TTh 3:00-4:15 p.m., Shingleton Hall 8

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Writing Assignment on David's Story and Witness to Apartheid, a film by Sharon Sopher


How do these clips from the film Witness to Apartheid inform your reading of Zoe Wicomb's David's Story? Submit a 2 paragraph comment to this post by midnight, February 20.

24 comments:

  1. The clips from Witness to Aparthied emphasize the plight of the main characters in David's Story by graphically presenting the circumstances that the native people find themselves in under aparthied South Africa. Both sides are presented to us, and show the point both sides have reached in a level of uncompromising involvement. The Afrikaans from a point of entitled ignorance, and the native South Africans from desperation under inhumane conditions.

    Words, while a powerful conveyance lack the power of a truly horrific image. We hear of torture, read the words, but they are just simply words. Those words are bound by the limitations of the reader's imagination. What they can envision when they think of what torture is. To be presented with the scarred and lacerated form of a 14 year old boy is an entirely different situation. Something one might not have even considered as a possibility is shown as not only possible but real.

    The Witness to Aparthied clips take the story out of the abstract, and provides concrete definition to the basis of the story and David's struggle. Most people may not know anything of aparthied or imagine it to be a simple conflict of race and segregation. The clips take it beyond the disembodied nature of unknown history and provide the framework of the act bordering on holocaulistic proportions that has received far less attention, to appreciate the truly necessary and desperate actions of the freedom fighters within Zoe Wicomb's story.

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    1. Your use of compelling imagery underscores well your point that the film's imagery adds an additional mode of understanding to the novel's text.

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  2. The video clips we watched in class bring new elements into David's Story and help understand the circumstances of the novel in two fundamental ways. First of all, they provide a clearer picture of the governmental oppression of the blacks. By reading only the book, it becomes clear that there is plenty wrong with the South African system, but while there are some descriptions of cruelties, they are mostly vague (an effect that is further emphasized by the novel's disjointed structure). Having the background provided in the video makes it more understandable why the freedom struggle is necessary and what kind of human rights violations the South African government of the time committed. In short, the video clips help understand the system and circumstances during the events of David's Story.
    Secondly, the clips give faces to the characters of the novel. While naturally none of the people in the videos are the same as the novel's characters, being able to put some kind of face on their fictional counterparts is helpful in making them seem more human and their experiences more meaningful. This again has to do with the novel's choppy structure; the characters remain a bit vague without any outside reference points. Understanding why David and the others take the risk of joining and working for the freedom movement becomes easier after seeing the cruelties described in the text in a visual format. The video also provides first-hand accounts on the views of both sides of the conflict, which on its part adds a more, should we say, personal dimension to the novel.

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    1. I like your idea that cinematic visuals can suggest clarity to the reader of a postmodern text that is deliberately disjointed.

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  3. The film, Witness to Apartheid certainly illustrates the plight of the black and coloured, freedom fighting liberation movement described in Zoe Wicomb’s novel, David’s Story. The perils of the South African liberation movement and the conclusion of apartheid are explicitly documented in both film and literature. The ironically titled David’s Story is a (fictional) documentary in itself of the struggles for national identity and peace that the community faces after apartheid. David also unfolds the persecution his ancestors, the Griquas, underwent in order to establish freedom during the turn of the century. In this sense, history seems to be repeating itself. David, Sally, and Dulcie’s endeavors (past and present) as guerilla operatives enlighten the audience of the danger, agony, and sacrifice that accompanied the coloured way of life during the era of apartheid.
    The clips presented from Witness to Apartheid certainly bring to light the debilitating reality that is recounted in Wicomb’s novel. Anti-apartheid supporters testify of their account to not fight the white system, but an evil system which has corrupted justice. The apartheid movement is displayed as a direct opposition to human rights (a virtue the movement claimed to uphold) through it’s torture and malevolence toward the black and coloured community through the institution of townships (essentially segregated concentration camps for blacks). The motivations of the central characters in Wicomb’s novel become living and real when one is exposed to the historical horror of apartheid. Association and involvement with the freedom fighting movement was an often risky and lethal venture. The torture of Dulcie and the segregation of David’s family tree is brought into a real world perspective when one witnesses the Witness to Apartheid documentary. Freedom for those who desired it most in South Africa came with a price of revolution, rebellion, and blood.

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    1. You do a good job of expounding the ways that cinematic documentary illustrates fictional novelistic documentary. Characterizing the novel as documentary is apt.

