Slice Of Life: To humanise the ‘savage’

My friend Teresa Firmino and I make up an arts collective, called Kutala Chopeto. Both our families come from a military community, called 32 Battalion. A lot has been written about the unit, but mainly from a white perspective.

They’re always referred to as savages who were used by the apartheid government to kill their own brothers during the Angolan civil war. They were seen as traitors.

But we knew these men. They were ordinary people with families. We wanted to know more about them and tell their stories through our art, so one day we interviewed Theresa’s uncle. We spent most of the day with him at his home and throughout our time with him, he warned us that the history is so grave – so heavy and controversial – that we could hurt our careers by focusing on it. He had this very heavy, serious look on his face. You could see he was really concerned for us.

But we left that interview with him that day even more determined to do it; to not only create some kind of archive, but also art that told these stories. We left there determined to pursue it.

Because, for us, it is important to show that these men – these ‘savages’; these ‘traitors’ – are our fathers; our uncles. They are not gun-wielding machines only to be used by the apartheid military. They are human beings.

Helena Uambembe, 23, as told to Carl Collison, the Other Foundation’s Rainbow Fellow at the Mail&Guardian

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Carl Collison
Carl Collison
Carl Collison is a freelance journalist who focuses primarily on covering queer-related issues across Africa

Related stories


press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday