An exploration of identity and representation through film with Shato Tibone

This is film as a force of decolonisation to assert the true identity of a people distorted by apartheid that can also help liberate Botswana’s difficult relationship with BaSarwa. Tibone is set to showcase his groundbreaking film at the Art Residency Centre in Gaborone today (Friday 4 June 2021), writes Tanlume Enyatseng.

An exploration of identity and representation through film with Shato Tibone

Throughout history, film has provided a valuable spotlight for many whose identities and representations are often excluded from, or derided by mainstream media narratives. A good film provides a window into the wider world and offers access and points of view that might otherwise be closed to the average audience.

Media representation undoubtedly remains an ongoing struggle. At present only a single woman has won the coveted Best Director Oscar and only a single non-white woman has won Best Actress. According to a study by GLAAD, 2019 saw a record representation of LGBTQ characters in the 118 films released by major studios. However, the racial diversity of LGBTQ characters has waned and transgender characters remain unseen. To-date, the film industry has disproportionately represented the stories of white men by white men and this resurgence in counter-discourse only furthers the dominance of the elite at the expense of the marginalised.

With filmmaker Shato Tibone’s debut documentary “I’m Khoisan not Coloured,” he seeks to explore the intersection of race and national identity and the social locations these imply for Cape Town’s coloured community. Following a warm reception in Cape Town, South Africa, Tibone is set to showcase his groundbreaking film at the Art Residency Centre in Gaborone this Friday 4 June 2021.

The documentary focuses on the uncertainties and inhumane acts of police brutality faced by the predominantly Khoisan and Rastafarian community of Hangberg in Hout Bay, Cape Town. Tibone describes Hout Bay as an affluent suburb of Cape Town crowded with blocks of flats and illegally built shacks. Hangberg is said to be the only informal settlement in the region with picturesque views of the harbour; what he refers to as, “a patch of poverty in a high-class area”. The radical film offers an unfiltered look at the experiences and identity crisis faced by the coloured community in the area and explores issues of disposition of land that indigenous people face.

What was initially meant to be a part of his second year exhibition while studying for his Bachelor’s Degree in Film Production has provided Tibone an opportunity to delve into film as a form of activism. He found himself drawn towards telling the story of the residents of Hout Bay with the limited funds and resources available to him as a student. After over four years’ worth of footage from time spent with the subjects in his film, he is proud to have shared a holistic representation of the issues faced by the community that often finds their identity erased from the media and history books.

Under the apartheid regime, people presumed to be only of European descent were privileged above all other South Africans. Other people, such as the Khoi, San, Nama, Griqua, Damara, descendants of slaves and various migrants were, without consultation, all lumped under the label ‘coloured’. “The term ‘coloured’ was coined in the 1960s to marginalise an already existing community,” explains Tibone, “being labelled coloured has historically taken away their sense of belonging and confused their connection to the African soil. Their history has been sadly distorted and it is a history of violence that has watered down the brutality that these communities have faced.”

The documentary aims to decolonise film by holding space for an ostracised community to tell their own story on their own terms. “I’m Khoisan not Coloured” also presents an opportunity for Botswana to revisit its problematic relationship with the KhoiSan or BaSarwa. “While creating this film, one of the biggest things that resonated with me was the fact that I am from a nation whose DNA is predominantly San, yet we have somehow reduced calling someone ‘San’ or a ‘Bushmen’ to a derogatory term,” says Tibone, “As Batswana, we do not educate ourselves enough about the injustices faced by indigenous minorities here, whether it be in education or living conditions.”

Tibone believes his purpose as a filmmaker is to amplify the voices of marginalised communities and wishes to explore more narratives within the southern African region. He speaks of how the camera has become a decolonising force in South Africa, a movement he would like to see happen to Botswana’s film industry. “When you step into a township in South Africa with a camera, the people instantly rush to be seen and want to be documented because they understand the power film has to represent and uplift communities. Sadly in Botswana, many still shy away from the camera and don’t want to be pictured, let alone captured on film.”

Films like “I’m Khoisan not Coloured” offer an opportunity for audiences to critically engage with issues of identity through media. This brings to the fore a wider debate around the role and function of media representations of marginal groups and an opportunity to explore a positive sense of self within traditional institutional contexts. Tibone plans to further showcase the film at Maitisong as well as Namibia before making it available to all online.