Dompas: The Stinker We Loved to Hate | Documentary Idea

by Benison Makele
(Johannesburg, South Africa)

This is a documentary idea based on, and inspired by, the pass book or reference book, which only Africans had to carry as an identity document during the apartheid era in South Africa. This book, which Africans derogatively labelled the stinker, contained every detail about the personal life of the carrier, ie who he is, where he lives or works, dog or hut tax status, name of employer and address, drivers' licence, marital status, qualification to be in a particular urban area or place, vaccination details, etc.

Any person of European descent and of whatever age could stop and ask an African to show his passbook. Failure to produce it on demand by any European-South African ("white" in SA's racial lexicon) or policeman was a crime. It was actually an encyclopedia containing all manners of compliance with apartheid's racist, discriminatory laws.

The suffering that Africans had to endure during those times so angered them that the first protest march against the "dompasses," which is an Afrikaans word meaning a "stupid pass," occured in 1956 August when hundreds of thousands of women from all population and language groups (all "races") marched against apartheid Prime Minister Strydom to the Union Buildings in Pretoria.

In 1960 Robert Sobukwe led a peaceful protest against the "stinker" and the racist regime answered with bullets, mowing down 67 people in Sharpeville, near Vereeniging in the Gauteng Province, in what was then known as the Sharpeville Massacre.

The most inspiring part of the idea is that the then so-called Pass Laws are the only type of laws known to this writer that have resulted in two post-apartheid national holidays in South Africa. The 1956 march is being annually commemmorated as Women's Day while the 1960 anti-pass protests that resulted in the Sharpeville massacre is now known as Human Rights Day.

Comments for Dompas: The Stinker We Loved to Hate | Documentary Idea

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Aug 03, 2011
by: Desktop Documentaries

This is a fascinating idea for a documentary. Is this something you're planning to shoot or are you hoping someone else will pick it up? Do you know people who carried around these passes who would be willing to be interviewed?

Aug 04, 2011
Writer's response
by: Benison Makele


Thanks a million for the positive comments about the doccie idea. Many more thanks to Desktop Documentaries for the exposure.You have artistically fulfilled me. To answer your questions: If I had the material means to, I would have long done so. I have submitted even better ideas than the one I sent you to the local channels in vain. As for the people with the pass experience, I am one of them. I know and live with many others in Soweto. Maybe I should send you the full treatment of the doccie. Wanna shoot it, make me an offer. I promise to send more of these to your website should this debut effort be rewarding. I'll keep in touch.

Sincerely yours

Benison Makele

Aug 04, 2011
Submitting Ideas to Studios
by: Desktop Documentaries

Benison, thank you again for submitting such great ideas. You say you have submitted your ideas to the "local channels" in vain. I'm guessing you mean the local TV channels?

Unfortunately, it is very very rare for a TV Channel or production company or film studio to simply "buy" your idea. The way it works with documentaries is that you usually need to have, at the very minimum, a trailer for your documentary idea. And you use that trailer to generate interest and raise funds to complete the documentary.

A TV Channel is usually only interested in a finished film. So I can understand why your ideas have gone on deaf ears. I would not be surprised if they receive dozens if not hundreds of ideas every day.

If you want your ideas to become documentaries, even if those ideas are the best ideas and the most compelling stories in the world, the most realistic way for that to happen is to find funding yourself from investors who CARE about the story as much as you do and then recruit a film crew to produce the program.

Here are a few links that may help:

Documentary Funding

Documentary Grants

Dec 26, 2013
by: Wayne

Hi Benison

I am a former apartheid policeman from the 70s and 80s. Part of my job was of course to enforce the law. I have my own story about it. I live in Cape Town. If you reach the stage of making the doccie let me know. I would gladly do an interview or provided you with a video interview.



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