Punk In Africaby Luke Mason / 08.08.2011
It’s the day after Punk in Africa premiered to the world and the entire stool-warming team of the Winston Pub. One of the stalwart members of Durban’s new wave drunk-punks updates his Facebook status proclaiming Punk in Africa to be the most epic piece of documentary film making in history, ever. Hung-over and sardonic after the debaucheries of the film’s after-party, I flippantly comment: “I thought it was pretty crap”. A day later, Keith Jones, one of the directors, pulls me over at a Captain Stu gig and asks, “What exactly did you think was ‘pretty crap’ about the movie I’ve been making for the last two years of my life?” Fuck you Mark Zuckerberg. It takes me more than a moment to pull my foot from my mouth. With a deep breath this is what I tell him, well a paraphrased version at least.
The film started out telling the amazing, untold story of resistance and music under the apartheid regime. Ageing punks stare wild eyed into the camera and reminisce about the days of vigour and angst, proud of what they did and the courage that it took to stand up for what they believed in, or rather, against what they didn’t. Well researched, well told, the pre-apartheid section of the movie, although not hell-of-a cinematic, is difficult to find fault with.
But then apartheid ends and the wheels fall off. The cohesive message, the unity of struggle falls away, both filmicly and in the words coming through from the interviewees. An admirable idea is replaced with a weak multiplicity and the movie begins to bounce around relatively aimlessly through the southern African music scene, focussing on musicians who, at times only very tenuously cling to the label “punk”. At this stage the lack of cinematic imagery becomes conspicuous. Instead of a group of people telling us what they did and why it mattered, we’re left hearing who people are and wondering why it matters. Obviously It’s cool to see your friends with two storey sized heads speaking down at you, but I wasn’t convinced that the image of modern South African punk music did justice to the reality. And, in my opinion, the end felt rushed.
So what you leave with is a feeling of deflation. A feeling that they went for the catchy name: Punk in Africa, when in actuality, the rest of Africa had very little to do with it. While in the beginning we saw musicians ready to put their lives on the line for their music, the movie ends with the Zimbabwean group ‘Evicted’ talking about having to change their lyrics to not get into trouble. One way to critique it would be the “punk is dead” perspective; the other would be to argue that maybe the film makers just couldn’t find it the second time around. Watch the film and decide for yourself.