Peter Clarke. It is such sad news to hear of his passing quietly in the middle of the night on Sunday 13 April. His body is gone but his art remains – bearing witness, etched into memory. Peter Clarke holds a special place in my personal history. He was born in my home town, Simonstown in Cape Town. He and my mum grew up in the Kloof (pronounced Kloef)–what was then the poorer part of town. They went to the same school, Arsenal Primary, and my mum always recalls his artist prowess from then; the Clarkes were regular customers in my grandfather’s shop in Waterfall Road, at the foot of what is still one of the resident naval barracks. He is the only South African artist I know of to have captured Simonstown pre-forced removals.
In Cape Town jazz here is not just jazz. It’s a whole lot more. For one, it is a dance style that continues to be the predominant feature of successive generations of Cape Flats families. Almost similar to what is called salsa in the Latino communities, jazzing on the Cape Flats is now somewhat of a tradition. And I use tradition in a deliberate way, to think about inheritances of practices that are shared, dynamic and made and remade anew, but always defined also by what is continued as it is passed down.
On Sunday, walking past the Exclusive Books store, it was interesting to see Kees van der Waal’s new edited text, Winelands, Work and Wealth: Transformations in the Dwars Valley prominently displayed in the window. I found it striking because it brought to the fore something that is so obvious but so well hidden in Stellenbosch town. Walking through the oak lined streets steeped in Cape Dutch vintage, it’s hard to tell that all of it was built up by the sweat of black slaves and workers over roughly 3 centuries. I could not find a slave or workers monument in the town, despite noticing how rich the public art culture was.
Documentary films truncate an entire life into fleeting bursts of exuberance and somber moments. Any moments that exist in between, however significant they are, are left out completely or brushed over. In making a documentary, on any subject, the director carves a narrative. And at times, the narrative carves itself. The decision then to make a documentary on the astounding life of Fela Kuti is a brave one. What do you exclude? What do you include? And most importantly, what informs these decisions?