Here’s a quick elevator pitch, as they say in the creative industries. In South Africa we say “lift” but that doesn’t sound as glamorous as “elevator”.
We could, however, popularise the “escalator pitch” – so consider it that. An escalator pitch during load shedding in a mall.
Now listen: A former president’s most trusted spy has vanished, along with bundles of crisp, untraceable piles of cash, government-issue firearms and ammunition, possibly a plane and access to networks of off-the-books trained agents.
He has enough fake IDs to make Thabo Bester or Carlos the Jackal look like amateurs.
How long will Silence Dlamini outwit, outsmart and outplay the system?
Will he succeed in destroying a 100-year-old liberation movement? Or will it do so all by itself?
The deep dive
Feel free to participate from here onwards – either electing to be on the judging panel or on the very enthusiastic pitch team. Shape the thumb and forefinger of each hand into a viewfinder of a camera and pretend you are Spike Lee, Jane Campion or Stanley Kubrick.
We open with a scene of six collapsed electricity pylons, the grainy film effect makes it look timeless. It could be June 1964 when five pylons were blown up across South Africa, three around Cape Town and two in Johannesburg. Or maybe 1981, when two limpet mines destroyed two transformers, or the Pietermaritzburg felling of two pylons in 1983.
But we see from the vehicles and officials parked at the scene that this is 2023, present-day South Africa, alive with possibility when the lights are on for long enough.
The pylons lie like twisted industrial age beasts blocking a main highway in an economic hub of the region, Tshwane.
“Vandalism,” officials say into the camera, common old everyday vandalism.
The working title for the movie could be “Hyena Dusk”, or “Hyena Dawn Reloaded” (with a nod to Christopher Sherlock).
The usual suspects
Our main protagonist is a former president with a lifelong penchant for easy money, tax evasion, corruption, fraud, womanising and generally unaccountable behaviour. He is running out of road, with the law breathing down his geriatric neck. He can only stall for so long before… before…
A Donald Trump-type homunculus might spring immediately to mind as the force unleashed in our epic political thriller. But no, everyone’s been there, done that.
We are bone-weary of the same old formulaic US of A pablum that passes for “popular culture” from a country that imagines itself to be free, THE land of THE free, in fact.
For those who seek intellectual depth in their films, the overall feel of “Hyena Dawn/Dusk” will be a subtle nod to a modern age that has enabled “a flea in a matchbox” to look around and “declare itself jailer of the universe”, as Scottish novelist Alasdair Gray wrote in his 1981 political satire Lanark.
Though the word “intellectual” might put some off, don’t despair; it will have enough visceral fear and mayhem to keep the box office ticking.
Location unknown: Camera moves to a close-up of a man, in a suit, walking away from his car in a gloomy parking lot. It is Silence Dlamini; he walks like Vladimir Putin, one arm to his side, ready to reach for his gun.
After mounds of highly incriminating evidence presented to a High-Level Panel Review and a sensational live broadcast of a commission of inquiry into the capture of the state, Silence Dlamini still finds himself a free man.
In the meantime, while hiding in the open, he pens a spiritual survival guide, Close Encounter. This is not an account of how he has remained a fugitive from the law, accused of treason no less, while remaining in close contact with the former president who hand-picked him for the job.
It is more than that; it is a spiritual lodestar.
A disclaimer while we linger on the escalator. Any resemblance to a true-life character is purely coincidental. Life is so ridiculous you cannot make it up.
Dlamini is doing hot sales flogging his book online. Can readers, or human beings in general, “know what the future holds for mankind? Is there a way to prepare for an uncertain future?” he asks.
In the real world, the professionals left standing would tell you, yes of course. A functional State Security Agency and other government intelligence bodies would have sniffed an insurrection in a toilet booth.
Dlamini promises his book “reveals secrets that will help you get ready for a certain future. Who have you encountered? Who is in your inner circle? Who should you encounter to change the trajectory of your life?”
In “Hyena Dawn/Dusk”, Dlamini encounters no one. No law enforcement, no National Prosecuting Authority, nada. In fact, who he does encounter is the former head of the State Security Agency, Farthur Acer, who is also an ally of the former president.
So, no fucks to give generally all round. There is a jauntiness to our villains, a confidence so attractive to those regions of the brain shut down to reason.
The former president, in the meantime, has regained full control of his bodily functions after a nasty turn in jail, when the good guys in the movie, busy off-stage at this point, briefly detained him.
Then a totally unexpected and surprising insurrection happens. We see a lot of violence, murder, bloodthirst and fire. Fire everywhere. The president’s daughter, holding a bottle of RET finest, dances in the flames.
We’re almost at the top
At this point you might be wondering where all this is going. So are we, which is why we are here. We need a vision beyond this opening.
With Farthur Acer retired to an unknown destination with an off-the-grid humming intelligence network plugged into dial-a-thug dark web universe, anything is possible.
With the former president campaigning for students and with Silence Dlamini lord of an armed and dangerous parallel universe, where to go?
Closing scene of part one: refineries on fire, assassinations, railway tracks destroyed, power substations “vandalised”, malware posted to the IT of a major port; Parliament ablaze, politicians washing their hands in French champagne.
Will Silence Dlamini and Farthur Acer remain the invisible men?
Will their network, champing for a revolution since lying idle for years dealing with the unreasonable demands of democracy, eventually triumph?
Part Two: The Constitution gets dressed for battle. DM168
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R25.