Dusk, filling in the deep shadows between the crowded Kliptown shacks, south of Johannesburg and Soweto, forty-five minutes’ drive away from affluent Hyde Park, where we live, and which might as well be a distant planet to the north of us. The Landy picks its way gingerly along a narrow, rutted track, Rob and I feeling conspicuous, out of place, uneasy. Children ignore us, lounging youths eye us stonily. We stop and ask the way. ‘Excuse me. Dumelang. We are looking for the open-air movie.’ A gesture directs us down an uneven side-path, the shacks hemming us in, and then we are up against a wall, a young man waving us forward in the headlights until he gestures to us to stop. ‘Welcome,’ he says, with a big smile as we climb warily out of the car. ‘Thank you for coming.’
In an open enclosure, behind the vibracrete walls, two hundred or more children, excited faces turned upward toward the threatening sky and the big white screen, hoisted like a sail above a modest building, lean forward on their plastic chairs, laughing and shouting. It is the monthly open-air cinema, run by Delphine de Blic, a French woman who during daytime runs a film school for Kliptown youth: their short film, ‘Eat my Dust’ is a small masterpiece of understated, choreographed comedy – showing, in the briefest of gestures and expressions, a concentration of form that takes the everyday out of itself and towards something different and new.
For the next few hours we sit amongst the restless, excitable audience, watching the shadowy images flit across the screen, looming into the night sky, the sound booming out over the roofs of the shacks, the shadowy figures watching from the sidelines, entering and leaving, children’s names called out – ‘Sipho! Tshepo!’ and Sipho or Tshepo slip out, responding to a mother’s or a sister’s call.
There is some gloom amidst all the happiness when we join up with Delphine and her partner after the movie. The crowd has vanished, like magic, and the crew is packing up. A woman has been raped, by someone in the community; someone known to them. The man has been arrested; the community is tense. ‘It happens all the time,’ Sandra says.
We follow Sandra and Delphine down the darkened alley, out into the muddy lane, over the railway bridge and through the outskirts of Soweto, to the Golden Highway. Half an hour later we are in their architect-designed home, in Melville, with a glass of wine in hand and dinner in the oven.