Gangster movie is a real big hit

Edward Tsumele

Edward Tsumele

It's been quite a while since I went to a movie. But mixed reactions to the hit movie Jerusalema intensified my interest to see it.

This gangster movie is set in the flatland of Hillbrow and stars, among others, Kenneth Nkosi and Rapulana Seiphemo.

Seiphemo plays Kunene, a Hillbrow slumlord who does not think twice about killing.

One of the main reasons this movie is a hit with local audiences is because in terms of cinematography, technical proficiency and overall screen effects, it is a stunning piece of cinema.

But there are also other reasons why Jerusalema has found a ready connection with so many people, particularly Joburgers and those who have witnessed the area's transformation over the past 15-or-so years.

Hillbrow's flatland has a story to tell, just as Joburg in general has. The suburb was once the epicentre of entertainment and a good example of what a cosmopolitan area should be in terms of diverse cultures and tolerance among its residents.

In the early and up to the mid 1990s, Hillbrow used to be a cosmopolitan, culturally diverse and, quite honestly, an interesting place for any young person and those young at heart to hang about, dance, drink and eat.

It is the same Hillbrow that was part of the youth cultural movement that gave us Arthur Mafokate, Makendlas, Boom Shaka, and which gave rise to a good part of the late Brenda Fassie's creative genius.

It was also a place that had really good eateries and which attracted trendy movers and shakers. Who does not remember hot DJs of the time like Solly Rametsi, who used to do his thing at the Razzmatazz Night Club? Then he decided to become an ANC councillor.

The Three Sisters Restaurant was a eatery that a lot of us admired from outside, but we could not afford the food there. The Exclusive bookshop on Pretoria Street was a meeting place for intellectuals. And Look and Listen stocked everyone's favourite music. If you never lived or hung out in Hillbrow, once at least, you never existed, we used to say.

Well, this was long before it degenerated into the dirty, smelly, scary hovel of a concrete jungle that it is now, after pimps took over and created brothels.

It is now a shell of its former self where only the tough, the brave and the armed venture.

What was once a collection of modern, smart and clean apartments are now dilapidated structures that have been taken over by social miscreants and poor people who can afford nothing better.

Buildings have been taken over by criminals who illegally collect rent from the poor and the desperate.

It is now not possible to distinguish between a tsotsi and an innocent resident of this flatland. No decent person would even dare go to any drinking hole in Hillbrow because it is difficult to distinguish between a genuinely thirsty patron and a pimp or tsotsi.

Crooks rule the streets and the pavements and streets are covered with dirt. Dried blood is now part of the street decorations. Together with hawkers and street children, misery forms part of Hillbrow.

In the middle of all this confusion, madness and mayhem, charismatic preachers are all over the place, telling people not to sin and to be good because those who do good on earth will go to heaven when they die.

And dying in Hillbrow is a common event. Most of the sirens you hear are either police vehicles or ambulances rushing to some or other emergency.

In fact, sirens have become part of the music emanating from the dingy clubs dotting the streets of this once beautiful suburb.

Drug lords and building hijackers have made this once cosmopolitan piece of Johannesburg their playground and a cash cow that they continuously milk dry.

The authorities seem to have given up all hope and any idea of rehabilitating Hillbrow.

Other than the rehabilitative efforts of the Johannesburg Development Agency, other initiatives are few and far between and are restricted only to upgrading parks and isolated showcase buildings and main streets.

Now only alive in terms of noise, street fights, street robberies and other socially undesirable activities, our Hillbrow of yesteryear is dead. Gone, and very sadly so.

As I came out of the movie theatre at Westgate shopping centre in Roodepoort, reality hit me. I suddenly realised that what I had just seen in the cinema was not the Hillbrow of old that we all loved so much.

But, what a good movie Jerusalema is. And no wonder the National Film and Video Foundation has submitted it to be considered for nomination for the Hollywood Oscars.

We will have to wait until February to know what the Oscars committee thinks.