Punk in Africa
directed by Keith Jones Deon Maas
No matter how you slice or dice it, no matter how much reggae or ska you sprinkle in the mix, punk rock is a white man’s gig. This documentary takes a look at the punk scene that sprung up in South Africa shortly after the British punks took over the late ’70s. Their influences were a hybrid of the local native music, the sounds of India and rare import 45’s. Apartheid was still in force as colonialism hung on to a rapidly shrinking ship, and like all times and all places, there was a disaffected youth ready to do something, anything, to defeat boredom. Defeating apartheid was as good a cause as any and while punk rock was a small force in its dissolution, it WAS on the right side of history.
Perhaps you’ve never heard of these bands: “suck” or “The Safari Suits” or “Screaming Foetus” but they were the headliners. Archival footage and present day interviews show a scene not unlike DC or Milwaukee or Portland: there were motivated skilled people who “got” the deal but resided in the obscurity of so many lost bands. Middle aged men now take us on a tour of clubs that are no more in places that went from creepy to gentrified; their baldness and white beards are signs of survival, not revolution. The footage is fun, but females and blacks are rare to non-existent and the message here is pure nostalgia. The scene has died away, the walls between black and white are partially down but at least no longer entrenched in law. And while this film claims to cover bands in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique, the last two countries are mere afterthoughts.
The punk movement galvanized the youth of the ’70s, it was political, exciting, and technical skill was unnecessary. These bands are competent, yet none of them jump out sonically. As musicians, they are dedicated, committed, and likeable, and you can’t say they weren’t a positive force in the necessary social changes in South Africa. Did you miss any truly great bands? Maybe, but punk wasn’t about being great. It was about getting out and DOING it, and these guys DID it. They got beat up, arrested, drunk, high, and laid. Did you?