Sounding the Land

There are two signs at the side of the road leading away from Salem. The first reads: ‘Welcome to Frontier Country’. And the second: ‘Potholes ahead’. This is a recurring image in Simon Gush’s work and – given our location in Makhanda/Grahamstown, a space and site of collapsing afterlives and infrastructures in stark and particularly disturbing intensities – it suggests that the call for and obligation to think differently is both relevant and necessary for new directions of research and practice in the arts and in the academy.

Instead of potholes, chasms have opened up before us: the COVID-19 pandemic, lockdowns, states of disaster, police brutality and mass protests against the racism that that brutality exposes … conflict, contagion, isolation, containment, confinement. How does one find one’s bearings in times like this?

Locked down, but pursuing – if warily – lines of flight enabled in this new era of digital technologies, Sounding the Land listens back across the ground of 200 years to find our bearings now, in 2020. This year is a paradox, ominous, threatening and yet full of possibility. We venture here into that space, and encourage you to think, with Walter Benjamin, how the storm called ‘progress’ has propelled us into a future that we had turned our backs to as the pile of debris before us grew skyward across the last two centuries.

Simon Gush
2019, 30 mins

A Button without a Hole looks at dispossession and restitution of land in Salem Eastern Cape. The film details the history of the dispossession by the director’s family in 1820, and the role of this in the production of a system of wage labour. The settler narrative is contrasted to the narrative of Mongezi Madinda, one of the residents on the restituted land.


Healer Oran
2020, 40 mins

A recorded performance of improvised reinterpretations of the score for the Land is in the Air films. During the performance, Healer Oran talks about the process of scoring the film.


Akhona ‘Bhodl’ingqaka’ Mafani and Landiso ‘Hlalutya’ Magqaza
2020, 7 mins

A spoken word izibongo dialogue about the life and death of Makhanda Nxele with the sub-themes of contagion, containment, healing and leadership.


Just outside Makhanda, in an area the British military cleared of amaXhosa with a ‘brutal efficiency’* after the Fourth Frontier War, lies a cricket pitch with claims to being the oldest in the country. It is a wicket watered by the blood of removal and the trauma of forced labour. One rolled with frontier nostalgia and contemporary paranoia. How does it play?


Helena Pohlandt-Mccormick, Craig Paterson and Gary Minkley
Slideshow, 20 mins

A slideshow of images and text reflecting on the history of disease, confinement and control and its resonances with the current situation.


Leslie Witz and Helena Pohlandt-Mccormick
2020, 60 mins

A recorded discussion between historians Leslie Witz (UWC) and Helena Pohlandt-McCormick (Rhodes University) around colonial commemorations and centennial celebrations.


Prishani Naidoo and Simon Gush
2020, 26 mins

A recorded discussion between Prishani Naidoo (SWOP/Wits) and Simon Gush around questions of land, work and social inclusion.