Propaganda film aired

2019-03-12 06:01
Dr Ludmila Ommundsen Pessoa with Janine Overmeyer, known as Blaqpearl. The book was one of their first colaborations.           PHOTO: Samantha lee

Dr Ludmila Ommundsen Pessoa with Janine Overmeyer, known as Blaqpearl. The book was one of their first colaborations. PHOTO: Samantha lee

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Mitchell’s Plain played a huge role in international propaganda during the 70s at the height of the apartheid era and seeing just how the area was portrayed left many residents with mixed emotions.

Last week, a feature documentary filmed in the 70s about Mitchell’s Plain was screened at the Alliance Française building in Portlands.

Dr Ludmila Ommundsen Pessoa, former director of the Mitchell’s Plain Alliance Française and current lecturer at Université Le Harve, says she discovered the film during her extensive research on Mitchell’s Plain.

“The documentary was made in the height of apartheid to be used for international propaganda. I would like for the people of Mitchell’s Plain to see Mitchell’s Plain on the map of the historical struggle,” says Ommundsen Pessoa. “There is not enough emphasis made that Mitchell’s Plain played a huge role in apartheid and not enough is said about the coloured people’s participation in the struggle.”

The 17-minute long documentary was created on the order of the then Ministry of International Affairs and was produced to be used internationally.

The mostly black and white film features a voice-over from a man with a British sounding accent, used to appeal to the masses and the BBC, says Ommundsen Pessoa.

The film depicts Mitchell’s Plain as a haven, built to free the coloured community from oppression, overcrowding, and poverty. It speaks at length about the unique design of large homes, gardens, leisure spaces and amenities made available to the residents. This included the testimonies of new homeowners who spoke about no crime, freedom and how the area had changed their lives.

The film was specifically aimed at drawing attention to the so-called developments the government at the time made for residents of colour and to deceive the international community, drawing attention away from apartheid.

She says her continued research project hopes to see and record the reactions of the people to the film.

Janine Overmeyer, performing artist known by her stage name, Blaqpearl, co-founder of the Blaqpearl foundation says she received an email from Ommundsen Pessoa late last year.

“As the Blaqpearl foundation, we are about arts, culture, identity, sport and empowering our community and when we were approached by Ludmila, we jumped at the opportunity,” says Overmeyer. “I am very passionate about history and people knowing about their history – especially here in Mitchell’s Plain.”

Ommundsen Pessoa started her research on Mitchell’s Plain when she came to the area to be the director of the Alliance Française in 2008.

“I began to look into the history of the area. I was here and wanted to know more,” says Ommundsen Pessoa.

In looking into the history of the area, she found many points of interest, one of which was the film.

She obtained a copy of it from the national department of Arts and Culture. Ommundsen Pessoa says through her research, she discovered there was an effort to keep the coloured community away from the struggle.

This was interesting to her, as three years after the film was created, the UDF movement was launched in Mitchell’s Plain. This is not a coincidence, says Ommundsen Pessoa.

“People do not want to talk about apartheid. It is undeniable and we must talk about it and our history. The movement was launched here and Mitchell’s Plain is highly symbolical. It is also one of the largest communities. The international community speaks a lot about Soweto. They don’t know about Mitchell’s Plain. Without UDF you would not have had the end of Apartheid. It was launched here and it is about the coloured participation in the struggle,” she says.

“When I speak about Mitchell’s Plain, I am asked what my fascination is. Others say ‘you will be shot’. My response is that ‘Yes, they will shoot my stereotypes’. And they can shoot as many of my negative stereotypes as they want. I feel I am part of this community. I was re-born in Mitchell’s Plain,” she says,

Coming from parents with mixed nationality, she says she too identifies as coloured. Her father, a Brazilian national also listed his race as coloured on his identification card, which made a powerful statement for her.

While there are many museums and monuments on Soweto, creating awareness about the history of the area, with a museum in Mitchell’s Plain could bring in more tourists and interest from investment, Ommundsen Pessoa believes. She further hopes a copy of the film will be made available at the Rocklands Library, the site of the UDF monument. She also plans to write a book about her research.

“I realised not many people knew about the documentary. It is not my history, it is the history of the people of Mitchell’s Plain, but also international history because it was made for the international community,” she says.

The film was produced in English and Afrikaans. Many international visitors also came to see progress in Mitchell’s Plain at the time of the film.

On watching the film, Overmeyer says it took her on an emotional roller-coaster.

Ommundsen Pessoa says she hopes to create further partnerships between France and local organisations through her work and research.


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