'A place of hearing' deep in the heart of Africa

Just a few miles north of the town of Rustenburg, west of Pretoria, this tiny community has earned a name for itself as a Dutch Reformed Church mission school for deaf-mute and blind deaf-mute Bantu children.

The mission is also an old -- age home for those who have problems seeing, hearing, and speaking. Financing comes from the church, various municipalities, welfare organizations, and private donations.

Its international claim to fame came a short time ago when a motion-picture director-cameraman named David Oosthuizen captured -- with great emotion -- the practical problems (and gratifying success) of teaching deaf children to communicate.

Called "A Place of Hearing" and originally intended for distribution only in South Africa, the success of the film has been such that it has been released to overseas audiences as well. The deeply moving film has won several international awards.

It tells the story of Motlagomang, a young teen-aged girl who had been a deaf mute all her life. A tender moment in the film shows the pretty young Bantu girl as the first sound she has ever heard penetrates her inner ear -- and a tear of wonderment and joy trickles down her cheek.

There is nothing unusual about Motlagomang. She is but one of nearly 200 pupils in the school. Like all the others, she is beginning to find a rapidly changing life -- one where communication is possible.

Part of the success of the film comes from the heart- warming honesty of director-cameraman Oosthuizen. Another is that he wisely selected two deaf-mute assistants to aid him in the filming.

The principal of the school, N. Niederman-Heitmann, who conducts a sign-language church service in the film, accompanied the film when it first came to the US.

"A Place of Hearing" has surpassed all expectations as a successful film documentary of a simple school in distant South Africa, where everyday problems exist -- and are being solved.

Kutlwanong is only one of several institutions of its kind in South Africa, almost all cosponsored by government, religious groups, and private donations.

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