Why Race Justice?

Gillian Schutte writes about shining the light on whiteness and white privilege.

As a white person privy to a gamut of white attitudes, it is of great interest to me to explore how these divisive perspectives of white privilege proliferate in a way that contributes to an alienating of those who are not white.

As a long-term wife and mother in a Xhosa family, I am also often intimately engaged with expressions of the experiences of black society in relation to white society.

It is the combination of white attitudes and black responses that informs my writing about whiteness.

I do not seek to set myself up as “the only good white” in South Africa, as many of my opposers have told me. I simply mean to shine a light on the unresolved and deceptive premise of whiteness and white privilege, a destructive phenomenon that many whites are oblivious to.

Whiteness is a category that has been recognised to be false by scientists, as well as race and evolutionist theories. The racial category of “white” cannot exist unless in relation to, or in binary with, other classifications in the racial man-made hierarchy that has itself been fabricated and perpetuated by whiteness.

Only by defining the racialised “other” is whiteness able to define itself as a race elevated above other races.

Whiteness exists in a parasitic symbiosis with “the other”, upon which it builds the false global system of white privilege – a system that is dependent on the oppressed “other” for manpower, yet whose humanity it has discarded over centuries to justify its means.

Paul Kivel, author of Uprooting Racism: How White People Can Work For Racial Justice, writes: “Racism is based on the concept of whiteness – a powerful fiction enforced by power and violence.

“Whiteness is a constantly shifting boundary separating those who are entitled to have certain privileges from those whose exploitation and vulnerability to violence is justified by their not being white.”

In the past 50 years or so, this system of whiteness has “granted the other” a chance to join the whitist global economy – but with restrictions and parameters and often as shareholders, junior partners or managers of white monopoly capital that has accrued wealth over centuries through the system of capitalism founded on slave labour.

The manufactured discourse that upholds this unequal system is one that pretends not to be racist while invariably indulging in racist practices. It is this narrative that I seek to unpack along with other contemporary race narratives that have proliferated since the advent of globalisation.

Its lexicon works to uphold and validate neo-liberalism by seeking to distance itself from racism in words, but not in practice.

I have chosen to deconstruct this fallacious model of whiteness in the South African context by drawing from the work of race theorists in other settler societies, such as the US.

This is my attempt to understand the unresolved space of race relations in our new democracy and to unpack the multifarious narratives the white society has constructed to protect its privilege in the new South Africa and globally.

I locate myself as someone who was born into the racist whiteness construct and as such am in a constant reflexive mode of working through this programming.

As an activist I try to work towards genuine race abolition in a context that is available to me. I have little tolerance for the reinscribing of white privilege through the disingenuousness of those who mark their latent white superiority by language of false “reasonableness”, which interprets progress only by their values and attitudes.

Hence you find some “reasonable” white liberals berating me for attacking the core of white selfhood and who hide behind demands for reasonableness when they perceive attack.

This is their last refuge in protecting the underground laager of their zeitgeist. The irony of defending the zeitgeist, built on the historical and contemporary theft of selfhood to achieve white autonomy and dignity and by guarding what was stolen by racial classification, is lost on them.

Surely it can only be a false sense of self that relies on the advancement of one’s dignity by hanging on to subsumed identity theft? How can one “race” own the privilege of selfhood by ripping the experience of self from another through a historically violent, abusive and racist system?

Apply gender theory to this phenomenon if it makes it easier – we all know that an abusive man does not stop his violence until he is forced to.

People cry white guilt when it comes to insulting race justice activists – but one would have to be a sociopath not to feel any guilt about the generational privilege accrued to whites, so gauchly visible alongside the generational oppression heaped upon the Black majority. It is the absolute disgust at the state of affairs brought about by the historical capitalist pursuit of wealth and privilege by a minority at the expense of larger humanity that drives me.

The human suffering, cruelty and psychopathy propagated by this system cannot be acceptable, especially in the guise of being “reasonable”.

I do not want to uphold and perpetuate an arrangement that benefits some and creates indefensible levels of suffering for others.

We should all have the privilege of living with dignity, of being able to engage in intellectual, artistic and spiritual pursuits and have our humanity acknowledged.

Buying into false race and class constructs destroys our common humanity, whether we are engaged in this consciously or unconsciously. I believe that until we are able to rid ourselves of our racist indoctrination and white privilege we will remain complicit in the perpetuation of a system that can only be described as anti-humanity.

Until we have overthrown a method that perpetuates these false divisions, that benefit the rich and elite at the expense of the poor and oppressed, we must put aside our individuality and fight for the rights and dignity of the collective.

In this way my treatment of the race issue is located in a framework of “socialist ubuntuism” or egalitarianism, and I treat class as a race phenomenon in the context of South Africa.

They came, they saw, and they took it all.

My interest and reach lies within the ambit of whiteness discourses in relation to blackness, power and class; and my focus is often on the binary between privilege and poverty.

Over the past two decades various whiteness narratives have popped up from different positions – with the bulk of the white population casting itself in the role of “victims of the black majority”.

These narratives have taken the form of calling high crime rates in farming areas the “genocide” of white farmers, and the diatribe about BEE and that “the blacks steal all the jobs”. Most subtle is the abuse of the “rule of law” narrative to feed unconscious resentment for loss of power and to shift blame by assuming false moral authority.

These narratives seldom take note of the issue of poverty and privilege, but remain rooted in the “us and them” continuum.

