Although the effects of apartheid are still evident in modern South Africa, I feel quite fortunate to be part of a generation that is privileged enough to still hear personal accounts of the dark apartheid days.
Lakutshon’ Ilanga is about a young, black nurse living in 1985 apartheid South Africa, facing her worst fears when she learns that her activist, younger brother (played by Aphiwe Mkefe) may be in danger when he doesn’t return after school – this inspired by a real incident that Los Angeles based writer, and director, Phumi Morare’s, mother experienced.
Watching this film with my mother and two aunts – they pointed out how they could relate to Lerato’s character, (played by Zikhona Bali) – from how her day started to what a typical day in their lives looked like. “As the second eldest sister, I was responsible for taking care of my mother who was ill at the time and ensuring that my siblings were fed and clothed,” says Rakgadi Nthoto. She became a nurse at the age of 20 and related an incident where she, and a group of her colleagues got arrested on their way back from work for not having their identification documents in their possession.
My mother added that child-headed homes were normal at that time. “It was not necessarily always as a result of both parents passing away. For some households, parents would be working far – for example, women would stay with the families they worked for as domestic workers – and so the elder siblings would take up the parental role.” In the same spirit, Rakgadi Pinky added that they were forced to grow up quickly, saying this in comparison to today’s generation. “I had to drop out of school when my parents passed away to take up the parental role. I worked several jobs, from being a dry cleaner to working in retail, just to put food on the table,” she explained.
As the leading character, Zikhona Bali (Lerato) is a breadwinner, whose circumstances force her to cope, taking up the role of being a mother to her activist brother, that she consistently must keep in check because of his participation in activism, during the times of the student unrest. You can also tell that she too, supports the fight against the apartheid regime as she tells her brother to be careful.
The story is set during the transitioning phases in South Africa. A state of emergency had been declared by the Apartheid government. The youth of that time were resisting against white-minority rule of the brutal government force. Police brutality and killings of young freedom fighters were rife. Thousands of families battled with closure from missing family members.
Through the texture of the scenes, I can tell that the writer is passionate about redeeming the African and feminine identity and that she enjoys exploring the female gaze’s influence on telling intimate, human stories in everyday people.
The film also features Thembekile Mathe, and Awonke Mtonjana, as a tribute to black mothers in South Africa who endured and fought against the brutal constraints of apartheid.
Sharing feedback of the film with Morare, she expressed how making the film opened a dialogue between her and her mother and how she learnt things her mother had never related to her before. “When I spoke to my friends about this, we reflected on how it seems our parents have been quiet to us about these things, probably because they wanted to protect us, it’s so important that we know,” she expressed.
The scene that connected the dots between the lyrics of the late iconic singer and songwriter, Mariam Makeba’s Lakutshon’ Ilanga, was when a distressed mother rushed in the hospital, looking for her son who’s been missing for weeks – hysterically expressing that she looked everywhere, from the prisons to hospitals. Which then leads to Lerato’s personal search for her brother when she discovers that he could be in danger.
Unlike the broader storylines of apartheid freedom fighter films, this one tells a powerful story in just fourteen minutes. 27 years into democracy, these themes are however similar to some of the issues we are facing today… and as Miriam Makeba sang – Aluta Continua.
You can catch the film on the Durban International Film Festival website here: https://www.durbanfilmfest.com/film/lakushon-ilanga-when-the-sun-sets/. It is available to watch for free till 01 August 2021.