Africa AIDS Films

REPORTER: Kyla Brettle

KGUMOTSO MATSUNYANE, DIRECTOR “HEAVY TRAFFIC”: Every single person in this country probably knows someone, a relative, a friend, who has died, or is dying, or is living with HIV/AIDS.


Most people remember the last funeral that they`ve been to, not the last wedding. On Saturdays, people get dressed up to go to funerals, not to weddings and that`s a pretty frightening prospect.

It`s a Saturday morning in Soweto, rush hour on all the roads leading to the township`s cemetery. Film-maker Kgumotso Matsunyane and her crew are capturing the chaos.


Kgumotso`s documentary “Heavy Traffic” explores the booming business of burial in South Africa.

EXCERPT FROM “HEAVY TRAFFIC” – UNDERTAKER (Subtitles): If you come at 9 o`clock, everything is all right…But if it comes to 10 o`clock, then it`s a traffic jam. You get all undertakers queuing to get into the cemetery. Some of these hearse drivers don`t know which section to go to. They are the people that delay the other funerals.”

It`s impossible to tell how many of those buried here have died from AIDS-related illness because of the stigma that surrounds the disease. But according to Kgumotso`s film, the number of funeral parlours in Soweto has doubled in the past 10 years.

KGUMOTSO MATSUNYANE: It was sparked off by an idea. A friend of mine was burying her father a few months ago and when they went to look for burial space they actually found that we`re running out of burial space because of the many people dying of HIV and AIDS and I found it quite a frightening concept. This is frightening you know. I mean just like 22, 27, 33. There was so many young people, there were about 30 funerals that they were doing this month and three-quarters of them were people within the ages of 18 and 33. Three-quarters. You know what I mean?

Kgumotso is one of 40 African film-makers working on a series of films which tell everyday stories of life and death in a time of AIDS. The films, produced in collaboration with television broadcasters from around the world, will be used to promote awareness of HIV/AIDS in southern Africa.

DON EDKINS, SERIES PRODUCER: Most of us come out of a background of activism, where we worked in film to oppose apartheid and injustices in our societies. But after changing towards democracy in southern Africa, we are now faced with a whole other struggle and this struggle is at least on that same level, if not even more important. It involves the life and death of millions of people in our region.

EXCERPT FROM “A RED RIBBON ROUND MY HOUSE” (Subtitles) Who has a condom? Come on, give it to me.

For a handful of activists, the struggle has become a crusade. Pinki, the star of a documentary called `A Red Ribbon Round my House`, is on a personal mission to generate discussion about HIV and AIDS. For Pinki, it`s a battle against ignorance and prejudice in a country whose President has publicly questioned the link between HIV and AIDS and where people who admit they have the disease have been ostracised, even killed.

EXCERPT FROM “A RED RIBBON ROUND MY HOUSE” (Subtitles): You don`t find a lot of people that are courageous enough to stand up here and do what the lady that I`m going to introduce you to now is prepared to do.

My name is Pinki, I`m from Soweto and I`m living with HIV. Many people say, if they use condoms, they break. They say they are not 100% safe, but I say they help.

WORKER: It weakens you.

PINKI: It doesn`t sweetheart.

WORKER: Because the penis breathes. The condom sucks out the air when you ejaculate, so when the sperm moves back here.

PINKI: A penis is a thing that hangs, you breathe through your nose. This is news to me, what you`ve said.

KGUMOTSO MATSUNYANE: Um, if you`re dealing with a population that`s maybe about 60% educated, to have to explain something as complicated as how one gets infected from the HIV/AIDS virus, people who are uneducated find it very difficult. It`s like, how do you explain? It`s so technical and so scientific, that they find it impossible to believe that sex can result in that.

Dumisani Phakathi is a young film-maker who grew up here in Soweto. He`s come back to his old neighbourhood to make a film about young people`s attitudes towards sex, relationships and HIV/AIDS.


ZONKE: Hi, how are you?

MAN: Cool.

ZONKE: I have a hard on. What about you?

MAN: Why do you always say that when someone greets you?

ZONKE: Having a hard on is a sign of life.

MAN: You mean this hard on?

