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Shore Break: The clash between tradition and ‘progress’


The discovery of titanium at the heart of the Amadiba region on the eastern cape of South Africa unearths the real identity of the people of Pondo community.

For a people with a long tradition of mining, discovery of a new mineral should be good news. So naturally, routine compensation and relocation of people sitting on the minerals should follow. But when tradition squares up for a fight against ‘progress’, the implication is usually a lengthy and vicious battle against the government as well as an ensuing strife between those for and against the mining activities.

The green, beautiful gentle slopes of Pondo land provide the stage for Shore Break Ryley Grunenwald’s engaging documentary of the pains, joys, betrayals and triumphs of the Pondo people fighting against insurmountable odds to preserve their land and much-cherished tradition. The 90 minutes documentary explores the history and mythology of the region and provokes the reexamination of the concept of development and the expectation of the people.

In Shore Break, Ryley tries, commendably so, to follow the conflict between two feuding relatives: Nonhle Mbuthuma, a young Pondo lady who works as a tour guide and who strongly opposes the mining idea, and Zamile Qunya, her cousin, who is portrayed as cunning and a devious puppet of government agencies and the Australian mining company that is seeking the license to extract the titanium. Nonhle wants to preserve their traditional Pondo lifestyle and spectacular coastline but has Qunya who is not moved by communal interest and who worked round the clock to thwart her efforts, to contend with. But it is Nonhle who emerges the heroines in this beautifully helmed documentary. Firm and outspoken, Nonhle shoulders the responsibility of saving her entire community from the government and a rich multinational company at the risk of losing her life.

Shore Break is aided refreshingly by sand animation and this worked well to shorten the story in a number of instances thereby keeping the pace steady. The beauty of the film is the absence of a narrator, which gives this film a ‘real feel’ as the story comes straight from the main actors—an approach that breeds deep intimacy between the audience and the film as the level of engagement is enhanced. The other beauty of the film is the shots that reveal the serene, enchanting and beautiful landscape of the Wild Coast. Though there are occasional shots that reveals that all is not all rosy in the region but comparably, those shots of the enchanting landscapes and beautiful shore of South African wild coast almost shades the great pain and suffering of the Pondo people. Besides, Ryley decision to keep the narrative mainly to the feuding relatives shades some of the sub context that should have been explored. It would have been interesting to hear the locals share their perspectives either for or against the decision to covert the precious land.

Nevertheless, this engrossing documentary, Ryley second after her successful directorial debut The Dawn of a New Day (2011), is a triumph for African documentary filmmaking for the length and the breadth, which it has endeavored to go, to give us arguments for and against mining titanium in Amadiba. Ryley followed the whole process dutifully and wraps the documentary up in a manner that would allow moviegoers reach their conclusions on a topic that is archetypal and that can generate endless debate anywhere in the world.


This review is part of Talent press, a hands-on development programme of Talents Durban. The 8th Talents Durban is organised by the Centre for Creative Arts at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in co-operation with the Berliner Talents Programme with support from the National Film and Video Foundation, German Embassy, Goethe Institut South Africa, the Gauteng Film Commission and a range of other valued partners.


Sharlene Versfeld / Ayanda Mabanga

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