What the Soil Remembers – Review by Seyi Lasisi

Past and Present

The past and the present are always in communion. Transient as it is, the past is a conduit into the gradually-forgotten history of people and the places they inhabit. A historical act of injustice committed against the people of Die Vlakte in South Africa provides material for José Cardoso’s incisive 29-minute documentary, What the Soil Remembers. 

It has been decades since the mainly working-class people of Die Vlakte were mandated to leave their homes to give way for the creation of Stellenbosch University. Despite the Die Vlakte people’s demands for repatriation, only lip service has been paid to their demands. 

In trying to understand how the past informs the present, Cardoso revisits this site of spiritual and communal importance, documenting interviews that are dented with nostalgic undertones. These short interviews  are structurally merged with often-jarring archival footage. The interviewees often dwell on memorable events from a lifetime ago. Preference is often given to the importance of mosques and the night-time prayer routines of their parents. This functioned passively as an emblem of unity amongst the children growing up before the wake of apartheid. 

The film in its own way, reiterates the economical importance of slavery to the global Western economy. The sweat and death of Black people has historically provided the labor that made Western countries wealthy. Although this might be a cliche, it bears repeating. 

Despite dealing with an important subject, What the Soil Remembers is a little confusing on first viewing. Different seemingly unrelated interviews and archival footage sequentially follow each other. And it is only in hindsight that the thematic and structural imports of these sections become comprehensible. This might make it challenging for the impatient viewer.

Durban International Film Festival

Catch the 44th edition of the Durban International Film Festival (DIFF), presented by the Centre for Creative Arts at the University of Kwazulu-Natal between 20 Jul 2023 – Sun, 30 Jul 2023

For more information visit: https://ccadiff.ukzn.ac.za


This story emanates from the Talent Press, an initiative of Talents Durban in collaboration with the Durban FilmMart. The views of this article reflect the opinions of the film critic Seyi Lasisi .

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