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“For me I think South Africa is more frustrating now than it was when I was seven. Then, we were told who was the enemy. Now, who’s the enemy? Because things are getting worse, but who is to blame?” - Olwethu
Seven years since the last instalment of the South Africa Up series, this 90-minute documentary for ITV updates viewers on the personal journeys of young people who were born into the Apartheid era.
In the first South Africa Up, aged seven, the young contributors only understood life from the perspective of their own segregated part of society. For example, Willem, growing up on his parent’s farm could know nothing of Luyanda’s life in a township hostel.
The latest programme follows contributors who are now aged 28, seven years since they last shared their lives with the cameras at 21. Each individual story provides a personal insight into the lives of those who have grown up during a period of massive change following the release of Nelson Mandela from prison in 1990.
With the country now fully integrated, the programme explores how its contributors, who were first filmed in 1992, have navigated this and the new opportunities that have opened up following their journeys into their late 20s.
Among the issues the programme picks up is what effect Nelson Mandela’s presidency has had on the lives of ordinary people and what challenges still remain. It takes the temperature of a nation that is still coming to terms with the legacy of apartheid and that is trying to overcome corruption and a chronic lack of public services.
Olwethu talks about her marriage to pastor Welile and her two daughters. At 14 she was shown as a vibrant urban youngster. At 28, she’s moved out of the city to a remote part of the country where we see her presenting her own radio show. She is also a partner in a college and media company. She says: “What I want to achieve is to change the mindsets of people. To tell people that it doesn’t have to be all bad in your life, it’s actually you that stands up to change things.”
But there are emotional scenes after her family is forced to flee their home when her husband’s life is threatened by a mob in a local dispute.
“These people were at the gate and were shouting, ‘There he goes, there he goes,’ at that time we were still busy packing some stuff. And that’s when we started leaving my babies’ books, shoes, everything. We had literally ten minutes to pack.”
Katlego lives in Johannesburg and works as a market analyst. He spent his early years in Soweto but because his Dad was a football superstar they had enough money to send Katlego to an elite mainly white, private school and they left the black township and moved to the suburbs. He’s seen socialising with his eclectic group of friends, and says: “It’s a conflict to be honest with you, it’s a conflict of trying to be part of a certain scene and trying to belong in so many different spaces. Obviously as humans we all want to belong and be part of something, somewhere… I’ve tried to belong in all of them.”
Yet despite his wealthy background and his white group of friends, he reveals an example of the challenges still faced by black South Africans by telling a story about visiting a nightclub: “In Cape Town two years ago, a whole bunch of friends and I were trying to get into a place. Everyone else was let in but I wasn’t allowed in because it breached their ‘quota’ of non-white people in the club, which I found a bit weird. I’ve always had this thought that in a sort of way, to live in South Africa, everyone must possess some sort of piece of racism in them. That’s going to take a long time for that to go away.”
Willem is now a fully-fledged rugby union international for the Springboks. He married sweetheart Nicolene in 2010, and the pair live in Durban. His life was touched by tragedy when he was just eight, when his father died. As a result the family moved to the city and rugby became his focus.
He says: “I didn’t really believe that I was the guy destined to become a Springbok. They announced the team on television, I remember how proud everyone was. There were lots of hugs and high-fives.”
He’s seen in rugby training and on the beach with his wife, who is now expecting a baby girl. As a little boy, he had adamantly opposed racial integration but once he met black children at school, his attitude changed. When asked about his view on present-day South Africa, he says: “Since our old president Nelson Mandela fought for equality and political freedom in South Africa we’ve taken some steps forward and some steps back.”
Lizette, who went to a segregated government school when she was seven, now lives in Witbank, a coal-mining town where she works for the family firm. At 21, she was shown with her husband expecting their first child, but now she is divorced and lives at her parents’ house with partner Vaughan, their baby boy, and the two children from her marriage. Of marriage, she says: “[My husband] Greg was by far the biggest mistake of my life. Things just started going from bad to worse, really I don’t have time for any crap in my life at all. It got to the point where you know I just said, ‘That’s enough,’ and that was it. I filed for divorce. Nine months of getting him to sign the papers and that was that, I was divorced. The happiest day of my life.”
She’s also convinced that her country is still split along racial lines, as it was during the time of Apartheid: “I don’t think anybody could argue that our country is still divided, it’s still very much divided and everything’s still being blamed on Apartheid. And I don’t think that’s going to change.”
She feels frustrated by the changes in South Africa and says: “The country’s gone haywire since I was seven.”
Luyanda, who grew up in a hostel in Gugulethu township in Cape Town, now lives in a shack he has built next to it. A forklift driver, he earns just 690 rand (about £41) a week, and has three children by different women to pay for. He says: “I think Aqhama [the latest] will be my last. I’ve had enough children. My burden is too heavy.”
He tells the story of his friend Andiswa, who was seen in earlier Up films growing up with him in the township and in their village hundreds of miles away. By 21 she had divorced her husband, and after that she became pregnant with another man, who left her. After she had the baby she fell ill, and it transpired she was HIV positive. She took her baby back to the village, where she died in 2010.
Luyanda says: “She had lost weight but I thought it was because she had a newborn baby. I thought it was because she was breast feeding, so I thought that was the reason, but not long after we heard that she was sick. She moved back to the village to live with her grandmother. Wherever she is, she’s thinking about her daughter. I’m sure that’s all she’s thinking about.”
Further tragedy struck when Luyanda’s girlfriend Ntombovuyo was stabbed after a night out and later died of her injuries, after he carried her to hospital bleeding. He says: “I went to hospital barefoot holding her in my arms. I lost all hope when she called my name, she just said my name when we were at the hospital gate. I could feel her becoming lighter. It was too late. Whenever I thought about her, tears would roll down my face.”
The film ends with Katlego taking two white friends on a tour of Soweto – who agree that it feels like another world compared to their privileged lives. Katlego concludes: “We still have a long way to go. In my opinion, we’re not even close to where we should be. I think everyone can be part of that process.”