The Community Video Education Trust

A digital collection that enhances understandings of the South African struggle against apartheid through the medium of film.

A meeting of the United Democratic Front (UDF) in Johannesburg in January 1985 (UN Photo, via Flickr CC).

I’ve had a really hard time staying focused for the past couple of weeks, given the current protests in South Africa. Every time I opened Twitter, I was bombarded by images and videos from Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Pietermaritzburg (to name just a few) that that simultaneously shocked and inspired me. I found myself drawn to these social media outlets, Watching the 11-minute film about the #FeesMustFall protests earlier this week, I found myself thinking about how the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa was captured, preserved and understood on and through film.  One amazing digital collection that enhances understandings of the South African struggle against apartheid through the medium of film. That collection is the Community Video Education Trust.

The Community Video Education Trust (CVET): Documentary Footage of the Anti-Apartheid Struggle in South Africa is one such collection that shows the potential of video for not only reaching broader audiences, but also portraying a different perspective that is possible through oral history alone. CVET is Cape Town-based project formed in 1976, geared towards democratizing technology through training communities in video production. This site is a collection of those videos, documenting a side of the liberation struggle from the mid-1980s to the early 1990s that is not as widely available as the more traditional narratives of the struggle against apartheid.  The videos were digitized and assembled into the website as it stands to day through a collaboration between result of collaboration between the Michigan State University African Studies Center, the South African Film and Video Project (SAFVP), MATRIX: Center for Digital Humanities and Social Sciences (as part of their African Online Digital Library) and CVET.

Delving into the videos, there is a wealth of material available from footage of the funeral of the Gugulethu Seven to Abdullah Ibrahim’s return from exile to Albie Sachs moving return to District Six. You can also view important historic events like, for example, the launch of the United Democratic Front (UDF) in Cape Town in 1983.

If you don’t have specific issues or figures to search for, you can also sort through the videos by organization, person, and genre. The project recently updated all of their videos from Real Player, which will help to sustain this project as technology continues to develop, preserving this important videos that challenge top-down accounts of this era. As Jacqueline Mainguard wrote in a 1995 article for the Journal of Southern African Studies: “no single cultural form is able to express the full experience of apartheid although specific representations may seem to fulfill a sense of the totality of the experience” (Mainguard, 659). The representations contained in the CVET collection help to supplement other accounts to strive towards finding “a sense of the totality of the experience” of the anti-apartheid struggle.

As always, feel free to send me suggestions via Twitter (or use the hashtag #DigitalArchiveAIAC) of sites you might like to see covered in future editions of The Digital Archive.

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