“57” – a film exploring the why behind South Africa’s murder rate – Film maker Craig Freimond

Written on 09/26/2022
Linda van Tilburg

Craig Freimond's “57” is a documentary film which tries to answer the why and find solutions to the country’s violent crimes.

Award-winning South African script writer and film director Craig Freimond likes to work in comedy. He is known for films like Gums & Noses, Jozi, Material, Beyond the River, and New Material. When a young actor Freimond had come to know called Sibusiso Khwinana, the star of the movie Matwetwe, was murdered – for a cellphone – Craig tried to come to terms with how this random act of violence caused unimaginable sadness. Although he is a trauma counsellor at his local police station in Johannesburg and has seen the effects of the country’s rampant crime at close range, Freimond was devastated by Sbu’s death and decided to make a documentary film to understand why crime in South Africa is so violent and whether something could be done about it. The result is “57” – a documentary film which tries to answer the why and find solutions to the country’s violent crimes. For those who would rather run for the hills than watch a film about violent crime in South Africa – the subject is handled in an entertaining and informative manner with solutions offered. Freimond told BizNews that he wanted to start a conversation and sees it as a call to action for society to look at the issue of violent crime in a deeper and more meaningful way. – Linda van Tilburg

Comedy was important to get viewers to stick with this conversation 

One of the issues that we have with this film is we tell people about it and they want to run screaming into the hills, rather than watch it. It’s quite hard to explain that it’s actually not. While it is hard-hitting and emotional in places; we didn’t want to make something that was depressing because then what’s the point? We really set out to make something that was hopefully a little bit helpful and that’s the word that I like, because sometimes you can watch something that difficult, but at least it’s helpful and in a way that is hopeful. 

The other reason why I wanted to do it is that I feel generally that there’s a lack of reflection about these issues. We’re very bunkered and defended because we feel when I say we, I’m not necessarily referring to myself, but South Africans generally are very defended about the issues of crime. So, they tend to do it while looking over a barricade, rather than looking at the thing in a slightly more holistic way or in a different way. We’re a strange society in the sense of our ability to reflect on ourselves. If you look at a society like America or the UK, for example, they have multiple levels of reflection ranging from the press to different kinds of press to television that deconstructs, to humour that deconstructs. 

More jail time, more Policemen, the death penalty is not the solution to crime

It’s not the solution. It’s never the solution. I think Gareth Newham put it in such a succinct way where he said, ‘You cannot police your way out of a culture of violence.’ It’s just not going to happen. We have to look at the whole thing in a much deeper way, because also, who wants a society that’s just perpetually locking people up? The people that are being locked up are also people, brothers and cousins and sons and fathers and mothers. It’s also not a societal thing that you necessarily want. Most people who end up doing these things, it’s not necessarily a choice of theirs and the more defended we get as a society because we feel like we’re under siege, the less empathetic we are. So that’s when the solutions also become violent like, let’s kill them, ,let’s attack them, necklace them. Let’s bring back the death penalty, let’s stone them. I do understand it. The more you feel under attack, the more you attack

So, the notions of empathy and understanding and how we create a different society become quite difficult to have when you feel under attack. So that’s the difficulty that we have. We have a society that feels under attack, that feels unprotected. And therefore, their attitudes towards criminals or the way that they feel about crime is very aggressive and very violent in return. Whereas I think what’s clear is that there are much more compassionate ways of dealing with these issues but they take longer and they’re sort of more long term. But there really are things that we should be looking at. Apparently, there is a growing trend even within South Africa that the solution with these things lies much more in people like social workers than it does in people like police because police can only come in right at the end and deal with the finished product, which is the criminal whereas they should be backed up with systems that really allow people not to grow up to be criminals.

How can we lockdown a whole society for Covid, but do nothing about the virus of violent crime?

What the hell is going on in our country? What is going on? How is it that we have got here? How is it that 57 people can be murdered in our country every day? And how is it that that’s not an outrage? How is it that our president could address us so eloquently because of the pandemic, does not address us every time the crime statistics come out, that have killed so much more people than. How is it that we have just accepted this idea that 20,000 people a year will be murdered in this country and no one no one bats an eyelid anymore. The crimes that come out, I don’t know what we should be doing, but we should be screaming; we should be screaming our lungs out to say it’s not okay that 57 people are killed every day in our country. 

I know people died in COVID and it was a terrible thing, but why did it get so much attention? Why could we lockdown the whole of society but the virus that is in our society all day, every day that is killing us and brutalising us – no one’s even mentioning anymore. I don’t understand that throughout the whole COVID thing, I was like, Wow. So, these guys can lockdown a whole society. They can ban alcohol; they can ban cigarettes. These people can do almost anything, but they can’t stop the gender-based violence and they can’t stop the murder and they can’t stop the crime. I understand these are difficult things to stop. No one is denying that. But where’s the drive to stop it? Where’s the will to stop it? That’s the thing that I don’t understand. 

70% of murder victims are from interpersonal crime and they are young males

The other extraordinary statistic in the film is that 70% of our murders are not even coming from what you would call crime. They’re coming from what they call interpersonal murders, where people are getting into an argument and having drunk too much and killing one another like that for me was a staggering statistic that 70% of our murders are coming from incidents like that. 

It’s always young males 18 to 35. Alcohol is usually involved and there’s some kind of dispute, some kind of anger. And this applies to GBV (gender-based violence) as well. We use this term male rage. What is the rage? The rage is often an inability to process emotion. So, your girlfriend leaves you, you feel humiliated, you feel betrayed. Whatever that feeling is, it’s not a nice feeling for any of us. That feeling; the processes aren’t there to properly deal with that feeling. That feeling becomes rage. Rage becomes violence, and violence can become murder. So, there’s not a criminal committing that act. That’s a normal person who is unable to deal with complex emotions. Whenever you see these stories about this person who shot this whole family or this person stabbed his girlfriend 25 times, you often hear people say he was the nicest guy. We knew him well. He was a sweet guy, until that moment that something happened that he was unable to deal with and it became murder. Now, if that is 70% of our murders, then that’s a very, very different conversation. 

Local distribution on SABC, but plans to take it to schools and internationally

With films like this, you’re looking to get them into the world in whatever way you can. SABC 3 was a partner of ours and it screened twice in South Africa. But, you know, there’s also loadshedding and whatever. So, we’ll be looking for other platforms to show it. We believe that it’s something that should be seen all over the country, particularly to young people. We’re looking at ways of getting it to schools, to screen it, to have discussions about it and to try and to try to start a conversation. We need to have this conversation. And yes, conversation is good, but if it ends in conversation, it’s not good. So, we’re really trying to use it as a provocation and, I guess, some kind of call to action, to society, to whoever, to try and look at these things in a deeper way and to try and find solutions that really matter, that really are effective.

We’re hoping to get it on to something like Netflix. You know, we have been talking to them. This is just the starting point for us but I have a feeling that the film would resonate as well, because if you look at the world at the moment, rage and particularly male rage, gender-based violence; these are not issues that are specific to us. Our murder rate is very high. Still not the highest, by the way. I think we come in at like seven or eight. I think the South Americans generally tend to be above us, but we’re out there. But I also think that the film would resonate in a discussion around some of these issues, because it’s the same in a lot of a lot of places in the world are experiencing very similar things., I think particularly kind of I don’t know if post-COVID or whatever, there’s so much rage.

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