Beat the Drum (2003)




Director:     David Hickson. 

Starring:     Junior Singo (Musa),  Mary Twala (Ntombi),  Adelaide Shabalala (Village Sangoma),  Lennox Matheboe (Ayize),  Bhekhimusi Mkize (Stick Fighting Kid #1),  Thulani Xolo (Stick Fighting Kid #2),  Glen Gabela (Teacher),  Dinco Nchebeleng (Thandi),  Jeremiah Ndlovu (Village Elder),  Elliot Makhubo (Village Man),  Lindelani Buthelezi (Truckstop Owner),  Pumi Mkuwanazi (Prostitute),  Owen Sejake (Nobe),  Maurice Carpede (Tumisho),  Clive Scott (Pieter).

a Zulu boy whose village has been devastated by AIDS goes to Johannesburg to find his long-lost uncle.  Actors Junior Singo, Owen Sejake. 


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

Musa has lost his mother and he sits by her grave.  Grandmother calls out for him and scolds him for not doing his chores.  She needs help with his father.  Musa takes his time going to the house.  He stops to say hello to his beloved cow.  The sangoma has come to try to cure father.  There is a mysterious illness going around and Grandmother thinks it is a matter of witchcraft.  The sangoma says it's because her family is cursed.  Grandmother asks for help with getting rid of the curse.  Musa tries to feed his father, but he is too ill to eat.   Father gives Musa a drum that he made for him.

The sangoma tells Grandmother that the father has neglected his female grandmother and a sacrifice must be performed to atone for this soon before it is too late.  Grandmother comes in and tells Musa to go find his cousin Thandi because she is late coming home from school.  Musa has to walk past a group of boys who tell him to get lost because he and his family are bewitched.  They chase him away with the threat of force.  Musa gets to the school and the teacher is very curt with him.  The school teacher probably has AIDS as he tries to hide the blotches on his arms from Musa.  Inside the school the cousin is buttoning her blouse and straightening her skirt.  The implication is that the teacher has just had sex with her.   When she is dressed she comes out to her cousin.  As they walk home, Musa asks her why she had to stay after school.  She only says that she wants her father.  Her father, however, is away working. 

Grandmother and the sangoma with the help of two men sacrifice a goat to take away the curse.  Musa runs to see what is going on and he arrives just in time to see the man with the knife kill his cherished cow.  And on top of all these woes, Musa's father dies.

After his father's burial, Musa tells Grandmother that he is going to go to the city to find work.  He says he will go to Johannesburg and find Uncle Majola.  Uncle will help them.  Grandmother agrees to let him go.  Thandi gives him a bracelet she made.  When it naturally falls of, it will mean something could will happen for Musa.   She also asks him to please find her father. 

It's a long way to Johannesburg.  On the way he passes some rhinoceroses and a giraffe.  He finally reaches a highway.  He comes across a roadside store where there are lots of people.  A prostitute waves at potential customers from the side of the road. He asks two men to take him to Johannesburg, but one of them is the store owner and he chases Musa away telling him not to bother his customers.   So Musa stows away on a truck being driven by the other man.  When the driver stops to fix the tarp over his back-end, he discovers the boy.  He puts him on the ground by the side of the road and then takes off again.  Musa sees his drum still on the truck, so he chases after it while screaming"  "Wait!"  The guy stops to ask what he wants.  Musa tells him.  The guy finally decides to give him a ride.  Musa hops into the front seat. 

The truck driver says his name is Nobe.  Nobe warns Musa about the bad things in the city that could hurt him and that he should avoid.  They drive through the night and reach the big city in the morning.  Nobe drives to the trucking firm.  The white boss Mr. Botha  is upset because he has learned that there has been still another hijacking of one of his trucks by a street gang.  He says that these street gangs are out of control.  He speaks with his son Stefan Botha, who is another source of frustration for him.  The boss complains about having paid for his son's law education and then he deciding not to use his degree.  The son doesn't say much.  Dad notices another one of his employees suffering from the unknown disease plaguing Africa.  Then he sees Nobe with Musa and he chases Musa out of his business saying that he is just another street kid.  Nobe worries what will happen to Musa. 

Musa walks the city streets,  He is intrigued by all the different sights he sees.  He asks random people on the street if they know his uncle.  No one answers yes.  Nobe goes home to his wife and children.  At night a street gang finds Musa sleeping.  The leader Tyrone tells him to to find another place to sleep. 

There are some health workers trying to inform the women of Johannesburg about the true nature of the disease they are dealing with.  There is a lot of misinformation among the city residents.  Nobe says that he is tired of hearing about the sickness.  His wife asks him about his trip and he tells her about Musa.  She comments that there are thousands of kids in the same situation on the streets.  Nobe says it would be nice to have a boy of their own.  His wife takes out a condom that she got from the health workers and says she wants him to wear it, if they are to have sex.  But Nobe doesn't want to wear a condom.  So his wife just walks away from him. 

