‘Milisuthando’: An Ode to Love, Spirituality, and Post-Apartheid South Africa


By Unam Ntsababa

Milisuthando Bongela, a multifaceted artist with a remarkable list of awards, including the IDFA Most Promising Documentary Award, The Whickers Award for the Best Pitch Award at Chicken & Egg Pitches at Sheffield Documentary Festival, and an inaugural Adobe Women at Sundance Fellowship in 2020, embarked on her creative journey in the fashion industry before transitioning to music, art, and film. With a focus on indigenous knowledge, Milisuthando has tackled the intersections of race, gender, and class as a writer and editor. Her self-titled debut film, Milisuthando, is a 128-minute documentary that delves into the intricate tapestry of love, spirituality, and the post-apartheid condition in South Africa. The film takes a poetic and introspective approach, weaving together memories of her upbringing during apartheid and her adult life in Johannesburg, making it a deeply human exploration.

The Artist’s Connection with Spirituality:

Milisuthando introduces herself as a ‘reluctant artist,’ yet her artistic call seems intertwined with a profound connection to her faith and spirituality. Her work is guided by a sense of purpose to respond to the arts as a medium between the physical world and the spiritual realm of ideas and emotions. This connection to spirituality is a reminder of the interconnectedness of art and the duty and creative obligation of the artist to Africa and beyond.

“Over the last eight years, this film was very much negotiated in dreams with ancestors both old and coming. Who worked with my team. In many ways, I wasn’t directing alone.” – Milisuthando

‘Milisuthando’: A Poetic Coming-of-Age Essay Documentary:

Milisuthando is a contemplative coming-of-age essay documentary that is centred on the exploration of race. It delves into Milisuthando’s experiences growing up during apartheid, shaped by the intricate social dynamics of the era. The film raises thought-provoking questions about the identity and existence of a black South African woman within and after the harsh systems of apartheid. It also delves into her reflections on relationships with her white friends and the significance she attaches to them, prompting viewers to contemplate these complex themes throughout the documentary.

Journey through Power, Fear, Intimacy, and Love:

As the film unfolds, Milisuthando delves into the core of challenging questions about power, fear, intimacy, and love, all viewed through the lens of race. Her perspective as a black middle-class South African woman offers a unique and often overlooked viewpoint, shedding light on the post-apartheid condition and the complexities of her nation’s history.

“If there’s any love my film tries to make sense of, it is not my love, but a love that must be expressed as a fact of existence.” – Milisuthando Bongela

Watching through a feminine lens:

Milisuthando takes viewers on a journey into the heart of the new South Africa, offering an intimate exploration of its relationship with its past. The film’s feminine lens highlights the experiences and struggles of black women, adding depth and nuance to the broader narrative.
Milisuthando Bongela crafts an evocative and introspective ode to love, spirituality, and the post-apartheid journey. Her work as an artist serves as a bridge between worlds, drawing from the spirit to create meaningful and poignant expressions. Through Milisuthando’s lens, the film explores the complex web of race, power, intimacy, and love, making it a must-watch for those seeking a profound understanding of contemporary South Africa.

The film is currently seeking the right distribution partner and the next screening will take place at the Melbourne International Film Festival in August. More information about the film and screening dates can be found here.

This story is made possible by the Arts Story Incubator programme of Breinstorm Brand Architects, in collaboration with Klyntji and IQOQO. It is funded by a PESP-3 grant that is supported by BASA and the Department of Sports, Arts and Culture.

Most popular

Similar articles