Searching For Existence- An Academic Essay

Nederveen Pieterse (2001) asks what is the relationship between identity and class, between recognition and social justice? Having to deal with these issues of identity, race and nationality, I as an individual within a group structure have been forced to question these ideas and structures. By producing the Second Creek documentary we as a group (VAMS) have tried to come to terms with ethics, democracy, representation and identity in a broader context. This essay will concentrate on how the group dealt with these pressing issues of identity, representation, democracy and journalistic ethics within a certain context of development.

Social identities are especially fluid in the new South Africa. There are various cultures and societies that make up the ‘Rainbow nation’ and it is this that makes South Africa truly a ‘multi-cultural’ society (Baines 1998). This was evident as we embarked on the journey of capturing the essence of the residents at Second Creek in East London. Upon filming the daily lives of many of the residents, it became clear to me that this cannot be the life that the new South Africa is aiming for. Something has clearly gone wrong. This was the basis of our documentary, to try and establish who is to blame.

Second Creek is a rubbish dump in East London, which is closing at the end of 2006. There are however residents who live in an informal settlement just on the doorstep of the dumpsite. They survive by salvaging waste from the site. When the site closes they will have nowhere to go. The idea that Baines (1998) talks about, of a ‘united nation’ under democracy within a ‘Rainbow Nation’ is brought to the foreground. How can these people living on the dumpsite believe and have faith in a system that has not helped them at all. A system, which they say, is working against them. South Africa’s transition to democracy and its acceptance as a member of the community of nations have been accompanied by a quest for a new national identity. It is a proposed national identity where everyone is equal. Baines (1998) points out that the omnipresent image of South Africa, as the ‘rainbow nation’ seems to have caught the public’s imagination. It symbolises the ‘new’ South Africa, the imaginary nation being constructed in the post-apartheid era. How can one describe what a national identity is? Is it as Strelitz (1998) describes as bringing everyone together for a sporting event such as the Rugby World Cup or is it the South African media with their construction of national identity by using the coin phrase ‘Simunye’- meaning ‘we are one’. The idea of the rainbow nation as Baines (1998) notes is truly nation building and it suggests that South Africa is multicultural.

We as a group went to East London not knowing the story that we would uncover. The deeper issues that lay beneath the surface of a desperate community and a government that is enthusiastic to help but the communication between the different divisions within government have broken down. We managed to show no bias towards whose story to tell in the beginning but as the narrative unfolded we knew exactly whose story was worth telling. From then on we set about filming the accounts of the residents and how their lives will be affected by the devastating closure of the site. There were more actors and players on this chessboard though and it seemed at certain stages that we were in checkmate. The residents of the neighbouring Parkside community were also adamant the dumpsite should close because the bad smells and diseases that were coming from the site were affecting their lives and homes. It’s a ‘catch 22’, where one group wins while another group suffers and vice versa. So what is to be done and how does one go about it in a dignified and democratic manner?

The idea of representation is a tough notion to follow when aligning oneself with the task of creating a documentary in South Africa. Many South Africans are still caught up in the 1950’s and therefore they view things very differently. The representation of your subject is very important in how they are portrayed to society. Our documentary steered well clear of bringing in any ideas of misrepresentation. We told a story that needed to be told. It did not matter who the subject was, whether he be black or white, what did matter is that a community was suffering and a government was sitting back and making things worse.

Dyer (2000: 539) sums up this argument by saying ‘there is no more powerful position than that of being ‘just’ human. This quote became very apparent when analyzing our documentary. There are no issues of race or misrepresentation throughout our story. It is rather a tale of the heartache of a community, a human community forgotten by society. There is no ethical way to film or cover the full story of these people. I tried to put myself in the shoes of Afrika, our main actor and I couldn’t. Not even for a day could I be able to do what he does. How do we as journalists have the right to go into their lives and ask them to help us by parading around for the amusement of the rest of society? We tell them ‘No, we are trying to tell your story, no we are trying to make a difference?’ How can we as students help these people? How can we make a difference? There is no ethical way around this issue and we as student journalists know this. We do try however to help people take notice of the situation but it seems that students are not taken seriously anymore. These are the issues we as student journalists are given when producing these types of documentaries. There are times when our shows make it to a wider audience and people take a second look at the situation but most of the time, the actors in our stories are pawns in a bigger game.

The development of television journalism though has come a long way, and to not sound too cynical with the above statements, television is allowing society the opportunity to make their own decisions surrounding the developments happening around the world. Television through time has brought the issues into our homes, into our lives. Without it we would not realise the complexities and sorrow surrounding these various issues. A band member from a South African music group mentioned that human nature is very fickle and television gives society inkling into the lives of people all over the world and it is up to those people to decide on what to do about it and how to react to it.

Nederveen Pieterse (2001) explains that every human being, in addition to having their own personal identity should have a sense of who they are in relation to their surroundings- in other words their community or nation. The members of Second Creek were their own community. They looked after each other and they worked hard so that their families would not go hungry for another day. Is this the Rainbow nation that Baines is talking about? Where Archbishop Desmond Tutu praises a new South Africa, a South Africa united. These people are on the outskirts of society, abandoned and forgotten about under the new government. Only to be taken notice of because of a little pressure from four University students.

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