Documentary about Aids orphans leaves important questions unanswered

November 2004 -

Orphans of Nkandla film shown at the IDFA film festival

Mbale and her little brother lost their mother to Aids; halfway through the film, they have to bury their father too. Nobule looks after her terminally ill mother and her four brothers and sisters. A sixteen-year old boy takes care of his little orphaned nieces. 'Three stories that perfectly illustrate the devastating effect of an epidemic', explains the voice-over. These are the opening scenes of the BBC documentary Orphans of Nkandla by Brian Woods.


What you do notice is that many of the scenes take place indoors, in the huts of a South African kraal. Surrounded by their meagre possessions, sitting on the bare earth, people try to cope with hunger, filth, sickness and death. Woods creates a very glaring contrast by juxtaposing this gloomy dead-end world with beautiful, colourful images of the country's natural wonders, such as a pretty butterfly sitting on a thistle and sunlit African hills.

In other words, this film does little more than portray the abysmal poverty and misery here, whereas it would have been interesting to know the real reason why everybody who has Aids here will do everything possible to conceal the fact, even from closest relatives and doctors. And what is the background to the story of the sick woman who takes an Aids test that her husband went to his death refusing to take himself? 'Here, a woman must obey her husband', she says, 'which means that you do all sorts of stupid things for the sake of your marriage.' Another strange scene is the one where a girl who is crying over her dead father is just given a pat on the back by her friends and told to put a brave face on things.

The film ends with some alarming statistics and a patently obvious message: 'If the rich countries of the north don't do more to prevent an Aids epidemic, the world will inherit a continent that is exhausted by a plague that will continue to ruin children's lives for generations to come.'

Orphans of Nkandla is being shown as part of one of the themed sub-programmes in the IDFA documentary film festival that is being held from 18 to 28 November in Amsterdam. Other titles in this sub-programme include 10 Gears of changes (South Africa, 2004) by Ross Lloyd, Don't fuck with me, I've got 51 brothers and sisters (South Africa/France, 2004) by Dumisani Phakathi, Story of a beautiful country (South Africa/Canada, 2004) by Khalo Matabane, and The Swenkas (Denmark, 2004) by Jeppe Rönde.