Acclaimed Bokaap filmmaker, writer and playwright Zulfah Otto Sallies passed away on Friday. The 55 year old died after suffering complications as a result of a stroke last month. Otto-Sallies is the writer of the much loved theatre production and famous book now in its 29th print run, ‘Diekie Vannie Bo Kaap’.
Her sister Naheed Nakedien says she made a huge contribution to the film and arts industry in South Africa. Otto-Sallies will be remembered as a deep and provoking story-teller, who had the gift of bringing ordinary people’s voices to life.
“Zulfah was full of life…she always had something bright to say. She loved writing poetry and could turn anything into a poem,” says Nakedien.
“Zulfah contributed so much to the community and especially to teenagers. Through her, many young people realised their full potential.”
Otto-Sallies passion for the arts goes back to her childhood days when she saw her father perform in the Cape Malay Choirs. She was asked to write songs for their Nedelandse Liedjie performances. Her song ‘Marlie, die Slaaf’ went on to win first prize in the choir competition.
Otto Sallies was the first African to qualify from a prestigious arts academy in Amsterdam and has a Cum Laude degree.She was the first Muslim female to direct a feature film in South Africa.
She was also the first woman to participate in the Mama Afrika series and was the only Southern African filmmaker. There she showcased her film Raya, which tackles issues such as the generational gap, traditional versus contemporary views among Muslims, and drug addiction. Most of her works centre on themes of adolescence, family, culture, and identity.
‘Diekie Vannie Bokaap’ is perhaps her most famous work. From its origins as successful musical, the story later gained popularity as a book used as a high school set workbook.
“Diekie Vannie Bokaap is now in its 29th print. It’s the most read book for teenagers all over South Africa, especially amongst teenage boys. This is wonderful as we know young boys generally don’t like reading.”
Her home-turf of Bokaap remained an integral part of her stories. Through her work, she explores the history, religious, cultural and artistic influences of Bo-Kaap. Otto-Sallies , concerned by the socio-economic challenges in her community, wrote a fitting poem called ‘My Bokaap” just before she fell ill.
“Bokaap was very close to her heart. We grew up here and then moved to Vanguard Estate. When she got married, she moved to Bokaap. She very much a Bokaap girl,” says Nakedien.
Otto-Sallies leaves behind her husband and three children, who are also in creative arts. Eldest daughter Muneera is a filmmaker, while her son Gasant is an animator.
Nakedien says she hopes people will remember her sister’s passion for empowering and elevating young people.
“I want teenagers to take heed of the work and the contribution she left behind. She wanted teenagers to realise their full potential. That’s all she wanted, for youth to be the best they can be.”
Zulfah Otto-Sallies will be laid to rest at 3pm on Friday from her home in her beloved Bokaap. VOC (Tasneem Adams)