AMO RAMELA: Not 'Sarafina!' again: how film & TV lets us down one more time
JOHANNESBURG - When it comes to Youth Day, I feel like the South African film and television industry have done too little to recounter the events of the 1976 Soweto uprising, a series of demonstrations and protests led by black school children in South Africa that began on the morning of 16 June 1976.
On that day, students from numerous Sowetan schools began to protest in retaliation to the introduction of Afrikaans as the medium of instruction in local schools.
Many students were killed by police, while others were arrested and some relocated to rural areas and more fled the country to exile.
Years later writer, lyricist, composer, director and theatre producer Mbongeni Ngema gifted us Sarafina!, a film about a young black South African girl struggling for freedom during apartheid. While she remained relatively silent in her opposition of the racist government in her country, the move to make the language of Afrikaans the official language in her school leads her to protest in the streets with her fellow students.
Kudos to Ngema for that film aired first in 1992. He managed to capture a significant moment in history in dialogue, song and dance and through intense emotion that is true to our art as South Africans.
In fact when you watch Sarafina!, no matter how many times you have seen it, it has an impact on you so much that you feel the pain the frustration that the students were going through. And then the artistic nature takes you through singing along throughout the sad and happy scenes. How beautiful?
But Sarafina! can't still be the only film we watch during this period. I was singing Freedom Is Coming Tomorrow, a song from the film, at the beginning of June knowing what would be shown on my screen on June 16th - trust e-tv for that. As news came out “to celebrate Youth Day in South Africa and the 30th anniversary of Sarafina!, e.tv will roll out the red carpet for cinema showings and broadcast the musical drama.”
Or maybe we need to watch Sarafina! again so that we as can reflect on what our struggles and frustrations are. Maybe we need to stop wearing our uniforms to commemorate this day. Yes, we can’t erase that part of our history like many other moments. But we should start telling and documenting our historical stories repetitively like how Sarafina! has been told.
How could we forget of the #Feesmustfall, a student-led protest movement that began in mid-October 2015 in South Africa? The goals of the movement were to stop increases in student fees as well as to increase government funding to universities. How are we not telling such events in numerous documentaries, films or plays? The Department of Sports, Arts and Culture needs to re-look the funding of such projects that will continue to carry our stories.
Mental health problems, a known problem in society now as we try to normalise talking about it, hasn't been reflected enough in film and television either. Recent news of esteemed people in the TV and entertainment industry taking their own lives or dying from causes related to depression have remained prevalent in headlines. That on its own is something the department should be throwing its weight behind to ensure that our content is all encompassing and we don’t have only Sarafina! to rely on.
But as for me and my vocal cords, we will still chant Freedom Is Coming Tomorrow with a clenched fist all the way to the TV room on June 16th.