The narrator transports us to a small village in Lesotho known as the Plains of Weeping. There, we meet our protagonist, Mantoa, played by Mary Twala Mhlongo. We learn that she just lost her son due to a mining accident in South Africa. She is the last surviving member of her family; both her parents are gone, so is her husband, her children, and her granddaughter. The old widow longs for nothing more than to be departed from this earth. Filled with contained rage, she takes a vow of silence in defiance of the cards that life has dealt her. However, after she learns that the king has ordered her whole village, including the burial site of her loved ones, to be relocated elsewhere, she channels the anger she had towards God and redirects it to the authorities. Before she had nothing left to lose; now suddenly, she has everything to lose. This sparks a fire in her that can’t be extinguished by anyone or anything. You can almost see it in her gaze as her eyes pierce empty space. She can see right through the deceptive lies and pleas to move for the sake of “progress.”
Upon further research, I learned that projects to build dams in Lesotho began with the Southern African Apartheid. The water produced by these dams goes directly to South Africa leaving only a fraction of what is left to the Kingdom of Lesotho. Of course, to a native like Mantoa, there is no benefit here. The idea of “progress” becomes meaningless when it comes at the cost of the annihilation of culture and history. This film’s micro story of an individual’s resistance to fight for the land of her ancestors gradually exposes an entire nation’s fall to environmental imperialism.
Forced displacement of a people in the name of progress is practiced all over the world. The reason can vary in complexity and scope depending on the country where it is happening. Some are displaced due to war, genocide, ancient religious disputes, or even something as trivial as better infrastructure. History is one long story of the strong preying on the weak. At one point in this film, the villagers gather to write a letter to the king. One of them utters words that ring so true: “Every time I say the word progress, my tongue literally rolls backwards.”