The narrative that often escapes scrutiny is the “new liberal double-speak” that pays lip service to non-racism in a vacuum of self-reflection and results in a covert racism that manifests as a subtle practice of resentment towards black excellence, or exaggerated outrage towards black failings, while denying this fact or remaining unconscious to this reality.

This is the language of institutional racism. In my framework I am aware that while most whites are taught to remain oblivious to the manner in which their privilege continues to oppress blackness, not all whites are unaware of their privilege and racism.

There are white progressives, who have what theorists have called “attitudinal activism”, and who do the work towards transforming racial attitudes.

Contrary to what many believe, I do not write on this topic because I hate white people or loathe my own white skin, or because I want all black people to love me, or because I am mean, nasty, aggressive and rude.

I write about whiteness because I cannot sit back and witness the utter destruction that a system of disproportionate white supremacy has caused in the world.

I am passionately against a capitalist, whitist order that has benefited, as well as schooled, white people into a mindset of fear and loathing of the monsterised other and rabid protectionism over their privilege. Compassion for collective humanity is not a whitist practice – instead compassion is reserved for those who look and think like them. It is the opposite of the sophisticated and regenerative life system known as uBuntu.

I continue to deconstruct racism in my writing because I believe that if a critical collective of white people join in the move to obliterate this deceptive consciousness premised on racial falsities and discourses that pay lip service to empty notions of non-racism, then we will stand a chance to regain our humanity.

This opens up an opportunity to reclaim a sense of self that is not premised on the defence of a system that seeks to oppress others – and which will make way for a future where we acknowledge and celebrate our humanity only because every person’s humanity is acknowledged and celebrated equally.

Until then this divisive system of whiteness will make us “whites” redundant to the paradigm shift driven by the very people who have been oppressed for centuries by a bigoted and chauvinistic organism that classifies some as more human than others.

There is another way.

* Schutte is a founding member of Media for Justice, a social justice and media activist as well as a documentary film-maker.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

Life of Kai. A mother’s reflection on her son’s suicide.

By: Gillian Schutte

Suicide is on the increase – especially among the youth.  

Statistics from the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) show that 9% of all youth deaths are due to suicide and that this figure is on the increase. In the 15-24 age group, suicide is the second leading – and fastest growing – cause of death. Children as young as 7 have committed suicide in South Africa. Every day 22 people take their lives. 

I had gone over these statistics when writing about depression and unemployment over the years. I never imagined that I would have to relate these statistics to my reality .  But I did when  on 1 December 2019, Sipho Singiswa and I,  lost our only son, Kai Singiswa, to suicide. 

Kai had just finished second year university exams and was ready to enjoy his holiday. He was doing well at Wits film school, was popular and full of fun. He had spent the week with a few friends in and out of our house, and the weekend at our home with one of his best friends. On Saturday they went to a car wash event. As usual he hugged and kissed us good bye and as usual we told him to stay cool, not drink too much and keep safe.

Like many parents we worried about our son out there. What if he got attacked for his cell phone. What if he got into a physical brawl and something irreversible occurred? What if there was a car accident? But when he turned 18 we had to let him be his own person. He had recently turned 20. We could only keep the lines of communication open, share knowledge with him, give him boundaries and trust in his sweet nature to protect him from harm.

The next time I saw Kai was the following morning. He arrived home upset and I could see he had been crying. He was upset about a series of events that culminated in an altercation with a friend. His friend had told him no one likes him anymore and that he was worthless. My son thrived on loving and being loved in return. He displayed the hallmarks of a highly sensitive individual and empath. He had spiralled into a dark hole of self-loathing and despair over the course of the night. 

I held him and began to speak him through his anguish. I reminded him about his strong personal qualities and his talent in filmmaking. I spoke to him about the fickle nature of social groups and reminded him of what an honest and forthright person he has always been. I told him how much we cared for him.  Sipho came outside and asked why we were in the hot sun. I told him our boy was upset and we went to the lounge to speak about it.

Kai and Sipho spoke father to son and Sipho counselled him with love and concern. After the session Kai high fived us, hugged us and said he was going to bed. He seemed stable and in better spirit. I offered him tea and he said he was going to drink water and sleep it off as he always did. He told us he loved us and went to his room.

Sipho and I discussed what more we could do to help Kai through this transition from boy to man. It seemed so hard for him. He had begun to suffer from anxiety and depression and, like many of his peers, was on anti-depressants. For the most part he was happy, highly functional and socially popular. He got out of bed every day. He finished his assignments at varsity and his marks were good.  He spoke to us about his daily life and he partied with friends.

After our discussion I got dressed to go to the shops relieved that my child was sleeping it off. On the way out I went to check up on him. That is when I found Kai hanging from his gym. 

There are no words to describe what happens to a mother who finds her child after suicide. Call it an atomic explosion that eviscerates everything you ever believed to be true.  Your solar plexus implodes, your heart shatters and your womb is torn from your body.  You hear a disembodied primal mother scream that is yours and not yours.  You fall into a timeless black hole with no material safety holds to grab onto, and you keep falling. 

Sipho had to take Kai down while I tried to phone an ambulance through my screams.  He was the father who had cut the umbilical cord of his son when he was born and now he had to cut the cord from around his neck at his death. His pain and trauma is immeasurable.

Sipho holds one day old Kai.

My first instinct was to go off all social media on the morning we found Kai in his room. But he was a popular boy and many of his friends were in anguish when they heard the news. In no time youth media was adorned with photos of our child and speculation was rife. I wanted to be the guardian of his truth and so I made the decision to let people know what had happened. Except that what I shared on social media was only a fraction of the story of the complex inner life of a boy child born into a time in the world where there is a crisis of meaning, where depression and anxiety is almost the norm for the youth of today, where justice is nebulous and where competition and materialism are the skill sets taught to our children through multiple social media channels that overwhelm young minds. 

