Republic of South Ah Sh**t captures – to the audience’s glee and scrutiny – South Africa’s political, historical, financial, and religious problems. The film departs from the norm with its indie and artsy disposition and has secured a position as one of the country’s notable films.
By Seyi Lasisi
Republic of South Ah Sh**t is South African filmmaker, Kagiso Lediga’s recent cinematic offering to the world. In this film, the filmmaker, who easily rotates from being a comedian, writer, actor, director, and producer, brings his auteur-like identity from his earlier films to bare. Moments after watching Republic of South Ah Sh**t, I recall a review I wrote. In my review of the Steven Pillemer-created Fatal Seduction, I begin with a nostalgic tone. By being autobiographical, I try to recall my earliest introduction and attraction to South African films and TV series. In hindsight, what I wrote contradicted my intent. The intention was to casually list South African films and shows that I have seen streaming on Netflix. But, what I ended up doing was subtly curate films and shows that still held my attention captive, months after seeing them.
Among my curated list was the series, Queen Sono (2020), but there’s also the unintentionally omitted movie, Catching Feelings. Lediga, who is one of the eight screenplay writers of Republic of South Ah SH**t, partly wrote and directed Queen Sono, which is Netflix’s debut African originals series – its kinship with Hollywood-esque tropes aside. Forerunning Queen Sono, and produced in 2018, is Ledigo’s written and directed Catching Feelings – tagged the country’s debut Netflix original film. If the connection between these motion pictures is not clear already, here lies the relationship: Lediga’s creative input is prevalent in them. Retrospecting on these earlier films and series with his currently-streaming Republic of South Ah SH**t, I can say this with ease: Lediga adorns himself with a distinct identity whenever he wishes.
— NetflixSA (@NetflixSA) July 26, 2023
In his chameleon-incline attitude, Lediga, in Republic of South Ah SH**t, charts a new path in his creative endeavour. The director moves miles away from the coital-incline identity imprinted by the motion pictures of his indigenous country. This satirical film parodies and stereotypically presents the South African reality, the usual sexual contents and retrospective tone typical of South Africa Netflix originals are absent. Although Lediga disagrees with lettering his film with these trite motifs, he embraces them but without their clichés, and tells a uniquely African political story. Republic of South Ah Sh**t captures – to the audiences’ glee and scrutiny – South Africa’s political, historical, financial, and religious problems. The film departs from the norm with its indie and artsy disposition and has secured a position as one of the country’s notable films.
The film starts at a crime scene. A gang of robbers holds citizens captive in a bank. They have a demand, a helicopter to transport them to Zimbabwe. The police’s attempt at rescuing the hostages and catching the thieves proves futile. But two super police officers: Srg. Tryphina Mazibuko (Khanyisa Bunu) and Officer Poesklap Du-Toit (Chris Forrest) turn the tide of events in the police’s favour. As we will gradually infer, it is not the officers’ deft pursuit that makes them successful, it is their understanding of the streets’ lingua franca. We are introduced to a world of crime, where the criminal records of individuals can be bleached off. By uttering certain words – such as ‘cold drink’ as a code word for bribery – a criminal becomes a saint. By capturing the rot in the police department, and the prevalent crime on the street of South Africa, Republic of South Ah Sh**t subtly guides us into the country’s rot it aims to satirise.
Away from the bedlam that surrounds the streets of South Africa, and in the president’s office, another high-profile crime is being orchestrated. The president (Lehlohonolo Saint Seseli) alongside his cabinet’s members and Violet Bishop (Letoya Makhene), an expatriate and auctioneer, is aiming to sell the country to the highest bidder. The possible bidders are China, Canada, and some European countries.
There is no better way to discuss imperialism than with a comical tone. There is no need to reiterate that different African economies hold their existence to foreign countries, with China as the recent and most prolific imperialist in Africa. The steady increase in debt profile and the gradual diplomatic cessation of sovereignty in African countries is on the rise. Republic of South Ah Sh**t, in its comical disposition, handles this issue with the playfulness of a comic and the seriousness of an artist. Senegales-French documentary filmmaker Katy Lena N’diaye, in her documentary, Money, Freedom: A Story of the CFA Franc, has handled intentions of Republic of South Ah Sh**t’s with more intellectual depth. In the feature-length film, N’diaye alternates between autobiography and ridden economic jargon to capture how deeply entombed African countries are tied to their former colonisers.
In its meta-criticism of not just South Africa’s reality, but also the African situation, the film introduces Nelson Mandela. In retaining Mandela’s heroic and trivial gains in this film, Mandela tactically refuses to be swayed away by foreign drinks and fashion trends. This refusal subtly elongates Mandela’s unjustifiable and lengthy prison time. Republic of South Ah SH**t, reveals names of prominent African leaders who keep trading their countries’ treasuries away. This mirrors Senegalese film director Ousmane Sembene’s movie, Xala, which is a cinematic representation of African rulers as mere dummies and representatives of colonial interest.
Despite how humorous the film is, it doesn’t strive to be funny. The film guides you toward its comic line, but before you finish laughing, anger gradually stifles the laughter in your countenance. More than being comical, the film lures you into itself, not just to entertain you with its beautifully-shot images, but toward self-reflection. Another aspect of the film is recycling a character to play multiple roles: A disillusioned hotel manager in another universe plays a church member-cum-satisfied husband.
Other important political and national issues hover in the background. Interestingly, the film did not explicitly articulate all its political points. It relies on well-written metaphorical clues, images, and personnel to vocalise these points. It is important to note that the film is not just a reaction to South Africa’s colonial trauma. It is also a comical analysis of South Africa’s economic stagnancy, general disillusion, and affiliation to religion, demonstrating Lediga an artist in tune with his country’s debilitating situation, and that of other third-world countries. The film is a strong manifesto of Africa’s rot.
There are multiple oddities in the film, and topping the aspects that defy the norm is the film’s title. The plot structure, if one might place a tag, seems convoluted, and for impatient viewers, the film has no well-defined structure. The plot follows a series of seemingly unrelated issues – a pastor who preaches the gospel of orgasm, White parents complaining about their White children’s overt exposure to Amapiano, and school children trying to “burn everything” they come in contact with. Though the structure of the film seems chaotic, on reflection, the chaos is an introspection of the country it parodies. With dissimilar events happening simultaneously – characters playing distinct and multiple roles, and the film’s experimentation of documentary and musical genres – the Lediga-directed montage distinct itself from the myriad of South African films and series streaming on Netflix. British film critic, Xan Brooks echoed my closing thought about Republic of South Ah Sh**t in his review of Pixarra-produced and Brad Bird-directed Ratatouille, “When faced with a movie of this ilk, the best we can do is sit back, decide whether we like it or not, and then attempt to explain why this might be so…” I love Republic of South Ah SH**t and this review bears witness to the affection.
(Republic of South Ah Sh**t is currently streaming on Netflix.)
Seyi Lasisi is a Nigerian student with an obsessive interest in Nigerian and African films as an art form. His film criticism aspires to engage the subtle and obvious politics, sentiments, and opinions of the filmmaker to see how it aligns with reality. He tweets @SeyiVortex.