(This is Part I of my six-part travelogue from shooting our documentary film, The Clubhouse: A Post-Apartheid Story. It was published in New York on July 22, on The Mantle. To join our team, please visit our Indiegogo site. For more travelogue, here’s Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V & Part VI.)
VENTERSDORP, South Africa – Heading into this road-trip to shoot our documentary film on South Africa’s “most racist town,” I have one nagging fear.
And the drumbeat will grow louder as the weekend progresses.
My worry is not whether we’ll capture enough compelling scenes and “beauty shots” to bring The Clubhouse: A Post-Apartheid Story to life. (We will, as you’ll soon see in our new trailer.) Or, if I can press our soft-spoken hero, Samuel – the first black golfer to kick down the door of the all-white Golf Club in notorious Ventersdorp – to expose more of his psyche, and enable our audience to actually care about his heroic journey from dehumanized caddy to card-carrying member of the club. (He will, and then some.)
Instead, I fret over our film’s content: “racial healing and equal opportunity” in post-Apartheid South Africa. If not explored deeply enough, it may damage my reputation. For being too positive. Or in media parlance: “a puff-piece.”
After all, we’re talking about Ventersdorp – home of Eugene Terre’Blanche and his violent AWB movement. Three loyalists even fought to the death, defending Apartheid. So from this town, which even some local whites are still ashamed to call their own, our film will show smiling white golfers glad-handing black golfers?
For the first three-quarters of our weekend in Ventersdorp, during which we’re filming the 2014 Golf Club Championship, we shoot plenty of smiles and glad-handing of Samuel and his buddy, Monte, who joined him on his 15-year crusade to crack the Club’s color-barrier.
“We need to find an older member here who’s not happy with this situation,” I tell my South African partner, Danny Lurie. “We gotta get their voice in the film.”
Danny, weighing the wrath of his compatriots, agrees.
“Yeah, or the South African media may tear us apart, too.”
We journalists are often criticized for focusing on the negative, for ignoring the positive. Now we’re desperate to do the opposite: dig up dissent.
Meanwhile, time is flying, daylight is fading, and we have to squeeze as much as we can out of our two cinematographers. We divide up: Danny and his crew stay to shoot on the golf course; I drive my crew to hunt for the rural Terre’Blanche farm. He was murdered there in 2010, by two of his black laborers. (We’ll weave the trauma of widespread farmer-killings into our story-telling.)
And then, it happens. My mobile rings. Danny on the line, his voice grave.
Mike, there’s been a development. Come quick!
From what I gather, a white foursome behind Sam and Monte’s grew irritated with the caddies over a wayward shot. Or because they were too loud. Or something that set off one golfer, a dour-looking man who looked to be in his early 50s.
Stop making noise, you kaffir! … You want me to move you, you stupid kaffir?
“Kaffir” is the most searing of Apartheid-era racial insults, an Afrikaans term derived from the Arab slur for “infidel.” In today’s South Africa, the K-word packs a punch like “nigger” does in the U.S., yet feels even more freshly taboo and provocative.
So to hear that insult hurled in Ventersdorp – splashing into this placid sea of inter-racial golf – well, it also washes away my nagging fears of superficiality.
The question now is: how to handle this situation? …