In the hyper-connected world that we live in, it is difficult to contextualize the isolation that the apartheid brought. However, watching “Searching for Sugar Man” allowed me to grasp how detached Apartheid-era South Africa was from the rest of the world. Further, through the film, I came to better understand the daily life of South Africans at this time. I found this particularly valuable, as the personal and individual story of life under the apartheid often appears to get overshadowed by the macro and political narrative of the times.
The first thing that struck me about the film was Rodriguez’s musical style, the sense of angst and suffering that was at the heart of his music. It is interesting and quite suitable that his music – rooted in suffering and struggle – rose to such predominance in South Africa at that time when it failed to gain traction elsewhere in the world. To me, this further communicated the depth of suffering under the apartheid regime. Despite the degree to which South Africa was cut off from the rest of the world at this time, I found it interesting to discover the parallels to the rest of society that remained. Specifically, I couldn’t help but draw a connection to modern tabloids when hearing the gossip and outrageous speculation of Rodriguez’s death. The film also helped me to visualize the role of music as a form of rebellion and political tool. I have seen this tradition strongly persist during my time in South Africa. This has been most predominant at work, where every RTC movement meeting and workshop starts by singing struggle songs.
Though the movie is tragic- both in its portrayal of apartheid oppression and Rodriguez’s failure to be recognized for his “fame” – I found it uplifting to see the triumph of rebellion and entertainment at the darkest period of South African history. Since being in South Africa, I have learned much about life under the apartheid on a macro and political scale. However, this film made me realize that I understood very little about day to day life at this time and how South Africans scraped out entertainment and a sense of normalcy under such oppression.