Siyabonga (We are Thankful): a film with the determination to inspire others

Still from Siyabonga.| Photo ccourtesy of Other People.

Vancouver will be presenting the 9th Annual South African film festival that showcases features and documentaries exploring the culture, history and politics of South Africa Mar. 29–31.

The festival shows films aimed to inspire, to inform and to entertain. The proceeds from the festival will be supporting the educational development work which Education without Borders has been doing in South Africa since 2002.

“People should go and see these kinds of films because it is good to see different visions from different parts of the world. Film is a wonderful tool; it offers people a unique perspective,” says Joshua Magor, director of Siyabonga (We are Thankful).

Real life inspiration

Siyabonga (We are Thankful) is a film named after its main character Siyabonga Majola, who hears a movie is being made in a nearby town. The audience is taken through his real life adventures as he attempts to become part of the film.

From stealing wi-fi from the umlungus (white people), in order to write an email to the film producers, to refusing his friend’s request to get help through witchcraft, Majola’s journey is full of surprises which eventually leads him to meet the film’s director. The conversation that followed led to this film coming into existence.

“After sending out a newspaper article looking for people to participate in a film I was planning to make, I was contacted by a young man, Siyabonga Majola, who was very keen to help and so we agreed to meet. A few days later we sat down to talk and I was so moved by this man that I threw away all my previous plans and decided right there to make a film about him,” explains Magor.

This film is about a man’s attempts to improve his life and take control of his fate, Magor says.

“From the way he carried and addressed himself, to the way he spoke about his life, I was struck by his sense of determination. He possessed a real dignity,” says Magor describing Majola.

Of country and context

Magor, originally from Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, developed an interest in filmmaking while making video art in high school.

Magor earned a scholarship to study English Literature and Economics at the University of Edinburgh. He then proceeded to do his Master’s degree in Filmmaking at the London Film School and during this time, he worked consistently on honing his craft making short films, documentaries, video art and installations.

Siyabonga’s past echoes in his present in a similar way that South Africa’s own history seems to be unforgettable to the people and places of the film.

“[With this film] I wanted to make something that presented the truth of a person’s spirit in the context of a country dealing with many obstacles and historical trauma,” explains Magor. “It’s hard to express in words how I felt when I met Siyabonga, which is probably why I made a movie.”

Magor, based in London, is passionate about cinema’s ability to capture the ferocious intensities of life, as well as the camera’s potential to confront realities that may otherwise remain hidden. This is the first time his work has been involved with the VSAFF; however, his previous films have won awards and have been screened at other festivals around the world.

All proceeds from this year’s South African film festival go to Education Without Borders, a Canadian non-profit organization. Their mission is to provide education opportunities for disadvantaged and at-risk children in South Africa and Canada. They run after-school support programmes in Math, English, Science, school leadership and youth mentorship.

The organization focused its first efforts in South African township schools because of problems such as overcrowded classes, high drop-out rates between Grades 11 and 12, a lack of jobs and inadequate resources for teachers.


The Simon Fraser University (SFU) Goldcorp Centre for the Arts will be showing Siyabonga (We are Thankful) Saturday, March 30.

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