Unearthing the past

How a new film about the murder of anti-apartheid activist Dulcie September helps to unearth South Africa’s unresolved past. Stream it live on YouTube. Also subscribe to Patreon.

Robben Island / Mayibuye Archive.

For most South Africans, the 29th of March is an unremarkable date, a day like any other. Few recognize the name Dulcie September, or know of her brutal murder in Paris on this day. September was the ANC chief representative for France, Luxembourg and Switzerland in the 1980s, and was the only high-profile ANC member to have ever been assassinated outside of Southern Africa. As Rasmus Bitsch and Kelly-Eve Koopman write in Africa Is A Country, “Her murder has never been solved and September is not a household name in South Africa. Neither of those things are coincidental.”

So, who exactly was Dulcie September? At the time of her death she was 52 years old, and had devoted her entire life to fighting apartheid. A short while after her six-year imprisonment for organizing with the National Liberation Front in October 1963 in Cape Town, where she was from, she departed for Europe and joined the exiled ANC which was by that point already banned by the apartheid government. Until recently, her name existed in deep obscurity, but thanks to recent efforts by the investigative research outfit Open Secrets (which produces a podcast with Sound Africa called “They Killed Dulcie”), as well as the publication of Evelyn Groenink’s book Incorruptible (which is also about the murders of Chris Hani and Anton Lubowski), the story of her murder is starting to break through.

A new documentary, Murder in Paris, makes a notable contribution to this welcome trend. The two-part film is set to be broadcast on a channel of South Africa’s public broadcaster on Human Rights Day on the 21st of March (which commemorates the Sharpeville massacre), and on the 28th of March, which is the day before the 33rd anniversary of her assassination. Directed by Enver Samuel, whose most recent films include Indians Can’t Fly in 2015 (about the death in detention of anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Timol), as well as Someone To Blame in 2017 (about the eventual inquest into Timol’s death), the film, which features Groenink’s quest to get to the bottom of Dulcie’s murder, adds to a body of work that seeks to relook at unresolved and buried apartheid traumas. This week on AIAC Talk, we are pleased to be joined by Enver and Evelyn to discuss the film.

The film’s release comes at an apt time where many South Africans have spent the last decade or so reflecting on whether we have been able to meaningfully reckon with the horror of our apartheid past. It was not long ago that as the #BlackLivesMatter protests in the United States prompted some to call for an American truth and reconciliation commission, that South Africans again wondered about how effective our own TRC was. There are many families– like that of Ms September’s– who until now don’t know who took their loved ones, or where they disappeared to. For many, the scars are still fresh, the anger still deep. So next on this episode, we want to talk to Madeleine Fullard, who leads the Missing Person’s Task Team, an organization that emerged from the TRC and which is responsible for finding the remains of murdered anti-apartheid activists.

Catch the show the show on Tuesday at 19:00 CAT, 17:00 GMT, and 13:00 EST on YouTubeFacebook, and Twitter.

On last week’s episode, we had on Shireen Hassim, Rama Salla Dieng and Rosebell Kagumire to commemorate International Women’s Day and discuss the struggle for women’s liberation on the continent. It was a wide-ranging conversation that also touched on the ongoing protests in Senegal as an example of where credible allegations of sexual violence are side-lined by movements for social change.

Clips from that episode are available on our YouTube channel, but as usual, best check out the whole thing on our Patreon along with all the episodes from our archive.

Further Reading

Soft targets

What was behind the assassinations in the 1980s of two key anti-apartheid figures: Swedish Prime Minister, Olof Palme, and senior ANC official, Dulcie September?