Sandile Memela

Sandile Memela

The much-vaunted pseudo-political thriller Jerusalema accurately reflects that the history of the early 1990s is being written by "others" who continue to write about Africans for Africans' consumption without meaningful African input.

The challenge facing Africans in the movie industry is clear: either they tell their own stories as they know and understand them or they will remain victims.

Sadly, Africans in the movie industry will continue to sell their souls and history for money and fame. Or they will not make it in Hollywood.

It is clear that the prerequisite for award-winning South African movies is to portray Africans as victims who are neither agents of their destiny nor history.

The commercial success of Jerusalema, which is drawing local audiences to cinemas in their hundreds, should make Africans think about how they want their story to be told, especially the portrayal of our liberation heroes.

The movie portrays Umkhonto we Sizwe guerrillas as corrupt, selfish thugs who are largely responsible for the moral degeneration post-1990.

This is not only a deliberate distortion of our recent history, but a blatant insult to a violent armed struggle based on moral justification.

There should be concern that gullible young Africans born after 1990 might be unduly influenced to have a distorted picture of the liberation struggle and thus total disrespect for our heroes.

The movie's plot, characterisation and storyline projects MK guerrillas as selfish individuals who were not only disillusioned by the liberation struggle, but were only interested in money, women, status and wealth.

Nobody would have thought or expected that in a short 15 years, young Africans who became soldiers inspired by MK's first commander-in-chief Nelson Mandela to take up arms to fight for freedom and democracy would be disrespected and undermined in the name of freedom of expression.

Jerusalema surreptitiously plunges Africans into a crisis of faith about the gains of political freedom. In fact, it is the sort of movie that would, with its unchallenged rave reviews, inevitably result in total disrespect for the armed struggle and condemn MK cadres as people whose greatest achievement after their home return was to sow seeds of violence and crime.

One would not have expected big-name actors such as Rapulane Seiphemo, for instance, to participate in a pseudo creative project whose aim is to undermine legitimate African political triumph and power.

The leitmotif of Jerusalema is to express contempt and disrespect for the background, purpose and meaning of what the armed struggle was about.

Granted, there are a few MK cadres who might have been out of line and desired nothing but material riches and positions after sacrificing their youth to the struggle.

But to generally project MK cadres as individuals who could not cope with the challenges of reconstructing a new society after three centuries of colonialism, apartheid and racism, is to portray them as politically uneducated and misguided activists not fuelled by principled idealism.

For almost two hours one waits for a moment that will inspire hope and faith in the life of the MK guerilla, but this redeeming moment never arrives.

Instead, they turn out to be weak-minded, murderous thugs who not only betray their comrades, but easily succumb to Nigerian drug lords who lure them with women, sex and drugs and promise them more money.

We need to watch balanced movies that not only take us through their pain, but work us through it and help us understand what could have broken their morale.

Instead, what is projected is a stereotype and prejudice that not only recycles apartheid propaganda, but perpetuates the myth that MK's armed struggle has delivered neither freedom nor democracy in the post-1990 society.

Without being prescriptive, Jerusalema might offer an opportunity for us to reflect on our recent past and present our view about the contributions of MK cadres.

But it has failed to give us any reason to have respect for history and the integrity of a violent struggle that had moral justification.

Sadly, Jerusalema has been sold as yet another example of a so-called home-made South African "success story" that tells the true facts.

Africans need to write their own stories and history.

l The writer is the Arts and Culture Ministry spokesman. He writes in his personal capacity.