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Nonfiction in Brief

BEYOND THE BARRICADES Popular Resistance in South Africa (Aperture: $24.95; 144 pp.)

December 24, 1989|SONJA BOLLE

"Photography took on a particular significance in this period of our history," write the South African photographers whose testimony to popular resistance against the apartheid regime is collected in this book. "The camera became a voice for those denied a vote and basic human rights, and was instrumental in bringing the South African struggle to the international arena."

Many of the pictures in "Beyond the Barricades" could not be taken today in South Africa. Since the 1986 reinstatement of the state of emergency, the government has decreed: "No person shall without . . . prior consent . . . take any photographs or make or produce any television recording, film recording, drawing or other depiction a) of any unrest or security action or of any incident occurring in the course thereof, including the damaging or destruction of property or the injuring or killing of persons or b) of any damaged or destroyed property or injured or dead persons or other visible signs of violence."

The brutality of the scenes bureaucratically sketched above and graphically represented in the book is deeply affecting. In these photographs security police, armed and wearing protective clothing, confront a population wielding stones--an astounding number of the protesters children and teen-agers. A young man exposes his back, raw with welts from a whipping by a vigilante group. Mothers grieve over slain children. Tiny caskets are lowered into the ground, victims of tear gas. The constant parade of funerals is overwhelming.

Clear captions and essays (by Reverend Frank Chikane and Andre Odendaal) aim to destroy the apathy of those who dismiss the situation as too complex; they explain how black-on-black violence is encouraged by those in power and elucidate local issues in areas of "unrest," where vigilante groups often enjoy police support. Other text, taken from court records, poetry and personal statements, attests to the courage and determination of the people who carry on the struggle. The title, "Beyond the Barricades," carries at least two meanings. The authors' intention is to take the reader beyond the barricades "that keep most of the media from the heart of the conflict," but the book also expresses hope for change, for a life "beyond the barricades."

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