CITY PRESS FILM REVIEW: Children of War
Director: Nhlanhla Mthethwa
A story about a war without a cause, the community of Thokoza Park became engulfed by warfare and now the survivors of this conflict, reflect.
Showing at Encounters South African International Documentary Festival
Longtime documentary archive researcher Nhlanhla Mthethwa’s difficult-to-watch film takes the viewer to the early 1990s in Thokoza Park on the East Rand of Joburg. Through rare visuals and photographs, we are shown a kasi – once known for people who had a strong sense of community and neighbourly love – becoming consumed by warfare. Thokoza, the place of joy in many respects, has become a place where the dreams of some have died.
The film opens with images of a shoot-out. Youngsters carrying guns, crawling along the ground as bullets whiz by overhead. This is actual footage of the gun fights in Thokoza Park, which have left an indelible mark on the minds of the kids who were forced to take up arms so as to protect their families. These survivors, now a lot older, take us back to the moments they witnessed their friends die and how they had no choice but to learn to fight.
Their faces are painted by the agony of their history and a war that is said to have no cause. Nobody knows what the actual reason behind these battles were – taxi feuds, tribalism or perhaps a political proxy war. The likely answer is that the old regime played on all of these things so as to incite black-on-black violence. All the survivors speak about the AK-47 almost as if they all dealt with a fascination or infatuation with a weapon that is now as much a symbol for black power as the fist. Their lives seemed to change dramatically once they came into contact with the assault rifle.
Street committees were formed to combat the manhunt that was taking place in this community. Men with red bandanas would go from house to house looking for young Xhosa men. Many lives were lost and I don’t recall learning about this at school.
This is what Mthethwa has done really well with this film. His characters’ stories have the kind of depth that requires very little to package them. Through their words and the remarkable footage, a devastating tale is told masterfully. Besides a few questionable subtitles, this is something you need to see to grasp the mind-set of the youth of apartheid and their pressing need to attack so as to defend. – Phumlani S Langa