Can Themba's classic short story 'The Suit' comes to life on screen

11 May 2016 - 16:00 By SHANTHINI NAIDOO

The trailer for the film version of Can Themba's classic short story, 'The Suit', has been released.

And it has already been selected to show at the Zanzibar and Durban international film festivals.

The short film stars Atandwa Kani in the lead role.

The famous short story by Themba, the Drum magazine writer and apartheid dissident who died in exile in 1968, is set against the backdrop of forced removals in the 1950s under the Group Areas Act.

Banned by the apartheid government, The Suit became a high-school set work, then a local and international theatre hit in the 1990s.

It tells the story of Philemon, who discovers his wife, Matilda (played by Newcomer Phuti Nakane) in bed with a lover. The man flees, leaving his suit behind.

Watch the trailer here:

Philemon torments Matilda, making her treat the suit as a guest who must eat with them, go on walks and sit next to them in church. A humiliated Matilda commits suicide.

The novella was captured for the first time on celluloid by fledgling writer and director Jarryd Coetsee of Mandala Films. “I am so excited that we have been selected to show at the festivals. It is such an important story to tell, from that era." Coetsee said the story represents the human side of the forced removals.

Atandwa’s father, theatre legend John Kani, who produced The Suit on stage and currently appears in the Hollywood blockbuster, Captain America: Civil War, makes a cameo appearance. He plays Mr Maphikela, the friend who breaks the news of the affair to Philemon.

sub_head_start Director Jarryd Coetsee shares 4 things about Can Themba sub_head_end


1) After Can Themba was declared a “statutory communist” by the apartheid regime, the Suppression of Communism Act enabled the government to ban his works outright.

2) Themba eventually died in exile in Swaziland of alcohol poisoning, lonely and disillusioned. Some people believe that Themba was poisoned by state security operatives, though we will never know for sure. As a fellow artist (in the general sense), I can sympathise with the profound sadness and frustration that he must have experienced in being forced by his own countrymen to abandon his family, friends and home.

It thus gives me great pleasure to share his story - which the apartheid regime did not want anybody to read - in South Africa and abroad.

3) The theme of The Suit is that oppression is cyclical and that it affects personal relationships in a destructive way. Given the current constitutional crisis in South Africa, I can think of no time in our history when it is more urgent to heed Themba’s cautionary tale because we are now at great risk of oppressive forces derailing our progress.

4) I also believe that it is important for us to remember that people, like Can Themba, have suffered greatly and died so that we can enjoy the unprecedented freedoms that the constitution guarantees in this country. For these reasons, I think that the short film will resonate with many South Africans.