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Tom is a young Jehovah’s Witness who refuses to be conscripted into the apartheid military machine in 1971 on religious grounds and is sentenced to three months imprisonment in the military prison (DB). It is not an alternative to conscription, it is simply punishment for refusing to go and, once that sentence is served, he will be conscripted again.
Erith, Tom’s father, is an erstwhile WW2 hero and a senior banker, who is determined to rescue his son from the injustice. He goes to great lengths to have his son released; including exposing Tom’s plight in the media and to parliament, while petitioning the Prime Minister for Tom’s release. His actions annoy the authorities and his employers, who hold several of the government’s bank accounts. He also upsets the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who fear a backlash from the government.
In prison, Tom is targeted as a troublemaker and spends most of his time in solitary confinement – under torturous conditions – for refusing to cooperate. Eventually, through pressure groups, the law is amended and Tom is released after two years.
Tom now enjoys hero status within the Jehovah’s Witnesses and immerses himself in Witness activities. But after two years of mission work, he’s disillusioned by the dogma and the necessity to lead a double life: Tom is gay, which is forbidden for Jehovah’s Witnesses.
He moves to Durban and finds an apartment with his lover. It seems to have been the right decision, but he’s outed by a fellow Jehovah’s Witness, excommunicated, and rejected by all; including Erith who says: “My son died today.”
Despite being emotionally destroyed, Tom is finally free to live his life, eventually becoming a successful businessman and a renowned Hypnotherapist.
As a young Jehovah’s Witness, Thomas refused to be conscripted into the apartheid military in 1971. He was sentenced to three months imprisonment in detention barracks. The commanding officer marked him as a troublemaker and Tom ended up being detained for two years. He was eventually released after his father, Erith, successfully lobbied the South African government to change the law pertaining to religious objectors.
Tom’s story is about standing up for what you believe in, no matter the consequences. It’s about a father’s love for his son and being true to who you are, no matter the consequences. Tom’s experience shows that we are not discriminated against because of who we are, but because of who our discriminators are. Ultimately it is a story about triumph, as Tom goes on to become a successful businessman and a respected Hypnotherapist.
0n 24 September 2022, some fifty years after his experience as told in his autobiography It Is What It Is, Tom visited the site of the Detention Barracks where he was impriones for more than five hundred days in 1971. It was an emotional experience for him to return to this place where he spent most of his incaceration in solitary confinement.
The script for this short film has been developed in association with the National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF).
After raising the necessary funds, this short film will go into production in 2023.