‘Our ideas are being policed’

2013-07-21 14:00

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“Hell no it’s not pornographic! I’m a shit-stirrer, but I’m not a child pornographer. That’s just crazy,” says an exasperated Jahmil Qubeka on the balcony of a Durban hotel.

“I have two children of my own.”

The 34-year-old writer and director received a call on Wednesday night telling him that the Film and Publication Board (FPB) had watched the first 28 minutes and 16 seconds of his third feature film and were in effect banning it for containing child pornography.

“The scariest thing here, the biggest nightmare, is that our thoughts are being policed. After 20 years of supposed freedom ... it’s Animal Farm,” says the hip young man with a shaven head. He’s angry, dejected and bemused all at the same time, talking fast and intensely.

Qubeka had been over the moon when the 34th Durban International Film Festival picked his film, Of Good Report, as their top local film. Now, he says, he just went numb.

Instead of the prestige of having it open the festival on Thursday night, it was a criminal offence to be in possession of it. “All copies must be either rendered to the police or destroyed,” wrote the FPB.

“I was shocked but not really surprised. I half expected this kind of reaction.”

Qubeka’s film is heavily stylised. It’s set in a nameless village in the Karoo in the present day.

A teacher, Parker Sithole, arrives in town. In a tavern he meets a beautiful young woman, Nolitha Ngubane. They have sex. The next day he is dreaming about her in class when she walks in, in a skimpy school uniform. The 16-year-old is one of his Grade 9 pupils. He becomes her sugar daddy. Later he becomes obsessed with her, stalking her. It all ends badly.

It is the scene showing that she is a school girl, says the FPB, that provides “further evidence that Nolitha is under 18 years of age”. Sex scenes depicting people under 18 are illegal, it says.

The sex scene in question, says Qubeka, shows no nudity. Sithole pulls down her panties and performs oral sex. She has a dress on and all one sees is her leg over his shoulder.

“I feel my rights have been impinged. The film was always a piece of activism. Here’s a government that is barring me from talking about sugar daddies, a subject that they’re not dealing with on the ground. We have so many problems in this country and they’re worried about me?”

He says he made the film as a result of his years spent growing up in a township in Somerset West, where he shot the film, and experiencing abuse against young women.

“How did we get to a point where society’s so broken down that an upstanding citizen in the community – a person of good report – can be known to be dating a 14-year-old kid and it’s alright?

“My oldest brother spent 15 years in jail for shooting his wife and her mother. My dad killed himself and he killed his girlfriend. I understand the mind behind such acts. If you want men to see themselves, you have to speak their language. I don’t want to glorify rapists. I want to say they are among you. I believe that men are consciously or subconsciously at war with women.”

In solidarity with Qubeka’s film, the festival’s director, Peter Machen, decided not to show another film in its place. Cast and crew – including the 23-year-old Petronella Tshuma who plays Nolitha – took to the stage to show support.

Qubeka covered his mouth with tape and tore his ID document in half, “because I don’t recognise this country. We have no moral grounding. We’re corrupt and one may not even ask questions about it. I’ve lost respect and in the culture that I come from, amaXhosa, respect is everything. It’s your identity. So I have to tape up my mouth.”

In his letter to Machen, FPB assistant manager Danny Morobane wrote the film contained child pornography.

“According to the FPB regulations, if the classification committee discovers child pornography during any classification process (of) the film, game or publication, the classification process shall be stopped.

“The committee therefore unanimously agreed that this was child pornography and refused classification, based on ... the scene.”

According to Morobane, Nolitha is depicted as a Grade 9 pupil. “In the South African school system, Grade 9 includes children aged 14-16 years, therefore giving further evidence that Nolitha is under 18 years of age.”

Qubeka has 30 days to appeal the ruling to the Film and Publication Appeals Tribunal.

He tore up his ID book but not his passport, which is a good thing because his film has been invited to numerous film festivals around the world.

“I’m seriously considering leaving the country,” he says. “And I’m not a quitter, dude. I’ve never quit on anything in my life. But after this, I’m actually wondering if this country is worth fighting for any more. Where are we going?”

Letter: Film and Publication Board bans Of Good Report

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