THE jihadist insurgency in the far north of KwaZulu-Natal’s northern neighbour, Mozambique, was timely for film-maker and author Lukhanyo Sikwebu.
It came about just as he was trying to publish a novel about girls being kidnapped in Nigeria by Boko Haram, which, like its Mozambican counterparts, seeks to establish an Islamist state.
“I thought it needed to have a happy ending,” he told the Independent on Saturday.
Among the changes he thought would be necessary was to set it in another country. One which, like Nigeria, has a strong Muslim presence.
“I thought, Mozambique.”
Next minute, just over a year ago, attacks and mass beheadings by the group that sometimes calls itself al-Shabaab took place in the port town of Mocimboa da Praia, in the province of Cabo Delgado, which borders Tanzania.
“Cabo Delgado happened purely by chance,” said Sikwebu.
The main character, and heroine, in his debut novel Nine Hours is Naomi Mandisa Nel. The professional sniper plays a key role, with other operatives, in freeing schoolgirls who have been kidnapped and are being held in the thick forest, forced into slavery, either as wives or soldiers.
While men are involved in the operation that has international backing, Nine Hours is about women rescuing women.
“Gender issues are close to my heart,” said Sikwebu, adding that he was fortunate to have come from a family that had not suffered it.
“But the fact is that gender-based violence is such a problem in South Africa and that we seem to have no control over it.
“It breaks my heart that we are not solving this.
“So, I needed a heroine to show that something drastic needs to be done against gender-based violence.”
He said it was important for his action-packed thriller to create awareness without preaching, but rather entertaining.
“There is something intriguing about Naomi being the underdog, a beautiful woman who is going to ‒ murder you.”
Sikwebu has another bugbear in South Africa: corruption, both in the private sector and the government.
In Mozambique and Nigeria, he links the scourge to the existence of the jihadist groups, saying government corruption and military ineffectiveness have led to “these things running rampant until they are no longer in control”.
He said that, for some reason, he felt emotionally attached to the Boko Haram story.
“I felt sorry for the girls, who were unarmed and innocent. How pathetic I felt the government in Nigeria was. One hundred and twelve girls are still captured. From 2014, how ridiculous is it that it has not been resolved?”
He added that Boko Haram had been terrible to people in Nigeria.
“I was so intrigued that a terrorist organisation has so much power.”
Since writing Nine Hours, he has been watching developments in northern Mozambique even more closely.
Rwandan soldiers are now involved.
“They sound confident about getting rid of the insurgents. But the proof will be in the pudding when they leave.”
Sikwebu, who is based in East London, has written the scripts of two more books that he hopes will become a series of published novels featuring his female hero, Nel.
He has also written it as a script for a movie, a field in which has experience. He crafted the script for the movie uMalusi, which was screened by Ster Kinekor and Nu Metro, having first played at the Durban International Film Festival in 2008.
- Nine Hours
The Independent on Saturday