Jane The Ghost: From urban legend to big screen phenomenon

Bruce Ndlovu
The story of Jane the Ghost is one of the most popular and enduring legends in the City of Kings.

According to the legend, Jane the Ghost was a dead but alluring beauty who would trap potential suitors at night.

Unable to resist her charms men would hook up with her before she would mysteriously disappear when they were about to have sex.

The story became the talk of the town particularly in the late 80s and early 90s as the ghost terrorised gullible men who thought they had made a worthwhile catch near Hyde Park Cemetery.

Over two decades later, a group of young and enterprising filmmakers sought to bring the myth of Jane the Ghost to the big screen. A year after the movie premiered as a short film, it took a Nationa Arts Merit Awards (Nama) gong in the short film category at the awards held last Saturday.

Starring Donna Ncube as Jane, Leroy as a man who falls for her charms and Pride Mpofu as his wife, the film was produced by Thubelihle Moyo while the cinematography was handled by versatile Nama award winning poet and actor Philani Nyoni.

According to brains behind the film, Lenni Sibanda, his own upbringing in Pumula where stories of Jane the Ghost were conversation fodder for residents, provided him with the material for the film.

“I grew up in Pumula and I have been hearing stories about Jane since childhood. We always heard stories about how she used to make appearances near the cemetery and we thought it would be a good story to tell,” he said.

Sibanda said that as a young generation of filmmakers, they had to rely on memory and information that they got from older residents. As the story around Jane was based on word of mouth, he said, the versions they heard did not always tally.

“We got bits and pieces of information from older residents. Our research gave conflicting results, although the theory that kept on popping up was that she was a prostitute while she was still alive,” he said.

Sibanda acknowledged that the group was motivated by the desire to bring to the big screen urban myths and folklore which were still a largely unexplored territory by the country’s filmmakers.

“The local film industry has not handled local myths and legends well to a greater extent. We acknowledge efforts from Tsitsi Dangarembga with her Nyami Nyami feature film but there is still room for us to tell local stories and brand them because audiences want stories that they appreciate and identify with,” he said.

While people had already seen the short film, they would have to wait a bit longer to see the full length version of the popular urban legend.

“There was confusion on why the film was nominated for the short story category when we had said that it would be a length film. We premiered it as a short film last year but the full length film will only be released later. That is why we were nominated for a Nama in the short film category because the full length project is still work in progress,” he said.