and uneven process. U.S. policy makers will find tension, frustration, and moral uncertainty as they deal with specific day-to-day issues while simultaneously keeping ultimate goals in focus. Most Americans want change in South Africa. Foreign policy, unfortunately, has a price tag, and South Africa is no exception. Stockpiling of key minerals, diversification of sources of supply, assisting black South Africans, providing economic aid for South Africa's neighbors, and a policy of non-expansion for U.S. companies in South Africa will cost money. It is our firm conviction, however, that if we do nothing or adopt the wrong policies, the eventual costs will be much higher.” (Thomas 1981,455)

52 More details on these developments can be found in Harris and Ceinwen (2003) and Cohen (1983).

53 The authors quote an article published in The Nation in 1976, which reads, “South Africa is borrowing heavily to finance massive development projects and boost its defence spending […] It is hard to imagine where it would be right now without borrowed funds.”

54 The Theron Commission identified the causality between the general health conditions of the Coloured community and their poor socio-economic condition, pointing out to poor nutrition, over-consumption of alcohol and the spread of diseases like tuberculosis as stressed in Van Deventer (2000).

55 “The report signed by the majority of the Theron Commission did not denounce apartheid and also endorsed some of its principal features, like residential segregation. Some of its findings, however, amounted to strong and devastating criticism of the government neglect of the colored population. The chapter on economics spoke of ‘chronic community poverty’ that affected more than 40 per cent of the population. In the cities and towns between 10 and 20 per cent lived in squatter camps and many of the rest in overcrowded houses. A high rate of infant mortality had hardly changed from the 128 deaths per thousand births in the period 1946–51, and 120 in 1965–1970. In the urban labor market coloreds were reported to be suffering from pervasive discrimination since their workers could not join mixed trade unions without government permission. Even in its own terms apartheid had failed because whites, particularly Afrikaners, dominated the senior positions in all state institutions that served them. The commission recommended a direct say for coloreds at various levels of government. The government accepted the recommendation for a direct colored say in political structures, but also declared that the principle of white self-determination remained paramount. The tone of its response was so churlish that it pushed considerable numbers of colored people into participating in the uprising of 1976 and the public demonstrations of subsequent years.” (Giliomee, 2003, 558)

56 This is stressed in Brand (1980a, 15–6).

57 Satellite television was officially launched by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1962. Harrison and Ekman (1976) claim that television comes at a crucial point in South African history. The advantages and drawbacks of television were thoroughly debated. The television service was first in English and Afrikaans. A separate Black service was introduced for the African population on 1 January 1982, which in any case, remained firmly under the Afrikaner-dominated South African Broadcasting Corporation. See Jackson (1982). SABC remained the sole legal terrestrial broadcaster until 1986 when M-Net was launched.

58 Sunday Express, 25 January 1981, & Sunday Express, 22 February 1981; quoted in Haasbroek (2016, 101). “Minister of Information R.F. Botha [Pik Botha], in reply to formal questions in Parliament, admitted that the SABC had been given a total of R 840,000 in secret funds—of which R 365,000 came from the Information Department. This was in addition to the R 81 million in subsidies paid to the SABC by the state for its external services between 1969 and 1979.” (Hachten and Giffard 1984, 258)

59 It is mentioned among the productions yet to be completed in Department of Information Report (1979b, 24).

60 “The Department of Information was dissolved on 1 July 1978, following a decision based on a recommendation from the Public Service Commission. On that day the Bureau of National and International Communication came into being. In a strange arrangement the Bureau fell under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs—Pik Botha thus being the minister responsible—but not under the Secretary of Foreign Affairs; instead it was placed under the Secretary of Plural relations and Development, whose department dealt exclusively with black affairs. From September 1978 the Bureau was assigned to the Department of Foreign Affairs. On 1 February 1979 it was renamed the Information Service of South Africa, and it merged with foreign Affairs on April 1980.” (Geldenhuys 1984, 269)

61 “South Africa’s first cinema houses (Africa’s Amalgamated Theatres and the Empire Theatres Company) were bought out by the Schlesinger Corporation, which dominated film importation and distribution in South Africa until the late 1950s. In 1931 Schlesinger merged its interests with Kinemas, establishing African Consolidated Films and African Consolidated Theatres under the African Film Production (AFP) banner. A decade later 20th Century Fox bought out AFP, renaming it South African Screen Productions. In 1969, the insurance company Sanlam, which owned the film producer/distributor Ster Theatres and Films, bought out 20th Century Fox’s South African division and formed Suid-Afrikaanse Teaterbelange Beperk (Satbel), which operated as Kinekor due to regulatory concerns. When television was introduced in 1976, cinema attendance dropped significantly and the government permitted the merger of the two entities as Ster-Kinekor. Ster-Kinekor was subsequently acquired by Interleisure in the late 1980s and finally by Primedia in 1997. Ster-Kinekor Theatres is now the largest exhibitor in South Africa.” (Angelopulo and Potgieter 2016, 997). According to Fourie (2001,86),“Despite the original intention to provide Afrikaans films as a counter to American culture, with the merger, Ster-Kinekor became the conduit for Hollywood into South Africa with control of 76 percent of all distribution.” Tomaselli (2014, chap. 8) gives a detailed account and analysis of film mergers, distribution contracts, buyouts, interlocking boards of directors and other legal arrangements during apartheid.

