Shining a light on gender discrimination

In early 2010, Juluis Malema was found guilty of hate speech and harassment for comments he made against Jacob Zuma’s rape accuser, whom he said had had a “nice time” because she had stayed for breakfast and asked for taxi money. 

In the run up to the ruling, an unrepentant Malema had made disparaging remarks against Sonke Gender Justice (the NGO that took him to court) calling them a “Mickey Mouse organisation” and referring to Mbuyiselo Botha, the man spearheading the case, as a “puppet of white masters”.

In the end Malema had to eat his words, being forced to publicly apologise and pay R50 000 to a centre for abused women. William Nessen’s film Can’t Just Fold Your Arms uses this case to give it momentum and excitement. 

It’s a clever decision by Nessen, as the work Sonke Gender Justice does is unglamorous, involving a lot of preplanning and boardroom discussions which make it into this film. 

As Thami Nkosi, a trainer with the organisation says, the organisation’s work is aimed not so much at changing men but at helping them acknowledge their capabilities. 

Throughout the film, you see snippets of this motto in action, as well as glimpses of the personalities of the people who make it work and the dedication they put in. You also get a sense of context, in the sense that you get to learn that many people doing this work are operating in a country they laid down their lives to liberate. 

As such, their degrees of disillusion with the ruling party vary but inform the selflessness of their work, hence the title of the film.

At times though, the film feels unfocussed, as if it is trying to cram too much information into its 52 minutes. It moves from campaign to campaign with dizzying speed, sometimes feeling like an extended trailer, an elongated show reel or a filmic CV.

At any rate you walk away with newfound respect for the “mickey mouse organisation”.

Can’t Just Fold Your Arms is part of the Encounters South African International Documentary Festival. It screens on Monday June 18 and Friday June 22. For more information visit www.encounters.co.za

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Kwanele Sosibo
Kwanele Sosibo
Kwanele Sosibo is the editor of Friday, the arts and culture section of the Mail and Guardian.

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