Encounters doccie festival: compulsory viewing

2014-06-04 10:00

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Every seven years, the same group of South Africans is interviewed. Now they’re 28 and living in contemporary SA. The result is insightful, revealing and tragic, writes Grethe Koen

In 1964, the Up series was created in the UK. The idea was to follow a diverse group of children, catching up every seven years and, in the process, ­capturing a slice of British society. The show was so successful it spawned versions in many other countries.

The series began in South Africa in 1992 and was directed by Angus Gibson, the award-­winning director and a co-creator of the seminal youth drama, Yizo Yizo.

He documented the lives of 18 seven-year-olds who would see the end of apartheid and the dawn of democracy.

But not all the children would live to 28. Four have died of Aids-related illnesses. The chilling truth of 28 Up South Africa is that those who grew up poor remain poor.

One of the biggest struggles in their lives is to find decent work.

Willem at 28 with his seven-year-old self

Willem is one of the children who became a ­success. He is a professional rugby player, has married his varsity sweetheart and they have their first baby.

Willem grew up in a middle class white neighbourhood and finished his university studies.

Katlego’s soccer-star father used his money to send him to St John’s College, one of the best schools in the country. Katlego is now a market analyst and moves in comfortable circles.

But he worries about the fact that he is not seen as “black enough” because he speaks with a white South African accent and has mainly white friends.

Luyanda grew up in a hostel for migrant workers and never ­finished school. At seven, he said he “hated getting shot at for no reason”.

At 28, he has bought a shack next to the hostel and is a forklift operator.

He laments earning just R650 a week and is unable to afford even a pair of shoes.

Claudia, who lived in a coloured area of Joburg, has achieved her dream of being a doctor, but doesn’t seem to be happy.

She says of herself: “When I was seven, I saw this little child with the biggest smile on her face, bright sparkling eyes?...?a little light bubble, jumping around, full of hope, full of the sparkle. I don’t know where it went to.”

She is overwhelmed by the sadness and dysfunction at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, where she works and has no ­interest in forming a romantic relationship with anyone. But she believes her parents would be very proud of her.

There is an overarching and urgent message: if you grow up without an education, it is likely you will remain poor.

Journalist Rebecca Davis writes: “The South Africa Up series should be compulsory viewing for politicians seeking to understand how, over the course of 28 years, the status quo for the people on the ‘ground floor’ has in many cases remained materially unchanged.”

The Up series is a poignant story of a lack of genuine transformation, yet many of the participants exude a sense of South African resilience and hope.

» 28 Up is at the Encounters SA International ­Documentary Festival from June 5 to June 15 in Joburg and Cape Town. Visit encounters.co.za for details

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