Aiming its focus on child abductions in poverty-stricken South Africa, Tomasz Wysokinski’s Walk with Angels is a harrowing, compelling documentary that toys with sensationalism.
Even with the constant influx of news, and the ease of access to political and social issues around the globe, it is still shocking to discover something horrifyingly widespread within a community that has avoided a media spotlight. Tomasz Wysokinski’s Walk with Angels (Spacer Z Aniołami) documents the prevalent child abductions and murders within South Africa for the purposes of ritual, predominantly within poorer Black communities in areas – or townships – like Johannesburg’s Soweto district.
Jeremaiah Marobyane, or Jerry, is a man on a mission. A former child soldier, Jerry is searching for a missing baby girl – Angie – through the poverty stricken suburb Kliptown. The child was barely 6 months old when she went missing, and her distraught mother is relying on Jerry’s dogged determination to find her alive. It’s a particularly daunting prospect for Jerry because roughly every 60 minutes, a child goes missing in South Africa.
Walk with Angels is a blend of history and contemporary issues, mixing the scars from apartheid with the continuing struggle of being Black and poor in South Africa. While no longer legal, apartheid’s oppressive shadow still lingers over the country, cloyingly cruel as Black people are met with the same prejudices decades later, as they still struggle under the thumb of desperate poverty. Jerry talks openly about the violence, the racism, the prejudices; about how they’ve shaped him as well as the country. There’s a seething undercurrent to his narration, borne from the ‘sin of being Black’ and others’ seeming acceptance for the continued disappearance of children, as well as a natural aggression he works hard to control. Wysokinski invites his audience to be affected by Jerry’s life, by the suffering undergone by thousands of men and women like him, and to share in the grief, anger and incomprehension that the murdering of babies for ritual is as prevalent as it is.
The documentary isn’t intrusive but does border on sensationalist at times. Wysokinski lets Jerry move freely within the space, conducting his own conversations, and presents its subject with candid detail. But as a mother wails in grief, as a local describes the manner in which infants are dismembered by witch doctors – healers who rely on traditional, rather than contemporary medicine –, the film teeters on the edge of salacious and the discomfort starts to wear on the viewer.
Walk with Angels is compelling but horrifying, affecting but upsetting, and a testament to documentarians like Wysokinski who shine a spotlight on social and cultural issues that mainstream media might find distasteful. It’s a harrowing watch but important in the hopes that it will start the process of change for the men, women, and especially the children of South Africa.
Walk with Angels will premiere at the 2021 Edinburgh Film Festival on 21st August, 2021, and will be screened again on Tuesday 24th.