The lives of four individuals – Zodwa (Azwile Chamane-Madiba), a young girl in search of her mum who had migrated to Johannesburg in search of greener pastures, Zanelle (Zimkhitha Nyoka), Zodwa’s kinswoman, Nkulu (Msimang Sibusiso), who is sent by his family to the city to convey his father’s remains back to their hometown for burial, and Nhlanhla (Sihle Xaba), who hopes to make money by living and working with his cousin – are endangered by the unforeseen circumstances they face upon arrival in Johannesburg. 

Nigerian/South African filmmaker and actor Akin Omotoso (Man on Ground, Tell Me Sweet Something) tells a spellbinding story of the depravities that come from the penury and unruliness in inner cities where law enforcement is poor. 

Excellent execution

Vaya’s seven screenwriters do an impressive job, proving once again that collaboration in this art constantly produces laudable results. The riveting twists in the story and the interconnections between the characters are carefully plotted and well-integrated, leaving no room for banality. 

Photo: Courtesy of @vayathemovie/Facebook

Expectations are created and when it seems that things are going awry for some of the characters, the story goes in another direction. A good example is the scene where Zodwa goes to use the toilet and runs into a menacing stranger. The scheme cooked up by Nkulu’s father, Philip, is one of the flick’s most shocking  revelations.

The casting is cutting-edge: Nhalanhla’s cousin, Xolani (Warren Masemola), looks nefarious and whenever he appears on the screen the viewer feels helplessly numbed, knowing how he happily metes out cruelty to his victims. Nkulu and Zanelle appear guileless and inexperienced, filling the viewer with empathy for them.

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The cinematography is excellent and the choice of location could not have been better. Though the story is set in the ghetto, the director deploys fabulous camerawork in showing that Johannesburg is a city that comprises of highbrow districts, middle- and low-income communities, as well as slums.   

Costume and make-up are well employed too. For instance, it is difficult to recognise Nomonde Mbusi as Zodwa’s poverty-stricken mum, Thobeka, given that she was the belle of the ball in Tell Me Sweet Something.

Deductions and conclusions

Vaya, which means ‘move’ in the Tsotsi-taal language, exposes rural-urban migration in all its unpleasantness. Due to their social standing, the downtrodden amongst the population cannot afford good accommodation or other basic necessities and so are vulnerable candidates for all sorts of exploitation. 

Photo: Courtesy of @vayathemovie/Facebook

In the inner cities, more often than not, gangsters appropriate power to themselves and use it to dispense their own brand of ‘justice’ to hapless people for whom seeking redress is not an option. These indigent people are in danger of being bullied or killed by the gangs if they report the cases to the police or try to institute legal action, which usually ends with little or no penalty to the bandits.

Vaya tells a story without haranguing or sounding didactic.

Vaya tells a story without haranguing or sounding didactic. Yet, a discerning viewer will decipher the salient points that the film makes. One of these points is that the speedy dispensation of justice and the adequate protection of vulnerable persons by law enforcement agents would curb the impunity with which lawless people operate in these societies. The film is clear that massive rural-urban migration in countries with high rates of unemployment simply leads to chaos.

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The film is clear that massive rural-urban migration in countries with high rates of unemployment simply leads to chaos.

Needless to say, Vaya deserves all the awards, honourable mentions and nominations it has received so far – just as it merits its place in the various film festivals for which it has been selected. Kudos to Akin Omotoso and his indefatigable team who worked on this project for several years. It is worth all the effort and time.