As the fireworks celebrate yet another successful National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, what better time to reminisce about the 11 days of AMAZING the NAF has once again, produced?
I ended off my time at the NAF with a trip to the incredible - albeit expensive- flea market, Village Green, but first - a Jahmil X.T. Qubeka film.
Critically acclaimed 2010 film by young film director, Jahmil X.T. Qubeka titled A Small Town Called Descent screened at Olive Schreiner Hall on the 11 July. Based on true events relating to the 2008 South African xenophobic attacks, Jacob Zuma's rape allegations, national South African Police Service Commissioner Jackie Selebi's indictments and the disbandment of special crime unit, The Scorpions, this film was thought-provoking and troubling. Without director Qubeka, who was stuck in New York City at the time, to explain in detail what inspired him to speak about and against the 2008 events - the audience was at its own devices to take, and not take what they wanted to from the film.
Against the backdrop of media footage surrounding the allegations against Jacob Zuma, A Small Town Called Descent follows three Scorpion officers - the knights in shining suits, always ready to save the day - who have come to Descent to investigate the brutal murder of Zimbabwean Patrick Masiwiri. The lies and half-truths told by community members of this isolated town, soon unravel and we discover that the killing of Masiwiri is only the tip of the iceberg. What is even more shattering is that the three saviours, are not as innocent as they seem.
Debutant director Qubeka tackles the plagues to South Africa's prosperity - xenophobia, poverty, violence, corruption and rape. In as much as he doesn't succeed in exploring the cultural nuances that perpetuate the condition of South Africa in 2008, Qubeka does succeed in making South African audiences critical of our ignorance during a time of great tragedy.
The film centers around a young girl who the locals say was raped by two Zimbabwean men. As a consequence, the community took justice into their own hands and necklaced one of the men, while beating the other into a coma. The involvement of the South African Police Service is brought into question, not as perpetrators, but as silent accomplices to what really took place - unfortunately a reality in contemporary South Africa. The recent Marikana Massacre comes into mind, despite the film dating back to 2010.
There is an effortless way in which Qubeka raises local issues in the film to a national level, by underpinning Jacob Zuma's corruption and rape charges against which the more complex and dramatic political dynamics unfold. A Small Town Called Descent ends with the death or imprisonment of the perpetrators involved in the heinous crime, but tragically also with the death of the surviving Zimbabwean. Starring Vusi Kunene, Hlubi Mboya, Fana Moekoena, Paul Buckby, and more extraordinary actors, A Small Town Called Descent, for it's analytical storytelling, melancholy and drama, is a film worth a few watches. If for nothing else, but to see just how terrifyingly indistinguishable the state of South Africa in 2008 is to our present times.