The trauma inflicted on apartheid army soldiers lives on, says 'Moffie' director

Oliver Hermanus's film about the toxic hyper-masculinity of the Afrikaans regime is wowing global audiences, most recently at the Venice Film Festival

29 September 2019 - 00:13 By
Kai Luke Brummer as Nicholas Van der Swart in a scene from 'Moffie'.
Kai Luke Brummer as Nicholas Van der Swart in a scene from 'Moffie'.
Image: Portobello Productions/YouTube

In this day and age, the pain and suffering of white men is not something guaranteed to garner a lot of sympathy.

It's not all that different from Kim Kardashian bemoaning the pitfalls of fame as she climbs out of her multimillion-rand car to skip the queue at some exclusive restaurant and eat a meal she won't have to pay for.

The thing is, according to Nietzsche, "to live is to suffer" and both Kim and white men are living people. Their suffering is real and (at least in the case of white men) encapsulated in Oliver Hermanus's film Moffie.

Starring Kai Luke Brummer, the film tells the story of a young, gay, white man who is conscripted into the apartheid army and the toxically hyper-masculine air that filled its lungs.

The thought of telling a story of pain and trauma through an unexpected avenue was an interesting challenge for me
Oliver Hermanus on his film 'Moffie'

"The pain and suffering of white men is not naturally something I gravitate towards ... but the thought of telling a story of pain and trauma through an unexpected avenue was an interesting challenge for me," said Hermanus about directing the film.

Moffie has since been doing the rounds on the international festival circuit, collecting award nominations wherever it is screened. Most recently it was up for top honours at the Venice Film Festival.

As a general rule, SA period pieces tend to focus on the struggle between black and white, but Moffie's examination of a different but crucial part of SA history has impressed a lot of people.

Hermanus is acutely aware of the differences between the suffering of everyone during apartheid and that of its main beneficiaries, namely white men. His aim, however, isn't to get involved in a game of suffering Top Trumps.

The film's primary theme is how the machismo of the Afrikaans regime generated a deep and abiding sense of shame among teenage boys.

"Even if you weren't gay, that word (moffie) was used as a way to indoctrinate young white teenagers with the hyper masculinity of that era," said Hermanus, who went on to explain how even today the word is used as a way to peel strips of people's humanity away from them, something the apartheid government revelled in.

If you've been connected in any way to the real world, you have come across the idea that patriarchy and toxic masculinity are among the root causes of the world's evils and a lot of that has to do with the imagery in Moffie.

Even if you weren't gay, that word (moffie) was used as a way to indoctrinate young white teenagers with the hyper masculinity of that era
Film director and writer Oliver Hermanus

Rainbow nation-itis has conditioned a lot of us to think that many of apartheid's side effects vanished when the regime fell.

With two strokes in a ballot box, racism, patriarchy and a whole host of -isms were swept under the historical rug, ostensibly now the rug has become a tripping hazard and all the contents beneath it are spilling out like a hastily opened champagne bottle, leaving many of us confused.

How did this happen? Weren't we past this? Why is everyone so angry? Questions like this get bandied about as we struggle to process the source of our societal anger.

Moffie shows part of that original story and how the institutionalised repression of self was practised back then.

That institutional repression lives on today with the stories of white trauma often staying trapped in their psyches until it bursts out on a beach somewhere.

WATCH | The trailer for 'Moffie'

The level of violence SA men visit upon our society is not some accident of history. All of us are traumatised and come from a legacy of trauma. Despite what we tell ourselves, that trauma continues to be passed on and this will happen as long as we insist on keeping quiet about it.

"These men don't generally like talking about it. Even the crew members. It seems like it was a painful and deeply personal part of our history," said Hermanus.

Perhaps one of the big lessons from Moffie is that history, like people, is complex and may need to be examined from a number of different angles.

Either that or that apartheid was really trash. Whichever way you slice it, Moffie is likely to end up being one of the most important local movies released in a long time.

• 'Moffie' is currently in cinemas nationwide.


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