Tuesday 26 June 2007

Train surfing in Soweto

Instead of going to school, children living in Soweto, with absent fathers and other family problems go to the train station to jump on trains and perform daring stunts. They get limbered up by drinking alcohol and smoking weed. Then, urged on by their girlfriends, they get on the roof of the train and duck under high-voltage cables which the train passes at 40 km/h. One guy gets out of the train while it’s cruising along and hangs underneath it. One false move and he’d get killed. Kids do get killed. Sometimes they misjudge one of the cables and get thrown off the train. This was the subject of a documentary scripted, filmed and edited by a young guy from Soweto, Muzi.

Muzi, aged 23, showed us his film this morning. It was originally put together as a story for his class. One of his teachers put him in touch with George Mazarakis, producer at Carte Blanche, and the film ended up being screened on national TV. He was shy and nervous but was keen to share the story with us.

Everything is not as rosy as it seems on the surface. In some quarters there is a lack of hope and not a lot is being done about it. In Soweto there are no real opportunities for these children and a lack of role models. To escape their problems and to get a high, to feel good about themselves, they put their lives at huge risk. They don’t care if they die. Surfing the trains, they are the centres of attention, revered by their girlfriends when they succeed, insulted when they get injured: forgotten when they die. Muzi’s film has persuaded some children to stop and raised awareness of the issue but it still continues.

Soweto now has its first shopping mall, which we saw a couple of days ago. The development has encouraged economic activity and benefited the local people. Yet nothing has been developed for the youth and it seems nothing is being done to deal with the fundamental social problems that mean the children lose hope.

Muzi is now working on his next project, a film about gangland funerals and how the young, impressed by the image the gangsters give off, want to join their ranks.