Video insert: Press Play

Societal Pressure in a world of artifice

We can no longer ask the question why our children are choosing suicide over life.

We need to reflect instead on what this current era offers our children and why it is not working for them – because if we were to be totally honest we would acknowledge that they live in an era of cutthroat materialism that aggressively sells them the idea of instant gratification instead of patience and compassion. This can only be a shallow and empty path, which they are pressured to pursue by society at large in order to grab at success. Many are led to believe that they will be one of the lucky few who make it on YouTube on a par with Kim Kardashian. Yet underneath this aspirational trajectory the youth are craving to feel real, to feel loved, to feel connected in the world. Social media can only offer them a false sense of connectedness and one so tenuous it can all come crumbling down in an instant. 

In this era of artifice, where fake news, fake tits, twits and duck lips crowd their social networks, our children unconsciously crave authenticity. They are faced with multiple stresses and demands and those who are wired to be empathetic and sensitive, experience cognitive dissonance and an ongoing existential crisis in this world that demands ego and more ego.

This is a catastrophe experienced by the youth globally and this intensity is magnified in a country such as ours, where they are forced to witness massive social cleavages, and if middle class, they are expected to normalise this reality. The sight of toddlers virtually shackled to street corners with parents begging from those in cars, impoverished youth washing windscreens for a buck, and sprawling shanty towns next to opulent neighbourhoods, are supposed to be ignored somehow. And what of the youth that live this reality as the desperately poor?  Their lives become cheap, they turn to Nyaope, petty crime and other self-harming violence.

These times that we live in have been described as ‘traumatic experience’ for all people but mostly our youth, who are terrified of a world that births a Greta Thunberg and her apocalyptic forecast of environmental death and destruction in the near future. Many already face a daunting reality where unemployment is rife, fresh or potable water is fast becoming a scarcity,  fake food is packaged as healthy and GMO is forced upon them via staple foodstuffs. They are faced with the unnerving future of global warming, crime,  geopolitical terrorism and possible displacement through capital driven development and war.  And amongst all this madness, this greed and inhumanity, they are told to become a success, to join the society of cutthroat competitiveness and pull themselves together.

Add to this onslaught sociohistorical decimation of family structures, peer non-acceptance and betrayals, their own trepidation about an uncertain future and a sense of terror about not ever being able to achieve their expected goals. Who would not be overwhelmed with a sense of hopelessness, and feelings of worthlessness? The conflict in them is a heightened one at their age-of-becoming and the inner crisis overwhelms them. So tenuous is their hold onto meaning in this environment of falisty that if there is any shift that upsets their already fragile balancing act – they are likely to be pushed to the very edge of despair for reasons we might consider fickle. We might even ask them to man up or grow up when what they need to hear is that they are loved… really valued and that there is hope.

Our son never could ignore these glaring contradictions presented to him in everyday life. He was hyper aware of the many historical and current injustices in our country and cognisant of the social violence heaped upon the majority. Like most middleclass youth he too tried to erase this truth from his conscience through partying and the pursuit of pleasure, and like many young ones this  drove him to look for peer relationships where none existed and left him dissatisfied, hurt and sometimes angry.

Kai at 10 years of age

As parents there is little we can do about their choices when at a certain age in their development our children place their hope in these peer relationships – by their deep connection on the spiritual or hedonistic level. This is where they find their sense of self in relation to others. Our artistic sensitive kids soon find their escapism in sad boy subcultures that romanticise suicide and birth a philosophy that speaks to concepts such as the 27 Club, where they joke about partying themselves to death before they reach adulthood, because there is no meaning left for them in a world that builds binary on top of binary and manufactures faux morality, faux politics, and an economic system that will never deliver anything that satisfies what it means to be fully human, to be truly free, to be kind, to be loving and compassionate. They party hard so that they can forget for a moment that we live in a global reality of cruel and mammoth extremes. 

And this does not always work. In fact, it throws them into more crisis when they come to the realisation that they are bonded in emptiness and a lostness that will never fulfil their state of constant craving.

This white supremacist neoliberal capitalist system has robbed our youth of reflection, of security, of faith in their inner life. Their libidinal is no longer about their own minds, their own passions and their own joy felt in the connection between mind and body and soul. Joy is packaged in labels, chemical highs and material oblivion. And those not born white are left with the added anxiety in the knowledge that skin colour often determines whether they will be the recipients of material and personal security.

My son was a loving and compassionate soul. He was grounded in love. He cared deeply about those close to him. He cared about those who suffered around him such as homeless people and he always took the time to greet the less fortunate on his path and share a smoke or a laugh with them.

Like many of his peers he lived this existential crisis in real time and he spoke to us about it often. He internalised his fear and developed what he referred to as his dark passenger, a part of himself that he felt he had no control over. It was that injured aspect of himself that could never quite match the joyousness of his childhood with the reality of the world today. The idea of a future escaped him though he was provided with all the tools to access a stable future. 


Kai’s feelings of hopelessness and anxiety were also exacerbated by what he had witnessed unfurling in our lives as I became the target for mass cyber-attacks and death threats because of the nature of work I do. He was aware of the danger to our lives as a family when men parked outside our house for some weeks after the judge Mabel Jansen story broke and we received threatening messages in our postbox and on social media.

