Short film about elections awakens sleepy KZN rural town

Besides its agricultural economy, which is based on citrus farming, sugarcane and timber cultivation, not much is known about the rural town of Melmoth in northern KwaZulu-Natal.

But the shooting of the election-based film Penelope has put the sleepy town nestled in the heart of Zululand on the map.

The area has been abuzz with tourists since the news broke that the town, often referred to by locals as Mthonjaneni, has been hard at work producing the movie, which will be released on SABC. Throngs of revellers from other neighbouring towns flocked to the area to witness for themselves history in the making.

A boost for tourism

“The shooting of the film augurs well for our tourism strategy. The tourism numbers have been increasing, with visitors coming from different areas. When the idea was presented to us, we did not hesitate. We knew that it would come with much-needed economic spinoffs,” Zipho Mthemthwa, Mthonjaneni local municipality manager, explained to Sunday World.

The IFP-led municipality partnered with an independent film production company to do the production. According to Mthethwa, the deal was to target local youth with a passion for storytelling and acting. To give them an opportunity to be part of a professional production.

“The plan, among others, is to use the creative industry to market tourism and other attractions that our region has to offer,” he said.

The politics documentary is written and produced by Siphakamiso Gumede using a low-cost budget. It relays the story of a young woman played by Noxolo Dlamini who lost her parents to political violence.

Penelope struggles to navigate through life and come in the aftermath of the tragic loss of her parents. But she eventually finds solace in being an advocate for peace. She hopes that what had befallen her parents does not happen to anyone else.

The film also encourages citizens to use the power of voting as a form of protest rather than using violent means. It also discourages violent protests by communities.

Discourage culture of resolving issues through violence

Gumede explained the motivation behind the movie. The fact that most rural communities have not gotten to the culture of resolving issues through voting. Instead they resort to unleashing deadly violence whenever they are dissatisfied. This can be around issues of service delivery and the political process.

The production coincided with the provincial and national elections being held in the country in less than two weeks’ time.

“We also know that KZN has a problem with the assassination of political figures. The film highlights these issues. It also educates citizens not to boycott voting but to use it to liberate themselves. The documentary also touches on pertinent problems of violent protests. It encourages residents not to destroy infrastructure during protests. Because the destruction rolls back the gains of democracy,” said Gumede.

Dlamini, who is a teacher by profession, said the film had reignited her love for performing arts.

Long-time dream-come-true for actress

“Although I have performed in some plays before, this was one of my big roles. I’m a teacher, but my true love is acting. I believe this film will open more [doors] for me in the creative space. Especially in popular sopies in the country,” she said excitedly.

The town of Melmoth, with its scenic views and breathtaking landscapes, was named after Sir Melmoth Osborne. He was the colonial secretary of Natal in the 19th century.

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