African business, politics and lifestyle
South African sci-fi
There has been some excellent writing and drama from South Africa over the years, and much of it is serious stuff.
One thinks perhaps of Athol Fugard and J.M. Coetzee. Even the titles — Sizwe Bansi is Dead and Disgrace — convey a certain gravitas, at the very least.
So, a science fiction movie set in Johannesburg comes, to many outside South Africa at least, as something of a surprise.
For those who haven’t seen it, South African-born director Neill Blomkamp’s District 9 is the story of how a mysterious space craft appears over Johannesburg.
It turns out to contain starving aliens, referred to scathingly as “prawns”, who are brought down to the city and housed in an enormous and chaotic shanty ghetto.
The film is done in the form of a documentary — although it can’t resist some good
old-fashioned shoot-outs involving the aliens’ space weapons.
It’s also pretty funny as it satirises just about everybody — the bureaucrats given the task of evicting the prawns from District 9, the soldiers who have to be restrained from shooting them, the Nigerian bandits who exploit them ruthlessly and the unfortunate prawns themselves, who are addicted to cat food.
But of course it’s not all sci-fi fun. This being South Africa, audiences are also asked to consider more ponderous questions that relate to the country’s racial history and also how to deal with “aliens” who suddenly appear on the doorstep after being afflicted by some crisis at home — something the South African government has had to contend with in recent years as Zimbabwe has imploded, forcing millions across the border.