Writer: Mehmet ÖZKAN
The 2006 the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar Academy Award went to South Africa, and Africa at large. Based on a novel, Tsotsi is story of a township gangster in South Africa. At large, the award was not a surprise for South Africans, because last year (2005) a South African movie, Yesterday, was also being nominated for Oscar, however was unsuccessful.
Africa at large and South Africa in particular have been suffering a rate of violence crime that has been increasing, not least last five years. Put simply, this ranges from hijacking cars, breaking houses and robbery. Government is trying to prevent crime but its efforts are, in best term, worthless. Police forces enjoy no legitimacy in the eyes of public. Society does not trust them, but as they do private security companies. It is normal to see everyday a security company existing. If not solved, with a worsening and complicating situation, South Africa is heading toward a cul-de-sac.
South African society has inherited a complex social (in)security from apartheid era. Until a decade ago, society was defined in accordance with people’s race. The role of people in society was defined on the base of, not what they could achieve or could not, but what their ‘skin’ colour was. Apartheid era, which represents a period of huge human rights abuses, left an undeniable imprint on South African society, whites and blacks alike.
South Africa has deep problems. Rape and crime is the never-changing headlines of the newspapers and prime-time TV news. Society read and listen crime stories everyday; children grow by listening hijack stories of their 'brothers'; and people afraid of walking on the street because of crime; all of which do not exaggerate the main problem of South Africa, but tell the truth honestly.
Against this background, Tsotsi represents the real face of South Africa. It is the very normal story for an ordinary South African. To some, even this movie do not show the worse.
Politicians and society leaders together with the public have enthuasticaly welcomed Tsotsi’s bringing Oscar to South Africa without questioning, let alone doubting, it. Newspapers and TV commentators emphasised the role that Tsotsi could play globally: to advertise the country. However, one point is always missed. The movie, yes, advertises the country but in a bad way. If anyone sees this movie will re-think to come to South Africa for tourism purposes, where tourism is one of the fastest growing sectors and South African government pay too much attention to develop it. People must remember the influence of the Midnight Express, a movie that portrays Turkey in a very negative way. Although the movie was made in 1978, it is very interesting to see that people, mostly those who have never been to Turkey, still ask about this movie today. Even in South Africa I came across personally that people know Turkey the way it is shown in the Midnight Express. In that regard, Tsotsi’s long-term influence would be negative on South Africa. In general, Africa as a continent has been already equated with negative perceptions (AIDS, poverty, malaria etc.) for global society and ordinary people in the East and East alike; and after Tsotsi’s wide-screening globally, it would just contribute (or even support) to this existing negative image of Africa at large and South Africa in particular, I am afraid. Especially in the ahead of World Cup 2010 which will be hosted by South Africa, one needs to ask how many people might change their minds to come South Africa. In Tsotsi, there are some scenes that are really threatening. At the beginning of the movie, the scene where Tsotsi and his friends kill a man in a train is really perplexing. To add salt to the injury, the indifference of people in the train is worse. If we take into account the fact that during the World Cup, most of the visitors would be relying on train for transportation, this movie is unlikely to contribute positively on South African tourism.
The other interesting (perhaps contradicting) point is that South Africa itself has trying to create a positive image of Africa for last a couple of years, through the NEPAD project, re-awakening of the African Union (AU), and G-8 meetings. In today's world, no one can underestimate the influence of media on the people's perception, positively or negatively. It would be interesting, I guess, to wait and see the clash between a self-made Midnight Express of South Africa (Tsotsi) and a self-picked up role to depict Africa positively in South African foreign policy discourse.astly but not least, winning Oscar is good and attractive, but in the long run the movies that portrays any country negatively might be an obstacle rather than part of solution, as Turkey experienced by the Midnight Express for more than two decades.