The University of Leeds has partnered up with two NGOs, UK based Bishop Simeon and South African based Themba Interactive, to devise a participatory filmmaking and youth leadership programme with vulnerable youths in the East Rand of Johannesburg, South Africa. Over a period of 9 months, the project partners worked with young people between the ages of 12 to 19 that are supported by four Safe Parks in four different Townships in this region. Those Safe Parks are; the Bonisiwe Field Project in Magagula Heights; Repheleng Care Centre in Kwa-Thema; Ncedo-Thuso Ea Bana in Katlehong; and Leth'iThemba Edu Care in Vorsloorus. These Safe Parks are community-based organisations that support orphaned and vulnerable children in their communities, and they do so in part through support from BST and Themba Interactive. Through our partnership with these NGOs, we aimed to support them in creating a model for the development of Youth Committees that would ensure that the voices of the youth would be heard within the community-based organisations. By supporting the establishment of these youth committees, we have also started a process of youth leadership training that will encourage youths to become advocates within their communities.
You can read more about each Safe Park in their individual stories within this project. The following film clips have been taken from interviews with our project partners that introduce their organisations and the work that they do. The films that the youths created during this project have also been included within this story so that you can see the range of issues that the youths felt were important to engage. These dominant narratives are things that the youths want to challenge. You can also find these films individually within their Safe Park stories as this places them in the context of the communities they are rooted in.
During the first stage of the project, we interviewed Sinethemba Makanya, the project officer for Themba Interactive about her organisation and how the University of Leeds project fits in with the work that they are already doing. Apologies in advance for the difference in quality of the segments in the following interview, both interviews were recorded near the start of the project, but on two different cameras.
One of the key themes that came up in our discussions, was that of discrimination. However, it soon became obvious that discrimination is not singular, it does not only apply to one specific group of people. Our youths spoke about how they have witnessed the effects of racism, homophobia, gender inequality, xenophobia, (the list goes on...), in their community. Therefore this group felt that they wanted to create a film that would capture how easily discrimination can be felt, through creating a story about a girl with a skin infection.
Some of the youths from the Bonisiwe Field Project noted that sexual abuse is common in their community. They wanted to draw attention to this issue as a means of empowering women to take a stand against this issue as they feel that is should not be accepted as the norm. They wanted to create a film that would encourage victims of sexual abuse to speak up about their experiences and seek justice for what has happened to them. This film focuses on the issue of husband rape and alcohol abuse, as the youths wanted to draw attention to the fact that rape is still a crime even if the victim and perpetrator are married. However in discussions on this topic, the youths noted that sexual abuse happens through many different means in their community. The following film does contain content that may be considered sensitive, however it was a powerful issue that the youths felt they needed to address. It is so important that they bring light to this manner of issue in their community, as in doing so they are also raising awareness of the matter.
Recent statistics are showing that 'Intimate Partner Violence' is the biggest killer of South African women (more so than HIV) with a woman dying from this form of abuse on average, every 8 hours. There is also a stigma around reporting domestic abuse, which undoubtedly contributed to the growth of this statistic. Therefore it is so important that these youths want to draw attention to this issue in their community.
Here is an article that summarises the statistics on domestic violence in South Africa, with links to the two main studies that support these statistics:
Another story that the youths wanted to tell, was about the issue of xenophobia, which felt is common in their community. However they also strongly felt that there are two sides to this story, so they wanted to represent this in their film. When we think of xenophobia, we often think that there is no grey zone between victims and perpetrators. However the economic factors that cause xenophobia in South Africa are most hard felt in the country's impoverished and underprivileged communities, where there is tough competition for jobs. Our youths wanted to show that the solution for peace between South Africans and other African natives can be found in the middle ground of the competition for jobs as they felt that foreigners are often offered positions at the expense of local citizens. This is their take on xenophobia in South Africa.
The youths of the Leth'ithemba safe park talked to us about how, very often, their generation are seen as having a better chance of getting into university than their predecessors. Therefore many of today's youth aim to finish school and matriculate with the hope of going to university as it is seen as a mode of providing them with more opportunity and a way out of their current living situation. However, they also spoke about how they sometimes feel great pressure from their parents to pursue these achievements. In a culture where the authority of elders is totally dominant, this can often lead to depression amongst the youths as they feel they have no right to an opinion, nor any control over the direction of their own lives. This film has a very strong message about the severe effects of what they termed 'parent-pressure'.
Another issue that the youths of Leth'iThemba wanted to draw attention to was that of blessers. Blessers are very similar to sugar daddies, who exchange money and gifts for sex. This sort of relationship can seem very enticing to younger women who come from poorer environments as they seem to offer a change in lifestyle. However it comes with risks as it leaves young women vulnerable, especially if they confuse the motives of the blesser with a real relationship. These relationships are also contributing towards the increase in Gender-Based Violence as they are based on an exchange and not respect. Additionally, this phenomenon has also been linked to an increase in the spread of HIV amongst women aged 14-25. The following article provides some more information on the blesser culture in South Africa: http://www.sbs.com.au/topics/life/culture/article/2016/05/26/blessers-inside-south-africas-sugar-daddy-culture
The Youths at Leth'iThemba made the following film, which is an enactment of one of the girls' experiences with a blesser, as warning to other young women so that they may be more educated about these sorts of relationships.
The youth committee candidates from Ncedo Thuso wanted to explore the universal issue of bullying. Bullying is undoubtedly an issue that links the experiences of youths all over the world. However these youths wanted to acknowledge the other side of the story. They understand that although bullying cannot be justified, there are always two sides to the story. Therefore they chose to explore the home factors that can cause a youth to become a bully.