The opening day of Wordfest included the DALRO (Dramatic, Artisitic and Literary Rights Organisation) lecture on censorship issues in South Africa.
Key speaker Dr Nana Makhaula-Ntsebeza, former head of the Film & Publications Board (FPB), took the audience through a timeline of censorship legislation in the country as well as cases dealt with by the FPB in particular on content violations, in recent years. These notably include the 2012 classification case of The Spear painting, an illustration by artist Brett Murray exhibited at the Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg. The classification case of Inxeba: The Wound film in 2018, on the visual depiction of a closeted relationship between two gay men at Xhosa initiation school.
Watch a recording of the lecture (article continues below):
The session’s best highlight undoubtedly came in the question and answers segment. Members of the audience raised questions on among others the future of journalism in an environment where investigative reporting (especially on politicians) is accompanied by threats to personal safety and the loss of one’s livelihood.
Similar questions were asked on the progress of SA’s social cohesion project amid blasphemous and racist statements uttered by both ordinary citizens and politicians. Many of these utterances are made on social media and do not receive adequate rebuke for future deterrence. The initiation issue however received greater attention with numerous comments supporting the documentation and publication of behind-the-scenes matters in the circumcision ritual.
Makhaula-Ntsebaza spoke of the importance of documenting old customs to protect and preserve their original identity in future. She emphasised that future generations ought to have an account to look back on as a guide to how these customs must be conducted.
Documentary evidence also provides insight into how, when and where, iterations to the original custom occurred. The introduction of newer styles of doing things that often bring detriment to ritual participants or the custom itself must be traced and corrected.
This point was supported by Wordfest coordinator and audience member, Sonwabile Mfecance. Mfecane showed the audience that the practice of not drinking water on the ‘mountain’ for a minimum period of a week in belief that the wound will “heal faster”, actually wrought more detriment to initiates as they now suffer dehydration.
He urged the audience to exercise flexibility in learning and “investigating the practice”, and also encouraged the inclusion of women in the knowledge of this practice.