Lost in Translation

African writers’ stories have often been fragmented in Africa since Nelson Mandela was released from prison. They have often not been told, put into words, into a novel language and passed on to the next generation from word of mouth; their voices; thoughts, reflections have often been silent like a blanket of stars in the sky. In existence but with a voice that has been mute, still, shut out, withdrawn, shut in or shut up.

Outstanding individuals who have won international and national acclaim must now act as life-enhancing role models and catalysts for the marginalised, poor, up and coming writers, poets, playwrights and performance artists.

I will use the film ‘Yesterday’ by the South African director Darrell Roodt as an example. This is a film that makes us confront the burning global issue of HIV/AIDS however we might feel about it. It makes us resolve to change our conscious way of thinking about people who live in the rural areas of South Africa. It embodies the breath of promising new beginnings, it personalises the relationships she, ‘Yesterday’, the protagonist has with her daughter, her neighbours, and the blonde doctor who does not need a translator to speak to ‘Yesterday’. Leleti Khumalo plays the character with a great indomitable strength, humility and a hallmark of patient stillness.

The actress Leleti Khumalo’s gives us an intense portrayal of the struggle, neuroses and the separation anxiety that many women personally undergo without any help from a spouse or a support group in a crisis of both lost identity and innocence in the world around her. Her husband dies; she discovers she has HIV/AIDS and that there will be nobody to care for her young daughter when she dies. As an actress, she not only rises to the challenge, she defies and sustains the numbed disbelief that people; the ordinary man, woman and child in the street feel towards those who are vagrants, homeless, live at the Salvation Army, a shelter for abused women and children or those people from the location who are poor, live in dire straits and work as garden boys and kitchen girls to support their families and put a meagre meal or bread on the table.
 
The filmmaker is oftentimes like a bone collector of ancient dug up fossils, a museum curator, collector, seer, estranged from colleagues, contemporaries, peers because of their highbrow level of intelligence and aloofness, through his or her wisdom and experience.

‘Yesterday’ is possibly the only African film that has managed to grip Africans and of course, the rest of the world into understanding what the meaning and purpose is of the true African heritage.

I feel that we have yet to discover that gem, an undiscovered diamond with rough edges to come out of Africa - that will undoubtedly address issues that every human being prioritises in their own life globally - in which Africa’s inimitable spirit shines through.

African stories should be told with African distributors, African actors, African directors and African financing in mind – we should always be working towards change and progress in those fields - instead of looking abroad to international distributors and while appealing to mass audiences evoking sentiment and nostalgia, we deny access and the privilege to our own writers, editors and filmmakers to create.

When we create a world from our own imagination and give it life, it is not only a labour of love that resides there, but also one that will constantly give way to transformation, reforming and the transmission of ideas and inspiration, in not only decades to come but also aeons.

Reality that is found in Africa can make for lousy, underrated entertainment and although elegant, Americans deliver wooden performances when mimicking a well-known figure in African literature, politics or celebrity.

Churches have yet to address the issue of poverty and children that are underprivileged that exists in their surrounding communities. We see this in mainstream print media as well as cinema. It does not have the same hook to garner audiences into theatre seats or church pews.

Churches lack empathy for the most vulnerable; frail, aged, delicate citizens and only reserve it for ones they consider to be important and out of reach and harm’s way. Few practise what they preach from their lecterns and only serve to promote their own opinions, which they deem fitting, compelling and relevant.

Once again, African cinema is lost in translation. Its persona carried throughout as detailed and thorough school homework made up of makeshift, calculated solutions and a teacher’s punishment.

How can we close doors on the past when we do not offer truth as a salutary balm?

Without revealing where the blame lies in a racially divided society, the working classes animosity, a deep-seated psychosis, the education of a youthful learner, the politics of the church or a godly community, the funny, the ridiculous, the passionate, the dangerous, the overwhelming threatening, how can we put into the poetic words of the texture of hair, who will lead, who will follow, become a golden, committed candidate who will dare lay his soul bare and become an activist, an advocate?

Whose broken heart will yearn to tell stories, salvage honest truths if we do not realise that the challenge of change is upon us in television series, cinema, films, theatre, church pews and the print media? 

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Abigail George

Abigail George is a feminist, poet and short story writer. She is the recipient of two South African National Arts Council Writing Grants, one from the Centre for the Book and the Eastern Cape Provincial Arts and Culture Council. She was born and raised in the coastal city of Port Elizabeth, the Eastern Cape of South Africa, educated there and in Swaziland and Johannesburg. She has written a novella, books of poetry, and collections of short stories. She is busy with her brother putting the final additions to a biography on her father’s life. Her work has recently been anthologised in the Sol Plaatje EU Poetry Anthology IV. Her work was nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She briefly studied film.

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