What truly sets Soon Comes Night apart is its bold exploration of aspects of corruption and crime in South Africa which is often overlooked by other shows where there is little focus on the corruption within the government, and how this affects the crime rate in society.
By Joseph Jonathan
On the back of the success of previous South African crime drama series – such as Queen Sono (2020), Justice Served (2022), and Ludik (2022) – comes Netflix’s latest offering, Soon Comes Night. Produced by Ochre Moving Pictures (Justice Served, Fatal Seduction) and directed by Thabang Moleya and Sanele Zulu, the series is inspired by the story of Collen Chauke who was once South Africa’s most wanted criminal. A former member of the African National Congress guerrilla (Umkhonto we Sizwe) and a local councillor, he was accused of 30 murders and 17 armed robberies of cash-in-transit vans that netted more than £8 million.
In the opening scene of the series, we are introduced to Alex Shabane (Kwenzo Ngcobo) and his crew as they rob a cash-in-transit truck. This is the first in a series of heists orchestrated by the former freedom fighter, in defiance of the law and as a way to get back at the corrupt system that impoverishes its people. Having been part of the apartheid struggles, Shabane’s new occupation as a criminal mastermind is an embarrassment for his former comrades (now in government) who offer him a deal; take up a cushy government job or go the way of the bullet.
As far as stories and plot twists go, this presents the first confusion for the audience. One would expect that becoming part of the government would represent a new vista for the nation’s freedom fighters and they would lay down their arms. However, it is puzzling that while some transition to working for the government, others like Shabane and his crew become heist kings. Unfortunately, the plot offers little to no explanation for how this came to be, except for Shabane’s frequent rants about ‘broken promisesʼ by the government in power. Despite the threats from his former comrades, Shabane remains adamant about remaining with his heist crew. In response, the government set up a special police unit headed by Sakkie Oosthuizen (Albert Pretorius) and his partner, Thato Sekoati (Didintle Khunou), to arrest him.
Soon Comes Night, set in the 2000s post-apartheid South Africa, uses frequent flashbacks from the apartheid era to try to set the tone for the events that take place in its present. Even as the series grapples with themes of freedom and bloodshed for peace, these discussions often fall flat because of the retrospective nature it explores. The flashbacks do not remedy the issue. Instead, they fall short, as only thuggery and talks about freedom are ever displayed. There is little depth in the apartheid struggle, leaving the audience disconnected from the events.
Similarly, as the series reveals, Sekoati’s decision to join the police force stems from a harrowing experience. The impact of this tragedy would have provided a more in-depth understanding of her journey towards joining the police force. Regrettably, this arc is underexplored. Without delving into the aftermath of the ordeal, her character’s portrayal becomes incomplete. These gaps leave the audience with an incomplete understanding, making it challenging to fully appreciate the depth of Sekoati’s resilience and the determination that drives her.
Despite the sometimes haphazard storytelling, Soon Comes Night boasts commendable acting performances across board, with special credit due to Pretorius for skillfully portraying Oosthuizen in a way that elicits sympathy rather than contempt. However, the true standout is Ngcobo. He does a good job as the lead actor with a believable portrayal of Shabane. Shabane’s character is a blend of ruthlessness, coldness, and occasional callousness, making it challenging to label him as a straightforward villain throughout much of the series. It’s only towards the end that the audience is likely to form a final judgment, a moment when nearly every character finds themselves at their wit’s end.
Gaosi Raditholo, who plays Shabane’s love interest, does so with aplomb. As a nursery school teacher who believes in building a good modest life with integrity and still being involved with a criminal, she effortlessly depicts her character’s internal conflict as one torn between morality and love.
South Africa boasts a rich linguistic history which encompasses 11 official languages. While not all languages are prominently featured, the inclusion of English, Afrikaans, Zulu, Xhosa, Tswana, and possibly others not explicitly mentioned, contributes to a different layer of linguistic intrigue within the narrative. This varied use of languages is an integral part of the series, enhancing its depth and capturing the essence of South Africa’s multilingual society.
However, what truly sets Soon Comes Night apart is its bold exploration of aspects of corruption and crime in South Africa which is often overlooked by other shows where there is little focus on the corruption within the government, and how this affects the crime rate in society. Soon Comes Night portrays government officials as smug, corrupt figures prioritising graft over their duties, adding a layer of realism that many series sidestep. Criminal characters, particularly former freedom fighters, are depicted as ruthless and callous, driven by their grievances against post-apartheid South Africa’s injustices. The series also sheds light on the often-overlooked role of crime reporters, emphasising their necessity to immerse themselves in the gritty realities of their beats. In the end, Soon Comes Night is a reflection on certain unresolved aspects within South Africa – corruption and the aftermath of apartheid – one that encourages a deeper exploration of the societal consequences of broken promises, and the struggles of those who once fought for freedom but now find themselves at odds with the system.
Joseph Jonathan is a historian who seeks to understand how film shapes our cultural identity as a people. He believes that history is more about the future than the past. When he’s not writing about film, you can catch him listening to music or discussing politics. He tweets @JosieJp3