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.