Conservation propaganda in South Africa? The case of Laurens van der Post, the Department of Information and the National Parks Board.
Keywords:Eschel Rhoodie, Van der Post, BBC, Wilderness Foundation, Wildlife documentary, South African National Parks, Kruger Park, Rhino conservation
This article examines correspondence in the archives of the South African National Parks relating to a television film, “All Africa within us”, that Sir Laurens van der Post made for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in various South African nature reserves in 1974. The correspondence reveals that The South African Department of Information, supported by Dr Piet Koornhof, who was friendly with Van der Post, helped arrange the visit, expecting that Van der Post would provide favourable coverage of South African conservation efforts and thus, indirectly, of the National Party. The article reveals the complex interplay of motives between the Parks Board, Van der Post, the Department of Information and the BBC. It shows that the Kruger Park authorities were suspicious of filmmakers and wished to control the products by, for example, asking for scripts in advance. Van der Post’s letters and later commentary by his producer suggest that he changed his emphasis and focus considerably from the outset to the final production. The most fruitful approach to such productions may be in Actor-Network theory which tries to show the importance of different agents in controlling, or failing to control, a cultural product. Attempts to see conservation films as simple propaganda or political statement, the article argues, are misplaced and simplify the complexities.
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