’Joko Ya Hao’ celebrates the life of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela

In honour of the brave women of 1956, we look at the 21st-century creatives, who continue the legacy of change and transformation.

This Women’s Month, we caught up with creator, actress, filmmaker, producer and director Mmabatho Montsho, whose short film “Joko Ya Hao” is now streaming on Showmax.

Inspired by the life of struggle icon and activist, the late Mama Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, the 30-minute short film “Joko Ya Hao” tells the compelling story activist Nozizwe, who defied the gender norms of the 1950s.

Nozizwe, a deeply spiritual Christian woman, left her village in Gracetown to fight the oppressive regime and seek help and freedom for her people.

Nominated for a Safta, “Joko Ya Hao” stars award-winning songstress Simphiwe Dana in the lead role, alongside veteran actor, Jet Novuka.

The cast also includes “A Million Colours” star Wandile Molebatsi, “Rhythm City” actor Elliot Makhubo, and former “The Queen” star Khanya Mkangisa.

On the decision to cast Dana as the lead, Montsho explained: “I saw her singing at Mama Winnie’s EFF memorial in Brandfort.

“There was a deep selflessness, love and healing about her performance, which I thought were important qualities for the character of Nozi.”

She added: “Of course, she had to audition as there were other incredible actors on the table. Her take on the character surprised me, she played it with deep compassion, and that is what sealed the deal for me.”

Montsho insists that women and their immense contribution in their respective fields should be celebrated every single day, and not necessarily on distinctive dates such as Women’s Day.

“Our work should be recognized throughout the year. Every August, a few of us suddenly become ‘perfect artists’ because platforms need work done by women to create Women’s Month content. It creates a window of dishonest celebration.

“As a female creative, I hope that our work will be treated with the necessary respect and thorough critique and that we do not become treated as unavoidable content ‘fillers’ for one month of the year.”

On how she will be celebrating Women’s Day this year, the former “Generations” star offered: “I will mark Women’s Month by doing what I do every year, all year round, creating women-led content, supporting projects of fellow women film-makers in various ways and mentoring young people in our field.”

Elaborating on the inspiration behind the title of the film, Montsho explained: “The film was titled by my mother when I told her of its synopsis. It is taken from a hymn by the same title. Loosely it speaks about bearing a yoke with ease, or the lightness of a burden.”

She continued “The film was my way of contributing to the conversation about land and the landlessness of Black people in South Africa. I hope it will be a reminder that there is a land question to resolve. It is something I believe was important to Mama.”

The film, which Montsho refers to as a love letter to Madikizela Mandela, set the stage on fire at the Pan African Film Arts Festival 2020 in Los Angeles, earlier in a year.

Recounting the experience at the international film festival, Montsho said: “It was an important opportunity to see how the film would be received by people from outside South Africa.

“At both screenings we attended, we stood outside in the foyer for at least half an hour with people who wanted to chat about the film afterwards. It’s an eye-opener to see what moves audiences, what translates and what doesn’t.”

Shedding some light on some of the most enjoyable moments of bringing the film to life, Montsho enthused: “It’s probably doing the score with composer Neill Solomon. The score is mostly made up of hymns on a single instrument – a horn – played by Sydney Mavundla. It was the first time I could truly relax.”

*“Joko Ya Hao” is currently streaming on Showmax.

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