ZONKE: Yes, you know my brother. And what about you, do you have a hard on? MAN NO. 2: No, I don`t have a hard on.

ZONKE: That`s not good. You must get some traditional medicine to help you.

MAN: But seriously, how are you?

ZONKE: Just surviving.

MAN: What do you mean, just surviving.

ZONKE: Surviving. I don`t have AIDS yet.

DUMISANI PHAKATHI, DIRECTOR “SINCERELY YOURS”: As I have been shooting the documentary, I have been realising that more and more that the issue is not about people`s ignorance or whatever or them trying to pretend it doesn`t exist. It`s just that where people are at in their lives, there are so many other things happening that it`s not the first thing on somebody`s mind necessarily, because a lot of people have nothing to lose. If you have nothing to lose, it doesn`t really matter, you know. Nothing matters if you have nothing to lose, you take all the risks, because you know you live for now. Sex now, AIDS tomorrow.

EXCERPT FROM “HEAVY TRAFFIC” (Subtitles) – RASTA FUNERALS: “Our generation used to respect funerals, but this younger generation treats it like a party, not a funeral.

MAN: Those boys are rude, they do what they want to do. Sometimes they play loud music, shoot guns… drink alcohol. There`s a bottle store next to the cemetery.

DON EDKINS: If you look at funerals as they`re happening today, there are very few people who are acknowledging that a member of the family has died from AIDS. The knowledge is there, but the openness is not there. So how do you support people in order to be able to come out and say “My son, daughter, husband, wife, uncle, mother died from AIDS.”

EXCERPT FROM “HEAVY TRAFFIC” (Subtitles) – MAN: And the funny part of it is, when the family comes to make arrangements, they ask you, “Actually tell me what`s happening… How did this person die? What was the cause of death?” We just keep silent and say “This person was sick.” Then they say, “No, this person was poisoned.” They are always saying that.

KGUMOTSO MATSUNYANE: There`s a blame and a guilt that is associated with this disease, because for many reasons it is so preventable. Just like, “Oh, you`re a slut, you must have slept around,” or “We warned you not to do this.”

It`s very rare in South Africa to find someone like Pinki, who goes out of her way to let people know she has HIV. Her daughter Ntombi feels she pays a very high price for her mother`s openness.

EXCERPT FROM “A RED RIBBON ROUND MY HOUSE” (Subtitles) – NTOMBI, PINKI`S DAUGHTER: In our black community, when you come out and say “I`m HIV-positive”, it`s the end of you. “We don`t want you next to us, we don`t want to hear your suggestion. To us you know, you`re like a living corpse.”

PINKI: I thought it might hurt them, but hard luck. I`m infected, they`re not infected. So they should not worry much.

NTOMBI: You know, if I knew I was HIV-positive, I could keep it to myself until to the grave.

Pinki has been invited to her daughter`s church to give a talk about AIDS. Ntombi has pleaded with her mother not to mention her own HIV status.

PINKI: My daughter said, she even reminded me this morning, “Mama, don`t disclose.” I`m disclosing, I`m HIV. Sorry Ntombi, this is the way I feel. Every Sunday we must spend something like half an hour, talk about AIDS, educate the people, give out condoms to the public, to the taxi drivers, to the people and talk about it.

KGUMOTSO MATSUNYANE: It`s easy for me to say, if everybody disclosed, then South Africa would be such a much better place and this disease would be cut in half. I haven`t had to deal with that, and if I had to deal – you know, when I ask people to disclose, what am I saying about myself? If I was HIV-positive, would I be so ready to come in front of the cameras and say, “Hey, look at me everyone.”

DON EDKINS: The situation is so drastic that unless we do something it`s going to have an even more devastating effect. Now while we don`t think we can change everybody, people have to change themselves, we hope that by confronting people, by challenging people, by provoking them with other people`s stories, or their own stories, it`ll give them the reason to change their own behaviour.”

PINKI: I want a red ribbon around my house the day I die. And in the evening, people won`t see the red ribbon, so on the red ribbon there must be red globes, which will go on right through the night. And that is going to make people aware that there is AIDS, and Pinki was really right, all the time, all the years she used to talk about HIV/AIDS.