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Thom's experiences during Apartheid South Africa reveal how both societal and religious dogmas controlled lives. A time of tyranny, not freedom.

Thom's story during Apartheid South Africa showcases the profound control exerted by both societal and religious dogmas. Apartheid's racial segregation deeply influenced lives and shaped countless outcomes. Thom's journey exemplifies this impact, revealing how entrenched systems of control affected individuals and families. The Watchtower Society, with its strict doctrines, sought to dominate Thom and his family. This era lacked liberal thinking, human rights, and freedom of association, characterised instead by tyranny and social suppression. Despite these oppressive forces, Thom displayed remarkable resilience. He defied conscription into the apartheid military, driven by steadfast religious convictions, resulting in imprisonment and solitary confinement. His principled stance and immense personal sacrifices highlight his unwavering resolve. Through his father's relentless efforts, Thom eventually achieved liberation. His narrative illuminates the harsh realities of apartheid and religious control while celebrating the courage of those who resisted. Thom's journey is a powerful reminder of the oppressive nature of these systems and the enduring human spirit that fights for freedom and justice.

Media contact point

  Hendrik Baird  |    +27 72 629 4990  |    +27 81 415 0056  |

Press Release, Pretoria, 15 April 2024

This untold apartheid narrative, adapted from Thomas W.E. Budge's autobiography It Is What It Is: Grace Through Acceptance (2013), is now being brought to life in the audio drama podcast Stripped, helmed by writer and director Hendrik Baird.

Following an exhaustive audition process, the cast of this powerful production has been finalised, comprising both seasoned veterans and promising newcomers.

Renowned actors such as Dawid Minnaar, Tessa Jubber, Errol Ballantine, Francois Coertze, and John Herbert join rising stars Almar Müller, Kevin Narain, Henri Strauss, and others.

The pivotal role of Thomas will be portrayed by the versatile Bruce J. Little, known for his work as an actor, playwright, and writer.

Hendrik Baird, who is also a co-producer of this project, says: I am truly awed by the eagerness of big-name actors to sign up for this audio drama podcast. I am sure the next generation of voice actors will benefit hugely from being in the same studio as legends such as seasoned actor Dawid Minnaar and radio stalwart Errol Ballantine, who have been in the business for many decades.

In a deliberate effort to ensure authenticity, Hendrik Baird sought to cast gay-identifying actors in key roles portraying gay characters. He underscores the significance of honouring Thomas's narrative by authentically representing his journey through the voices of those who share similar identities and experiences.

Stripped confronts several themes, including blind faith and its consequences, the influence of religious cults on individuals, familial bonds strained by religious doctrine, and the ramifications of exposing a person's sexuality against their will.

The narrative holds particular resonance for ex-Jehovah's Witnesses who have faced being disfellowshipped and shunned. Additionally, the portrayal of LGBTQ+ characters serve as both a historical testament to the treatment of gay individuals during apartheid and a stark reminder of ongoing intolerance within certain sectors of society.

Stripped is a story that I must tell, says Thomas Budge, not only to expose the world to these doctrines but to provide encouragement to the many, many victims of marginalisation, victimisation, and expulsion from society because they had no say over their difference from what some consider to be the norm. This is not only relevant for those who have or have had a connection to the Watchtower Society but also for everyone who was persecuted and deprived of their basic human rights.

The pre-production journey has been particularly emotional for Thomas, as it has opened old emotional wounds. He says that Stripped is a true account of being peeled away from oneself, pulled from one's right to be who one is, having one's clothing taken away, having one's freedom removed by being placed into solitary confinement, and worst of all, being stripped of one's right to associate with family.

The cast is slated to convene at Solid Gold Studios in Randburg in May for the recording session. Once the vocal performances have been recorded, co-producer Ethan Baird will oversee the editing and sound design, meticulously crafting an immersive auditory experience for listeners.

The podcast's official launch is scheduled to coincide with Pretoria Pride on Saturday, 5 October 2024.