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

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

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