Africa take 3 – Crime in Johannesburg

Tsotsi (Thug) – Gavin Hood (2005)

This weeks film is an Oscar winning one, set in the heart of South Africa, Johannesburg, spoken in ‘Tsotsitaal’ – a mixture of combined South African languages that translates in Afrikaans literally to ‘thug language’. The film follows small time criminal gang leader, also named Tsotsi (‘thug’), a teenager without feelings, hardened by his tough life. After a series of violent gang hits, Tsotsi hijacks a car. However, whilst driving, *spoiler alert* Tsotsi finds no other than an actual baby on the back seat of the car. He brings the baby to his house in the slum and the film explores the next six days, a journey that brings about a change in him that couldn’t be foreseen.

Tsotsi is clearly a character troubled with a lot of internal turmoil, and the film depicts his journey of introspection. On this journey, the film manages to explore a wealth of  themes, including the human connection, family, love, lost youth and waywardness. More specifically delves into the mental and emotional consequences of  missing out on a fundamental aspects in early life, such as familial love and connection.


Tsotsi makes his way through a meaningless life as a young delinquent, recklessly preying on innocent people in violent ways. But,when he accidentally steals something he did not intend to, it triggers the memories a harsh childhood devoid of love and care. As result of a lost childhood he desperately strives to try and recapture what he never had in a rather misguided way. Presley Chweneyagae delivers an at times subtle, weighty, and poignant performance to this character. He is able to portray a character with such such complexities. On the surface he is this hard edged gangster type person, but underneath a lost child in a harsh unforgiving world. This entire film needs to be watched through a lens of subtext or the richness of the story will be lost upon the viewer.

You can’t watch this film just on its surface, the plot is not very complex, but the subtext is. It’s a moving film about people, perspective, and the unforgiving stations in life we find ourselves in. Granted it could have been more subtle in many senses, perhaps another filmmaker could’ve told it much better, but the heart is there, an interesting redemption and coming-of-age story with a great performance from the lead actor.


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