When our Production Team were recruited in January we had given them an outline of the plan and related schedule. So on the morning of 24th February we were ready to begin. Andy Smart, Di Oliver and I had travelled up the day before from Cape Town bringing a load of essential equipment including resources for a Theatre of Learning and six computers for the edit suite along with cameras and other filming gear.
'The Edit Suite when set up' (image)
We had agreed to induct our young team in film making by setting up and filming a Theatre of Learning involving twenty local primary school children. Our group were hugely enthusiastic as were the children who took part. Theatres of Learning were developed by Big Wide Talk in the UK as a means of engaging parents in their children's learning and simultaneously serving as a vehicle for community economic development.
See the section 'Theatres of Learning', in the e-book 'Big Wide Talk, a new kind of thing'
Our schedule for the day was therefore to:
- set up the Theatre of Learning in the Carel Du Toit High School hall;
- to bring in a group of twenty children from the Steytlerville primary schools;
- to film the activity of the children taking part over a two hour period.
The film taken was to be viewed and edited the following day. The Production Team were shown how to use the two cameras we had brought. This was done as we set up the Theatre of Learning. After a shared lunch the primary school children were collected.
Once inside the Theatre of Learning the approach allows for the children to make use of all of the assembled objects as they wish. They are free to use everything as they imagine and invent, the only rule being that they must never hurt another child or adult.
'The first Steytlerville Theatre of Learning (images)
We had brought boxes of cloth hats some saying 'moving on' some saying 'meeting up' and a set of bright orange life jackets. Both sets of object proved irresistible to everyone, especially the hats. There was not, it seemed, a person in Steytlerville who didn't want a hat or at least to be seen in one.
During set up the paint and glitter also proved compelling.
'Paint and glitter'
Throughout the Theatre of Learning our Production Team filmed, advised and observed their younger neighbours. However we also made time to talk about what we were doing not only about learning to film and observe but also about how we could make a film about the death of Johannes Spogter.
'What we enjoyed' (video)
'The children were engaged' (video)
'Painting the tents' (video)
Next day Di and I addressed the Vegetable Co-op, informing them of our plans and seeking their support.
'Speaking with the older people in the Vegetable Co-op'
From then on the day was spent viewing and editing the film shot during the Theatre of Learning. The methodology was straight forward; notes were made of the parts of the film which seemed to the Production Team to most honestly reveal what the children had actually said and done. Clips were made of filmed behaviour which most intrigued and interested the Team. The clips were then grouped into categories. Introductions to each group of clips were filmed along with brief comments on the shared experience and a finale of song and dance. The resulting first movie 'We will shine' was later burnt to DVD, a fine first achievement.
'We will shine' (web version) is available here' (video)
Perhaps more significantly over these two days we also reflected on and thought through how to find out about Johannes's death and a plan evolved to set up a series of interviews with friends and family across the town which were to be filmed. The Production Team were to arrange, conduct and film the interviews themselves.
We also talked about the potential of the project for community economic development noting that the creation of an archive documenting the town's history would be of interest to tourists and historians alike and that this in turn could attract advertising via a community website. Finally we explored the potential for running more Theatres of Learning. Those taking part children, young people and older adults had all greatly enjoyed the Theatre of Learning. We had donated supplies sufficient for several more and we planned another to take place during a further filming session. The Production Team thought that a small charge of R5 per child could be met by local parents to provide their children with an exciting and safe experience. We were also able to show that film of children's self guided learning can contribute enormously to adult engagement with children's learning and the conditions within which spontaneous learning takes place.
'Why are we doing this' (video)
'They fought for people to have better lives' (video)
'We want to change things' (video)
'Women Presidents of South Africa' (video)
'What we have heard about that night' (video)
9th and 10th March
Two hectic days of interviewing and filming. The Production Team lined up people in Steytlerville as follows:
Commander of Police
Sipho Miggels, Tofi Miggels and the Miggels Family
Judy Chalmers and Burton Joseph were interviewed separately.
The Production Team drew up their list of interviewees after talking with family and residents in Kabah, the part of Steytlerville where most black South Africans live. The Production Team also designed their own interview schedule so that interviewees were for the most part asked the same set of questions. Initially the Production Team were caught up in what I can only describe as their own celebrity, that is, the celebrity which derives from simply being on camera and using a camera.
'Using cameras' (images)
As the interviews got under way there was huge excitement albeit within a decidedly haphazard timetable. There were lots of changes as life went on. For instance, Mangaliso Saku, the Caretaker at Thomas Kasibe Primary School, was thought to be a very important witness. But his wife was taken off to hospital having had a stroke. So we had to wait until Mangaliso knew his wife was OK before we could go ahead. Mostly interviews were conducted in the home of the interviewee which meant that lighting and sound quality were far from perfect. Nonetheless the Production Team paid great attention to what each interviewee had to say. They were unfailingly respectful but it was their naivety which drew heartfelt responses, not always but often enough.
