Khulile Nxumalo with himself

What is the film all about?

The film is a contemporary recount of the daughter of Credo Mutwa of the burning of their house in 1976, on how she has carried the burden that is either a falsity or a truth for the past thirty years and her opening a can of worms, as if to exorcise a ghost, through searching for some semblance of the truth in her immediate community, and ultimately through a confrontation with her father.

The film parallels Nozipho Mutwa’s search for the truth that will heal her relationship with the community, and the varying testimonies of varying degrees of myth and truth on what exactly took place before, and after one of the more prominent events in Diepkloof in 1976. As Nozipho is propelled further in her search, we wonder: How will she walk on the thin and treacherous thread, where society, history and memory meet, where her father exists as man of many dimensions?

Where did it all start and why did you make it?

Well, as you know the film was a response to the SABCs call for proposals for stories that would in total constitute what Sylvia Vollenhoven (then Head of Factual) and Eugene Paramoer (CE) called a monument to the spirit of 76. Now the story of The House of Credo Mutwa is one of the more famous events that happened in Diepkloof. I grew up there and as a childhood memory I remember it well seeing the house razed to rubble. I also remember it overgrew with vegetation, generating al kinds of mythical stories in the township. What I also remember is how the burning of the house was spoken of in hushed tones. In a poem from my debut book, Ten Flapping Elbows, Mama, I recall the childhood memory:

its night now
diepkloof sky peels off the roof
just to gossip dark-
credo mutwas four
burnin in 76

credo mutwa graveyards
he sees
in a colour tv

And I have not
No, I have not got a room
With a view
For my blues


The part about Credo and the colour television referring to the time when he used to feature a lot as the resident prophet on Felicia Mabuza-Shuttle talk-show, in particular when he spoke in a current affairs programme after the murder of Chris Hani, his presages of an epoch of great blood-letting that was incumbent.

In general I have been fascinated by Credo Mutwa, but in the end, I think other reason I made the film was to satisfy my wonder about what exactly happened to him, since those days at the height of his stature as a prophet of the highest order among the emerging black elite, totally erasing any reference of the time when he was a suspect individual.

I think his daughter also struggles with this, as she carries the pain of their family breaking apart, and her thing is that someone has to say sorry to them, as a family. But in the film, of course, her father tells her to forget it all. I had sensed this through digging for the quest in film and designing the narrative structure in my treatment, that it would be the irresolvable, yet painful aspects of the story that would make the narrative engaging. It all made it a great project to work in and struggle hard against all odds to see it to the finished.

As the director, what were the greatest challenges you were faced with?

The first big challenges was to translate all the wonderful twists and turns dreamed up in my treatment onto the screen, and one big hurdle was convincing people to appear in the film and share what they remember of the day and the event. Many people in Diepkloof, teachers who were around in 76, students and political leaders expressly said no, as soon as we mentioned the name Credo Mutwa. My way around that was our decision to tell history from the bottom up, as it were, to allow myth, self-heroism and couching the facts around the burning of the house in melodramatic and epic frames of the tale or fable, none of which, of course, bear any resolving substance for Nozipho.

The other challenge was to prompt Nozipho to ask the real questions, questions that bothered her in her own heart. Also to have the courage to ask her father these as well. I was lucky that she did not offer too much resistance or denial, and truly the film shows her courage very well.

The 76 series had a few process challenges around payments and contracts and it did all pump up the levels of frustration to the point where Credo was going to cancel and I was ready to throw in the towel. All the filmmakers in the series took a bit of a strain from the contract and payment frustrations.

What is the motivation behind your choice of aesthetics for the film?

I visualised the colour and visual tone of the story as that of a contemporary, yet backward looking palate upon the landscape of memory, history, society, culture, the grand narratives of Politics and everyday life.

