STOPPING THE MUSIC Music censorship in South Africa
South Africa 2002, 54 minutes
Directed by Douglas Mitchell Produced by Michael Drewett
‘Stopping the music’ is the story of a South African protest singer and the security branch policeman assigned to end his career. The events surrounding the central confrontation in the film took place in apartheid South Africa in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. It was a time of racial separation and strict government control. Censorship and police harassment were rife for those who dared to challenge the state. Racial mixing was prohibited at music concerts as South Africans grew up in racial separation and suspicion. Roger Lucey dared to challenge the injustices of the system through the songs he wrote. When his music became quite popular the security police intervened. In July 1995 former security branch policeman, Paul Erasmus published startling revelations about his apartheid-era assignment to stop Lucey’s music.
‘Stopping the music’ is filmed in post-apartheid South Africa, focusing directly on the relationship between Lucey and Erasmus. The two revisit the Johannesburg of their turbulent past. They each describe and explain their experiences of the dirty tricks campaign waged against Roger. Having individually explored their pasts they agree to meet each other for the first time on camera, in the very hotel where Paul Erasmus used to celebrate successful dirty tricks campaigns, including some of those against Roger.
The film focuses specifically on the relationship between Roger Lucey and Paul Erasmus and is ultimately a story of reconciliation in a country once torn apart by severe racial and ideological conflict. In a country where a Truth and Reconciliation Commission assisted a traumatic process of exploring its dark past and attempting reconciliation, the meeting between Paul and Roger offers an insight into the cathartic process of facing up to one’s past.
The film was shot in March and April 2002 in Johannesburg, Cape Town, George and the Underberg, Natal, as the film crew explored the worlds of the two characters. The film is produced by Michael Drewett, co-ordinator of the Cutting Grooves Censorship of South African Music Archive and lecturer in the Department of Sociology at Rhodes University in South Africa. The director of the film is Douglas Mitchell, a television journalist formally with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation who now teaches TV journalism in the Department of Journalism and Media Studies at Rhodes University. Cutting Grooves is a small non-governmental organisation based in Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. It undertakes archiving and educational projects related to the censorship of music in South Africa.
The film was made possible by a special partnership between Cutting Grooves and Freemuse, the Danish-based organisation which fights the censorship of musicians worldwide. Freemuse funded the project as part of its own long-standing commitment to assisting South Africans with their exploration into the censorship of music, which for many years made it difficult for musicians to be heard.
Roger Lucey’s story is important because it is a warning of the dangers of censorship, but it also offers useful insights into the importance of protest music and the need to persevere, in order to be heard.
Roger Lucey, a main character in “Stopping the Music”