People can be buried for years but the grief doesn’t stay down. Memories are buried in the mind and continue to stay alive. The truth is silenced under years of secrets and people continue to wonder. The past never leaves, alive under the earth, it is unhealed and unheard.
“Red Dust” shows us a story of what happens when memories buried in our minds surface and when truths of the past are excavated from the earth. To reconcile what was buried with what is dug up many years later allows a final connection between past and present – healing recognition of grief as well as strength.
What happened to Steven Sezela? Where is his body? The plot – driven by this question and the search for answers – brought up more than a simple answer. Mr. and Mrs. Sezela’s long-suffering grief seeks to be heard. Throughout the film, they seek retribution and justice for the death of their son. Finally, digging up the dry bones, holding her son’s skull, Mrs. Sezela is allowed to grieve long and loud for the death of her son. With his physical body, her pain is validated and recognized. Suffering from years of unknowing and confusion finds some closure in reconciling past and present. Miraculously, the closure with the past yields forgiveness. After finally grieving over their son, Steven’s parents forgive Mpondo for his weakness, validating and respecting his suffering as well.
It is not the pain of the past alone that is important to recognize, but also the stories of heroism. Mpondo digs up a list, a list of those who fought together against apartheid. It is a list of those Mpondo remained loyal to, uniting together against an unjust government. Many of these people on the list are alive and able to identify themselves, telling a truth that has remained buried for years. The truth of their heroism brings the group together once again to be recognized for their strengths. It is important for people to not only be known for their defeats but also their victories. This completes the full story of who they are. Those who fought and were tortured, like Mpono, are more than victims; they are strong fighters.
People and things of the past may be buried for a long time, but never the memories. Unhealed memories are those that are not given recognition as things of reality and they remain alive and active in people’s minds. To place a memory on to its source is an important part of healing. By connecting the words with the objects, the unseen is brought together with the physical acts and places. Reconciliation of these things is necessary for peace within the characters. It is this drive towards reconciliation with the past with which Mpondo demands to be shown the methods of torture. Steven’s mother holds her son’s bones to heal the memories. Discovering the farm was powerful in understanding a warped past. In doing this, restless memories can finally be named and proven real.
In digging up the things of the past, places of truth are found. Memories are given a name and a voice when finally connected to real places and real things. Ultimately forgiveness brings everything together. People on opposite sides with opposite identities no longer see themselves separate but rather crossing over barriers to unify as humanity. Forgiveness crosses lines of separation between people and redefines relationships. People originally on two sides of the courtroom come together with forgiveness outside the courtroom. Closure of the past allows for a completely redefined future.