My memorable insights at the University of Cape Town

Geoffrey Ssenoga (holding a boom microphone) during a documentary film practical session at the University of Cape Town

Last   year    on   September 25, Geoffrey Ssenoga, a lecturer at the Mass Communication department, travelled to South Africa after receiving an invitation from the University of Cape Town Africa Film Fellowship Project to attend a seven-week training in documentary film making. He shares his experience.

“Fees must fall,” shouted a group of student protestors in front of the University of Cape Town main building. They were protesting against the fees policies of South African public universities.

On South African television channels, there would be nightly news images of student protestors some of whom turned violent destroying university property.

The government decided to close all public universities. In Uganda, Makerere University, the country’s premier public university, was closed down by government purportedly to protect university property. Students were striking in solidarity with their faculty staff who were demanding wage arrears.

Universities all over the world are often hit by economic constraints faced by their home countries. One of Obama’s key occupations during his presidency was the problem of funding college education.

College education is expensive and there are no shortcuts to it. At college or universities the student and faculty are subjected to a rigorous experience of seeking knowledge and its discovery.  That explains the facilities required of a university such as high-calibre laboratories, libraries, faculties, to optimize academic scholarship.

The university resources available reflect the quality of scholarship at the institution. While at the University of Cape Town someone texted us a link to the university web metrics so that we can rate our own. Not surprisingly, it is the oldest university in South Africa established in 1892, the only African university in the top 200 of the world, and ranked in the top 50 in the categories of life and social sciences.

Our own MahmoodMamdani contributes to this stature. A plaque dedicated to his outstanding achievements in social science research while visiting at UCT stands among others at the entry of their main library.

Its fees stand at 21,500 rand (Shs5,375,000) for nationals per semester and 75,000 (Shs18,750,000) for foreign students per semester. Yet the students demand the eradication of fees. And they are right; most nationals cannot afford these dues.

The University of Cape Town Stepping Stone and African Film-makers’ Fellowship Project was meant to react to this. It brings together scholars and professionals in the film-making industry to train in the art and craft of film-making.

It involves rigorous training in the skills and practices and afterwards the participants are unleashed onto the South African community to make documentary films about it and for it.

Clients come in and use the participants to make promotional videos for their projects. This is a very delicate exercise involving client/service provider relations that has potential for explosive group dynamics.

I was in a group that had to do a promotional video for the Zamani (Swahilli for ancient)  Project, an ambitious project  to document all Africa’s tangible cultural heritage using the most modern technology.

The group’s passionate professor team leader and his astute youthful team have been to Uganda and documented our own Rock Paintings of Nyero and Lolwe in 3D. The video captures him appealing to the international community to offer support to what they consider a noble project of preserving Africa’s endangered tangible cultural heritage.

They have documented the neglected pyramids in the valley of the pharaohs in Sudan, the wonder ancient Cave churches in Ethiopia, the ancient Royal Palace in Jordan and the Portuguese and Arab  14th century  Fort in Kilwa, among others.

At the end, the students’ videos are screened in a public viewing. This is done at the university campus and thereafter at a public cinema theatre.  A number of alumni from the UCT Centre for Film and Media Studies have gone on to win awards at the Cannes Film Festival and other such global film exhibitions arising from this experience.

UCU’s Department of Mass Communication integrates a similarly practical documentary and drama film-making curriculum but is still silent on the exhibition.

This unique experience of students showcasing their work internally at the university and outside at cinema theatres such as our Uganda National Theatre would appeal to the students’ passion for cinematic performance and production.

It would also motivate them into plunging into practical film-making as a career. But so should other products created out of different academia such as the research papers which should be published, science projects like the Kiira car, theatrical performances, etc.

South Africa itself is a cultural melting pot and its history an appropriate cauldron for the social scientific researcher (little wonder Prof Mahmood prospered here).

I also visited the Iconic Mandela’s island prison on Robben Island, now a popular tourist destination where part of this history is recounted.  It is from this place that one begins to take note of the muted grumbles about the ANC not being the only party that brought liberation; that others such as Sobukwe and his Pan-African Congress greatly contributed to the struggle, but have not earned (or should I say ‘eaten’!) their due position in the country’s political legacy. And of course not to ignore the simmering volcanic rumblings of race, ethnicity and social equity.

All this and more provide fertile ground for the scholar and professional who want to know more and contribute to Africa’s canon of academia and social outputs. For a first-time traveller to South Africa’s academic community one finds that “he/she ain’t seen nothing yet.”

Related posts

Leave a Comment