Bo-Kaap film-maker dies

Everyone has a story to tell, but it is important that we tell our own stories.

This was the message Bo-Kaap film-maker, author and playwright, Zulfah Otto Sallies, always sought to convey.

Ms Otto Sallies died after suffering a stroke at the age of 55 last week.

Her passion came from growing up in the Bo-Kaap and wanting to preserve the Cape Malay culture and history, her sister Naahid Nakidien told Atlantic Sun.

“Her book (Diekie Vannie Bo-Kaap) was about history and especially the preservation of it. She always said it was important to tell our own stories, not let somebody from overseas do it.”

At her core, she was also an activist, and was appointed director of the Athlone-based Community Video Education Trust.

“I think (what I will remember) is her love for life. She had a bubbling and outgoing personality and always had time to help people,” said Ms Nakidien.

She said the time Ms Otto Sallies had spent completing her Masters degree in the Netherelands had benefited not only her, but the whole community.

“She came back with a unique perspective and was really ahead of her time,” said Ms Nakidien.

Ms Otto Sallies was also a guest lecturer at UCT.

“She would always tell young people that they should tell their own stories and be proud of their heritage,” said Ms Nakidien.

Nadine Cloete, director of Action Kommandant, the recently released documentary on the life of struggle activist Ashley Kriel, said she first met Ms Otto Sallies when she was a 20-year-old third year student at UCT.

“We were given a list of names of people we could choose from, to work with, and as soon as I saw her name I wanted to work with her. She was everything.”

Ms Cloete said one day she was invited to Ms Otto Sallies’s house.

“She told me to take the camera and start filming and she would critique me afterwards. Her door was always open.”

She added that when her supervisor became unavailable while she was doing her Master’s degree, Ms Otto Sallies helped her even though she wasn’t employed by UCT at the time.

“She also supervised some of my other projects. For a young person of colour, especially, it was the greatest gift she could give.

“She would even fetch me when I didn’t have a car, and drive me around. She was the definition of unselfish.”

Ms Cloete said Ms Otto Sallies had also helped her and given her advice when she was editing Action Kommandant.

Fellow film-maker Munier Parker said Ms Otto Sallies was his first inspiration and had encouraged him to pursue his craft.

“She was the very first Muslim woman who made a film about the area we came from, Bo-Kaap. It inspired me to do the same, and in 2004 my film, Tamat, which I wrote and directed, was funded by M-Net for their New Directions series.

“In Diekie Vannie Bo-Kaap, she used colloquial Afrikaans and wrote exactly the way we speak. It was the first time I came across this kind of writing and gave me an immense pride for who I am and where I came from. Afrikaans is not the language of the oppressor only, as the Afrikaans spoken in Bo-Kaap and among coloured communities is far older than ‘suiwer’ Afrikaans.

“The industry has lost a giant in Zulfah, but I’ve lost a confidant and great friend who believed in me when no one else did. I have a career in the film industry because of Zulfah.

“More than this, she believed in young people and has given many of us not only a voice but a way in life.

“Her work with the youth must not be forgotten and where I can, I follow in this example.”

Ms Otto-Sallies leaves behind three children and a husband, four siblings and countless stories.