He also had to be made aware of the sensationalist tabloid reportage on an accident that happened on our film set in 2018 on which a close friend of ours, Odwa Shweni, fell to his death when a cast member took it on himself to call the first take in the absence of the director and AD and then allegedly set about proliferating a fake narrative of what happened in order to take the heat off his pivotal role in the accident.  I had also reached the precipice of death in this accident and Sipho had pulled me from the edge in that split second before I fell to my death. Our beloved son Kai had to live this traumatic aftermath with us as we mourned the death of Odwa while many of my detractors pushed out multiple lies and used the death of our friend as a political football – the utmost manifestation of the norms and values of this fake news hyper ego driven world.

Kai cared for and protected us around this time and we tried to protect him from this cataclysmic unfolding of accusations and declarations of guilt on a matter that remains sub judice till today. We had hoped that this defamation campaign would not enter his world out there but it did when, in one of his Wits film school lectures, a Sunday Newspaper article was used as a reference about how not to make a film and our child was deeply upset and angry. We have to ask how, in an institution that prides itself on educational values and excellence, an article that clearly states the case is sub judice, is taught as fact.

And we have to recognise that this is exactly what happens in a neoliberal corporatized reality where truth no longer holds as much sway as sensation and the pornographising of tragedy for revenge and clicks. When Kai told us of this lecture, he pretended to be casual about it but in the weeks of our mourning when many of Kai’s distraught friends visited our home, I was told by one of his close friends that he had relayed the story of the lecture and the event to her brother and he was angry, distressed and tearful. My heart broke when I realised exactly how this cataclysmic event had impacted our son and how he had, in true Kai nature, tried to protect us from his own trauma around this event.

Our young man was a special soul, a caring soul and he loved to have fun. He cared too deeply as an empath. If his love was not reciprocated, his entire reality was threatened and he would rage against those who created this imbalance. He craved for balance and a world that reflected back his empathy and his capacity to love. He wanted kindness. He wanted his parents to be safe and he loved us a fiercely as we loved him. His line of communication was open and we spent many a time discussing his crisis. We did all we could to help him navigate this difficult transition from boy to man – but in the end, the hurt and the trepidation and the anguish that he had bore witness to overcame him and he found this world too painful and limited a place to continue to inhabit.

Our son Kai took his own life on his own terms in a moment of utter turmoil over peer-non acceptance which culminated with his major anxieties around all that I have spoken of above. This was the catalyst for his feelings of hopelessness and lack of will to live in a realm that offered so much pain, delusion and lacked heart. At the time he was fragile, strung out and hurting deeply. We listened, we counselled, we loved him and did not judge him for his fragility.

His memorial service was overflowing with traumatised youth who also loved him and gave testimony to his loving nature.  Many spoke to us about how Kai was the go-to-guy whenever they were in crisis. He picked up those 3AM calls when his friends were feeling suicidal. All spoke of his openness and sheer ability to love with no boundries.

We have lost our beloved son. This is an immeasurable wound that we now traverse. But he has also left us, and all who knew him, with the gift of love.

Go well my love.


If you suspect that your child is depressed, anxious or suicidal please see the contacts below.

The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) 

Tel: +27 11 234 4837  |  Fax: +27 11 234 8182  |  E-mail: media@anxiety.org.za  |  Web: www.sadag.org

Photo Credits.

Kai Meme: Savanna Duarte.

Baby Kai: Sean Flynn

Copyright: Media for Justice on all content.

The angry man and the rookie actor. How Odwa Shweni fell to his death.

By: Gillian Schutte

On 12 April 2018 we witnessed our dear friend, Odwa Shweni, tragically fall to his death while working as a cast member on our film.  Odwa was a remarkable person who dedicated himself to his role because he believed in the social justice message of our story, which is a hybrid film that presents a searing critique of cyber trolling and racism. Little did we know how the tragedy of Odwa’s death would lead to further tragedy, and how our own lives would be further devastated by his loss in unexpected ways. 

In the aftermath of the tragedy the media justly exploded in sorrow at the loss of an extraordinary person.  However, there was also a dark and destructive explosion of speculation on social media where people, who did not know Odwa, or the facts of the case, wrote insensitive and derogatory slander about my partner Sipho Singiswa, and me.  Rumors, untruths and conjecture also proliferated in the mainstream media and culminated in a City Press article that seemingly pronounced us guilty without any proof of guilt.  Crimes and Misdaads in Rapport also published the same piece, again with no proof of guilt.

While Odwa’s family were grieving, and while investigations into the incident were underway, we believed it would be callous to comment.  We did not want to centre ourselves in the narrative, and any attempt to correct the glaring errors in reporting felt as if we were putting ourselves and our feelings ahead of those of his family and friends.  In retrospect, we should have done so because our silence led many to believe we were complicit in his death.

The time has come to correct the erroneous media accounts by stating what
we had in place for our shoot. 

  • Permission to film on the private location. 
  • Permission to enter through the Monks Cowl tourist route.
  • Three medics on set, and a helicopter on standby.
  • Two guides organized through the private location – the guides were
  • also to be spotters on location.
  • A safety and fight co-ordinator, along with Shweni and Singiswa as fight choreographers.
  • Our safety person was also to act as Assistant Director for the fight scenes.
  • Safety mats as well as extra safety gear. 
  • Contracts and insurance coverage. 
  • Accommodation at a reputable Berg resort that did our catering.
  • Safe props including rubber knives on all our sets.


