When people are determined they can overcome anything — Nelson Mandela

Ronnie Apteker
5 min readMar 8, 2021

One of the biggest issues in South Africa is that of violent crime. Most people will say it is the single biggest issue. There are 57 murders a day in SA. And that is not ok. Just about everyone you know in SA has a crime story. It is often hard to believe. When I tell people here in Kyiv about some of these stories they just stare at me in disbelief.

We have been busy over the past year and a half crafting a documentary about violent crime in South Africa. We are calling it “57”. This is our first attempt at a documentary feature film and the learning has been intense. I saw the first director’s cut this weekend and I was seriously moved. I would not call it light entertainment as the subject matter is very hard. Talking about violence is not a fun thing at all. Having said that, the film is highly compelling and it moves at a fantastic pace, and is packed with insight. This is an important piece of work with great purpose.

They say that luck favours the persistent, and this film has been so challenging that there were often times we thought we were at the end of the road. But we did not give up, and when I watched the cut this weekend I was seriously inspired. As our first documentary project we choose an extremely difficult subject to tackle, so it is a relief that the film is now at a place where it can soon be shown to prospective distributors and we are confident that it will capture their imaginations.

One point that is worth sharing is about the corona crises and how it stacks up against the epidemic of violent crime. With the rollout of vaccines and preventative measures (such as masks and social distancing), the number of corona deaths will most likely decrease, but the violent crime figures are on the rise. How come then there has been such a mobilization in SA around corona but when it comes to violent crime people appear to be numb. Surely if the same effort that has been applied to the corona crises would be given to addressing the violence issue, then perhaps the story of “57” could one day be more the story of zero. Yes, we got to get that number down.

57 synopsis

Matwetwe, a coming-of-age adventure set in the iconic township of Atteridgeville, was released on the 25th January 2019. It pulled in an impressive R 980 762 within it’s first three days of release. It went on to make another million in the next 5 days. On Friday the 1st March, Matwetwe’s lead actor Sibusiso Khwinana was stabbed to death in Pretoria — over a cellphone.

Our feature-length documentary will be centred around the violent and relentless crime we as South Africans face on a daily basis. It’s a monstrous enemy; an enemy that has no preference in terms of age, gender, race or social standing; that attacks all walks of life. Sibusiso’s tragic passing will not only provide the emotional preface for the first act, it will be a thread that we will intermittently reference through the course of the feature.

Statistics suggest a state that is closer to a war zone than a country with a civilian crime issue. That said, we are not looking to create a shock-driven, investigative journalism-styled exposé. Rather we want to focus more on the state of our nation’s internal spirit and ways in which we can steer our country toward a more positive and hopeful destiny. This will be a contemporary, modern and refreshing look at who we really are as South Africans; our individual and communal identities, and how together we can look at real and pragmatic solutions in facing this common enemy.

This documentary aims to open a conversation, unearth insights, and hopefully begin to demystify the madness that is currently consuming and suffocating our nation. In order to forge a way forward, we will need to unpack our past, dissect our present, and light a path toward our future. To do this, we will need to hear from historians, head of crime fighting units, politicians, psychologists, violent crime cleaning services, down-on-the-ground crime counsellors and, of course, from the people of our nation who have suffered at the hands of this merciless enemy. We will track stories, trace socio-historical influences and attempt to understand the mechanics behind the atrocities. We will listen to victims who have forgiven their attackers, and to those who have not. We will hear testimonies from the criminals themselves. And through it all, we will relentlessly hunt for solutions… Maybe, just maybe, significant insights will bubble to the surface — insights that will at least help build a foundation of understanding, that could in turn lead to a potential counter strategy.

We suspect that the reasons for the chronic levels of crime in our country are far more complex and layered than what we think we know; and that the solutions many of us currently believe would make a difference are desperately outmoded. Solutions like “we need more policing”. Our chequered, convoluted and unique history as a country demands a far more multi-pronged solutions strategy. Solutions that we need to unite on, construct together and, at the very least, talk about. And that we need to talk about now.

Returning sporadically to the narrative heartline of Sibusiso’s passing, we will continue bringing the story back from the macro to the micro, from the nation to the individual. Through the testimonials of his colleagues, friends and family, we hope to uncover how the aftermath of such a tragedy has had such devastating and far-reaching impact on the lives of those closest to him; how the passion and spirit of a young man at the cusp of realising his dream could be so senselessly ended, and the ripple effect that this cruel metamorphosis of dream-to-nightmare has had on those around him. It’s a film that we hope will help turn depression into hope, suffocation into inspiration, victimisation into empowerment.