Nobe's wife is armed with true information now and she refutes some of Nobe's excuses.  He says condoms may themselves cause the sickness and that you can tell if someone has the sickness.  The wife corrects both misconceptions.  She begs her husband, who is on hte road a lot, to please not bring the sickness into their home.

Musa sees streets kids being handed food by a young woman known as Francis.  He gets in line for breakfast.  Francis says she never saw him before and asks his name.  Musa.  Nearby the street gang that ran into Musa descend on a fruit vendor grabbing fruit and running away with it.   A little later the leader just comes by sauntering past the vendor. 

A young girl named Letti runs into Musa and talks to him.  She learns he is new on the street, so she tells him to watch what she does.  She grabs a purse from a white female tourist, but the guide grabs her and slaps her twice across the face.  Letti says that she will bite him and she has AIDS.  The tour guide quickly releases her and steps backwards.  Letti says that Musa better learn quick that you have to steal to survive. 

Musa starts washing windshields of cars stopped at traffic lights to get some money.   When he sees Letti, he tells her that he can earn money without stealing.  She laughs at him because it is so little money.  Letti also tells him that the prospects of him finding his uncle in this humongous city are slim to none.  She has to go because the street gang is calling for her. 

Stefan talks with Francis.  He is moving out of the office he has there.  Francis says she wishes he would stay, but he says she is going to need the room because soon she will be swamped by children.  Stefan says he just wishes his father would understand what he is doing.  He used to be very supportive, but now he only cares about his business. 

Letti and Musa hang out.  Later Musa passes by a playground with lots of happy children.  He, of course, feels envious of what they have.   Walking on the streets at night he sees the gang leader of the street gang bothering Letti.  He runs at the leader, grabs him and tells him to leave her alone.  The leader says he is getting tired of Musa, but his attention is distracted by someone choking.  Lettie grabs Musa's hands and they run out of there.  She takes Musa to where she "lives" under a bridge.  He asks her about AIDS.  She tells him about it.  He then asks her if she has it.  She says no.  She promised her mother before she died of AIDS to stay a virgin until she married. 

Stefan is sick.  Francis finds him slumped over his desk and has him taken to the hospital.  Mr. Botha goes to the hospital.  When he walks over to his son, Francis is already there.  She introduces herself and says that Stefan has been helping her at the orphanage.  Dad asks what's wrong and Stefan tells him he is HIV positive.  The doctor tells the father that Stefan actually has full-blown AIDS.  And now he has a bacterial infection that could kill him. 

Musa can't find Letti anywhere.  He searches and asks people if they have seen her.  Everyone says no.  Then Musa spots on the ground her white and red bracelet that her mother gave her before her death.  Musa confronts the gang leader Tyrone demanding to know what he did with Letti.  Tyrone just pushes him down and robs him of what little money he has made from his job. 

Musa is very depressed over the loss of Letti.  He sits with his back to a tree.  In his truck Nobe sees Musa and he yells to him.  Musa is so depressed that Nobe has to keep pleading with him to take a ride with him.  He promises him some food if he comes and helps him.  Musa finally gets up and gets in the truck.  Nobe asks him what happened, but Musa won't tell.  He asks him again and he tells Nobe that his friend Letti is missing.  They drive into the night. 

Nobe stops to rest where there are lots of trucks pulled off onto the grass by the side of the road.  Nobe's friend Joe comes to see him.  All the trucks seem to have fires lit near them.  And there are a lot of prostitutes there too.  Joe says he is going to get a free one if he helps a prostitute do something she needs done.  Nobe says for him to be careful because he could catch the disease and die.  Joe says everyone has to die sometime, and, besides, if he catches it from this woman, he'll give it to every woman he knows. 

At the hospital Francis tells Mr. Botha to come over to the window.  There is a group of blacks holding lit candles and singing songs in honor of Stefan, who has done so much for them. 

Musa helps Nobe unload fruit to a store.

The doctor tells Mr. Botha that Stefan is not responding to the medicine as well as they hoped. 

Musa realizes that Nobe is now taking him to his little village.  He says he doesn't want to go home because he has not found his uncle and he does not have a cow.  Nobe says that he can just go for a visit.  Musa takes Nobe with him.  Grandmother says she didn't know where Musa went.  Musa gives her the little bit of money he has earned and saved, but Nobe supplements it with enough money for her to buy a cow.  Thandi tells Musa that the school teacher is in the hospital and is expected to die.

