SUBJECTS — World/South Africa;
SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Rebellion; Human Rights;
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Trustworthiness; Citizenship.
AGE: 13+; MPAA Rating — PG-13 for scenes of apartheid-driven violence;
Musical; 1992; 98 minutes; Color. Available from Amazon.com.
The film begins with the following legend: “In 1976 the South African government declared a State of Emergency. For the next thirteen years, school children adopted a campaign of resistance. Approximately 700 were killed, over 10,000 were arrested, many more [were] tortured and assaulted. This is the story of one young girl caught up in the struggle for freedom in South Africa just before the release of Nelson Mandela and the end of apartheid.”
Sarafina has rousing dance numbers counterpoised against the violent struggle between the government and the children of Soweto.
Mrs. Masambuca (Whoopi Goldberg) is a role model for a good and caring teacher.
SERIOUS. This movie clearly and graphically shows the violence of a civil war. People are beaten, whipped, kicked, shot, immolated and tortured. We see it all and we see it graphically. Entrance and exit bullet wounds are shown (exit wounds are larger than entrance wounds). We see the children setting fire to the constable who has beaten and tortured their friends. Riots and destruction of property are commonplace in this film. These scenes are consistent with the history of South Africa’s effort to impose the apartheid system against black resistance. They merit being shown. In this film, violence and gore are not shown for the sake of thrilling the audience. See The Problem with Gratuitous Violence.
Before watching the movie, review the Helpful Background section and describe its contents to your child, except for the last paragraph, which should wait until after he or she has seen the film. Immediately after the movie ask and help your child to answer the Quick Discussion Question. You might want to follow up with the section on South Africa in A Force More Powerful which shows how internal economic pressure through a boycott by blacks helped bring down apartheid.
The Republic of South Africa occupies the Southern tip of the African continent. The indigenous peoples were Bantu, Bushmen, and Hottentots. The first European settlers were the Dutch who established a colony at Cape Town in 1652. The Dutch settlers and their ancestors are referred to as Boers or Afrikaners. The British ruled South Africa as a colony from 1806 to 1910. The Union of South Africa was formed out of the various colonies in 1910. The Afrikaans dominated National Party set up a brutal and efficient repressive regime of apartheid, strict racial separation and dominance by the whites in 1948. Because of criticism of its repressive policies, South Africa left the British Commonwealth of Nations in 1961 and declared itself a republic.
Nelson Mandela was an early leader of the African National Congress. He was imprisoned by the government of South Africa from 1962 until 1990 as a terrorist. While in prison, Mandela became an inspiration to most South African blacks. The photograph on the wall of Sarafina’s house is of a young Nelson Mandela. “Vive Mandela!” became a rallying cry for the people of South Africa who yearned to be free from apartheid.
After Mandela was released from prison, he and F.W. de Klerk, the last prime minister of the apartheid government, performed a political miracle by negotiating and presiding over a peaceful transition from white minority rule to black majority rule. Considering the hatred between the races engendered by years of white oppression and apartheid, this was an amazing feat. Mandela and de Klerk were jointly given the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993. (For the citation given to Mandela and de Klerk by the Nobel Committee and for more information on South Africa and the Soweto uprising, see the Learning Guide to “A Dry White Season”.) Mandela was elected the first president of the new democratic government in the first elections in which all the people of South Africa could vote.
Apartheid was a policy of strict racial separation imposed upon South Africa’s black and non-white citizens by the government to maintain white supremacy. Segregation and discrimination against nonwhite peoples was imposed in housing, employment, education and public services. It was enforced with a cruelly oppressive regime that used intimidation, torture and murder to maintain order in the face of the injustices of apartheid. Apartheid was abolished in 1991.
Teacher Masambuca dies by allegedly jumping out of a window on the tenth floor of the Special Branch building. This is a favored method used by police states to kill their opponents. For example, it was used by the Chinese Communists during the Cultural Revolution. See Life and Death in Shanghai by Nien Chen.
QUICK DISCUSSION QUESTION:
South Africa, despite apartheid and the repression with its killings and torture, made a relatively peaceful transition from white rule to black majority rule. How did this happen?
There were two ingredients of which we are aware. The first was money. Due to international trade and economic sanctions and internal black-led boycotts, white-owned businesses were suffering. Second, there was inspired leadership from Nelson Mandela and F. W. de Klerk.
2. Why did Mandela (who had participated in acts of violence in which people were killed) and de Klerk (who was elected to head a repressive government that killed and tortured people) receive the Nobel Peace prize?
Mandela was a national leader in the fight for ending apartheid. When Mandela was released from prison, he and de Klerk negotiated the end of apartheid and the creation of a new South Africa in which everyone could vote. It was a relatively peaceful transition to democracy and a major accomplishment in history.
