Film

‘Matwetwe’ Captures The Essence of South African Life Without Conforming to the Hollywood Gaze

South African comedian Kagiso Lediga and DJ Black Coffee have produced a frenetic but heartwarming ode to boyhood

Lefa and Papi race through the township and almost stumble over each other as they pursue the guy who's just stolen their bag containing all the weed they've ever cultivated—thousands of Rands worth of weed. The gag is, the thief has a gun (they don't) and keeps looking back to try to shoot at them. The tension is palpable. At the last possible minute, the thief jumps into a getaway car which appears out of nowhere, mind you. The two boys drop to the floor and simply lie on the dusty street in frustrated defeat.


Executive produced by DJ Black Coffee and written and directed by the seasoned comedian Kagiso Lediga, Matwetwe (wizard) is about two best friends Lefa (Sibusiso Khwinana) and Papi (Tebatso Mashishi), who live in Atteridgeville, a township in Pretoria, South Africa's capital city.

Papi is the street smart cool-kid whose father, a former taxi boss, was gunned down and murdered, whilst Lefa is the shy and reserved nerd who is set to go and study Botany at Wits University. Papi's entrepreneurial spirit and Lefa's botanical know-how allows them to cultivate their own weed (which they name Matwetwe) and sell it all over the township as part of their hustle.

The film starts off on a high (excuse the pun) from the get-go. DJ Mujava's classic banger "Mugwanti wa Pitori" opens up the first scene where there are beautifully shot aerial views of the township. It captures the authentic essence of the township with images of shacks packed closely together as well as brick houses in the better parts of the township.

Right from the beginning, the film isn't attempting to be what it's not - some Americanized version of what South African life looks like. It's right there in the trenches so to speak and authentically so. This is what other popular South African films such as Mrs Right Guy and even Happiness is a Four-Letter Word failed to do.

What Matwetwe has achieved, unlike other South African films, is capturing the true essence of South African life as it is without needing to conform to the Hollywood gaze. There are no forced American accents save for two characters (but they're just trying to act cool) and no tired stereotypical tropes of what it means to be South African.

Three narrators describe the events as they unfold. This particular 'theater style' allows for more engagement with the viewers and brings in comedic relief when Lefa and Papi's thrilling escapades have you on the edge of your seat. The fact that the three narrators sometimes interject with other stories, for example, Lefa's neighbour (who is hiding his dead wife's body in their house) or Barotho (who lost his sanity after his girlfriend died in a car accident) speaks to the multifaceted life of the township. There is no end to the peculiar characters who make daily life just that much more interesting.

"Mugwanti" is just the first of several South African musical classics to add vibrancy to the film. You'll be singing along to hits you'd almost forgotten. This includes Khuli Chana's "Mnatebawen," Bugzito's "Maratong," Black Coffee and Nakhane's "We Dance Again" and Stogie T's "Going Gorilla," among others.

The film has a refreshingly fresh-faced cast which is important at a time when South Africans have been debating the opening up of the entertainment industry to new talent. The two young stars of the film show that a production doesn't always need veteran actors and actresses at its helm to make it a success. What's also important is how Tebatso Mashishi, who has albinism, is one of the main actors in the film. In a country where people who have albinism are still stigmatized and even physically harmed because of their condition, seeing Mashishi on the screen is so fitting because representation matters.

At the heart of the film is also the theme of absent fathers, something many South Africans can relate to. Whilst Papi's father is absent because he died, Lefa's father is absent because he has unsurprisingly started another family elsewhere. Lefa is now left in the care of his grandmother who is always visibly worried about whether Lefa's father will eventually pay his university fees or disappoint him yet again.

Perhaps the most obvious and poignant theme of this film is that of friendship. But more so, friendship that has to exist in a sense, in two different realities. While the one young man, Papi, is well-off, he seems comfortable with life in the township, as long as he can make some money for himself. On the other hand, his friend Lefa, is tired of that life, and the opportunity to go and study is one he wants to seize with both hands.

In one of the last scenes of the movie, Papi expresses how he is going to miss Lefa when he goes off to university. It's sad that many a friendship has not survived because of just that. We talk about the ones who get to leave the township with tremendous excitement, but we often forget those who stay behind.







Featured

The 'Silverton Siege' Soundtrack is the Sound of Resistance

Netflix's new film Silverton Siege features a varied and impressive soundtrack that grounds the film with tone and character.

At the end of Silverton Siege, Netflix's new original movie, the gun-toting duo of Calvin (Thabo Rametsi) and Terra (Noxolo Dlamini) walk fearlessly towards the open bank doors for another standoff with the police. They knew their fate was death.

The scene drowns in alarming red lights, then cuts to black with the sound of gunfire. Zamo Mbutho’s "Asimbonanaga" plays next; the song is a mournful acapella invoking the mood of the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa.


Directed by South African filmmaker Mandla Dube, Silverton Siege features a soundtrack that grounds the film with tone and character. These songs are forged in an African revolutionary consciousness. From Fela Kuti’s Afrobeat anthem "Zombie" to Philip Miller’s "Hamba Kahle Umkhonto." In the case of South Africa, they re-enchant the role songs played in galvanizing people against apartheid.

