A Walk with Angels (2020) Locarno Film Festival

August 7th, 2021
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir.: Tomasz Wysokinski; Documentary with Jeremaiah Marobyane, Thandi Mbatha, Louisa Mbatha, Ma Mbatha; Poland 2021, 84 min.

Polish director Tomasz Wysokinski spent four years in the shanti Town of Kliptown, Soweto for this labour of love that follows ex-child soldier and civil war commander Jeremaiah Marobyaneon on his search for missing children. “Every sixty minutes a child is lost in South Africa” is the cruel premise of the raw and resonant documentary.

The focus is his search for Angie, kidnapped six months previously from her mother Thandi Mbatha and her family. Jeremaiah sets out on gruelling mission during which he’ll come across, always coming across children exposed to violence on an everyday basis. Soweto is a hotbed of superstition and Satanists are actively kidnapping kids for ritual execution. The members of the local show clear signs of mental disorder: “by day I am a boy, but at night a girl ‘they’ want to use”.

The perpetrators practising exorcism, “taking the genital parts from the babies, like penis and testicles from boys and breasts from girls”. The cult members are convinced that “demon power will give them power to kill”. Meanwhile, Jeremaiah has arrived in the small town of Witbank where he is told that Angie is no longer alive is told, and that the witch doctors have got hold of her. Unperturbed, he pushes on further to Johannesburg, a city “which looks good in the glittering lights from a distance”, but when he arrives we see colonies of children sleeping in the streets. In the borough of Hillbrow, Jeremaiah puts up the poster of Angie, who has a distinct birthmark near her eye. The children, sleeping in boxes on the pavement, go through the rubbish in the day time, often finding the corpses of babies. One shot is particularly disturbing. “The witch doctors crush the babies, mix their blood with herbal medicine and throw them into pots while they are still alive.

Finally, Jeremaiah finds a young woman who has interviewed Angie’s father Mbengeni, who apparently confessed to having abducted his daughter. Undeterred, and walking with the titular angels, Jeremaiah makes his way to meet Mbengeni.

This no-frills documentary is highly disturbing and makes for a grim watch. It shows a South Africa still suffering from abject poverty and dangerous superstition. Jeremiah is well aware that “Apartheid has destroyed South Africa’s people”, causing bitter conflict between the various factions, but the total absence of state intervention points to some serious underlying reason for this discord.

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2021

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