'Matwetwe' mirrors authentic township experience
The best thing about a movie is watching one that’s authentic and doesn’t try too hard. This was what I experienced with funnyman Kagiso Lediga’s brainchild, Matwetwe (Wizard).
Tagged as a coming-of-age film, it explores the escapades of Lefa (Sibusiso Khwinana) and Papi (Tebatso Mashishi), who are best friends and recent high school graduates, on the hustle of their young lives.
Over the course of an action-packed New Year’s Eve in Atteridgeville township, in Pretoria, the boys try to score a huge deal, dodge a kingpin gangster and his violent minions, get the girl and ultimately save their lives.
Everything about Matwetwe mirrors an authentic township experience – from the aerial shots of Atteridgeville that show off the diabolical effects of apartheid special planning to the chorus at the grocery store who know everything about everyone – and you feel like you’re in a familiar place.
But although those lived experiences felt familiar, they were also different and allowed the township of Atteridgeville to emerge in all its splendour.
sepitori that's spoken in Atteridgeville, to the vastly different posture of the traditional gangster in the township represented in the story, I felt like I was visiting the township.
From the specific sepitori that's spoken in Atteridgeville, to the vastly different posture of the traditional gangster in the township represented in the story, I felt like I was visiting the township.
From the outset, Matwetwe requires the viewer’s firm commitment to let go of their biases (because they will be challenged) and allow the story to unfold at its own pace, in its own tone.
I desperately wanted to pause the film and ask why specifically the name of this strand of cannabis was chosen to be Matwetwe. Posing the question to my colleagues I found the answer – it denotes something about the strand of cannabis you’re smoking. It’s a nod to some of the finer details in township life that makes Matwetwe a film to care about.
After all, the director, Kagiso Lediga grew up here. The cast is a relatively new one although there are a sprinkling of familiar screen faces here and there. The performance of the two leads, Khwinana and Mashishi, making their film debuts, is entertaining.
Their unfamiliarity allows viewers to be drawn in and easily believe that they truly are in the midst of the shenanigans. Seeing Mashishi especially doing his utmost in the role is an important shift because it creates the space for other marginalised people in the arts, especially those living with albinism.
Matwetwe’s colourful portrayal of the tribulations of coming of age, exploring sexuality, planning for a future in a country where youth unemployment sits at a staggering 55% and the dazzling street fashion are nuanced but equally playful.
Comedian Thapelo “Tips” Seemise, in the role of kingpin Randy Mareka, seems to be fulfilling a mission to challenge our preconceived ideas about toxic masculinity and what we consider to be an appropriate measure of masculinity for a thug.
The broader societal issues such as intimate partner violence and the rampant abuse of nyaope and how it affects the community also receive a decent amount of airtime without the film seeming too preachy.
With Matwetwe, it seems Lediga has found a winning formula in striking an almost perfect balance between being funny without being over the top.