3. What would you have done had you been a black person living in Soweto during apartheid?
There is no one right answer, but we believe that the best answer is to join the fight against injustice, but not with violent measures. The young people of Soweto resorted to violence on many occasions, but nonviolent measures would have been better. In fact, non-violence and economic boycotts, rather than violence, carried the day for the people of Soweto and the rest of South Africa.
4. How many shades of green can you name?
Examples: Jade green, pea green, sea green, grass green, emerald green, olive green.
5. What is symbolic about Sarafina throwing away Mrs. Masambuca’s gun at the end of the movie?
Sarafina feels guilty for being there when the policeman was burned. From the torture that she went through while in jail, she realizes that violence is not the answer. She also realizes that by having this gun, she is putting herself and her family in jeopardy.
1. Assume that apartheid still exists and is still imposed on black South Africans by repressive means such as torture, killings, arbitrary imprisonment, etc. Assume that you were an Afrikaner who was born and raised in South Africa. Assume that in 1976 all your family, friends and acquaintances believed in apartheid and the repressive measures necessary to support it. Assume that you became aware of the human rights abuses required to maintain the government and the apartheid system. Based on these hypothetical facts, what would you have done about apartheid and what do you expect would have happened to you?
These are the circumstances faced by the main character in A Dry White Season.
2. Can rocks prevail against guns? Can peaceful protest prevail against guns?
It is theoretically possible for rocks to prevail against guns, if there are enough rock throwers and few with guns. However, we don’t know of any circumstances in which there have been so few guns that rocks alone prevailed. Many revolutions of the 20th century demonstrated that it isn’t rocks (or even guns or suicide bombers) which are the most successful tactics to liberate a people. Nonviolent mass actions, including economic measures such as strikes and boycotts, are the most effective way for a people to resist an oppressive government. See A Force More Powerful.
3. What would have been Mahatma Gandhi’s solution to apartheid?
Nonviolent mass action. See Gandhi. Then follow up with the following question: “Do you think that nonviolent mass action would have worked against apartheid?” The answer is yes, if done on a massive scale. What brought apartheid down were internal boycotts and international economic sanctions. A boycott is a form of mass action and it is nonviolent.
4. Was the schoolmaster correct when he said that the only hope for the children was education?
Yes, because with education comes an open mind and educated mind. These are necessary to find creative solutions to the problems faced by a society.
5. When Sarafina finds the gun in teacher Masambuca’s house, Mrs. Masambuca says “I hate the killing. I hate the violence. But I cannot stand aside and let others die for me. I will fight, too. I can’t kill. Don’t ask me to kill. It’s the same old argument. What if they come for you; come to the door, kick it in. Do you reach for the gun? Do you shoot? Do I? I don’t know. I don’t know.” How would you answer these questions?
When oppressed people, such as the people of Soweto, fight violence with violence it only makes the situation worse. It was not massive violence that ended apartheid, it was nonviolent mass action (internal boycotts), meetings, demonstrations, and international sanctions. Reaching for a gun and shooting at the person sent there to hurt you usually does not fix the situation.
6. Was Mrs. Masambuca right to hide her husband’s gun?
No, if the gun had been discovered by the authorities, she would have been jailed and tortured, although this happened anyway.
7. List the human rights abuses shown in this film.
There were many, including torture, physical attack, random arrest, random killing, and searches without a warrant.
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS (CHARACTER COUNTS)
Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.
1. It is often said that two wrongs don’t make a right. Does this principle apply to the actions of the school children when they rioted, burned the school, and killed the constable?
Yes, forgiveness is an important ethical concept. (The Pillar is Caring.) Injuring someone violates the Pillar of Respect. Revenge, which this was, also violates the Golden Rule. If students disagree with you, ask the next question.
2. If Mahatma Gandhi had been alive during the Soweto uprisings, what would he have advised the blacks in South Africa to do?
He would have advised nonviolent mass action. See Gandhi. Then follow up with this question: ” How does this apply to your answer to the preceding question?” The answer is that the only justification for killing anyone is a necessity, such as self-defense. Violence was not a necessity since nonviolent mass action would have worked just as well, if not better. See response to question # 3 above.
(Be honest; Don’t deceive, cheat or steal; Be reliable — do what you say you’ll do; Have the courage to do the right thing; Build a good reputation; Be loyal — stand by your family, friends, and country)
(Do your share to make your school and community better; Cooperate; Stay informed; vote; Be a good neighbor; Obey laws and rules; Respect authority; Protect the environment)
BRIDGES TO READING
Soweto, apartheid, “state of emergency,” communist, constable, vandalism, “Vive Mandela.”
MOVIES ON RELATED TOPICS:
Cry, the Beloved Country is from the novel by Alan Paton and concerns race relations in South Africa. A Dry White Season is adapted from a novel by Afrikaans author André Brink and presents the story of an Afrikaner who cannot abide by the brutality and injustice of the South African government. Gandhi shows an Indian’s view of oppression by whites in South Africa and provides an alternative way to conduct a revolution.