An FYI I received yesterday for our readers in South Africa – specifically Johannesburg – that should be of some interest to you all…

The Wits School of Arts (WSOA) Film & TV in collaboration with the Wits City Institute are hosting an event titled “120 Years of Cinema in Africa” next Wednesday, May 18, at the Apollonia Theatre, Second Floor, at the WSOA.

In May 1896 – while the so-called “Scramble for Africa” was underway, American magician Carl Hertz hosted the first public screenings of films in continental Africa at the Empire Palace of Varieties in Braamfontein, Johannesburg, as part of his traveling magic act. To mark this anniversary, the WSOA event will include:

  • A screening of the shorts made by British Film pioneer R.W. Paul., which will be introduced by Professor Twane Kupe, Media Studies and Deputy Vice Chancellor, University of the Witwatersrand. The screening of the short films by will be accompanied by new compositions by WSOA music students.
  • An international panel discussing the significance of this event for critical scholarship around the city of Johannesburg, Africa, cinema and modernity. The discussion will be chaired by Pervaiz Khan (WSOA) with filmmaker John Akomfrah (who’ll be skyping in from London), Professor Aboubakar Sanogo – Carleton University, Ottawa (also via Skype) and Lindelwa Dlamba (from WSOA)

A little backstory… R.W. Paul was responsible for the first commercially produced 35mm projector, the Theatrograph, in 1896. It was first revealed to the public in London that same year. American traveling magician Carl Hertz would soon afterward set sail from England on March 28, 1896, and, during the voyage, showed off Paul’s Theatrograph to the passengers. He also exhibited films in South Africa and Australia. The screenings in South Africa are documented as the first public screenings of moving images on the continent of Africa. After Australia, Hertz took the Theatrograph to Ceylon (Sri Lanka), India, China, Japan, the Fiji Islands, and Hawaii.

For queries and to RSVP contact: Patricia Hadebe patricia.hadebe@wits.ac.za.

By the way, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention (for those not in South Africa, or who are just not aware) that Wits University’s main campus in the aforementioned Braamfontein, Johannesburg, was the center of upheaval late last year, as mostly black students protested against what they maintained were exorbitant tuition and residence fee increases for 2016. Those of you who use Twitter may have seen hashtags like #WitsFeesMustFall and, more generally, #FeesMustFall, trending for a period of time.

Management of the university apparently hiked fees up by 10.5% for 2016 and the upfront registration fee by 6%, a decision that enraged students who say these increments excluded many of them (again, mostly blacks) from attending the university. The large group of protesting students staged marches and sit-ins across the campus, effectively disrupting classes. This was the biggest protest the university had seen in recent years, involving thousands.

The #FeesMustFall movement then spread across the country, culminating in student marches to Parliament and the Union Buildings. Its high point was when President Zuma, after negotiating with student leaders and vice-chancellors, conceded to a zero percent fee increase for 2016, addressing the movement’s principle concern of access for poor black students to affordable, quality education. A presidential commission was also established to investigate free education for the poor, and a sustainable fee structure for universities.

“The events of 2015 have forever changed the South African higher education system,” said Adam Habib, professor of political science at Wits, and the current Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University.

According to SARUA, Southern African Regional Universities Association, Wits University is home to about 25,000 registered students of which approximately 65% are Black African students.

You can find much more online if you want to know more.