The intellectual roots of "Catch a Fire" can be traced back to Joe Slovo. The absolutely awful Uncle Joe was in his day the leader of the South African Communist Party and a committed follower of an even more awful version of Stalinism. He was also the leader of Umkhonto we Sizwe – the armed wing of the ANC that specialized in attacks on economic and civilian targets in South Africa. This is particularly ironic, since Uncle Joe’s parents fled Lithuania for South Africa, apparently because of a virulent brand of anti-Semitism in Joe Stalin’s Soviet Union in 1934. Once safely in South Africa, and under protection of the Boers, the awful Joe quickly forgot the evils of Stalinism, and instead switched sides to become a committed follower of Stalin and a determined enemy of the Boers.
Uncle Joe has already given up the ghost, but his spirit marches on in his children. One of his red diaper babies, now not a mere youngster anymore, has here made a movie which would make their Pappa proud. In this they have recruited Philip Noyce, who apparently would not let historical details such as Stalinism and necklacings stand in the way of making a good movie, and who would willingly rub shoulders with the inheritors of an ideology so banal and intellectually bankrupt that even the most stupid of leaders of the modern ANC have abandoned it. Only Blade Nzimande, some elements in the PAC and second tier followers of Jacob Zuma, still march on this abandoned road while Joe’s ghost eggs them on to even more outrageous ideological positions.
But Pappa Joe’s intellectual short-sightedness and evil ideology will not stop the Slovo girl from making a killing here. No, they have gone to the Capitalist West, got an Ozzie, and made a movie for the stupid capitalistic proletariat in the United States who will in droves ooh and aah about the intellectual shallowness of the script and the virtuous portrait it paints of black good and white evil. And then completely miss the point about the Stalinist legacy and blatant propagandistic motives underlying this effort. And for Pappa Joe’s girls, this is also another kick at the Boers in his honour.
The Slovo family fled the intense anti-Semitism in the Stalinist Soviet Union when Joe was only eight, and they should know, if by word of mouth, the evils underlying the stereotyping of entire populations. But this message appears lost on this awful lot. Like a Nadine Gordimer who in her torturous prose made a living vilifying and stereotyping Boers, the Slovo girls live in a universe of evil Boers from which they sample and display bits to make a living at the often lethal expense of others.
Shawn Slovo’s first movie (A World Apart, 1989) explored the same ideas as in Catch a Fire, and one has to wonder if her intellectual capacity is limited to but one idea. Her younger sibling (Gillian Slovo) has similarly explored the same theme in her novel Red Dust, an effort that could be safely ignored if it was not for the pervasive stereotyping of Boers in page after limited page.
In the world of the Slovo girls, Boers are one dimensional caricatures of evil to be exploited for profit at the box office. There are no good, bad or ugly Boers. No Boers with diverse opinions and even more diverse lives. No Boers who are sportsman, or honest soldiers, or academics or accountants or farmers or victims of assault or exploited and victimized children. No, the Boers are oppressive assholes who teach their children to shoot to kill.
But the Slovo girls are getting the last laughs. They have since abandoned South Africa and live in capitalistic comfort overseas, making fortunes by stereotyping Boers (of whom thousands have now been killed since 1994 in unprovoked attacks by former members of Umkhonto we Sizwe, Pappa Joe’s former outfit).
These girls may be the red diaper babies of a Stalinist, but at least they are not Boers – and even the progeny of a Stalinist love the moral high ground. That appears to be their claim to legitimacy. And the West will give them that. The Stalinist legacy will be overlooked, the stereotyping of an entire and diverse nation of Boers will be accepted at face value, and the Slovo girls will get filthy rich from royalties while striking a blow for Pappa against his old enemies. Pappa will frown at the blatant capitalistic profiteering of his girls, but he will approve of this movie.