Tuesday 13 April 2021
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Lost Tongue: an award winning story in the Kalahari

Lost Tongue: an award winning story in the Kalahari

A journey that started in rural Chiredzi’ Zimbabwe, has unearthed footprints for a lasting legacy in African visual story-telling landscape.

The 35 year-old documentary films director and writer Davison Mudzingwa’s tough upbringing in a typical African village, steered his determination to have a nose for rich stories that have changed the international film spectrum forever.

“I relate easily to challenging situations because I came across them in my childhood, being raised by a single parent was not easy. But my mother did all her best to provide for me, working in sugarcane was the only sustainable way in Chiredzi and we made it” Mudzingwa explains.


“Those experiences prepared me to go out there and strive for issues that affect people’s lives,”Mudzingwa reckons.

It is such mentality that led Mudzingwa to find a unique story buried in the sands of the Kalahari desert’ that won an international film award on premiere in New York this year. Named ‘surprise’ film at New York’s Socially Relevant Film Festival, Women Critics Movement reckoned that out of the thousand films entered’ Lost Tongue, deserved the prestigious award.

Lost Tongue is an award winning documentary about rescuing a Southern African Language from extinction. The Nu/u language is believed to be 25 000 years old and for a San community in the Northern Cape, democracy in South Africa has brought little improvements to their way of life. They fear the death of their culture that can lead to disappearance of their language.

“The small group is determined to keep the nu/u language alive through struggle against the apathy of their community and government bureaucracy. One of the leaders is acknowledged as the Queen of Khoisan, will the dawn of her coronation herald a new chapter in their struggle and will it be sufficient to ensure that neither their culture or language are rendered extinct? He explained the storyline.

“When I started filming in Cape Town my first project was called Rolling Jets, on people who lived on the periphery of the Cape Town airport in 2012.

Then Bush Trail followed about a lady on a journey back to Kalahari that encouraged me to sow the seeds for Lost Tongue.

“Chiredzi’s hot conditions are not far different from those in the Kalahari, I know how it feels and relate easily to experiences, I easily adapted,” he added.

Mudzingwa was surprised that the Khoisan group spoke Afrikaans and looked modernised.

Upon ground research he came across Helena Steenkamp who was on a path to unravel personal issues affecting her identity.

“I followed her trail of seeking answers at both personal and national level.

The passion is like blind passion you don’t know where the story is going to lead you and we found out that the language is spoken by only four remaining elders in Northern Cape. We had to prove this story to the world urgently, out of the four elders right now we are only left with three,” he said.

Lost Tongue after such impressive debut in New York came back to Africa and did well at 37TH Durban International Film Festival, Zanzibar International Film Festival before appearing at the Indie Karoo Film Festival and ReelHeART International Film in Toronto.

Dates set shows that this will be fully booked until February 2017 in countries like Czech Republic and Sweden.

“We had to be innovative in terms of logistics we had to be housed in local houses. We crossed across three countries into South Africa, Namibia and Botswana while filming and the experience was just amazing we noticed the three nations share a very rich culture.

“In pre-production we made a number of trips for researching and we accomplished it in four months along with the urgency of the story.

Not only is this community affected but a lot of other smaller communities, it’s a bigger challenge.

“After the Women Film Critics Award we also got the Film heart and we now look forward to SAFTAS. The opportunity to screen in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban gave us good analyses for everyone to come up with several angles.

After watching the film people start to question their own cultures. It’s just the beginning for Lost Tongue we want the story to go on for centuries,”Mudzingwa added.

He is working on showing it in neighbouring countries, in schools and universities as part of the Lost Tongue Legacy Project.

A multi-media film center for the Kalahari community will be opened so that the language is digitalized.

“Even when elders are gone, we will still learn, so this is relevant now and beyond. Life experiences in Zimbabwe taught me film but I formally schooled in Cape Town. It’s an evolution, its art and as Mvura yaAfrica (Production company), we would like to work on a number of documentaries that reflect and give value to the lives of people in Africa”he added.


“Travelling makes you a richer person, whether you are in Mali or Tanzania. I’m more passionate about telling African stories. I enjoy finding those untold and sharing them as a way of preserving our culture, there is a reawakening happening on the African continent,” He continued.

Mudzingwa is of the opinion that identified that African stories are not being exposed enough and encouraged governments to invest in local stories.

“South Africa has a better pedestal in terms of funding arts projects and there is need to follow up on their efforts across the continent particularly Southern Africa to expose our stories enough,” he says.

Kalahari hospitality made him feel at home as they were easily accommodated something that is rare in big cities.

“Wherever I have been in Africa you are welcomed by warm people” says Mudzingwa. He is currently working on a Zimbabwean environmental documentary based on the story of a farmer called Bitter Sugar that has been in production since 2012 due to be released next year.

He speaks at least 12 African languages after feeling the warmth of the continent.


A talented journalist who has worked at various established newsrooms since 2010 including Catholic Church News, Newsday, The Herald, The Sunday Mail in Zimbabwe before settling as a Freelancer in the Soweto Community. Possessed with a wide range of articles portfolio from news, features, arts and sports with major highlights in coverage of Nelson Mandela Memorial, DrumBeat Festival, OR Tambo Melting Pot, SA/UK Arts Seasons, Premier Skills Tournament, government events in South Africa, IRB International matches and Super Rugby.