On 30 March 2017, pumflet: art, architecture and stuff distributed its second edition called pumflet ‘gaiety’. ‘Gaiety’ published the recollections of Wilfred Damon, ex-resident of Die Vlakte, a site of apartheid forced removals in Stellenbosch. Wilfred’s memories focused on the Gaiety Cinema, the bioscope designated for racialised persons of colour. The intervention included a public tour of the demolished neighbourhood and a screening of La Boheme at the site where the Gaiety once stood, today a commercial complex and a pizza eatery. The Gaiety Bioscope stood in Andringa Street in an area that was known as Die Vlakte in Stellenbosch. Die Vlakte was demolished between 1960 and 1970 as part of apartheid’s project of separate development and forced removals of racialised people of colour from the centre of Stellenbosch. Wilfred recalls particularly two stories. The one occurred during the earthquake of 1969, where the film, a typical Hollywood action flick of the late 1960s, was interrupted because of the effect of the tremor. At that moment, he writes, fantasy and reality was confused. Patrons ran out of the cinema feeling as if stepping out of the cinema meant stepping inside a real life extraordinary drama of the earthquake and its after effects. The second story that Wilfred writes about concerns the Plaza Bioscope, the cinema that was designated for white patrons during apartheid. Back then, films would first be screened at the Plaza, then a week or two later, the same films would be screened at the Gaiety, a cinema for non-white people. He was thrilled to see that the opera, La Bohème was advertised and therefore due to be screened at the Gaiety too. However, he soon realised that those who were in control of choosing the film screenings had no intention of showing La Bohème at Gaiety. Insulted and disappointed, Wilfred decided to break the law and planned, together with his good friend, Leonard Biscombe, the projectionist at the Plaza, to pretend to be his assistant and in that way watch Puccini’s famous opera.
The legacy and brutality of forced removals have left deep scars in the fabric of the city. Narratives of trauma have dealt with the issues around dislocation, belonging and return. Ideas about home is a key theme in many of the narratives. But how is imagery of the social imagination remembered and dwelled upon?
pumflet ‘gaiety’ is a publication of Wilfred’s recollections of both events: the earthquake interrupted screening at Gaiety Bioscope and the non-screening of La Bohème.
See more images of the event here.
All photos by Chaze Matakala.