The last word on the Spur Incident

The Spur Incident that set South Africa’s social media tongues wagging has revealed the worst of us. And I’m not just talking about the oke threatening the woman in the Spur (although I will get to him); I am talking about the countless people around our country who have rushed to his defence or who have suggested that both parties have equal culpability for what went down.

There have been many reports about what happened, but it boils down to this. On Sunday, two children had an altercation in the play area in the Spur at The Glen. The father of the one child – a little white girl – approached the mother of the other child – a little black boy – to ask her to intervene. The tone of this initial contact is in question because the video only started rolling after things got heated.

There is an “eyewitness account” of what happened before the video started, but while it’s possible that that version of events is true, it smacks of the kind of violence apologism that’s been rife since this issue started, but again, I will get to that.

Nonetheless, what is clear is that the man’s approach was not warmly welcomed by the woman and at some point she started swearing at him. The man started swearing back at her. Things got a bit heated and then a couple of crucial things happened.

After the woman told the man to leave her alone and, yes, swore at him, he lunged towards her and said, “Ek sal jou a p**sklap gee.”

She jeered at him, and after a few more unpleasantries were exchanged as he departed, he returned to her table, pushing through a few people who were attempting to hold him back, and then picked up the edge of her table and rammed it towards her and her children.

Spur later released the CCTV footage of the event, and although there was no sound, another crucial aspect of the encounter emerged. The man had reached across the table and took the woman’s child by the arm and attempted to drag him away from his mother. She grabbed her child’s other arm and pulled him back towards her. Apparently, this took place before the other diner took out their phone and started recording, so it puts her anger a little more clearly into perspective.

So now, to the eyewitness apologist and all the other people who have been saying that Lebogang Mabuya was “unladylike” and that she “shouldn’t have sworn at him” or that they are “both to blame” for what happened or that “she was asking for it”, are you watching the same version of events that I am?

Here are the salient facts: A man – a big, angry man, threatened to hit a woman. He also attempted to drag her child away from her. And then he rammed a table into the area in which she and her family were sitting.

These are extremely violent acts. And according to my friend Tracey Lomax, a lawyer, they constitute assault under South African law, even though the man didn’t actually smack the woman in the fac e. This is what Tracey says: “In South Africa, assault is a common law crime that is defined as ‘unlawfully and intentionally applying force to the person of another or inspiring a belief in that other that force is immediately to be applied to him.’”

So, by physically intimidating the woman, the man in this instance was actually committing assault. Not “threatening”, not “oh, but he didn’t actually mean it”, but actually physically intimidating a much smaller woman, which meets the definition. And, as the CCTV footage reveals, violently grabbing her child, which certainly constitutes “applying force to the person of another”.

If, in the face of all of this, you, or anyone you know, or the perpetrator of the assault himself, believes that a little “unladylike” language is deserving of his response, or “equally to blame” in the incident, then you have a lot of self-examination to do. A woman swearing does not justify an assault. A man assaulting a woman, her child and her family is never an acceptable response to a swear word.

One more time for the people in the back: Men can control themselves. Women are not to blame for the unacceptable actions of men.

And don’t tell me that he was defending his child either. Children sometimes smack each other. It’s not great and it should be dealt with, but it is entirely possible to deal with without threatening, intimidating and assaulting the other child’s parents.

When I watched the two videos again today to get my facts straight for this column, it’s not the swearing or the anger that stands out. It’s the fear in the woman’s voice, despite her bravado, as she asks over and over again for a violent man to “Just leave us alone.”

A screen grab from a video shows a man who has an altercation with a woman at a Spur restaurant. Photo: eNCA


Shirley MacLaine gets ‘The Last Word’

The feisty Shirley MacLaine has lived her life and spoken her mind on her own terms. That makes her the perfect casting to play Harriet Lauler, a retired take-charge businesswoman in “The Last Word.” This is one of those occasions where fact and fiction blur into a thing of creative beauty.

It’s good it did because MacLaine is the only reason to tout this movie.

The latest offering from the Oscar-winning actress has her playing a strong-willed woman who ran her marriage and company with an iron fist. That was necessary because she grew up in a time when women weren’t encouraged to do much more than stay at home.

