by Vuyo Seripe
My father, he’s a typical African man with his favourite chair in the house and a bloody newspaper behind his face. I am a middle child, diagnosed with middle child syndrome. I’m an eclectic mix of both my parents. My father is a philosopher constantly thinking and talking about world matters as if they happen in his living room. He only drinks Castle Lager and if it wasn’t for my mother, he’d wear the tastiest clothing and not care for anything under the sun, living in Sandton. My mother is a teacher, she teaches maths and science. She enjoys reading Danielle Steel and yelling about the dishes.
If you were to listen from outside my house, you’d think a bunch of mad people live in it. My brother, Blake, is what you’d call a “hardcore” hip hop fan. Ever since ma and pa got him those speakers, he constantly plays Eminem, Dr.Dre and other hip hop music play as loud as possible from his bedroom so that the rest of us hear all the ‘fuck you bitches!’ loud and clearly. He’s two years older than me but I’d swear he’s a ten years younger than me. My little sister is Nomama, she got her first tattoo when she was sixteen. It’s a botch piece of shit above her ass crack. She was trying to be cool but got the worst beating from my Pa when he saw it. The beating was similar to the one I got when I got my tongue ring, a few months before her. You must be wondering how old we are… well, I’m nineteen years old, my sister is seventeen years old and my big brother is twenty one years old.
I have clear memories of my childhood in Kigali. When I turned seven, we had to leave because of political turmoil in the country. My mother was an exile, after conceiving my big brother in 1985 and she decided to stay because my father promised her marriage. They later got married, after I was born in 1987. After their third baby was born in 1989, the tension in the country mounted. In the meantime the South Africa was slowly becoming liberated, exiles came home and Mandela was released.
My mother’s excitement mounted, as she got letters from comrades urging her to come home. She eventually convinced my father, who was very reluctant and wanted to stay to fight for the Tutstis, who were on the loosing end of the battle from the get go. In 1994, after Mandela was sworn in as president – my mothers’ impatience grew and she managed to convince my father to leave the country. They’d do it swiftly and as quickly as possible. It was best for them to leave separately. My auntie smuggled in fake documents, claiming my parents were South African tourists –the passports differed–my brother and little sister’s surnames in the documents match my mother’s fake surname and mine, my father’s. We had to leave separately in order not to raise any suspicion at the borders.
My father and I left two days after my mother and my siblings, I’ll never forget the day my father and I had to leave, it’s as clear as day in my head. I assume he’s forgotten because he always forgets the outfit I was wearing on that day, he insists I was wearing jeans and a t-shirt. I was, in fact, wearing a dress of scarlet flowers, which I loved. We were on our way to an unknown place, where mother and siblings would be waiting for us with a surprise, which I imagined as Mandela in my head.
I always heard my mother speak about Mandela. “Mandela is free!” she’d shout when I was a toddler, as the years went by, Mandela never left her tongue. My immature imagination mistook Mandela for an object that was up for sale at the local sweet shops to the place we were going to for a trip we’d never forget. I promised my friends’ that I’d come back from my trip and bring them a Mandela. We had to board a taxi to the boarder, the trip was a long one, I remember because we had to walk for a very long time after the taxi driver made us get off the mini bus. My father begun sobbing, I thought he was playing at first like he always did when I threw a tantrum to cheer me up. He begun by sobbing on the taxi, I played with him. I pinched his nose and tickled him with a feather in his ears.
I’m doing my first year in film school. I want to make war films – violence fascinates me, I love Stanley Kubrick and Quentin Tarrantino because of their execution of ultra violence. I’ve always enjoyed clever, violent and humorous action/thriller movies. I love film, I always have.
As an end of year exam, we’re given an assignment to make a ten minute film, which determines whether you go on to second year. I’ve been working on a script for four months, changing my ideas, hating them, loving them and losing inspiration in between. With my major being scriptwriting, I have to work in collaboration with other students, whose majors are other components of film such as editing, directing and cinematography. My lecturer always advises writers to put some kind of story down, “write, write, write and get it all down and cut – C U T – all the unnecessary bits!”
I begun jotting my story down in May this year, 2008, during the xenophobic attacks. I knew this topic would be exhausted throughout the year. I identified with the attacks. It felt as though someone had to tell the story of Africa dying, which is topic that has been exhausted throughout time.
My father has always shown interest in my studies, more than my mother. As the year went on, he wanted to see my treatment, especially since I was spending so much time away from home working with the animator. I’ve been spending endless nights on the internet looking for images to use in my film without being accused of plagiarism. To make the film more graphic and precise – the cinematographer had footage from the xenophobic attacks which took place in May. The working title is “One Hundred Days”. Two weeks ago, I showed my father the first draft of the film. I gave my father the chance to watch out first draft tonight.
The opening scene is of a little girl playing with her weeping father in a taxi – just as I remember my father on the big trip we were taking. In order to execute the brutality and death of between 500 thousand and 1 million in a fictional African country, and the assassination of its dictator, I decided to use an animator. The story is told through a ten minute speech given at the death of the dictator, while still images, animation and short scenes using actors articulate the story of a murderous spree by extremists from a majority of the particular country.
The first scene took him by surprise. I tried to get a man that resembled my father’s features: dark skin, a thin, sharp and well defined face. I found someone, who the rest of the crew thought looked like a darker version of Thabo Mbeki. I got a little girl, my friends’ daughter, who looks nothing like me but her laughter and playfulness was enough.
I know my father has tears gathering in his eyelids.
“How did you, remember?”
I smile, beckoning towards the screen.
The scene moves into an animation in pencil and detailed drawing of the Rwandan border, the little girl and father look for a car to get into, in order to make a peaceful transition outside of the border and make their way to Kenya. The panic is well executed by images of impatient drivers, hooting and dismissing the little girl and her father.
“Pause!” My mother shouts, meaning Stop, “uyaphambana?” My mother begins, screwing her fingers on her temples.
“Ma… I’m just-“
“Just what?Trying to make a joke out of lives lost!”
“Moira, let her carry on with movie, it might get better.” My father says.
“Nnnnoooo! This is unacceptable.”
My big brother is staring at the screen, curious about what will happen next.
“Ma, just let her show it us.” He’s annoyed.
“Not in this house, uyandiva?”
“Ma, Vera is doing her best, let’s see what she’s put together. I’ve spent forty thousand on her course.”
My mother storms out of the living room and into the kitchen, where she made a racket with plates and spoons.
My father’s attention is averted from my mother and he focuses on the screen.
“Play.” He says.
The movie suddenly flips to a family in their living room. I used real actors in the editors’ living room to shoot this scene. There’s a loud clock ticking and the father weeps, waiting for death. The voice over is the speech, which begins by praising the dictator, by the time it reaches the scene of the family – the speaker begins to speak about why a child of a Tutsi should be killed, “in order not to give the Tutsi’s a chance to kill a leader”. The scene moves to the family, which is being killed, in animation. The final images are of African leaders, revolutionaries and dictators who have all died and are being carried in their coffin. The closing scene is of Mandela’s grave, with the death date blank. Of course the story is based on the Rwandan genocide from April 1994, over 100 days.
“Thank God your mother walked out…” He says.