Musa goes to see the village elder.  The elder sees him outside, but does not let him enter.  So Musa patiently waits for him.  When the man finally comes out, Musa is right there waiting for him.  The village elder asks why is he such a nuisance?  Musa says it's because he was in the city and he learned what is making the village people sick.  The elder is interested.  Musa tells him there are ways they can prevent getting AIDs and they should tell the people.  The elder thinks it's some form of magic, but Musa tells him it's a disease.  The elder, however, will go no farther than this.  He says the villagers will not speak of it and for Musa to leave. 

Musa goes home.  He stops to listen to Grandmother talking.  She tells Nobe to please take Musa to raise because she can't take having to take care of even one more child.  He comes in and tells Grandmother that Nobe and he must go back to the city to work.   Thandi asks when they will see him again.  He only says:  "Someday soon."   He shows her that he still has her bracelet on his wrist. 

At the hospital Stefan dies. 

Nobe brings Musa to his home, but his wife tells him that his sister just died and now she has two additional young children to take care of.  She is not happy to see Musa with Nobe.  Nobe gets angry, throws up his hands and tells her to just do as she pleases.  He goes to get drunk.  Musa tags along but stays outside.  Coming out of the bar Nobe bumps into a man and tells him to watch where he's going.  The man is his pastor.  Nobe apologizes and the pastor has him come to the church to speak with him.  It's the disease, Nobe says.  His sister just died from it.  He figures there must be some way to fight the disease.  The pastor says the problem is that no one will speak of AIDS. 

Nobe and Musa go down the street beating the drums telling people to come to the church.  Nobe speaks about the disease.  People start to walk out when Nobe mentions AIDS.  The pastor speaks up and says that it is a sin to ignore the disease.  Now they have the congregation's attention.  The congregation even starts singing.  Nobe sees his wife come in to church with all the children. 

In the morning in the truck with Nobe, Musa tells him it was a good thing he did last night.  Nobe says it feels good to tell the truth.  And now he tells Musa that he is going to take him to the shelter where he can get off the streets.  Musa jumps out of the truck and starts running away.  Nobe yells for him to come back, but he just keeps running.  Musa goes back to washing windows.  He runs into Mr. Botha again, but this time the elderly man gives him some money.  And suddenly Musa's bracelet falls off his wrist, which is supposed to be a sign of good things to come.  Nobe drives all around the area asking for the whereabouts of Musa.   

Francis comes in to see Mr. Botha.  She has brought him Stefan's personal items from the office he used.  Francis also tells him:  "Even though Stefan knew he was dying, he fought to make something of his life."  Mr. Botha tells her slowly:  "I know." 

Mr. Botha gathers his employees all together.  He says that his son recently died of AIDS.  The boss says, therefore, there will be AIDS testing and counseling for all his employees and their families.  If anybody does have AIDS, they will still have their jobs and the firm will do their very best to help them.  Nobe is the first non-manager or managerial assistant to step up to be tested.  Slowly more and more men join the line.  After work Mr. Botha sees Nobe and thanks him for being the first of the regular guys to volunteer to be tested.  Nobe uses this opportunity to ask for help with Musa. 

Nobe and Botha find Musa.  They have bad news about his uncle.  He has been shot and killed.  Uncle Mojala actually worked in another location but for the Botha firm.  He was killed trying to stop a crime against the company.  But the to men also say they have good news.  Mr. Botha asks him how would he like to live in a good place where he can be off the streets, have access to a playground and get an education?  Great!  Nobe and Botha take Musa to the orphanage run by Francis.  Musa is thrilled when he sees Francis, because he remembers that she is the one who gave him bread.  And Francis shows Musa the playground that Musa would sometimes walk through, envying the good fortune of the children there.  Musa gives Nobe a big hug and tells him thank you for everything.  He goes to play and finds Letti there.  She rushes to him and they hug..  Francis tells Nobe and Botha that Letti had been beaten badly and left for dead.  Musa gives Letti her red and white bracelet.  She cries and Musa tells her:  "Don't cry Ti!  It's a brand new day."

Good movie about a very serious problem:  AIDS.  The disease has devastated much of Africa.  The movie emphasizes the depth of the problem and the difficulties of overcoming the wish of the people not to talk about the disease.  The film shows the problem through the eyes of a young boy named Musa.  His village has been devastated by AIDS and the villagers know so little that they think it is some form of witchcraft.  After Musa loses his father and mother and a baby brother, he goes to the big city to find his uncle and earn some money.  But life in the city is a mean existence for a street kid, which Musa finds out very quickly.  It's through friendship with a truck driver and a young girl that Musa is able to find his way.   Junior Singo (Musa) and Owen Sejake (Nobe) were very good in their roles. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


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