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  4. Understanding the Story of a People Under Oppression

    By Liv Albright

    The selected clips we viewed from Witness to Apartheid were enlightening and moving in their portrayal of the Blacks’ horrifyingly routine risk of living under Apartheid; it also provided an example of the typical view of a white person in support of the Apartheid government. Upon reading David’s Story, without the background knowledge of the high-risk living conditions of David’s people, it is easy to see David’s participation in the anti-Apartheid movement as something out of the ordinary, a radical form of behavior. Because explicit explanations are not given in the text, we do not fully understand the significance of David’s supporting the anti-Apartheid struggle, and can be confused into thinking he is participating in this movement out of a snide hatred for the government based on personal pride. We can infer this from how the narrator expresses David being unfaithful to his wife, but that David doesn’t see it as such, therefore isn’t ashamed or regretful. From this bit in the story, readers can ignorantly assume David’s motivations stem from a lack of general appreciation of things or understanding—both with himself as well as the surrounding world—but after viewing the Witness to Apartheid clips, it is evident why David perceives participating in the anti-Apartheid movement as an essential aspect of his life. The reason is that with the constant threat and abuse inflicted on the people of South Africa, the people are not really living. So in order to have the potential to live life to its fullest capability—with freedom, peace, and the use of your basic human rights—David chooses to fight against the injustice. While taking this oppositional stance might seem more risky, it is the best option the people under Apartheid had to obtain their rights, and thus be allowed to live freely and fully.
    The viewing of Witness to Apartheid also provides us with an understanding of the average mindset of a supporter or member of the Apartheid government. The interview we witnessed was of a woman who spoke articulately and at length about how if the government were to give Blacks their rights, the Blacks would then have too much control with their new power and proceed to eliminate all Whites. This example of the typical perspective—that perceives Blacks as so animalistic that if they were given their basic human rights, they wouldn’t know how to properly exercise their use of them—gives us incredible insight into the infuriating injustice demonstrated by the Apartheid government and its supporters.
    Another facet of these viewings that establishes within us a more comprehensive understanding of David’s Story were the explanations and examples of how the Apartheid used torture as a method to obtain knowledge and keep those under its control in the trap of its oppressive force. In David’s Story, the prison scenarios are not described in detail, therefore it is difficult to completely comprehend the extent of what anti-Apartheid activists endured during imprisonment. The clips from Witness to Apartheid show us the horrors behind Wicomb’s narrative; they also depict how even the association with or support of the anti-Apartheid struggle put you at a deadly risk of torture and detainment. This awareness teaches us that Wicomb’s writing David’s Story was a very dangerous act, which illustrates Wicomb’s immense bravery. The knowledge of Wicomb’s courage along with the awareness of the terrors of merely existing under Apartheid, has moved me into acquiring a new and deep respect for David’s Story as a strong, representative work of the anti-Apartheid movement, and as a voice for all those who suffered under its oppression.

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    1. I admire your insight that the documentary film's depiction of apartheid reframes the fictional David's involvement in the armed resistance as normal rather than radical--such that it would be more radical to remain complacent.

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  5. The clips from Witness the Apartheid provide a context for Zoe Wicomb's David's Story. The first Afrikaaner Clip gives a face to the white minority in Africa we've been imagining. Considering Jerry, a 14 year-old boy who was tortured by the South African government, it is easier for us to imagine becoming a guerilla, or freedom, fighter like David and Dulcie. The Witness to Apartheid clips provide video footage which helps us to visualize the oppressive conditions in South Africa which led the population to revolt through guerilla warfare.
    Although David's Story is a detailed account, Zoe Wicomb does not provide much apartheid history. So far in the novel, I have not read a detailed description of an example of violence against the native peoples, therefore it was hard for me to understand the African peoples' need to rebel. Through seeing statistics in the Torture Clip, I learned 83% of the African population is physically abused. The clips helped to paint the vivid picture of the oppression of South African peoples. My reading of the text is enhanced by a video depiction of the atrocities being committed against the native people. This knowledge gives me a different view of David; I'm struggling to like his character because of his personality, but his attempts to free his fellow South Africans are noble.

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    1. I shared your struggle with David's character. You demonstrate here that additional contextual knowledge sometimes revises our impressions of those caught within those deleterious contexts.

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  6. Viewing Witness to Apartheid helps provide vital context to reading David's Story. The line that stood out to me the most from the video clips was the scene where Sharon Sopher was interviewing the South African family. When she asks them if they think they will ever gain freedom, both of them answer "no." Under the oppressive apartheid regime, it seems like their only choice is to fight, but for many of them it must have seemed like a hopeless task, or one that would put their loved ones in too much danger.