I tried very much to convince Mathys (DOP) that in fact we were making a horror film, and between mailed references of horror film and pictures and some reality checks, it took a little bit of a give-and-take on both our sides to get what I want and what is most probably possible. Mathys tried his best for us to achieve the look dictated by a binary codes of truth/lies, fact/fiction, shadow/light, inside-outside/open ended landscape (outdoors) compared to the walled reality of rooms (indoors). We also decided long before switching the camera, on the frames for shooting Nozipho inside the house., so as to let wonder get writ all over the image of her face on the screen. Mathys’s great touch on angling the streams and rays of lighting helped up solve problems like streetlights not working and the blue glow of the energy-saving bulbs inside every house we shot in indoors.

In deciding the images to open the film, I wanted to state quite clearly that the film was some kind of mystery, and that what would unfold thereafter was much a creation of my own fiction as it is the real truth of fact and reality out there. However, the opening prologue sets up Credo Mutwa’s own ranking of himself among the league of prophets that get persecuted among their own communities.

Your choice of Music?

We cut the film to the music to Mirriam Makeba’s acapella album called Sangoma, which has some great vocal evocative tracks, in fact she sings songs taken from traditional healer ceremonies and rituals. I gave Gugu (Editor) the music to listen to while reading the story on paper. She came to the edit with her own ideas, and we were uncannily in agreement. I guess, as well, it helps that we both cut our teeth in the Project 10 series, when she edited the film- Nabatwa Bam. Unfortunately for us, all the rights to the Makeba renditions reside with Warner Bros, and it was way too expensive for our meagre SABC budget. I still bear a secret desire to raise money to make a version of the film with the Makeba music. Maybe even a bigger film on The Life and Times of Credo Mutwa.

One thing was for sure though. It was that any attempt to inject and uplift the film, its images and the echoes of its emotion towards the great sphere of the cinematic, we had to go acapella, strictly percussive and vocal, with evocative music. Music that suggested both mythical mystery and the eternal flowing river of humanity at the same time.

We looked for sound similar or suggestive to the offline Makeba soundtrack, a surrogate sound at Audio Optics final mix. As I said, one thing was clear, we knew what we needed and it was based on the idea that we wanted, in the first place, voice to emerge as the leading instrument of the music. We were lucky that the final mix engineer remembered the deep bass Wasis Diop track in the library. It worked so well over the house at night in the title track.

I must add that ever since my Project 10 film, I always ask myself what music comes to mind when I conceive the look and tone of the film, and start to jot it down. Play around with it. In so doing, music becomes integral to composing the film in your head, long before you shoot.

During the edit Khalo would always say that our approach to editing between simultaneous voice of the street, the testimonies of the varied witnesses, and constant anchor Nozipho’s complicated search, must be like composing a symphony. We tried our best to build this rhythm into the film.

How has the film been received?

I was pleased that Nozipho was quite enthused, and started having ideas of screening the film at Diepkloof Community Hall. Most people felt the film was not balanced enough and did not go deep enough in uncovering the allegation on what Credo Mutwa said at the Cillie Commission. I also heard a lot of complaints that we did not feature anyone who was there on that day. The only two people I had been able to locate through Bopa Senatla High School records pulled out, after being very reluctant from the very start.

But I had gone in there to try to make a film that I had imagined from looking at all the elements. In the end it was a film about a daughter confronting her father, and I decided to shoot only those things that told that story, like going to the neighbours and accosting people on the street. And of course her trip to Kuruman

What has the life of the film been till now and where to from here?

Well, the film is in the SABC International sales catalogue. Along with the rest that were fortunate to get made. As you know, we know get to know or see a cent from that. I am putting into INPUT, and that is all, thus far.

Currently I am working as a Commissioning Editor at the SABC, and trying to write two screenplays over the two years or so:- A teenage love story set in the 80s, just after the repealing of the Group Areas Act and another idea springing from one of Bessie Head’s short stories. I think the next documentary I will do will a journey of my own, around the mixtures of my Venda, Ndebele and adopted Zulu presences in my identity. It will most likely be called: I AM GOING TO KNOW PATTERNS

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