Reviews

21 Up South Africa: Mandela's Children

Carolyn W. Fanelli

These people would grow up in a South Africa that was shedding its apartheid history and forging a multi-racial future, while dealing with the inter-related crisis of crime, poverty, and the HIV pandemic.


21 Up South Africa: Mandela's Children

Director: Angus Gibson
Distributor: First Run
MPAA rating: Unrated
US DVD Release Date: 2008-07-22
First date: 2007

At the tender age of seven, Frans already knew who he was and who he wanted to be: "I am poor. I want to be rich. When you are poor, you struggle". Would his lot in life improve? Now 21, Frans is proud that his home in a Johannesburg, South Africa, township has acquired an inside toilet, a fridge and a TV. Yet, gesturing towards the wealthy neighborhood in the distance, he proclaims, "These people live a life of luxury. And that's what you want. That's what I am dying for. I am striving for it". What will Frans say -- and on which side of the divide will he live -- seven years later when he turns 28?

The ability to watch people's personalities develop as they grow up; to ponder how their education, family, friends, culture and community will influence them; to guess correctly and to be completely surprised -- so sums up the addictive appeal of Michael Apted's Up Series and its spin-offs, including this DVD, 21 Up South Africa: Mandela's Children.

Apted has captured the lives of 14 Brits since 1964, when at first they were seven-years-old. His original film was called 7 Up; 14 Up followed seven years later. The latest installment, 49 Up, came out in 2005. Director Angus Gibson brought the Up series premise to South Africa in 1992, with 7 Up in South Africa.

The country was in the midst of a profound transition -- it was two years after Nelson Mandela had been released from prison and two years before he would become the country's first black president. The 14 young people Gibson selected for his film were destined to grow up in a South Africa that was shedding its apartheid history and forging a multi-racial future, while also dealing with the inter-related crisis of crime, poverty, and the HIV pandemic. The group includes blacks, whites, Indians and people of mixed race, all from very different backgrounds.

How, at age 21, will they have coped with life's challenges? Watching 21 Up South Africa, you feel part voyeur, part social anthropologist.

By 2006, three of the 14 have died of AIDS-related illnesses. The others are carving out their adult identities -- going to college, looking for jobs, getting married, having children. Only two seem truly self-assured: Willem aspires to become a player for the Springboks (South Africa's beloved national rugby team) and is pursuing a degree in sports management; Claudia is studying science with the hope of transferring to med school.

Amongst the remaining cohort is Lizette, a pregnant housewife who says she has a perfect life, but is so bored that she's learned to like reading because it makes her days pass more quickly. Katlego, a well-heeled young black man, is overwhelmed by the position of power he finds himself in as a result of the government's black economic empowerment policies. And Thembisile is unemployed, an all-to-common predicament in a country where only one in three women have jobs. "I would take any job", she says, "I don't care. I would do anything".

The film flashes back to interviews of the young people at ages seven and 14. It strikes you how much seven-year-old children take in from their surroundings, as when a small Willem discusses his feelings about the upcoming racial integration of his school. "There will be blacks there until the first break. After break there'll be none", he says. "Why"? asks the interviewer. "Because we'll beat them up".

At 14 he admits that his earlier comments were "stupid". A seven-year-old Thembisile says she wants to be a police officer when she grows up because "then I can shoot you". It is clear she knows who is behind the some of the killings in her poor black township.

A motherly-sounding narrator ties the vignettes together, and she often stresses that these are children that have grown up with more opportunities than their parents. They are "Mandela's children", after all. Nevertheless, you come away from the film with a real sense of how difficult it is to suddenly give everyone equal opportunity -- the playing field is remarkably resistant to leveling, even when the political will is there. South Africa may be the continent's largest economy, but most of these young people, like Frans, remain at its fringes.

The highlight of the DVD's skimpy bonus features is an intriguing four-minute excerpt of a Roger Ebert interview with Michael Apted, in which both men talk about the strange experience of growing old with the people in the Up films. Gibson's work is a worthy and compelling complement to Apted's groundbreaking series. He is an accomplished filmmaker known for tackling meaty topics, having been nominated for a "Best Documentary" Oscar in 1996 for Mandela. And what could be meatier than the future of a country and its children? For real reality, turn off Big Brother Africa, and turn on 21 Up.

8

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image