Slice of Life: Unwittingly in my dad’s footsteps

Zwelethu Radebe is the writer and director of the Safta-nominated short film The Hangman (Paul Botes)

Zwelethu Radebe is the writer and director of the Safta-nominated short film The Hangman (Paul Botes)

When I was growing up, my dad didn’t want us to watch television. Because he thought that, if you watch television, it would influence us in the wrong way. I suppose he was kind of like a traditionalist. So we would only really watch sports. He was the kind of guy that, if someone were to kiss on screen, we’d have to change the channel. He was very conservative I guess you could say.

Movies were never going to be something that I could watch. But that interested me. So there was an old television, which we left in the dining room, but it worked. So what I used to do, if my dad wasn’t around, I would switch it on and I would watch these foreign language films on SABC 3. It was then that my fascination grew. They were films that I didn’t understand — Portuguese, Spanish and French films.

I only really got to go into a cinema when I was in grade seven, which was kind of weird for me. So I remember the first movie that I ever really watched was a horror film with a couple of my friends. For me it wasn’t about the film but about the experience of being in a cinema — watching the backs of people’s heads and seeing those people being just taken by the screen.

I really enjoyed that and thought, “Wow, that’s a lot of power.” People were there, paying money, to be moved by someone’s voice. I was just fascinated by that idea.

My father passed away later in my life, when I was in high school. During those high school years I just knew that I wanted to make films.

My father never knew that I went on to study film. But my mother told me that, before they met, my dad used to write scripts and direct them at the theatre. So maybe he wouldn’t have been so surprised that I ended up becoming a filmmaker. — Writer and director Zwelethu Radebe, as told to Sarah Smit

Sarah Smit

Sarah Smit

Sarah Smit both subs and writes for the Mail & Guardian. She joined the M&G after completing her master’s degree in English Literature from the University of Cape Town. She is interested in the literature of the contemporary black diaspora and its intersection with queer aesthetics of solidarity. Her recent work considers the connections between South African literary history and literature from the rest of the Continent. Read more from Sarah Smit

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