Our previous shoot at the Berg in December 2017 had been beset with logistical difficulties due to incessant rain. It was here that lead protagonist, Louw Venter, had seemingly decided to make an already difficult shoot much more difficult by throwing violent tantrums on our set and always when Director/Producer, Sipho Singiswa, was off set. Four sources report that he shouted and swore at them, telling them how useless and incompetent they were. A member of our crew told us that when Venter ranted and swore he thought he was being racist, but then he would joke with them the next minute, so he was confused.

A wardrobe assistant, who had been at the receiving end of one of his massive tantrums, says he accused her of spreading rumours about him being difficult to work with and of not performing her duties. She recalls that he called her useless and used the f-word repeatedly. In this instance I had heard loud shouting as I drove on to set and came in towards the end of this tantrum. I approached Venter when he stalked off set screaming expletives and he shouted in my face that they were all fucken useless. A witness to this particular explosion says he was totally out of control throwing his weight around.

When we spoke to some crew members about his behaviour they said that they often experience this behaviour from actors on shoots and though it upset them they were used to it. One source told me that if they complain they are often ignored and they feel as if they have no rights because when the camera starts rolling actors have all the power and some use it to undermine them. Our Assistant Director relayed to Singiswa that he was used to working with Venter and that this behaviour was not unusual from him. The decision was made that they would continue to work with him in an effort to finish the shoot.

Later that day, when I met with Venter about his issues, he gave me a long list of complaints, including the catering from the three star resort. It seemed nothing was good enough for the irascible Venter.

Despite the difficulties we finished the scenes. It was during our preliminary edit that it became apparent that the lead protagonist, who was playing the role of the husband, had not pulled off his character effectively. We realized that we would have to recast him and reshoot some of the scenes. 

We recast Shweni as our lead protagonist. In our first preproduction phase we had auditioned Shweni, who we had turned down for the role despite his enthusiasm and fighting skills, because he had no acting experience at all. Shweni was disappointed when he did not initially get the role and very excited when I invited him back. We coached him in his role for weeks.

We had also hired Eugene Snyman as a fight and safety co-ordinator. It was agreed that Snyman would act as assistant director on the fight scenes as he had the experience to break down the sequences into blocks. Weeks were spent working out the parameters for the fight choreography and making sure that they consisted mainly of contained grappling moves that did not pose a danger to the cast members. Singiswa, who has a background in Kyokushinkai, Shweni who had a background in Judo, and Arno Botes who brought in Krav Maag, assisted in the design of the fight sequences and they began rehearsing the scenes to film for dissemination to the cast. 


In February, I had sent Louw Venter an email with a preliminary textual sketch of the fight scene. After the choreography team had completed their sessions the plan changed, and I sent him another email on 4th of April, informing him of the changes.  I attached the video to show him the new fight scene and to find out if he was comfortable with it. He sent me back the following message. 

“Hi Gillian. I have watched the fight sequence video. It looks cool. As
long as we do things safely. Kwaai…”

Reports in the press after the tragedy make no mention of this email communication and refer only to the first email sent to him a month earlier.

The waterfall scene was recorded in the shoot schedule and sent to crew and cast in advance. We had meetings at our production offices to discuss the terrain and the scenes with the crew. Our director of photography (DOP) met with us to discuss the fight scenes, was shown the videos of the fight scenes and was sent video tutorials to ensure he understood how fight sequences were shot. 


On the day of the shoot we successfully finished some scenes on the hill, despite Venter acting out again and throwing around loud disruptive commentary. At one point he shouted out “Why do I get the feeling that this is going to be a day I regret for the rest of my life.” We then moved onto the waterfall location, where Singiswa had set up a 16 foot crane as a safety measure, instructing crew and cast not to go beyond it. It must be noted that the waterfall location offers a sizeable flat rock plateau and was, at the time, open to the public.

On location the crew began to set up their rig and were given the safety parameters by Singiswa and Snyman. Singiswa checked with Venter and Shweni to see if they were comfortable with the location for the shooting of the scene. They both acknowledged that they were.  Venter told Singiswa and me that they wanted to rehearse the scene thoroughly before the shoot.  

Both Venter and Shweni assisted Singiswa in gaffer taping down the safety mats in place and they discussed the scene. There was only one move in the fight scene that required a landing mat and that was the judo slam, which Shweni had included in the scene as a judo practitioner as one of his moves. The fight scene was otherwise grappling moves on the ground. It was agreed that they would rehearse the controlled fight moves under Singiswa’s role as one of the fight choreographers and Director, while Snyman dealt with crew safety and set up. Shweni informed me that he had already thoroughly practiced the choreography with Venter at the resort while they waited for the location call.

The instruction to the actors on location was to rehearse the fight in slow motion and Singiswa informed them that the scene would be filmed in blocks. He also informed the actors that they were to enact their moves away from the water towards dry rock and gave instruction that they were not to touch the water at all as he would create the face in water scene with a go-pro under water at a rock pool on the resort. 

During these rehearsals the medics were called onto the rock plateau from where they were set up around 10m away (not 300m away as reported). They had just attended to our make up lady who slipped in a shallow puddle on the way to the location (not into the river as newspaper reports allege).

The scene was repeated numerous times while Singiswa spotted and gave instructions. 

Rehearsals were halted and I, via Singiswa, gave the instruction that the fight scene would be filmed first. I then left the DOP with the instruction to set up the cameras for the first take while I went to the hillside to call the production manager to bring the jackets down for the actors to wear after the scene. They were to wait for the director and AD to set up the take.