The Silverton siege was a flashpoint in the movement for Nelson Mandela’s release. In 1980s South Africa, anti-apartheid freedom fighters — Wilfred Madela, Humphrey Makhubu, Stephen Mafoko — aborted their planned sabotage mission at Watloo’s petrol depots and were on the run from the police. They hunkered down at Volkskas Bank in Silverton, Pretoria, where they held 25 civilians hostage.

In the film, Calvin is the de facto leader of the group, negotiating for safe passage out of the bank. The officer in charge, Langerman (Arnold Vosloo), reluctantly agrees to the demand and sends a helicopter manned by a solo driver. It’s a trap, though. Without their knowledge, the pilot Sechaba (Tumisho Masha) is going to deliver the group to the police once he’s been informed of their destination.

Fela’s "Zombie" starts to play when the trio, with a hostage taken along, leave the bank and head for the chopper. What transpires afterwards is the group knowing they have been set up. Sechaba is pulling out a gun when he’s preempted by Calvin. He’s disarmed, struck in the face and forced out of the chopper, then manhandled back to the bank along with the group.

Released in 1976, "Zombie" criticizes the military as tools of oppression by the Nigerian government. It strikes a parallel to the helicopter scene. Sechaba, a Black South African, is an asset of the police. By extension, he’s in service for the white ruling class aiding the capture of the freedom fighters. What’s teachable here is that in the process of fighting oppression, the enemy doesn’t always look like those in power, but could be anyone from the grass-root.

Although they look like the oppressed, these people aren’t committed to revolutionary warfare or liberation. Their orders come from above. The next time we hear another song in the background, it is Chicco Twala’s "I Need Some Money." The scene finds Calvin and Aldo pushing out trolleys stacked with cash in the bank’s main hall. Soundtracking the scene with this song diffuses the tension, inverting the serious stakes with its shangaan-disco liveliness.

"I Need Some Money" was released in 1986, and it was the first hit from the South African artist and producer. What does it mean to need money during this time? The global economic crisis didn’t spare South Africa, with rising inflation, unemployment and weakening of its currency. But Calvin isn’t interested in the money. This is another inversion that occurs. An economic downturn in the country where seeking material provisions would be justified is juxtaposed with the revolutionary mindset of his group.

The trolley is now outside the bank, where Terra and Calvin hold a Black American man at gunpoint. While Langerman tries to reason with them, the American pours fuel all over the trolley on orders from the duo. Engulfed with fire, Johnny Clegg and Juluka’s "Impi" comes on. Calvin walks sideways towards the press with their cameras and shouts, “Free Nelson Mandela!”

This shifts the trajectory of the story. Nelson Mandela was sent to prison in 1964 for treason and opposing the apartheid regime. The clamor for his release in the film is underscored by the sheer stature of Johnny Clegg, who wasn’t just a singer and songwriter but a huge figure in the fight against apartheid.

Silverton Siege woman gun

Photo Credit: Neo Baepi/Netflix

His band, Julukua, was one of his successful racially mixed groups. Off their second album, African Litany, which was released in 1981, Impi is Zulu for ‘’war.’’ His version of "Asimbonanaga" was made with his other band Savuka from their album Third World Child and was dedicated to political prisoners, especially Mandela.

Silverton Siege isn’t a film without a body count. Outside the bank demanding for the release of Mandela, Calvin and the bank supervisor Christine (Elaine Dekker) have put away their differences. Unfortunately, she’s shot by a rooftop sniper from the SWAT team.

"Hamba Khale Umkhonto" permeates this scene where she dies. It’s forlorn and mournful. When Silverton Siege —which was released on Freedom Day last month — ends, the sacrifice of the trio becomes symbolic for what comes later: freedom.


Featured

Update: How The African Students Who Fled Ukraine Are Doing

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On February 26th, we published a story detailing the experiences of four African students as they attempted to flee Ukraine as Russia invaded their territory. The piece, What Africans Students Are Experiencing, recounted the strenuous journeys that the students endured fleeing the Eastern European nation. Now, thankfully all of the individuals that we spoke with made it safely out of Ukraine -- though for some, the troubles are far from over.

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Film poster courtesy of EGM NY Management

You Can Now Watch the Documentary 'Bigger Than Africa' on Netflix

Award-winning Nigerian Director Toyin Ibrahim Adekeye's first feature film is out this Friday, the 13th exclusively on the global streaming platform.

Netflix's investment in original African stories has seen a hoard of brilliant minds and their creations gain access to global audiences. The latest creative to share their narrative on the global streaming platform is award-winning Nigerian director Toyin Ibrahim Adekeye and his first feature film 'Bigger Than Africa'. The film, produced by Los Angeles-based Motherland Productions is available on the streaming platform this Friday, May 13th.


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Music

The 5 Songs You Need to Hear This Week

Featuring Burna Boy, Adekunle Gold, Ladipoe, Rema and more.

Every week, we highlight the top releases through our best music of the week column. Here's our round-up of the best tracks and music videos that came across our desks.

If you like these music lists, you can also check out our Best Songs of the Month columns following Nigerian, Ghanaian, East African and South African music.

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