Our Man in South Africa

A documentary film that focuses on how the Dutch TV channel IKON, and its obstinate correspondent Hennie Serfontein (82). IKON produced influential and intimate TV journalism about South Africa during the last 13 brutal apartheid years. Sometimes overstepping the line from journalism to activism, Hennie Serfontein’s reports and portraits gave Dutch audiences not just rare insights into the perfidious inner workings of apartheid, but also into the lives of many of the central figures in the anti-apartheid struggle, like Winnie Mandela, Allan Boesak, Frank Chikane and Beyers Naudé.

These films were shown in »Kenmerk«, an IKON program that soon became the most reputable source in the Netherlands on developments in South Africa, and had significant influence on public opinion.

During the apartheid years IKON and most of the Dutch media were constantly refused working visa’s to South Africa. In order to circumvent this ban IKON in 1977 started to use Hennie Serfontein to report for them from South Africa.

In the mid-Seventies South Africa was a place of uprisings by the black youth in the townships, which was time and again met by iron-fisted oppression from the apartheid state. Serfontein was at that stage one of South Africa’s most well-known journalists, known for his exposés in the Sunday Times of the Broederbond, the secret Afrikaner organisation with its octopus-like powers over the Government.

The Dutch television broadcaster IKON was known beyond its borders for its socio-critical television documentaries and current affairs programmes, shot in the political hot spots of the world where dictators ruled and the rule of law did not exist.

Hennie Serfontein’s first visit to IKON in October 1977 coincided with one of the darkest chapters in South Africa’s history - Black Wednesday. That day black newspapers, 17 anti-apartheid organizations and scores of apartheid government critics were detained and slammed with banning orders – which effectively meant they could not operate.

Serfontein immediately went on air eerily predicting the brutality that was to follow in the next 13 years. Thus started a cooperation which lasted till the advent of democracy in South Africa.

This film directed by Serfontein’s daughter looks his relationship with IKON, the type of social-justice journalism both he and IKON subscribed to in the 1970’s and 1980’s. It highlights the dangers and difficulties they faced in uncovering the truth in the last 13 years of apartheid.

The film was broadcasted on IKON in November 2015 shortly before they finally closed down at the end of that year, bringing an end to seventy years of quality broadcasting in The Netherlands.