    Several times during the story, readers hear other people in David's life lecturing him about how stupid they believe he is for joining the freedom struggle. In my opinion, viewing the video clips adds more weight to his father's accusations that "people like you...give coloureds a bad name. What do you think I worked so hard for, getting us out of the gutter...just so...you can tumble the family right back into the morass" (21)? After understanding how anyone even remotely suspected of a connection to what the government considered terrorist groups could be taken in for torture, I find it much easier to understand where David's father was coming from when he railed at David for his foolishness. David's involvement in the freedom struggle could mean beatings or worse for anyone with whom he is in contact.

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    1. You share an important insight you've gained into David's father's characterization. His resistance to David's MK association is complex.

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  7. The three clips enhanced my understanding of how white South Africans felt about the Apartheid. I already had an idea how white South Africans felt about the Anti-Apartheid Movement but the clips clarified my understanding. I was then able to piece together my understanding when Mrs. H. Botha was interviewed. In David’s Story by Zoë Wicomb, there is an ongoing battle with Coloured vs. Griqua. Mrs. Botha’s views on biracial people aided in my understanding of the tension between the Coloured and Griqua people during the Apartheid.
    David’s Story does not contain many historical accounts of violence but the clips helped my understanding because I was then able to picture the setting of the novel much clearer. During the Apartheid, black South Africans dealt with atrocities that were not emphasized in the text. Innocent people were killed and tortured everyday even if they were not associated with the Anti-Apartheid Movement. The fear that black South Africans had to deal with ties together with the theme of whose story was it really and the relationship between the writer and David. Therefore, the three clips from Witness to Apartheid improved my understanding of not only the views of white South Africans but also the lives black South Africans carried out during that time period.

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    1. Your sense that Wicomb paints daily life in broader strokes while Sopher's documentary provides specific, graphic details is accurate. The two approaches certainly do complement each other.

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  8. The clips shown from the documentary Witness to Apartheid showed me a complete and utter culture shock. The first clip gave us two contrasting perspectives that represented the white voice and the black voice. The white voice believes living under an apartheid government is a good thing for they are the ones being protected by the government. From their eyes, the ending of the apartheid would result in the black race overpowering the whites and ultimately wiping them out in South Africa. But because the whites are the ones protected by the government, they don’t understand what it’s like to be discriminated and treated unjustly by the government. The black voice gave the perspective of the fight for liberation from the apartheid government. The second clip showed me how much danger the characters in the novel are putting themselves in for if the government thinks one is supportive of the liberation movement, and then they will be arrested and physically tortured for information. The third and final clip showed how the apartheid government wont even let reporters interview people in the townships. The government doesn’t want the truth about what they are doing to their innocent citizens to get out internationally and will even blame the reporters for giving the South African government a bad reputation.

    When starting the novel David’s Story, the image was not in my reality to see what living under an apartheid government is like to experience. Personally I will never completely understand what it’s like having to fear for your life on a daily basis but once having viewed the atrocities that occur under an apartheid government, it brings a more powerful impact to David’s Story. The clips have now given me a better picture image of the setting these characters within the novel are living in. To view the horrible reality those innocent characters endured emphasizes how noble they truly were to fight for justice under an apartheid government when they are repressed, herded like animals, and threatened with death.

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    1. It is clear that the film provided you much more than a visual representation to enhance the textual depictions. The fact that the film screened real-life scenarios unimaginable outside oppressive regimes (as in your case) is telling of the stark disparity between oppressed and free populations.

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  9. In David’s Story by Zoe Wicomb, its main focus centers on South Africa’s and the Apartheid Movement. To me, the word movement signifies something that will create a beneficial change, but as far as “change” from what I read thus far, it’s nothing but violence from the government and a permanent hatred and intimidation between the white and black South Africans. We find David apart of the guerillas and is shown being on a hit list just because he wants to find out more about his family, we also find Sally, his wife being a part of the freedom fighters as well as having a strained love with David because of the paranoia and threats oppression. These three videos were interesting to watch because they showed that this fictional novel and its events are REALITY in South Africa. From the townships to the Detention and authority of the White African Police, the videos walk hand in hand with the different events in David’s Story.
    In the first video, the interviewer talks to a white South African woman and all that she talks about is government if the Black South African were in charge. She didn’t like the idea of the possibility of a Black President and Black Control and the idea of mixing of the two cultures, this interview relates to David’s Story in that, the extreme dislike between these two cultures permeates into a strain on government, living conditions and family as well. Even though that woman was one voice, she pretty much summed up what she feels about the Black South Africans. Throughout the novel, all David and Sally want to accomplish is peace and equality. The next two video’s showed the violent side of the controlling police and enforcement towards not only the Blacks, but Americans. There were clips showing lacerations on the Blacks, an emotional story from a hostage black female, and American. Violence is apparent in David’s Story, but in general, these clips proved that in order to gain freedom, violence in South Africa is unfortunately, what a person has to go through.

