Lessons of working undergroundComment on this story
DIRECTOR: Vickus Strijdom
CAST: Lindani Nkosi, Presley Chweneyagae, Khulu M Skenjana, Israel Makoe, Fumani Shilubana, Lebogang Inno, |Ivy Nkuna
CLASSIFICATION: 13 LV
RUNNING TIME: 98 minutes
MINING is a hot topic at the moment, but this film – about illegal mining – has been a long time coming.
It was shot three years ago, but only now finds the light of day. Unlike some other films that have languished in the vaults, it wasn’t because of bad production.
While it eventually ends among the zama zamas (illegal miners), the story starts above ground and above board.
Together with other shareholders, Malcolm Phiri (Nkosi) has just bought a gold mine. He is living the life, above the Sandton skyline, but then he discovers his estranged brother is a zama zama.
Not only is his brother illegally mining in the mine he has just bought, but Phiri knows there is about to be a security clampdown. What is a brother to do?
Malcolm sets off to find Joseph (Chweneyagae) and despite himself, gets to know more about the life the illegal miners experience down under.
The group of miners is close-knit. Joseph is the one who knows how to smooth the way between people, but Babylon (Shilubane) is the group leader with a strong presence.
Even when they break out in song, you forgive them the idea because you can imagine a group of miners doing this after having spent months together in close quarters.
Hollywood Westerns give us the great outdoors as the place where people discover who they are because it is the edge of civilisation as they know it.
Local directors turn underground because the great outdoors is something we all experience.
Underground, though, where there is nowhere to hide, is where people really discover what they are made of.
Where the BEE brother is insistent that he can find the younger brother work above ground, Joseph firmly believes his life is better without Malcolm’s sudden, too-late interference.
“We only take what you don’t use” and “zama zamas also need to eat” are just some of the bits of graffiti scribbled on the walls of the mines, pointing to a larger issue at work.
The clash between Western capitalist ideology and a traditional idea of supporting your family was also explored in State of Violence, also starring Chweneyagae as the younger brother.
While the BEE fat cats live large, they have left their younger would-be comrades to languish in the townships, and the increasing gap between the haves and have-nots is not being addressed.
If you are uneducated and poor, what alternatives do you have when you cannot access the life you are led to believe you should have?
There’s also Manto (Skenjana) the gangster, who adds another dimension to the story – he makes money off the illegal miners because he has no reason to fear police or the law.
Set in an abandoned part of a mine, Zama Zama was filmed below ground, using a variety of working mines. While they used various spaces, the continuity of the film is good and you get a feel for the claustrophobic conditions.
The cinematography and lighting is beautifully done – consistent and natural.
The score, though, is surprisingly overblown and doesn’t support the closed quarters of the images of cramped spaces and minimal lighting.
For the most part, the acting is solid and the directing touch is firm.
The film represents a mature attempt for a first-time director to tell a story about local social conditions by giving us the story of the relationship between two brothers.
If you liked… Soldiers of the Rock and State of Violence… you will like this.