Now, in the final years of her life, Harriet begins to worry about her legacy. She decides to contact Anne (Amanda Seyfried), the obituary writer for the local newspaper. Harriet wants to make sure the final words written about her are respectful of the life she’s lived.

The problem is that Anne can’t find a single person who wants to speak kindly of Harriet because she was so vicious in life and work. Harriet’s only option is to re-write history before her obit is written.

The 82-year-young MacLaine brings a spunky energy and just enough caustic tone to the character to make her both someone to fear and someone to love. The key to this is that MacLaine, even when her character begins to change, plays the role with the same power and force.

One of the best scenes is a confrontation between Harriet and her estranged daughter (Anne Heche). The fact the daughter is the same cold, driven person should have been a painful reality for Harriet. Instead, she finds great joy in knowing that she drove her daughter to be a happy and successful woman.

There’s a nice balance with Seyfried’s character, whose writing career has been held back by fear and abandonment. These are emotional elements that connect the characters and makes their relationship resonate with a warm truth.

All that is needed because the script by Stuart Ross Fink is full of story potholes. Harriet is certainly a force of nature but being able to talk her way into a job in seconds without having any experience comes across as a plot gimmick and not the natural flow of character development.

There’s also a plot thread where Harriet begins mentoring a foul-mouthed 9 year old (the reason for the R rating). There never is a connection between the two and comes across as more of a distraction than an attraction.

And, Fink never takes any real chances as the story ends in a painfully predictable manner.

What ends up being the only strength of the script is the examination of one’s life story. Decisions made throughout the years all come together to make the person who will be remembered when they are gone. The only question is whether they will be remembered fondly or in fear.

One day, there will be the time to look back at MacLaine’s career and this film will help recall her work fondly even in a movie that has so many writing problems.


Movie review: Gooey 'The Last Word' wastes 83-year-old Shirley MacLaine

“The Last Word” starts off with a tart comic premise, and then keeps adding heapful after heapful of sugar until the sweetness becomes almost unbearable.

Shirley MacLaine plays Harriet Lauler, an 80-year-old retired advertising bigwig who keeps obsessive control over every aspect of her life. In the opening scene, of her sitting alone in her perfectly-organized mansion, control looks pretty boring. And lonely.

Harriet’s need for control is so vast that she doesn’t want to leave her obituary to some random stranger after she dies. So she goes to the local paper (which her ads kept afloat for decades) and demands to work with a young writer on her “pre-bituary”.

That writer is Anne Sherman (Amanda Seyfried), who takes an instant dislike to Harriet’s intrusive ways ("She puts the 'bitch' in 'obituary!"). When Anne goes out to interview Harriet’s old friends and colleagues, she finds nobody else really liked her either.

Outraged, Harriet decides she’ll use what’s left of her life to reshape it to look better in print. She fulfills her lifelong dream of becoming a disk jockey by applying at the local WORT-FM-style indie radio station. She starts mentoring a young African-American girl (AnnJewel Lee Dixon). And, as we expected all along, she starts trying to break the timid Anne out of her shell, pushing her to work on that notebook full of essays that she’s afraid to let anybody read.

There’s potentially great satire here in the way Harriet initially manufactures altruism and warmth in order to look better for posterity. But screenwriter Stuart Ross Fink and director Mark Pellington can’t let that stand, instead turning Harriet’s artifice into the real thing midway through. It turns out Harriet was secretly a great person, and secretly everybody did like her! It’s hard to know what to do with a film that betrays its characters and their motivations so blithely.

MacLaine is great in her first role in years, flinty and saucy as Harriet. But instead of letting MacLaine draw the viewer in to see the real, more vulnerable Harriet, “The Last Word” relies too often on obvious music cues and dreamy cinematography. Meanwhile, saddled with a role that’s like every Gen-X person’s idea of what a millennial is like, Seyfried cannot keep up.

“The Last World” becomes a disjointed series of “Bucket List” escapades in the last half, full of dancing and late-night skinny dipping montages. The use of the young African-American girl, who seems there just so she and Harriet can trade sassy dialogue, is a little unseemly. And, also, if Harriet is so rich, couldn’t she help more than just one kid out?

Much like how Harriet has carefully constructed her obituary to put her in the best light, “The Last Word” seems too carefully constructed as a vehicle for MacLaine’s charms. But, in being so artificial and cloying, it ends up smothering those very charms.

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