Table of Contents
A) What, Why, How?
B) What Factual Similarities Are There Between District Six (and South Africa in General) and District 9?
C) What is a “Mockumentary”?
D) What “Realist Artifice” Can Be Found in District 9?
E) What Degree of Mockumentary Is District 9?
F) Works Cited
A) What, Why, How?
“District 9”, one of the movie blockbusters of 2009, was directed and co-written by Neill Blomkamp, produced by Peter Jackson, and is nominated for four Oscars (cf. IMDb). It is a documentary-style fiction movie whose story revolves around a (para-)military relocation operation of over one million aliens, who have been living in a hermetically sealed off slum near the South African city of Johannesburg since the early 1980s. Tensions arose between the human and the alien population, ultimately leading to the relocation operation. The leader of the operation is Wikus van de Merwe, a naïve white-collar worker, who, in the course of the movie, accidentally infects himself with a virus that slowly turns him into an alien.
Considering the real-world history of the movie’s setting, thrilling similarities between events during the time of the South African Apartheid regime and the story of District 9 catch one’s eye. The most blatant one is the forced relocation of around 60,000 people from the Sixth Municipal District of Cape Town in the course of a large-scale government program to segregate South African society by assigning a certain area of the country exclusively to one specific ethnic group. Moreover, the major “player” in the story of District 9 is the private security firm MNU, which also finds its counterpart in recent South African history.
Through large parts of the movie, District 9 pretends to be a patchwork of media edited into a documentary. This paper will deal with the question of whether “District 9” is a mockumentary about real-life South Africa, especially Cape Town’s District Six.
The first part of this paper will focus on content and give a rough outline of the most important historic events in South Africa and specifically in District Six. Then, the parallels to these events as depicted in District will be put on display. Secondly, this paper will turn to examining form and display typical characteristics of mockumentaries. This will necessarily involve the examination of what defines documentary as a genre. As a next step, this paper will try to find examples of these characteristics in District 9. Eventually, this paper will answer the question of whether or not District 9 is a mockumentary about South Africa and District 6.
B) What Factual Similarities Are There Between District Six (and South Africa in General)…
The first thing that comes to mind when it comes to parallels between real events and the situation depicted in “District 9” are the South African Apartheid-regime’s segregationist policies. In the following, the most important legislative measures and the magnitude of their consequences will be laid out in a chronological way.
In 1919, the so-called Housing Committee issued a report on the prevalence of unsanitary conditions, rent racketeering and congested buildings in Cape Town’s Six Municipal District among other places (cf. District Six Museum [thereafter DSM]). The report was followed by an official City Council survey in 1930, which pointed out the housing shortage, overcrowded buildings, and the unsanitary conditions in places like District Six. Four years later, the South African government was granted a massive gain in its powers to expropriate citizens living in designated slum areas by the so-called Slums Act (cf. DSM). In 1950, the infamous Group Areas Act was issued. The act designated specific areas of the country to one specific ethnic group each. In other words, the country was divided into “white”, “African”, “Indian”, and “Coloured” communities (cf. DSM). “An affect of the law was to exclude non-whites from living in the most developed areas, which were restricted to whites” (www.southafrica.info). The consequences of the enactment of this piece of legislation were devastating for some quarters of Cape Town, with District Six among them: first of all, a massive resettlement ensued, which brutally forced around 60,000 people out of their homes and relocated them to Cape Flats (cf. DSM).
Secondly, the government soon cut back on or stopped its spending on infrastructure in those areas altogether, and the private landlords had no incentive to renovate their property either. In consequence, the decay of slums like District Six accelerated (cf. DSM). At the same time, the Urban Areas Act was passed by the South African government. The specific purpose of Section 10 of the document was to regulate who was permitted to enter or work in which areas, solely based on the ethnicity of the respective individual, thereby enforcing segregation to an even larger extend among the population of South Africa (cf. DSM). In 1956, segregation was introduced to the public transportation system of South Africa (cf. DSM).
Beginning in 1968, the empty houses of the resettled citizens in District Six were bulldozed, with only places of worship left standing. In their place, a modern and “white” city was planned. Two years later, District Six was renamed “Zonnebloem” (Afrikaans; Engl.: “sun flower”) - a perfect, if however massively cynical analogy, given the country’s European (i.e. white) colonial history. In 1985, around 3,500 mostly white, Afrikaans-speaking state employees inhabited the area (cf. DSM).
Beginning in the mid-1980s, the Apartheid regime came under evermore pressure, one crucial factor for this being the popular rebellion of 1984 – ’86. Years of uprisings, riots, and even series of bomb attacks shake the country to its core. In the end, the regime was forced to make numerous concessions: Nelson Mandela, who had been a political prisoner for 27 years, walked free in 1990; one year later, the Group Areas Act is abolished (cf. DSM).
In April of 1994, South Africa, finally, held its first democratic elections. Nelson Mandela was elected president and was inaugurated the following month (cf. DSM). However, xenophobia was not overcome. Many immigrants headed to South Africa, hoping to find a new home there. Instead, they were greeted by sometimes blatantly supremacist sentiments. Especially Nigerians are being singled out, discriminated against, and scapegoated for all kinds of problems, most typically (organized) crime. This became obvious at the latest, when the Southern African Migration Project conducted a study of the press coverage concerning the topic of immigration to South Africa and found “a large number of articles frequently us[ing] racial and national stereotypes to describe migrants from other African countries […], uncritically reproducing dubious statistics and flawed assumptions about immigration. Twenty-five percent of the articles used sensational headlines that reinforced myths and stereotypes about migrant groups […]” (Crush, Ramachandran, p. 59). One of those articles read (in part) “Alien has become almost a swearword in this country, used by xenophobes to describe those who have come to take our jobs, our homes, our women; conmen from Nigeria who've come to steal our money and feed us drugs” (Harris, Bronwyn, p. 179).
Apart from the events in District Six, another development should be introduced here. In the wake of the collapse of the Apartheid regime and the cuts in military personnel it came with, the rise of “Executive Outcomes” occurred, one of the world’s best-known “mercenary armies”. Executive Outcomes was founded in South Africa and engaged in military training of Special Forces units as well as conducting peacekeeping and high-profile, high-risk combat operations (cf. Singer. p. 104). A prominent example of the latter category was Executive Outcome’s deployment to Angola, where it served as a private “peacemaking” force before the UN peacekeeping troops took over (cf. Venter. p. 313).