By Buhle Andisiwe Made
DocLove and the Documentary Filmmakers’ Association are back again in Makhanda, and on 28 July screened the documentary film, One Take Grace by Lindiwe Matshikiza. Matshikiza, a former Rhodes University Drama student and a member of the Matshikiza family of writing and creative art luminaries, is now a filmmaker and creative.
She chose the Rhodes University Theatre for the screening as it was the place where she developed her process-based creative practice. One Take Grace has stacked up international accolades since its release, including Winner of the Best International Feature in the 2022 Montreal International Documentary Festival, Winner of Best Feature Documentary in the Blackstar Film Festival, and Winner of the Envision Award for Outstanding Artistic Contribution at the 2022 International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA). It has been nominated for several other awards.
Developed over a decade, the film follows the life of Mothiba Grace Bapela as both a domestic worker and fellow actress. Bapela and Matshikiza met in Johannesburg during a production that featured both women. In getting to know one another, Matshikiza was made aware that Bapela was in fact, also a domestic worker. Matshikiza said, “I looked at this person who wanted to escape this life”. Interested in Bapela’s perspective and experience, Matshikiza documented Bapela’s life from 2011.
Bapela narrates her story in Sepedi and travels with the audience through her timeline as a young girl into her womanhood – jumping in between past and present times. Her life of servitude began in the 1980s at the age of 14, when she left her home in Ga Mothapo, Limpopo to find work on a farm in Johannesburg. Over the next three decades, Bapela worked as a domestic worker and nanny, caring for families in Johannesburg, Cape Town, and the USA, whilst being a mother and grandmother to her own children.
In the early 2000s, on the hunt for better financial conditions and an escape from domestic drudgery, she began working as a part-time actor in the South African film and television industry, while continuing to labour in domestic service. She has appeared in prominent local productions such as Muvhango, and The Coconuts, and in films such as State of Violence and Mrs Right Guy.
In an intimate stance in the narration, Bapela describes to viewers the trials and tribulations she has faced. She delves deep into being raped at the tender age of 14, the alleged witchcraft practices she witnessed, and later, her cervical cancer diagnosis. As she narrates through her pain and misfortune, audiences are downtrodden by each encounter and account.
The themes of poverty and rape culture in South Africa are illustrated within the film. “It could be said that South Africans, especially women, share this story,” Matshikiza said. The themes that ought to be discussed in contemporary South Africa create a platform of healing and association for other victims. Matshikiza further elaborates that Bapela was explicit about her sexual assault by a paramedic and “each time she [Bapela] watches it, it is part of her healing process.”
Matshikiza urges young creatives to tell their stories the way they feel is best. She goes on to mention that allowing fear and anxiety to crowd your judgment may mislead one’s creativity. “There are so many voices and noise on what we should be doing and that kind of noise can be distracting. People need to be allowed to listen to their inner voices,” she said.
Stories such as Bapela’s matter in a society like ours as they help bring awareness to the crime and rape culture and the obscurity of societal norms. Bapela has since returned to her home in Ga Mothapo, where she is building her community wellness programme and centre, Legae Lelebotse Lakgothatso ya Cancer.