“Unity is strength,” says Albertina Sisulu of the African National Congress. “There is no way we can succeed as a single organization to fight his battle.” Describing the inception of the people’s movement in South Africa in the 1950s, she makes clear an overarching theme for Have You Heard From Johannesburg, namely, that this movement “has inspired every other people’s movement since,” including 2011’s Arab Spring and OWS. The history of the movement is chronicled in Connie Field’s sweeping documentary, featuring interviews with participants and an incredible collection of footage and photos. Premiering on PBS’ Independent Lens on 12 January to commemorate the centennial of the ANC, the film is reduced from its original seven parts to five (airing on 19 and 26 January as well).
Tonight’s chapters (“The Road to Resistance” and “The New Generation”) underline the ANC’s early understanding that the movement would need international support, following the UN’s Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, the decision to send Oliver Tambo to Europe to insure the movement would continue no matter what happened to organizers in South Africa, the decision (urged by Nelson Mandela and others) to embark on an armed struggle, and the crisis created when Mandela and seven others were sentenced to life in prison for bombing power lines. Interviews with international supporters of the movement—including Soviet officials who saw an opportunity to back an anti-imperialist struggle—reveal Tambo’s efforts to keep the movement alive despite such setbacks. The film also considers the US and Britain’s continued support of the apartheid government against the people’s movement, a decision premised on a global economic calculus. Sir Sonny Ramphal Vice President of the UN General Assembly, laments, “That really was a tragedy because apartheid was hostile to every Western value. It was the absence of democracy, it was a police state and tyranny, it was racism in its most blatant form. And yet, the West aligned itself with South Africa by refusing to condemn it.”