Namibia’s Cinema: Paths to Freedom

Namibia's Cinema: Paths to Freedom
by Sherif
Awad
Among
the important documentaries screened at the 4th Luxor African Film
Festival last week, the Namibian documentary Paths to Freedom that
retells the long road walked by Namibian generations towards their country’s
independence in 1990.
Namibia
became a German colony in 1884 and was known as German South-West Africa. From
1904 to 1907, the native tribes of Herero and Namaqua took up arms against the
Germans only to be exterminated in violent genocides by the German occupiers.
The survivors, when finally released from detention, were subjected to a policy
of dispossession, deportation, forced labour, racial segregation and
discrimination in a system that in many ways anticipated apartheid. Some
historians have speculated that the German genocide in Namibia was a model used
by Nazis in the Holocaust.
South
Africa occupied the colony in 1915 after defeating the German force during
World War I and so Namibia was referred to as South-West Africa. During the
1960s, when European powers granted independence to their colonies and trust
territories in Africa, pressure mounted on South Africa to do so in Namibia.
In response
to the 1966 ruling by the International Court of Justice, South-West Africa
People’s Organisation (SWAPO) military wing, People’s Liberation Army of
Namibia, began their armed struggle for independence. This is the start point
of Paths to Freedom, whose director Richard Pakleppa uses powerful
archival photographs and footage and interviews with the protagonists of the
following events to retrace the struggle against Apartheid South Africa.
“I tried to
trace the origins of nationalism in Namibia as peasants and contract workers
organized themselves and rebelled against being slaves in their own country”,
explained Pakleppa who came to present his documentary in the festival. “My
film’s narratives are told against the historical contexts of German and South
African colonization of Namibia and the United Nations’ responsibility for
Namibia and then the emergence of the national liberation movement SWAPO. In
the film, we see how South African police detected the guerrillas and started
tracking their activities. Recently declassified documents reveal how the South
Africans recruited a high ranking SWAPO commander to betray his comrades. The
film also shows the eruption of armed conflict in August 1966 when the South
Africans launched an airborne attack on the guerrilla camp. A reign of terror
and mass arrests followed. After unspeakable torture, the guerrillas were tried
and sentenced to life imprisonment in Robben Island while the guerrilla war
against South Africa continued until independence in 1990. Women guerrillas
like Lahya Lyambo, Justina Amalwa and SWAPO leaders including Toivo ya Toivo and
Presidents Nujoma and Pohamba spoke to Richard Pakleppa’s camera describing
their memories with their own words. Pakleppa has directed and produced award-winning
documentaries and fiction films in Southern Africa since 1990. His work has
been screened at international film festivals and broadcast on NBC, SABC, the
Finnish YLE, the Japanese NKV, Dutch Television, the Portuguese RTP and the
French Arte. Prior to working as a film-maker Richard  worked as a camera assistant, studied philosophy
and psychology and worked as an activist in youth groups in the Western Cape
between 1983 and 1986.  From 1987 to 1990
he worked full-time in the Namibian trade union movement.
At the closing night of the festival, Paths
to Freedom
deservedly won the Best Artistic Achievement Prize. In the film,
while using archive stills and poetic narration, the director inserted sound
effects related to the texture of the images (sounds of mining on photos of
miners, sound effects of shooting on photos depicting battles and so on) which
resurrected the historical events on the screen.

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Sherif M. Awad
Sherif M. Awad
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