They were surprised by the extent to which there was no one single account of the event upon which there was general agreement, save that Johannes, Papi, Spogter was very young, a child, and that older people in Steytlerville had been slow to mobilise opposition to apartheid. The Production Team were shocked by what Mama Petros had to say, that she would not forgive and the focus settled on their own reflection rather than the pursuit of forensic detail. See the Under Investigation film.
Zintle and Sinothando were also shocked by conditions in the present day police cells in Steytlerville. The two young women interviewed the Commander of Police and his Deputy. I was also present. Afterwards the Commander agreed to let us see the cells in the rear yard. We were not allowed to take photographs. We knew that the cells had changed very little since the time of Johannes's death in July 1985. Locking cells sat at the back of a wire covered compound, essentially open to the elements. There were two toilet bowls along one wall which could only be flushed outside the locked area. There was also an open urinal. Filthy mattresses were scattered about on the ground with one lying in the urinal. Zintle asked when the mattresses were cleaned. The Commander said they had them dry-cleaned once a month. Afterwards he was at pains to show us the tiny kitchen and stove where a kudu stew was being made to feed a batch of prisoners due to be held overnight prior to attending court in the morning.
Later as a group we met with Johan Trolip an artist who also manages Steytlerville's Royal Hotel. We talked about a possible project to use the materials, paint, glitter glue and theatre gels that we had brought. Johan was happy to work with the group and they were eager to go ahead. We decided that a project to make coloured window decorations might be viable. There is a beautiful art nouveau window in the Elliot Church in Steytlerville.
At the end of day 2 we talked through what remained to be done in order to complete the movie. We agreed to return to further analysis and editing during the next filming session scheduled for early April. We also agreed to run another Theatre of Learning during that session which we hoped the Production Team would undertake themselves albeit with some support. We also knew that the final cut would be enhanced with singing so we took the opportunity to begin the process of recording N'kose sikelele I Africa. Tired but pleased with ourselves we went to the petrol station and bought ice cream.
However we had a hard decision to make. The original group had seven members two of whom were considerably younger than the other five and were clearly not yet mature in their understanding. The remaining work to shape and edit the film was complex. So sadly we reduced the group to the five oldest members.
It is important to say that we were becoming friends, a disciplined team with shared responsibility was beginning to evolve.
8th, 9th and 10th April
Di, Andy and I travelled to Steytlerville on 7th April ready to start early on 8th April. We had previously agreed with the team that the second Theatre of Learning would run on 9th April. Judy Chalmers would join us for 9th and 10th bringing an invaluable stash of clothes for dressing up from her church in Port Elizabeth.
Despite our best efforts it was a slow start. By 09.00 none of the Production Team had turned up! I went into Kabah to find them. Some were still asleep, some had errands to run and Jimmy Miggels, Zintle's Dad, needed a lift to the clinic, a not atypical day. We also had to scout around to retrieve resources especially the small tents needed for the Theatre of Learning. These were eventually found locked away in the closed Advice Centre.
I knew this was the only time left to capture enough footage to make the movie and to come to a workable consensus about the structure and content. I had an agenda but as ever in these contexts it was as fluid as it was rigorous.
'Images of the 2nd Theatre of Learning' (image)
There were deliberate prompts on my part, for instance, I went round the town with Vuyolwethu filming at various landmarks and recording descriptions for what is sometimes referred to as the 'B roll'. My plan, shared with the Team, was to have the movie describe their enquiry and the impacts on their feelings and thinking. So in addition to running the Theatre of Learning and making sure there was a range of linking pieces including singing, the real imperative over these days was to manage a continuing conversation about what was unfolding for them, the Production Team. Together we were both making the movie and being the movie simultaneously. Without this edge we could not have generated nor sustained the creative tension needed to spark enlightenment and shared understanding. By close of business Friday 10th April I felt confident we had enough content to fulfil the promise of our title Under Investigation.
I said goodbye to the Production Team over a clutch of expensive ice creams, a treat I'd promised, but only after Vuyolwethu had negotiated some of the money being shared out for electricity in their homes. I promised to deliver an edited movie on DVD for the thirtieth anniversary of Johannes and Mzwandile's deaths on 3rd July. They agreed to arrange for the film to be premiéred in Steytlerville that day. The sense of achievement was exquisite.
'Sense of Achievement' (image)
10th July saw the film premiéred in Steytlerville at the Royal Hotel.
'GroundUp article' (pdf)