It Is What It Is

A Short Film Based On A True Story

The story of Thomas Budge

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.

A Story of Triumph

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 beautiful human being.



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 expsoing 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 builds a thriving business and moves back to Johannesburg, constantly trying to make contact with his parents. But his interactions are confined to short phone calls and he’s never allowed to go to the house, for fear of the Elders finding out. (If a Jehovah’s Witness has contact with an excommunicated Jehovah’s Witness, they too will be excommunicated, i.e. disfellowshipped.)

One day, twenty years after his expulsion, Tom invites Erith for a pub lunch. The reconciliation is wonderful and they spend hours talking and catching up. It is a breakthrough and they promise to do it again.

Then, Tom receives a call from his mother. Erith has cancer and is dying. He wants to spend his last days with Tom. Tom heeds the call and nurses his father in his last days and hours; never leaving his side until Erith dies, happy to have been fully reconciled with his son. But only moments after his death the family asks Tom to leave: “Before the Elders arrive.”

Broken-hearted, Tom complies, knowing that Erith died a happy man.

Coming soon

The script for this short film has been developed in association with the National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF).

After raising the necessary funds, it will go into production in 2023. Scroll down to see how you can get involved to bring this project to the screen.