David is a petty thief, a lost soul who makes no connections. No-one even knows his name. He’s simply ‘Tsotsi’, township patois for ‘thug’. He knows the scene, knows the odds, never panics – he leads a small gang. Aap, who’s known him for years, is a needy simpleton – the gang is his family. Butcher is a killer who uses a stiletto blade. Boston, once a student teacher, hates what he does, and mocks the others’ ignorance. When he drunkenly taunts Tsotsi for his mystique, his withholding of anything personal, his namelessness, Tsotsi loses his detachment, his cool. He beats Boston’s face to a pulp, and walks out on the gang. He steals a car, uncharacteristically panics and shoots the woman driver who wrenches open the car door. He doesn’t know it, but he’s stolen her baby.
It sets in train events where Tsotsi confronts his past, his own childhood, his anger and confusion. Based on Athol Fugard’s novel and shot in Johannesburg townships ravaged by AIDS and poverty, Tsotsi shows how criminality and violence are conditional, shows the abandoned child within the pitiless thug, and shows, without sentimentality, that there can be redemption.Malcolm Lewis
This first appeared in our award-winning magazine - to read more, subscribe from just £7