Growing pains of a country

2013-12-08 14:00

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Documentary charts the change (or lack thereof) among SA’s youth over 28 years

The year is 1992 and seven-year-old Willem does not like black people. He says he will beat them up and force them to leave his school if they come to study there. Seven years later, in 1999, he has changed.

“I was stupid. Some of them are good and very nice. And I didn’t expect that. I like them ... but when they first got here, I hated them.”

Willem is one of the people featured on Up SA, a documentary that shows South Africa through the eyes of 20 young people?–?rich and poor, black and white.

The documentary will be aired on Al Jazeera and follows the personal journeys of the 20 people every seven years.

It was first shot in 1992 – just as South Africa was emerging from apartheid – then in 1999, when they were 14, and in 2006, when they were 21. The latest instalment was filmed this year as they all celebrated their 28th birthdays.

The first instalment, known as 7?Up, shows South Africa’s brutal and sordid past with the cast of blacks, whites, coloureds and Indians living in areas designated for their specific groups.

With the exception of Katlego from Johannesburg, who is the son of football legend Marks Maponyane, and Lunga from Durban, all the other black children in the documentary went to rural and township schools.

While Willem disliked black people, his peers – Thembisile and Frans in Soweto and Alexandra, respectively – liked all things white.

Seven-year-old Thembisile says: “Black people are ugly and whites are beautiful. And I want to go live in town.”

As a child, Thembisile believed white was beautiful and black was ugly.

Shane and Claudia, who live in an unnamed coloured community outside Johannesburg, think separate development is the best.

Claudia, who has a vivacious personality, says: “It’s better that way. You speak the same language with your people in school. The teacher understands you and your friends understand you.”

Seven years later, South Africa is a democracy. The teenagers start experimenting with relationships, friends, movies, music, sex and religion.

Andiswa, who lives in a tiny shack with eight other family members outside Cape Town, wants to be a pilot. But she does not want to marry.

“Mothers-in-law are not nice people,” she says.

Across town in Rondebosch are friends Patrick and Robbie, who come from wealthy families and go to good schools. They are not sure what they want to do with their lives.

But Patrick thinks he will become an attorney, like his dad.

In Soweto, Tshepo wants to study, but the situation at his school is not conducive. Drugs, crimes and guns are the order of the day.

By 2006, when they were 21, life had deteriorated for some of them. Andiswa is already a divorcee. Nobunye has pulled out of the programme. Three others have died of Aids-related illnesses.

Luyanda has fathered two children with two different women and is not planning to marry either of them. Frans’ dream of escaping poverty through playing soccer has been shattered. He is now loitering on the streets of Alexandra.

“I played for the juniors at Santos, but things didn’t work out. Now I want to be a traffic cop, but I keep failing my driver’s licence. If I had R2?000, I was going to buy it,” he says.

Willem is studying for a sports science degree at the University of Johannesburg. He is a prominent member of the university’s rugby team and wants to play for the Springboks one day.

Angus Gibson, the producer of the documentary, says that of the original 20, four have died, three have pulled out and only 13 shot the latest instalment.

“It looks like those who started as middle class remained there and those who started out poor also remained there. There are very few shifts,” Gibson says.

He says he understands why some people have pulled out.

“The project is very intrusive. I felt that some would run away. It’s probably the desire for privacy. And I completely understand.”

He says after shooting an episode, he looks forward to connecting with the cast seven years later.

“But I’m aware that when I come back, some of them may not be around. Most of the stories have moved me. Like Luyanda. He was murdered. I feel like I’m in a privileged position. I’ve been able to connect with people whose lives are profoundly different from mine.”

»?Up SA is being screened on Al Jazeera until January 19

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