News / Arts & Entertainment

South African Movie Makes Light of Racial Tensions

Solenn Honorine
After three centuries of Black suppression, culminating in 50 years of apartheid, South Africa’s interracial relations remain sensitive.  But a new movie is looking to lighten the atmosphere with humor and little political correctness. Fanie Fourie's Lobola is a Romeo-and-Juliet style romantic comedy that looks at what happens when a white Afrikaner man falls in love with a black Zulu girl, and has to pay a dowry to her parents. 

The lobola is the price paid, traditionally in cattle, by the prospective husband to the family of his future wife.  It might be one of the most misunderstood African traditions.  For black Africans, it is a sign of respect owed to the parents who raised the young woman.  Whites often incorrectly translate it as “bride price”.

Sixty-seven year-old Nape’a Montana, who wrote the book that inspired the movie, grew up during apartheid when interracial sex was a crime.  He says lobola negotiations are a process in which every step is loaded with cultural underpinnings totally unknown to Whites.

“I used to be a lobola negotiator," he said.  "So I just thought what if the guy who is parting with lobola is a white guy .  When he arrives there, he is told that we have to pay to open the mouth, we have to pay to open the door and so on.  I just thought it would be funny!"

One of the movie's producers, Tebogo Maila, says lobola is just one of the traditions that highlight how deep the cultural gap is between communities who now share South Africa.

“Fanie's family, they do not believe in lobola.  If anything, they think it is daylight robbery.  But at the end of the day they do understand that we need to respect other people's cultures, and those cultures still play a big role," said Maila.

In the movie, Fanie is an immature man, a dreamer who still lives with his mother in the comfort enjoyed by many White South Africans.  Dinky is an ambitious young lady determined to become a successful businesswoman and escape her native township.

They may share the same country, but they do not live in the same world.  Nowhere in the Western world would a man have to gather 65 cows to win over a father-in-law, who, the first time they meet, greets him in the full Zulu Chief regalia, bare-chested, crowned with a cow-hide headband and armed with a spear.

Movie director Henk Pretorius says that is what makes the topic a richer comedy material than in Europe or the United States.

“There is not enough there to delve into in terms of conflict leading to culture clash comedies with a white and black character," said Pretorius.  "If you do not have an issue, you do not have a film.  ... To be completely honest, I think its funny that we still have issues with each other.  And I find it funny that people still hold on to their old traditions, and do not create new traditions.  And because I have grown up in a very race-conscious society, I had to see the funny side of that, the lighter side of that."

Interracial relations are an extremely sensitive topic in South-Africa and a minefield for politicians.  But the movie confronts the open racism on both sides of the racial divide, the culture clashes and intolerance of society in a surprisingly light manner.

It is up to Fanie and Dinky's generation, nicknamed the “born free”, that never experienced apartheid to jump across the racial divide, says director Pretorius.

“The rainbow nation was a nice thought," he said.  "I do not think that exists in my peer group.  It is a strange thing, we kind of keep to the people we went to school with.  It is not frowned upon, I think it is a culture clash that makes it really difficult.  It is the kind of question we want to answer in "Fanie Fourie's Lobola" and get over these issues.”

The filmmakers believe part of getting over these issues is humor.  And one of the funnier parts of the film is this song, written by Fanie's brother, a popular Afrikaner rocker.  Ironically, the song celebrates the beauty of a young Black Zulu girl in the language of the former apartheid regime, Afrikaans.

The soundtrack, like the light comedy of the movie, is intended to be a tongue-in-cheek hymn to a rainbow nation still in the making.

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