Songs At The Gate

"The most haunting space is Solomon Mahlangu House..."

Anzio Jacobs (2017)

Many students were traumatised by the brutality of the police and private security during Fees Must Fall. Due to either the stigma of mental illness or lack of resources, most have had no counselling or psychological treatment. The aim of this project is to facilitate an online space for people to come together and share stories. Songs at the Gate is an acknowledgment of the damage that was done.

We conceived of an interactive map as the departure point for the project. We felt it was important to highlight and name the places where traumatic events had taken place. Our choice of using video interviews is an assertion of video as an emotive communication tool, and as a means for the viewer to experience the events through the words of the activists themselves. There are no “subjects” only storytellers.

Part of our intention was to create an online user generated video repository that would be housed on the micro site itself. We soon realized the challenges of hosting large files and decided to use YouTube. A section of the site will allow for curated user generated videos. This phase of the project will be on-going and grow as more entries come in. This methodology is in part informed by the work of American media scholar Henry Jenkins and his work on YouTube as a site of participatory culture, defined as one where the participants of that culture are actively involved in the creation of it.

The project started as a documentation of the planning that went into Fees Must Fall by the organisers. Through interviews and interactions with many students involved in the planning process it became clear that what was actually at the heart of the formation of the Fallist movement, was pain.

The team originally comprised of (left out for peer review) and (left out for peer review) and the initial phase of the project had begun through the idea of documenting trauma through the notion of space at WITS. The aim was to have the students discuss their stories and position them within the spaces where the trauma had been experienced through the visual representations of a map.

The project then expanded when (left out for peer review) joined the team. His work was heavily influenced by the re-centring of trauma as a collective experience through an archive.

Ultimately the project then consisted of two layers. The first layer being documenting the trauma of some students; and the second layer being an opportunity for other students to contribute to the discussion through user user-generated participation.

In the end the process was as significant as the outcome. The real essence of the project was the creation of dialogue. The filmmakers were participants in the dialogue and exchanges that had occurred, as supporters and active participants in the movement.

We were aware that listening was more important than directing the outcome. There comes with this a deeper reflection of what it means to assume a position - on what side of the conversation you wish to be on and how best do you begin to edit a story.

When you enter the site, you will be presented a map with five markers on it. Each takes you to a story witnessed and experienced in that space.

You are welcome, wherever you are in South Africa, to add and share your story and images by clicking the upload button.

Sumeya Gasa is an award winning journalist and documentary filmmaker based in Johannesburg. After graduating from Wits School of Arts, Film and Television, Gasa went on to work as a multimedia journalist, first, with News24 and later joining Chronicle - the multimedia partner to the Daily Maverick. During her time at Chronicle, she won the CNN Africa Journalist Award: Ecobank Economics category, Vodacom Journalist of the Year Regional Online Award and 3rd Prize at the Taco Kuiper Awards.  Gasa is currently pursuing a Masters in Digital Arts at Wits. Her research is focused on technologically hybridising physical spaces to present audio-visual stories in an interactive and performative way.

Shameelah Khan is a writer, poet, lecturer and documentary filmmaker. She has a double Honours degree from the University of Witwatersrand where she has graduated in Film, Visual and Performing Arts and in Creative Writing. She also studied Roman History and Female studies in Cape Town through a private tertiary institution for one year. She made a documentary called Women in the Dark (2015) which was selected for the film festival Africa in Motion, in Scotland. In her free time, she co-directs the online magazine ODD, which she previously wrote and edited. She is a Production Course lecturer and administrator for AFDA (Africa, film, drama and arts) University in Johannesburg. Some of her work is published in the literary journal ITCH.

Dylan Valley is an award-winning documentary filmmaker who views film as a liberatory tool. He is currently an Associate Lecturer in Film and Television at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. Dylan also spent a year as a commissioning editor at the SABC. When he is not teaching at Wits, he DJs and is on the editorial board of Africa is a Country.