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KWAMASHU: STILL MY HOME (article first published : 2007-04-28)

It's a case of lights, cameras and action in Durban's KwaMashu, where London-based director Owen Shahadah, in collaboration with Durban's Edmund Mhlongo, of K-Cap Productions, is devoting six weeks to the creation of a R300,000 documentary titled Kwa Mashu: Still My Home.

The film, work on which started last week, focuses on Nokubonga Ngobese, a 16-year-old keen to understand the past, present and future of the place where she was born - and which she has come to understand was among the most feared communities in South Africa.

Kwa Mashu is Durban's oldest township. It was established in 1958, after apartheid policies ordered forced removals and the destruction of the mixed race informal settlement of Cato Manor (Mkhumbane). Ngobese seeks to uncover the reasons for her township's notoriety, relating to issues such as the fatal stoning of Aids activist Gugu Dlamini, who died after revealing she was HIV-positive; and the Amasinyora gangsters, who terrorised township residents in the 80s.

"During the struggle against apartheid, KwaMashu was a dangerous place to be," says Mhlongo's publicist, Xolani Majozi, pointing out that it was the first place after Soweto to make headlines for killing by "necklacing" - involving setting fire to a petrol-doused rubber tyre placed around a person's neck.

For all its troubles, lack of development and need for improved schooling and sporting facilities, Kwa Mashu has produced some amazing talent. And these are highlighted by Ngobese in her journey, where she discovers beauty under township scars. She interviews surviving first residents of Kwa Mashu to hear tales of lifestyle constraints and other hardships under the apartheid regime, stories of hope and perseverance, of dreams for better days. She also meets famous KwaMashu residents, including former soccer hero Henry Cele, who made world headlines as the mighty Shaka Zulu in Bill Faurč's celebrated television series of the same title, and who still lives in the township.

Ngobese also meets Leleti Khumalo (star of Sarafina and the Oscar-nominated Yesterday), sport heroes Siyabonga Nomvete and Sboniso Gaxa, and Reverend Nicholas Mzimela, who in troubled times managed to establish the KwaMashu Christian Church, a shelter for many political activists. She also speaks to prominent, multi-millionaire KwaMashu businessman Mzi Khumalo, the first African to own and run an insurance company; the Minister of Transport, Jeff Radebe; the MEC of Public Works, Lydia Johnson; Nomusa Dube, now the High Commissioner in Slovania; and Bheki Langa, who is now the SA ambassador in Moscow.

Ngobese also interviews director Mhlongo, artistic director of the township's impressive Ekhaya Multi Arts Centre, who has marketed a positive image of Kwa Mashu, putting it on the arts and culture map and becoming a role model for youth.

The teenager becomes increasingly optimistic about the place she calls home, a township now under reconstruction. She is excited about new developments and the optimism among KwaMashu people, despite challenges forced on them by apartheid policies. But, she also discovers, there remain hurdles to clear. Apartheid might be dead but the wounds are still visible. White business, it seems, remains sceptical about investing in Kwa Mashu -and Ngobese asks locals their thoughts on this issue and what they believe should be done about it.

"This is a documentary asking questions about African renaissance. It looks at investment opportunities in the community and challenges the assumption in some circles that African people cannot stand on their own without the support of 'Big Brother' (white business)," says Majozi.

The documentary's six-week shoot is taking place in Malendela Road, Giya Road, Bhejane Road, Amanzimtoti Road, Besters, KwaMashu Station, KwaMashu Hostel and various sections of Kwa Mashu - A, B,C, E, F, G, H, J and L.

Director Mhlongo has written internationally acclaimed musicals such as Bayede Shaka, which featured Henry Cele; Our Voice, Our Rights and Jabulani! South Africa Celebrate. He recently staged a musical celebrating the life of Inkosi Albert Luthuli, which will soon tour to eight regions of KwaZulu-Natal.

It was in 2003 that Mhlongo's celebrated K-Cap group started an annual film festival at Kwa Mashu's Ekhaya Multi Art Centre - a festival that has created business opportunities for young, aspiring actors.

"A lot of actors have been recruited for films shot in Kwa Mashu. One was Nothing But the Truth with John Kani. Another was Strangers produced by drama students at Ekhaya Multi Arts Centre and featuring Gcina Mhlophe," says Majozi. Strangers was screened at the Kwa Mashu Film Festival and won an award at a festival in France last May.

Kwa Mashu: Still My Home will be seen at the Berlin Film Festival and London International Film Festival, as well as at festivals in New York and, of course, at Durban's KwaMashu Film Festival, which runs from December 7 to 16. - Billy Suter




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