Snyman tells the account of him standing with Singiswa some distance away from the stream on the rock plateau where they were  about to discuss the logistics in preparation for the first take, when they heard a commotion behind them and turned to see Shweni in the water. 

Snyman and Singiswa immediately ran towards the water to try to get to him. Singiswa recounts that he shouted to Shweni not to struggle, but he was too late and Shweni had floated into the middle of the stream out of reach. He saw Shweni being carried over the edge of the waterfall.  As he watched in horror he then saw me in the water, also being carried to the edge. 

Moments before Shweni’s fall I was returning with the production manager and the jackets and I observed, from a distance, an aggressive fight playing out in full swing and not in slow motion, contrary to the instructions that were given to the actors during the rehearsals. I began to run toward them. Seconds later I saw Shweni struggling in the water. I instinctively ran into the water and lunged at him to try to get to him and ended up in the stream myself.  I fell on my backside whilst trying to get to Shweni and as I watched him going over the edge I too was being carried to the edge of the falls.  I found out later that Singiswa managed to save me in the nick of time. I have no recollection of being saved as I had been looking over the precipice of the falls and remember being swung in the opposite direction. I grabbed onto some grass. That is the last thing I remember. When I was back on dry rock, I began shouting for the helicopter and the medics, who were already running towards the scene as they were situated behind a bush on the location. Later they told me they were told by the crew to get out of shot so they moved behind a bush close by.

In my out-of-body state I began running up the hill because I knew that the helicopter was on the next door farm. When I got to the Monks Cowl entrance, I jumped into my car to drive to the helicopter farm and was intercepted by a police reservist who had received the call about the accident. He told me that it was too late for the helicopter, though it was still light.

Later, while I was in our hotel room in shock, Singiswa arrived to tell me that the crew and rescue team as well as the police were at the resort and wanted statements from everyone but that they knew I was traumatised from my near death experience and would interview me at a later stage. 

I then received a call from the Digital Image Technician (DIT) complaining that he had not received film cards the entire day, so I drove down to the camera crew accommodation and found them unpacking the equipment. When I requested the cards, they became belligerent and hostile, insisting that the cards had been lost at the waterfall. It was only when they were told by Singiswa that the police insisted on receiving the cards as evidence and that the hotel would be placed on lockdown until they handed them over, that the crew gave him the cards. He handed them to the police immediately who went to view the cards with the DIT.   After viewing the last card shot on the day the police requested a copy of it for evidence. Singiswa signed an affidavit given to him by the police to say that the footage would not be tampered with and a copy of the footage was made in the presence of a police officer and handed over.


The footage reveals the camera crew taking instruction from Venter to do the first take. They were not given instruction to shoot the first scene from the Director or the AD, as required by their contract.   When the assistant clapper loader was asked later why she had responded to an actor calling the scene, she said both she and the DOP were confused about Venter calling the scene, but he was insistent, saying, “Let’s shoot the scene” and they all obeyed. She stated that she fell in line because the crew told her to write it up. The rest of the camera crew refused to answer any questions when asked.

When I asked Snyman about the accident he says that it was brought about by a cast member “not acting with due diligence but above the authority of the director by giving instructions that are not within his or her contract as an actor or cast member. He displayed irrational and irresponsible behaviour.”

What we see on the clip is Venter shouting – “I’m calling the scene OK.” He then shouts, “Action 3,2,1” and rushes into the fight scene looking angry.  He and Shweni meet each other with incredible force and the fight begins in real time, ignoring all the safety protocol that had been rehearsed before. The fight scene is quickly thrown out of the safety parameters, and they are facing the wrong direction. Their movements are enacted toward the stream instead of onto dry rock.  It is also clear that they have missed out on three moves of the choreography and that Shweni is seemingly disorientated by this.  He shifts his body into the wrong direction. At this point Venter delivers a knee blow to his face and Shweni, who appears to be fighting for his life, backflips into the water.  There is no backflip in the fight choreography. He was meant to fall to one side .

Venter has Shweni’s head in his hands and appears to be doing the head drown even though Shweni’s entire body is in the water and even though he was told more than once that the head drown was going to be cheated in a rock pool on the resort. Shweni does not lift his head at this crucial point and it seems that Venter is holding his head down while enacting the head drown. Venter, seemingly, only realises what has happened when Shweni starts to get carried downstream by the water and people start to scream. He makes no effort to grab Shweni’s ample dreadlocks but puts his hand on his head and looks directly into camera expressionless.


It is apparent from the video footage that the actors and camera crew at the relevant time acted on their own accord and without permission of the Director and the fight coordinator/AD who were in the process of discussing the safety parameters for the take.  The fight scene ended up outside of the designated safety parameters that had been rehearsed thoroughly. It is badly framed and there is no artistic direction. Had the AD and director been present they would have called a halt to the take as soon as it went out of the safety parameters and as soon as the actors involved started the fight scene in real time.

When I asked about the accident Snyman says that it was brought about by a cast member “not acting with due diligence but above the authority of the director by giving instructions that are not within his or her contract as an actor or cast member. He displayed irrational and irresponsible behaviour.”

Singiswa says that the actor clearly decided that he had the authority over him to take over the shoot while he, the director, was discussing the logistics with the safety co-ordinator. This endangered the lives of the cast and crew as he took on himself the multiple roles of Director, Assistant Director, and safety/fight co-ordinator as well as actor.

