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Tsotsi, n. thug, gangster, hoodlum

Set amidst the sprawling Johannesburg township of Soweto - where survival is the primary objective - TSOTSI traces six days in the life of a ruthless young gang leader who ends up caring for a baby accidentally kidnapped during a car-jacking.

TSOTSI is a gritty and moving portrait of an angry young man living in a state of extreme urban deprivation. His world pumps with the raw energy of "Kwaito music" - the modern beat of the ghetto that reflects his troubled state of mind.

The film is a psychological thriller in which the protagonist is compelled to confront his own brutal nature and face the consequences of his actions. It puts a human face on both the victims and the perpetrators of violent crime and is ultimately a story of hope and a triumph of love over rage.

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Tsotsi has been nominated for an Oscar
Egungun, Egungun ni t'aiye ati jo! Ancestos, Ancestors come to earth and dance! "I'm sick of the war and the civilization that created it. Let's look to our dreams, and the magical; to the creations of the so-called primitive peoples for new inspirations." - Jaques Vache and Andre Breton "Capitalism is the astounding belief that the most wickedest of men will do the most wickedest of things for the greatest good of everyone." -John Maynard "You know that in our country there were even matriarchal societies where women were the most important element. On the Bijagos islands they had queens. They were not queens because they were the daughters of kings. They had queens succeeding queens. The religious leaders were women too..." -- Amilcar Cabral, Return to the Source, 1973
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So now it's a film as well...Cool!

You might be interested in this review of the Tsotsi, the book written by Anthol Fugard, I read 2 days ago.

I don't think reading this appraisal of the book story line will necessarily ruin the film by 'spelling it out' - in fact I think it makes it even more spell-binding.

Review by Malcolm Knox, the Herald's literary editor.


South African Athol Fugard, now 73, has always regarded himself as a dramatist rather than a novelist and it was due to his misplaced modesty that this profound and masterly novel was lost for 20 years.

Fugard, born and raised in the eastern Cape, collaborated with a group of black performers from Sophiatown in Johannesburg in the 1950s. It was from this experience and his work as a court reporter than he conceived a story about a thug, or "tsotsi", in the township. About 1960, Fugard wrote the novel but abandoned it. Agter his fame as a playwright grew, the "Tsotsi" manuscript was discovered in an archive in 1978 and Fugard consented to its publication.

The reissue of Tsotsi coincides with the Gavin Hood film released this year, but it is hard to see how cinema could do justice to this major novel. But perhaps comparisons are unfair.

Fugard's Tsotsi is an intensely internal narrative, managing to give thoughts and ideas to a man who expresses himself with bloodshed. The eponymous Tsotsi has no past. He leads a gang of other lost men and in an opening scene they murder and rob a train commuter. During the assault, one of Tsotsi's gang suffers an attack of conscience: he asks Tsotsi: "You feel nothing?" Tsotsi, whose survival depends on the cauterisation of feeling, is provoked to savagely bashing his friend.

Estrangment from his gang leads Tsotsi to an event where, in a panic, a young woman hands him a small box. Through this random act, Tsotsi becomes responsible for a newborn child.

The thug's redemption is neither as simple or as complete as this set-up might suggest. Tsotsi's progress is a psychological, even spiritual, one: his "rules for living" are swept away by a flood of memory.

His hapless, semi-violent efforts to aid the baby bring more tragedy; the redemptive and hopeful aspects of Tsotsi's progress owe less to his actions than to his discovery of lost memories.

Fugard writes simply with poetic flashes: Tsotsi uses "his knife like a shuttle to carry the red thread of death". Changes of point of view take the reader into the histories of Tsotsi's victims and other characters. Just as he learns curiosity, so does the reader.

While this novel is saturated in darkness, it is a rejection of fatalism: "There had only been the present, that one continous moment carrying him forward without questions or regrets on his part. Now, it seemed, he was wrong."

It is understandable that Fugard should harbour uncertainty. Playwrights work largely in dialogue and Tsotsi, while driven by action, is a novel of interiors.

Fugard approaches large ideas full in the face, and in his 20s, he decided his prose was not good enough.

Like Tstotsi, Fugard was wrong.
This book will enrich everyone who reads it.

- end review -

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