In 1825, the newly appointed Superintendent of Police for the Cape Colony discovered a slave woman languishing in the Cape Town gaol. Sentenced to death on April 30 1823, Sila van den Kaap had not only survived, but also bore two children while in prison. What had she done to deserve death? And what moved the Superintendent to petition George IV for a full pardon on her behalf?
Inspired by actual Nineteenth Century court records, Unconfessed moves from the Cape Town gaol to Robben Island where Sila serves a commuted sentence of hard labor. On this low, wind-harried stretch of land, on which Nelson Mandela would later spend more than two decades, Sila breaks stones in the prison quarry, cleans the warden’s home, survives in the company of the few other women prisoners, especially Lys, and sings a fierce, sometimes maniacal, sometimes wickedly humorous love song to her dead son. He alone shares with her the deep privacy of what happened that Christmas Eve, and why, when asked to explain her act, Sila uttered nothing but one word: heertseer, or “heart sore.”