Says Singiswa, “he has allegedly told the press that this was a dangerous location so we have to then ask what possessed him to behave so impulsively if he felt they were all in danger? As an experienced actor and director he would have walked off a set that posed any kind of danger. This is an example of the arrogance of a certain ilk of white men who feel that they have a god-given authority over Blacks. The majority of our crew are Black and it was only Black crew members who reported being at the receiving end of Venter’s violent verbal abuse. Perhaps this is what SAGA, IPO and other film organisations should be investigating.”

Venter had signed a contract in which it states that he will:

4.3  abide by all reasonable instructions and directions given to him/her
from time to time by the Company concerning his performance; and 

4.4  be present as and when required by the Company at such studios or on
such locations as the Company may from time to time direct; and 

4.5  comply with all studio and filming location regulations in force from
time to time; 


After almost two years of lies and malicious speculation on social and mainstream media, I have decided to give our account of Odwa Shweni’s tragic death on our film set in April 2018.  This cruel media onslaught has not only caused us terrible trauma, it also impacted negatively on the life of our son, Kai, who died through suicide in December 2019  after months of anxiety and depression, much of which was brought about by the many false allegations against us, anxiety exacerbated when one of his Wits lectures used the factually inaccurate City Press article in a lesson as an example on how not to make a film, something we only became aware of after his suicide.

I wish to stress that we are not the only victims of this story.  Odwa is.  So are his family. A rookie actor was bullied by an experienced one to ignore his instincts and the strictures of his contract, and in doing so he fell to his death.  We have tried to ensure, despite this, that Odwa’s family received financial compensation through our insurers, because he was our friend.

The footage, which is in police custody as evidence, supports our version.

Rest in Peace Odwa Shweni and Kai Singiswa. You are both loved.

Artwork: Bonisa Bonani. http://instagram.com/bonisa81/

Copyright: Media for Justice on all content.


A New Year Epistle to Whiteness

By Gillian Schutte

Dear white people,

There is no kind way to put this so gird your loins and swallow hard.

All whites are racist.

Some may not practice racism and many may be anti-racist. Others may mistakenly believe that we live in a non-racist epoch. Some may be left wing and others may be moderate or right wing – but the bottom line is that to be white is to be racist.

Accepting this is the first step to recovery.

It is impossible to effectively take on, challenge and deconstruct white supremacy and racism if we do not comprehend and acknowledge that as white people we are automatically part of a global system that favors whiteness over all other ‘races’ and that we reap these benefits at the expense of other races — whether we are radical left wing  anti-racists or right wing reactionaries.

We have to recognize that we are all, despite our ideologies, intrinsically bound up in the fabric of this global system of domination, which bestows privileges onto us by virtue of the color of our skin and thus we are never ‘not benefiting’ from our whiteness.

The greatest challenge to us as white people, and especially to those who believe that they have transcended racism, is admitting to our own racist indoctrination and the very real possibility that we carry and practice unconscious racism.

We must accept that as white people we are taught via language, family, psychological osmosis, history, society and global discourse that whites are superior to other races and are thus the default human race known to be intellectually, morally and economically superior to all.

This white supremacist system of power has been in place for around 600 years and we carry within our collective psyche 600 years of DNA memory of supremacy. It takes a lot of undoing to extricate our psyches from that.

Thus as whites we are inevitably racist even before we are born.

We are racist by virtue of being the descendants of settlers and colonizers and world conquerors.

We are racist because we are white.

It is about what we are born into.

We have no choice around our birth (as far as we know) but we do have a choice to learn from history and reject the roles we are endowed with by virtue of our color.

The real questions arise later on in our development.

  • Are we comfortable with the status quo which privileges one race over others in all spheres of life?
  • Are we willing to be an oppressor of fellow human beings?
  • Can we do anything about it?

If we cannot live with the status quo the only choice we are left with is to become a race abolitionist.

There are no halfway measures in this equation.

For those who claim to be anti-racist or “non-racist” actions do speak louder than words.

We are either irrevocably race abolitionists or we are racist.

That is the hard cold truth.

If we are on the path of race abolition or anti-racism we must continue to recognize that this requires constant waking consciousness around our indoctrination.

To remain on a conscious path we need to always bear in mind that we are recovering racists.

We need to be cognizant of our indoctrination and recognize that learned racism is deeply embedded in our lived-experience and has a way of rearing its ugly head even when we are not aware of it.

We can never assume that we are not racist and that we ‘get’ black people’s stuff. That is impossible really because we will never walk the path of a black person.

Empathy and solidarity are entirely different to speaking on behalf of or the appropriation of the lived-experience of people oppressed by whiteness.

It is only by first recognizing and understanding our historical and personal embedded indoctrination that we can begin to diagnose and deconstruct the wider spectrum of ideological and systemic racism.

Until we do this work we cannot join black people and people of color in solidarity to end racism entirely.

Working to end racism means working towards the eradication of the global system that privileges whiteness.

It means putting this cause before our privileges and giving up those privileges for the greater good.

Transforming only ‘certain things’ and not everything is a fallacious and expedient approach to activism and helps maintain our advantaged comfort zone whilst paying lip service to anti-racism.

It is this halfway activism that perpetuates insidious and covert racism in the end and is as equally harmful as right wing racism.

Until a critical mass of white people are walking the path of race abolition and are calling out racism at every turn, we can never claim to be living in a post-racist society.

