Opening 1 Dec 2005
This docu-drama by Zola Maseko takes us to Johannesburg, South Africa, in 1951. Nelson Mandela has begun to demonstrate against the political situation there. British editor Jim Bailey publishes Drum Magazine with the help of a motley crew of local journalists such as Henry Nxumalo and Cam Themba, as well as German photographer Jürgen Schadeberg. They spend much time drinking bootleg whiskey, womanizing, and listening to music in local pubs in Sophiatown, a liberal township where residency passes are not required and anyone may own property. An old woman tells Nxumalo that her son has disappeared into a work camp called Harmony. He disguises himself as a worker and investigates the conditions there. This leads to his career as investigative journalist, interacting with gangsters, spending time in jail, and reporting on the planned razing of Sophiatown for a new development which would enrich the politicians. In 1955 Nxumalo is knifed to death on the street for his efforts.
The film isn’t perfect, e.g., we never know why Drum Magazine’s editor changes his emphasis from gossip and superficial sexy girls to dangerous disclosures. There is a side plot in which Cam provokes society to date a white girl. However, it is important to know that these people really lived and were part of South African history. Considering present day journalists who regurgitate the party line for profit, a brave and incorruptible journalist who dies for his beliefs is a rare and costly phenomenon. Schadeberg went on to become an internationally-known photographer, working and exhibiting his work around the world, including in Hamburg where he had an apprenticeship at the Deutsche Presseagentur (dpa). In 1979 he taught in New York City and in 1980 in Hamburg. He has returned to Johannesburg where he and his wife still live. Drum Magazine closed down in 1965. (Becky Tan)