You are standing atop Linksfield Ridge, staring down at the leafy canopies of the Johannesburg suburbs. Then you are inside of a room, a forgotten home, a crumbling façade. Venturing further into the space, you find signs of recent activity – neat words painted in red on the walls and ceilings. Footsteps are heard and a figure emerges out of the corner of your eye. You discover that the space is very much occupied.
In Azibuye – The Occupation, documentary filmmaker Dylan Valley sets up his tripod and 360° camera in a dilapidated mansion on top of one of the city’s oldest natural ridges in order to find out more about the story of two artist/activists, Masello Motana and Evan Abrahamse, who have chosen to occupy the structure. The 10-minute documentary is short and to-the-point, comprising stationary frames of the building and its surrounds, as well as sit-down interviews and soundbites from Motana and Abrahamse.
Painted on the walls inside the house is an artist statement which you’re able to read fragments of. This is a site-specific work, it explains, and occupation is the artistic project. It is an ongoing performance and form of protest. Another wall bears the inscription ‘Laws of dispossession’ and lists the 1950 Group Areas Act, the 1934 Slums Clearance Act, the 1913 Natives Land Act and various other laws that sanctioned forced removals, land grabs, and dispossession under the apartheid government.
Abrahamse also describes the occupation as “homesteading” at a point, explaining that in addition to working on their art, they’re “attempting to make an economically viable living space and working space in the city.”
A few more frames pass by at an easy pace. They show Motana and Abrahamse going about their days – tidying, cooking, drawing, fixing up the house. This is the effective simplicity of Azibuye – The Occupation. It makes no attempts at answering urgent questions or crafting definitive narratives, it is a 10-minute documentary that draws attention to the dispossession of ancestral land in a country where the issue of land redistribution continues to be a contentious and divisive topic.
The documentary also features a twist (which I won’t reveal, here) that potentially complicates Motana and Abrahamse’s ongoing project. Coming in at the halfway mark, it serves as a juxtaposition to the neat and straightforward nature of the first part of the documentary, and adds a further layer to the politics at play in this quiet, deliberate occupation