Documentary shares Salt River pupils’ untold stories

Some of the former Salt River High School pupils who took part in the 1976 march, along with current pupils, in front of Parliament last year.

The Cornerstone Institute hosted a screening of the documentary Salt River High 1976 – The Untold Story followed by a dialogue on Thursday April 4 at its campus in Roggebaai Square, Foreshore.

The documentary was also screened at the Artscape Theatre later that day. The hour-long story, directed and produced by Anwar Omar, told the story of the role of school pupils in a march at the height of apartheid in 1976.

It focuses on the arrest of 10 pupils, two teachers and a parent at Salt River High School during this time.

Mr Omar had been among those who were arrested and, at 14 years old, was the youngest pupil between those detained at Woodstock police station in 1976.

One of the events depicted in the documentary is a protest march that occurred on September 2, 1976, and at the time had been the largest anti-apartheid political demonstration that managed to reach the CBD since the 1960s.

Pupils from schools in Athlone, Salt River, Woodstock and the CBD joined the march.

“That demonstration targeted Parliament, but never reached there, as it was violently dispersed by the apartheid security police at the Golden Acre. This is extensively covered in the documentary,” he said.

Since its release last year, the film has been screened across Cape Town, including at the Castle of Good Hope, Parliament, the District Six Museum and the Palestine Museum in the city, and at the Kaleidoscope Jazz Cafe in Claremont.

While introducing the documentary, he said the film, which he had funded and mostly shot himself, was part of many untold stories hidden among people who helped fight for freedom.

“When I retired three years ago, I was in a good position to make the film. I wanted everyone to participate and I wanted it to be broader than just the pupils — I wanted it to represent all of those stories that are untold. For me, it was a personal story. A lot of doccies were made about apartheid, but they were all about the prominent people. There are thousands of people who have stories — and it took me three years until I could tell mine.”

At the time, Mr Omar, who was an economist, had no training in videography.

“I quickly had to upskill myself. I knew I had a story but I needed to know if it was worthy of a film. I spent about R200 000 of my own money to make this film. I wanted it to be an ordinary story.”

Professor Gertrude Fester of the Centre for African Studies, who facilitated the dialogue, said while the challenges described in the movie were those of 1976, there were still challenges that students face today.

She said the documentary was being used as an impetus to highlight issues of the youth today, and discuss how it could possibly be resolved.

The chief executive of Cornerstone Institute, Noel Daniels said thousands of students and anti-apartheid activists were arrested over this period and many were severely tortured and murdered while incarcerated, stories that might never be told.

“This film tries to represent all those untold stories by describing the events leading up to the arrest, their incarceration and the resultant impact on their lives.

“As the institute we were honoured to screening this event for our students to know about the past.”

He said the power of conversations should not be underestimated, and that the screening was the start of a journey.

“This is one of many conversations we plan to hold on relevant subjects.”

Nichole Solomon, a third-year psychology student at Cornerstone Institute, said she was privileged to know that many years before her, people fought for their education.

“Our history is so rich with stories and memories that took place in the past. Today students do not even know. It saddens me to know that our youth today do not know of the struggle and battles that took place many years ago. I have been reflecting upon what I saw and heard in this screening. Students back then fought with purpose. Today, I believe that they have lost sight of that purpose. There are so many differences today, yet they are still similar. Things are more than just black and white.

“My question is, what are the students fighting for today? Why burn the very same buildings you need to learn in down? Why break what you did not build? Legacies before us paved the way and our students of today are breaking them down,” said Ms Solomon.

Kirsten Poking, a Bo-Kaap youth who also attended the screening, said the dialogue, which was aimed at the struggles students face, was only speaking to a small percent of youth.

“The rest of us are also here. We have to find work and go to school. It would’ve been fitting to have school pupils speak of their struggles too.”

She said she attends lectures and screenings not as a representative of the youth, but to learn about the history that wasn’t afforded to her even in democracy.