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Impossible is nothing for Makazole Mapimpi

Through narration, animation and interviews, the doccie Map1mp1 details a vivid and emotional journey of how, against all odds, he emerged from impossible circumstances
Thu, Mar 24, 2022

I went into the recent screening of Map1mp1 expecting to cry my eyes out.

The story of the great, World Cup-winning rugby player Makazole Mapimpi – one we only know in small doses – is filled with loss, struggle and aloneness. It’s the kind that makes for the most tear-jerking of productions even in a country of tear-jerkers (who could forget that clip of Rassie Erasmus crying about Mapimpi having no one to put on his shirt in Chasing the Sun?).

But when the credits rolled some 75 minutes later, dry-eyed, I wasn’t feeling sad or heartbroken because of all that Mapimpi had to endure growing up – I was in awe because he had endured.

Map1mp1 isn’t a cheap ‘let’s milk the audience’s tears as much as possible’ doccie. It doesn’t use his story as a vehicle to sate our appetite for content that will rip our hearts into shreds. It’s the story of strength and resilience, the story of hope from a place in short supply of it.

Narrated and written by author and journalist Sbu Mjikeliso and directed by Bongani Morgan (Dinner at Somizi’s, The Braai Show with Cass), the documentary is as much about Mapimpi’s incredibly tough upbringing and the unimaginable amount of personal loss he experienced as it is about black rugby culture in the Eastern Cape.

Told through narration, animation and interviews with various figures – from Mapimpi’s aunts and teachers to journalists and rugby legends – it’s the story of a boy determined not to let his circumstances decide his fate. As Mjikeliso said during the launch, “Makazole is an unstoppable force. Impossible, to him, is nothing, and it’s not just a slogan – it’s something he has lived.”

Map1mp1 treats its subject as the human being he is, and that feels like a revolutionary act. The Springbok is present throughout the documentary – it’s not other people telling his story for him, it’s him opening up about everything, from the darkest and toughest times of his life to the most triumphant.

He speaks so candidly that sometimes you would think he is telling someone else’s story. At other times, his sensitivity and hurt peeks through in such a way that you worry he will break down crying. But he holds himself back. And then soldiers on. When he speaks about his attempts to reconnect with his father as an adult, his hurt is so palpable that you just want to find this man and chokeslam him. Honestly.

Another thing I enjoyed about Map1mp1 was the fairly unusual storytelling style it adopts, at least for a documentary: it also zooms in on its narrator, Mjikeliso, in order to connect him to the subject he’s tackling (rugby pun not intended), and makes use of stunning animation by Joel Matladi.

The decision to use animation to retell parts of Mapimpi’s story was born more out of necessity than artistry: because Mapimpi had no one to document those moments from his early life (such as playing rugby with men twice his size and much older than him – barefoot), there is no footage or pictures of his pre-club rugby days. Things like that, that so many take for granted – baby pictures, childhood clips – are a foreign concept for Mapimpi. That’s how impoverished he was.

So much history is lost or distorted because it relies on human memory and word of mouth to stay alive; stories passed down across generations until their final form is so watered down and far from the source that it’s difficult to know what is myth and what is fact.

To celebrate and document a man like Mapimpi now, while he’s still alive and at the peak of his career rather than waiting until he’s either passed away or past his glory, is a deliberate, important and game-changing decision. We love to talk about giving people their flowers while they are alive, but hardly act on it. That is finally changing.

  • Map1mp1 will be on SuperSport Rugby and Showmax Pro on 27 March at 8pm

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