62 See transcript of documentary (appendix).

63 The phrase was coined by Pierre Van den Berghe (1978).

64 “Perhaps the most portentous new arrival was IBM, which established a South African subsidiary in 1953 and began to market its then state-of-the-art 5000 series computer a year later. In the decades that followed, American computer companies—and IBM in particular—would revolutionize the working lives of South Africans as fundamentally as American mining and manufacturing engineers had transformed the lives of previous generations. In direct and indirect ways, American corporations helped to underwrite apartheid South Africa's extraordinary (and extraordinarily skewed) rates of economic growth, and thus to solidify the initially tenuous political grip of the National Party. From the perspective of American capital, of course, such considerations were secondary to profits. And make no mistake: investments in apartheid South Africa paid off spectacularly, generating rates of return that were consistently the highest in the world. How could one not make money in a country in which annual GNP growth, between 1948 and 1970, averaged nearly six percent, a country with a burgeoning white consumer market and cheap, politically disenfranchised black labor?” (Campbell 1998, 24)

65 “The United States deepening economic involvement in apartheid South Africa was accompanied by a profound change in the political relationship between the two countries, to the point that one can begin meaningfully to speak of the U.S. as South Africa's political metropole. […] ‘The deepening relationship between the United States and apartheid South Africa reached a kind of climax in the early 1960s. In March, 1960, South African police fired on unarmed African demonstrators in the ‘model township’ of Sharpeville, killing sixty nine and wounding over two hundred. The massacre provoked an international outcry and the first of many bouts of emigration fever, as whites fled a seemingly inevitable cataclysm. While the United Nations debated an international ban on South African products—the United States, predictably, vetoed the resolution—international, especially British, capital flooded out of the country.” (Ibid., 27)

66 They totalled more than $2.6 billion by 1981 (Davis 1993, 16).

67 “The Sullivan Principles make no reference to political change. […] The South African government accepts these codes as being within the framework of their efforts to improve the lot of its black workers. Due to the absence of reference to political change as well as South African acceptance of the codes, the U.S. government remains faced with the issue of whether support for the Sullivan Principles is an adequate expression of governmental opposition to apartheid and to the promotion of political change. […] However, a Protection of Business Act passed in Parliament in 1978 would prohibit persons from supplying information about business operations in South Africa-including on order of a foreign court or government-without the permission of the Minister of Economics.” (Raiford, op. cit.,32–4)

68 “Coca-Cola in South Africa” (The Africa Fund, January 1986): http://kora.matrix.msu.edu/files/50/304/32-130-F43-84-al.sff.document.af000217.pdf [archive].

69 To steal market shares of worldwide dominant rival Coca-Cola, Pepsi introduced the Pepsi challenge. The blind-test campaign pitted the two soda giants against each other, resulting in Coke’s market share dipping to 21.7% of the worldwide soda industry and Pepsi’s share edging up to 18.8% (Frank 1997, 168–83).

70 The film stills showed in this book are used by permission of the Government Communication and Information System of South Africa (GCIS).

71 “South African Baseball Union (World Baseball Softball Confederation): https://www.wbsc.org/members/81/rsa [archive].

72 The Harris Survey, 19 January 1978: https://theharrispoll.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/Harris-Interactive-Poll-Research-FOOTBALL-IS-TOPS-1978-01.pdf (accessed 20 February 2022, unavailable 2 November 2022).

73 “Documentary film speaks about situations and events involving real people (social actors) who present themselves within a framework. This frame conveys a plausible perspective on the lives, situations and events portrayed. The distinct point of view of the filmmaker shapes the film into a way of understanding the historical world directly rather than through an allegory.” (Nichols 2017, 10)

74 Place/city marketing was not a new phenomenon, but since the 1980s, it has received increased interest for the development and competitiveness of cities. Deffner and Metaxas (2005) investigate the relationship between vision, local identity, and image in several European places.

75 Unwin and Belton (1992) examine films produced during apartheid which engaged critically with the social and political realities.

76 The chapter “Oppositional Film-making in the 1980s” in Botha (2012, 145–56) is instructive in this respect.

77 Nichols (2017, 22) proposes six subgenres or modes of the documentary: expository, observational, poetic, participatory, reflexive, and performative.

78 This is the case in Department of The Prime Minister (1972).

79 The Black Sash was founded in 1955 by 6 middle-class white women: Jean Sinclair, Ruth Foley, Elizabeth McLaren, Tertia Pybus, Jean Bosazza and Helen Newton-Thompson. The movement initially campaigned against the removal of Coloured voters from the voters’ roll in the Cape Province by the National Party government. It expanded to include the moral, legal and socio-economic issues around racial discrimination introduced in other apartheid legislation. Their website is instructive: https://www.blacksash.org.za/index.php/our-legacy/history-of-the-black-sash [archive].

80 The Bantu Authority Act, no. 68 of 1951, provided for the establishment of Black homelands (https://www.jstor.org/stable/al.sff.document.leg19510615.028.020.068). The Bantu Homelands Constitution Act, no. 21 of 1971, enabled the government of South Africa to grant independence to any homeland.

81 “The first [crucial development] which I can note only briefly, is the suburbanization of economic life—what one might call, only half facetiously, ‘mallification.’ The erection of the first shopping malls in the 1970s—malls modelled on American prototypes and, in several cases, designed by American firms—heralded an extraordinary spatial reorganization of South African urban life, a process embracing commerce, consumption and, increasingly, white collar work.” (Campbell 1998, 28)

Table des illustrations

Titre Fig. 1.1 Supermarket in Mitchell's Plain - Gillette and Pepsi
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Titre Fig. 1.2 Baseball game in Mitchell's Plain
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Fichier image/jpeg, 187k

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