Thirty Four things we, as recovering racists, need to acknowledge:

  1. Though we are constantly being told by the dominant discourse that we don’t have racism in this country anymore, or that racism is a thing of the past – it is mostly white people saying this.   Clearly these white people think that because it isn’t happening to them it does not exist.
  2. Many white people deny that they are racist yet continuing to discriminate against black people and people of color.
  3. Racist incidents are still prevalent in our society which proves that we are not beyond racism and nor do we live in a color-blind-non-racist-rainbow-nation society.
  4. There is always a deafening silence around these racist incidents from the larger white population, which either means that they do not care or they think they are not implicated in the incident.
  5. Whites are taught to not recognize systemic racism or their role in it.
  6. Systemic racism is manifest in the discourse of domination that upholds racist values which are disguised in nice liberal rainbow nation terms such as “reconciliation” and “social cohesion”.
  7. Without a doubt “rainbow reconciliation” is a false discourse peddled as an opiate for the masses and constructed to protect the well off and the elite.
  8. Rainbow nation discourse is based on depoliticized liberalism  and expects black people to buy into forgiveness, transcend anger and hurt and push aside any revolutionary impulses.
  9. This is also a construct to make whites feel safe and comfortable and allows them to willfully ignore the fact that economic apartheid is still entrenched in our democracy. It also means white people do not have to feel bad or do any personal work around righting the wrongs of the past.
  10. This depoliticized liberal discourse is sure to call black folk the racists if they express any misgivings about lack of transformation or talk directly to ongoing systemic oppression of black people – whether institutional or economic.
  11. While depoliticized liberalism is not a raced phenomenon, as many black folk have bought into it too, economic disparities in this country remain raced.
  12. Whites are never on the receiving end of racism. Since the race construct is based on a system of power and since whiteness is the global occupying system of domination over discourse, public spaces, economies, media, sexuality and wars, white people are the only people who can be racist.
  13. There is an absence of interest in, or an inability to hear, what black people are saying or think about the perpetuation of racism and white privilege and these views are seldom heard on mainstream media.
  14. This renders these views invisible and the dominant white view is normalized and passed off as the only view that matters or makes sense.
  15. BEE, BBBEE and affirmative action cannot be called reverse discrimination or racism. How can it be reverse discrimination when for 350 years in South Africa the entire system has been skewed in favor of white people’s privilege and has systemically disadvantaged black people?
  16. White privilege is not a neutral phenomenon. It has been built on the brutal subjugation, dehumanization and the blood sweat and tears of black people.
  17. For this reason reverse discrimination does not exist and there is an urgent need for the entrenchment of programs to balance out the centuries of the systemic disadvantaging of black people.
  18. White people reveal their unconscious racism by what they choose to remain silent about.
  19. By remaining silent on issues of systemic racism you are participating in the perpetuation of racism.
  20. Systemic racism is witnessed in the fact that menial labor, joblessness and poverty are mostly black issues whilst the majority of whites continue to have access to decent jobs and do not live in poverty.
  21. Systemic racism is manifested in the fact that black folk are the ones brutalized by the state while white people are not shot for protesting against middle class issues.
  22. We are never likely to see 34 dead white male bodies displayed on TV news, shot dead by the state because they demanded a higher salary and better living conditions.
  23. Systemic racism is witnessed in the untenable living conditions that black people are expected to, and forced to, endure whilst white folk live in relative, and often, obscene wealth.
  24. The miniscule black elite and burgeoning black middle class may have economic wealth but they are still disparaged and despised by the white dominant discourse.
  25. The face of blackness has become the ONLY face of failure in South Africa while white business and their corrupt practices are well hidden behind the new elite.
  26. Both government and business are equally deserving of critique for the failures in this country but there is a white obsession with putting all failures down to black’ ineptness’ and totally overlooking white greed and mismanagement.
  27. Corporate accountability is virtually absent in white mainstream discourse and the business-owned mainstream media seldom focuses on the role that corporates play in the growing divide between the rich and the poor and the multiple layers of injustices that this sector wreak upon the poor.
  28. The poor and black carry the economic burden of this savage capitalism and are expected to happily accept hand outs and live in desperation whilst on the other hand restaurants and hotels are mostly overrun by whites who apparently have the disposable cash to spend on luxuries.
  29. Racism, depoliticized liberalism, economic apartheid and white dominant discourse all thwart any hope of transformation.
  30. One can even say that whiteness obstinately resists transformation and refuses to move beyond racism. Rather whiteness focuses only on the retention of white privilege.
  31. The hard cold truth of the matter is that until we have a majority of white people working towards genuinely dismantling white privilege and systemic racism we are all implicated in the perpetuation of racism.
  32. Holding onto your privileges and claiming to be a race abolitionist or an anti-racist activist is an oxymoron.
  33. It is for this reason that we need to ask if white people are making any real effort to fully dismantle racism or if indeed, the effort is spent on preserving white privilege instead?
  34. In a society where the rumblings of revolution are heard in the distance, white people need to let go of their arrogance or naivety and ask themselves whether a revolution is going to have any sympathy for the obdurate nature of whiteness and its refusal to genuinely become part of a just transformation that demands the equality of all its citizens.

May your 2015 be the year of deep reflection on what whiteness is and learning how to undo it.

Forward with radical social transformation, forward!

Settler Sister




The terminal nature of poverty

By Gillian Schutte & Sipho Singiswa:
Photo: Jared Sacks

As academics, journalists, social commentators and activists we have a sense that we know the poor. We are outraged by poverty and inequality and advocate for equity and a life of dignity for all. We look for ways to bring the voices of the poor into the public debate and ask questions around how we can get democracy to work for the poor. But few of us have even an inkling of the full spectrum of what it means to be poor.