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    1. You describe the depictions in both the novel and the film as if they unquestionably depict real events. The fact that the novel is classified as fiction does not seem to phase you because it is historical fiction and, therefore, possesses a core of truth. However, the film's *visual* aspect lends, to you, the patina of "REALITY" that written text does not. This is an interesting insight.

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  10. With watching these videos, i can't help but go back to the thought of this idea of where the history is coming from. Going back to the discussion we had in class about fictional and non fictional happens and occurrences in this story and seeing real proof of what was true and real. This apartheid movement that the book is surrounded by, completely comes to life with imagery from these clips and not just written down words to explain this so called "movement." The outrageous discrimination and complete nonsense that comes from the first video of the lady speaking comes as a total shock when you first listen to her, and you think, well that's not the idea. Seeing real live people almost gives you an idea of what the characters in David's Story would have been like and their same reactions and words and behaviors that are detailed in the story.

    What's nice about these video clips also is not only realistic images but realistic emotions and attitudes. Real experiences from people who were apart of this so called movement. With imagery, you can give readers another feel to the story. There are oh so many ways to explain and distill emotion into a reader with just words but these clips are a real eye opener and show a little more of the history and depth that you aren't receiving in the book. To see the physical abusive that the South Africans went through shoots straight to the heart because you read it but you don't see it and when you see it, it completely shocks you and becomes even more painful to understand and accept.

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    1. You share an interesting insight into the notion that written accounts of atrocity are still less shocking than visual images of the same. Good work!

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  11. The clips from the film “Witness to Apartheidclass” brought a stronger sense of reality to Zoe Wicomb’s “David Story”. While words on a page can still be powerful hearing them directly from the mouths of a victims is emotionally striking and makes the gruesome scenes reality.

    The clip first we watched in class showed the general perspective of the white South African community. A woman expressed her fear on if the blacks were allowed to vote then a black president would be brought to power. Which in turn would lead to the white community being whipped out either by evacuation or rape, causing every one to be “Chocolate colored”. Next we were showed a clip that focused on the physical torcher and abuse on the Back South African community. Ranging from police brutality, to the horrific living arrangements forced on them. To me one of the most striking stories was that of Doris, a woman who was interrogated by the police to see if she know about the resistance, but because her knowledge want what they wanted she was beaten for about an hour. The last clip we were watched showed how the South African government wanted to hide the reality of what was really going on. Claiming that the media was twisting the story and that all the government was doing everything right, despite all the abuse and horrible living arrangements.

    After watching these clips my understanding of the actions behind Zoe Wicomb’s freedom fighter has been enhanced. The horrific abuse and the government want to hinder the reality form the outside world, but more importantly it made, all the desperation and risk of her characters in this story real.

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    1. Cinematic "reality" versus textual "reality" is an interesting comparison.

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  12. Seeing the visuals of what happened to these freedom fighters was difficult. Some of the images were very disturbing. The marks on their back and the one man who had a tender skull were awful. However, it gave me a greater understanding as to why David was so worried about Dulcie’s safety. He didn’t want her to end up in a situation where she could have something like this happen to her. Seeing what was done to these people makes me understand why he would not want her name on it. Not only because he loved her but because her safety was very important. The women in the video reminded me of Dulcie a lot. They were strong and willing to do what it takes to keep the movement alive.
    The videos also show the importance of history. In class we were bringing up the question if David’s Story is accurate history. I said it was questionable because the book was looked at as fiction. However, seeing these videos and these images really proves that the events that happened in the novel were true or based on true events. It also puts faces to the characters in the novel. Thus making the novel seem so real and proving that this book is essential part to their history.

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    1. I wonder if the novel's themes become more powerful to the reader who has also viewed images of the scenes it depicts? Understand of character motivations certainly seems enhanced. Interesting insights.

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