|Published June 14, 2007
Africa continues to pay tribute to fallen Senegalese filmmaker, writer and human rights champion Ousmane Sembene. Among those whose condolences have been sent to ArtMatters.Info are South African Ministry of Arts and Culture, National Film and Video Foundation, South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), and Pan African Federation of Filmmakers.
Statement from Dr Z. Pallo Jordan, Minister of Arts and Culture, South Africa:
Sembene was born on 1 January 1923 in Ziguinchor, Senegal. He worked from a very young age in various manual jobs and taught himself to read and write in French. He published his first novel in 1956, “Le Docker Noir” (The Black Docker) drawing from his own experiences as a dock worker in Marseilles, France.
Sembene’s major contribution to the development of African literature includes five novels, five collections of short stories.
He was also a major film-maker; he directed numerous films, four shorts, nine features and four documentaries. Sembene’s voracious reading included Marxist-Leninist classics, fiction and history.
He also visited numerous public libraries, theatres, and attended seminars, educating himself. His comrade and friend Bernard Worms said of him, ” Sembene was a well rounded intellectual and an exceptionally cultured humanist”.
He participated in the protest movements against the colonial war in Vietnam (1953) and the Korean War (1950 – 1953) and supported the Algerian National Liberation Front in its struggle for independence from France (1954 -1962). He believed that friendship and solidarity should be the ties that bind the peoples of the world together. He also worked selflessly to educate and liberate the community of mostly illiterate and “apolitical” African workers buffeted into the margins of French society.
Sembene was an informed social critic and provided the world with an alternative knowledge of Africa. He witnessed the masses of workers including women, exploited and silenced by the combined external forces of colonialism and the internal yoke of the African “tradition”.
He was deeply aware of the urgent need for political and social change in Africa and, like Palestinian writer Edward Said, interrogated various issues of oppression and its impact. He used the medium of words and film to invest in Africa, and indeed the world. His love for Africa is evident in all his work.
A famous and popular novel of his is “God’s Bits of Wood”, a fictional recreation of a comprehensive African railroad workers strike against their French colonial bosses. That was followed by “Voltaique” or “Tribal Scars”,
“The news spread for leagues around and over the years and centuries a diversity of scars appeared on the bodies of our ancestors – And this is how our ancestors came to have tribal scars. They refused to be slaves.”
He did not spare African rulers. He remained critical of post-colonial Africa for failing to meet many of her peoples’ expectations, where injustice continues to prevail. Sembene Ousmane is recognized as the Father of African cinema and has received countless awards and distinctions.
Like with his books he also used the medium of film as a critical and an educational tool without compromising its aesthetics and the artistic impulse. His work promoted freedom and social justice and aspired to restoring pride and dignity to the African people.
He was a founder member of FAPACI (Pan African Federation of Film Makers) 1969/1970. South Africa joins the rest of Africa and the world in paying our deepest respects to a great revolutionary artist, Sembene Ousmane.
Message from Eddie Mbalo, CEO of the National Film and Video Foundation of South Africa:
It is with great sadness that we learnt this morning of the passing of the doyen of African cinema, Mr Ousmane Sembene, who sadly passed away this past weekend.
Mr Sembene was the father of African cinema and certainly one of the few remaining African griots whose legacy will forever be studied by film scholars for years to come.
In his lifetime, Mr Sembene was a great inspiration to many South African filmmakers who only got exposed to his works after the liberation of South Africa. We were saddened that Mr. Sembene could not take part in the African Film Summit which was held in South Africa in 2006 due to ill health. It is without doubt that the legacy of Mr. Sembene and Uncle Lionel Ngakane is still with us as we continue to fight for the unity of African filmmakers through Fepaci. It is also sad that Mr Sembene leaves us at the time when the Film Resource Unit through which his works was introduced to the broader South African filmmaking population is in a state of collapse. We hope that his works will continue to inspire us to continue to ensure that African cinema lives in our homes, villages, our cities and most of all our minds.
Akuhlanga Lugehlanga, Robala ka kgotso, Tau Tona (Rest in Peace – the Great
Message from Seipati Bulane Hopa; Secretary General, FEPACI:
There was an expectation at the FESPACO to again enjoy the privilege of having Sembene present. It is at this FESPACO that it came to my attention that Sembene always had one room reserved for him at the hotel Independence, and that room was nothing else but Chambre 1, and 1 is a number that we know represents “pioneership” and championship. I was hoping for an opportunity to see him again, an opportunity that did not materialise. He may not have made it to Chambre 1 at the FESPACO but will make it when he enters the world of our great legends, the world of creative wealth beyond us.
The light for African cinema shines brighter now as Sembene joins Paulin Vierra, Lionel Ngakane, Djibril Diop Mambety, Henri Duparc and all the other great film-makers who have departed to the beyond and who leave us to continue making cinema that talks to its people and keep our conscience alert and resonant.
Cathedrals, when well preserved and maintained, are precious symbols that live through generations as visual memories and spiritualities of time and history. Sembene in our creative world resembles a Cathedral whose walls lure us in and whose interior make us marvel at this master artistry created within our audio-visual world.
To our brothers and sisters in Senegal, we proudly salute you for having borne to the rest of us Africans, a man of this calibre, an intellectual that make us walk tall as we claim him as our very own icon, a man whose
Travel and Traverse gently to the world beyond – your eyes will continue to watch over us with that same steady glare you had when still on earth.
Ousmane Sembene – May your star shine forever
The African continent has lost a great mind, a striding intellectual and cultural force, and a visionary that was able to express our struggles with true agency, authenticity and strength.
We as a broadcaster will mourn together with the Senegalese people and the world’s film community, this loss of one of our finest storytellers and dream weavers on screen.
But in keeping alive his memory we will also remain committed to championing the ethos of truth, expression of our identities and the final liberty of all Africans which Ousmane Sembene’s work represents and has contributed to our collective upliftment as a people.
We will remember your spirit, outspokenness and courage as a filmmaker and cultural warrior.
Aluta continua to one of the one of the greatest authors of sub-Saharan Africa and a founding father of African film, fighting racism, oppression and injustice. We salute you!