Review: Days of Cannibalism (2020)

As a school kid in a socialist country, I was told that “America and England will become proletarian one day”, with workers in western countries rising to take control over their workplaces and lives.

From today’s perspective, I am less surprised that such a thing never happened than about what has become of former, or still officially socialist countries which turned their people into slaves of the greedy few protected by corrupt authorities. Having said that, I don’t think that anyone sees China as a communist country anymore (except maybe Americans) even if its governing Communist party tries to protect the lie with an iron fist. With its economic power that had spread far beyond the country’s geographical borders by exploiting its own people, the class difference in China deepened, forcing many to immigrate in search of their own material stability. At the same time, “Made in China” is getting replaced by “Made the Chinese way” as we recently had the opportunity to see in the Academy awarded documentary “The American Factory”. The East is conquering all three other cardinal points of the Earth. 

In his fifth feature length documentary Days of Cannibalism that has just had its world premiere in the Panorama Dokumente section of the Berlinale, Teboho Edkins is showing a unique picture of globalization in Lesotho’s Thaba-Tseka district, where Chinese companies build factories by exploiting former miners as the local cheap labour. At the same time, he is following the attempts of a couple of Chinese families to establish their small-scale businesses in the community: a supermarket, a farm and a retailer company. As the film progresses, the universal globalization rule proves true for the billionth time – the corporate machine won’t care about the resentment of people who are in dare need of jobs, but the small people who left everything behind in China to make a more prosperous living, the depressed and alienated, will. But also, Days of Cannibalism shows that the justified anger by the exploited transforms them into the mirror image of what they despise the most – the oppressors of innocent. The film bears, after all, additional title that contains the main ingredients of Edkins’ portrait of  Thaba-Tseka – Of Pioneers, Cows and Capital, with the documentary’s narrative essentially being a journey into the nucleus of problems surrounding the clash between the local ethnic identity and the emergence of foreign cultures. 

Fears over “foreign invasion” that might jeopardize the way of life in the district are exchanged on-air on the “Mojodi FM” Radio station, whose moderator comments about “many Indians in Buthe -Buthe who haven’t assimilated to the Mosotho life-style”, adding that now the country “even has Chinese.” Maybe the most shocking are similarities between what is said on the radio about the newcomers and the anti-foreign wording used across Europe. Just like the world economy, xenophobia is also globalized. 

That the rural Basotha community isn’t very welcoming comes from their simple way of life, and the belief that the newcomers are wealthy. Even greater is their fear that the Chinese might try to overtake the mountain enclosures with animals. For the people in the region, animals are the most precious possession, especially the cows. Herders sing them songs of praise, they give them names, and they know exactly how much each of them is worth. Consequently, the biggest crime in the area is cattle theft which is severely punished by sentencing to prison for several years.

Two cases of animal theft are shown in the film, and the community of Thaba-Tseka shows no understanding for them. Earlier in the film, Basotha people were explained their rights and obligation of having the documents proving the legality of their ownership. We observe neighbours watch each other’s herds and the masked riders searchig the area for the lost cattle.

Caught by the lens of the cinematographer Samuel Lahu, who besides having previously collaborated with Edkins on his three short documentaries was responsible for the visually stunning photography in Patricio Guzmán’s “The Cordillera of Dreams” (2019), the vast Thaba-Tseka landscape cut by dusty roads and surrounded by dramatic mountains indeed looks like a contemporary documentary Western.

“Cannibalism” sneaks into the film right at the end, in a scene that will stay in your mind for a long time, and that will maybe motivate you to rephrase the idiom “Dog Eat Dog”. 

Directed by: Teboho Edkins
Written by: Teboho Edkins in collaboration with Geoffroy Grison
Produced by: Janja Kralj
Co-produced by: Don Edkins, 
Co-produced by: Derk-jan Warrink, Koji Nelissen
Director of Photography: Samuel Lahu
Editing: Laurence Manheimer, Cédric Le Floc’h
Sound Designer/ Re-recording Mixer: Jaim Sahuleka
Sound Effects Editor: Lode Wolterson
Colourist: Joel Sahuleka