The South African comedian and filmmaker tells it like it is at Design Indaba
Kagiso Lediga will make you laugh, and then think a little bit, and perhaps you’ll wipe the odd tear you’re your eye, too. The South African comedian, actor, writer and director has been a pioneer for home-grown storytelling since he first started out in Cape Town’s comedy clubs some 20 years ago. He went on break barriers on TV screens, notably with The Pure Monate Show and then Late Nite News with Loyiso Gola. More recently he’s conquered the movies too with 2017’s dark comedy Catching Feelings, which went on to become a Netflix Original, and this year with Matwetwe (Wizard), a coming of age romp set in the township of Atteridgeville.
The movie, made in three weeks and backed by DJ Black Coffee, follows two teenagers, Lefa and Papi, as their talents for growing good weed and hustling sets them up for a dare-devilling, king pin-dodging, girl-getting New Year’s Eve to remember. It was an instant box office smash upon its release in February. Tragically, one of the lead actors, Sibusiso Khwinana, was stabbed and killed during a street mugging in Pretoria in March. The assailant was after his mobile phone but took Khwinana’s life too. This month the budding star has been remembered as Pretoria’s State Theatre renames one of its theatres after him.
This interview with Lediga was conducted at Design Indaba festival just before this awful crime, where Lediga screened Matwetwe and gave Nataal the scoop the art of ‘it’s funny because it’s true.’
Tell us about the making of Matwetwe.
It’s set in a township where I went to pre-school and for me it’s a romantic place where my grandmother lived and did grandmotherly miracles. It has such a history, a great texture and a level of cool. It’s a storied joint. I found my leads at the State Theatre in Pretoria, we did some workshopping to develop the script and then the filming took just eight days over Christmas. The compactness of the production suits the story, which happens in one day. There’s something good in not making the process extremely difficult.
How did you get Black Coffee on board as co-producer?
We had permission to use one of his tracks but hadn’t paid for it. We took it to a couple of film festivals and people started tweeting about the music so I got scared he was going to get his lawyers on my arse. So I thought hey, Black Coffee has great taste, I’m going to show him the film. So I did, and he put in the money to finish the film and he’s been awesome. One night he showed it to some of his friends at his house. His friends turned out to be some of the coolest radio, music and film personalities in South Africa, and right away the trailer started trending. That’s the power of Black Coffee.
Why has the film resonated so well?
Township movies are usually about hardships, violence, rape... But this is a caper, it’s about weed smoking township kids. People just love it. The question I always ask is, how do I represent a common narrative about who we are? And what I’ve learnt is, don’t go to far when you tell your story. Whether it’s TV, movies or a stage show, your story has to have an edge, it has to be honest, and it has to relate to your lived experience.
How healthy is the South African comedy scene today?
It’s huge. When I was starting out, there were no more than ten comedians, and it was a pretty rock & roll thing for a black dude to be doing. Now I go to clubs and there’s hundreds of comedians, and there are Instagram stars, and you’re discovering new talent all the time. Before it was a small pond. Now it’s huge, and there’s an international edge to it too with guys like Trevor Noah and Loyiso Gola.
Your next project is Queen Sono for Netflix starring Pearl Thusi. What's it all about?
It’s a pan African spy series, and the first Netflix series from Africa. She is a modern, kick ass spy, who is very physical and very clever. It was important that the character is a female because of what females have gone through in this country and on this continent, and continue to go through. This spy can really fuck you up. Then the history of South Africa comes into it via the organisation she works for, which relates to nuclear disarmament, state capture, corruption, Jacob Zuma and all of that. There will be lots of intrigue and adventure.