A documentary series on the history of Johannesburg’s Alexandra township, funded principally by the National Lotteries Distribution Trust Fund, launched at the Kings Cinema in Alexandra on 21 September.
The launch of Alexandra, My Alexandra, is timed to coincide with the centenary celebrations, marking 100 years since Alexandra’s first freehold plots were sold to Africans by Herbert Papenfus of the Alexandra Township Company.
Based on the book, Alexandra, A History, by Noor Nieftagodien and Philip Bonner (Wits University Press 2008), the documentary series charts the history of the township from 1912 to the present day, over six one hour episodes. Billed as “a history told from below’ a host of Alexandra residents, past and present provide the stories through which the township’s epic struggle for survival and for human dignity can be understood.
A handful of the characters featured in the series include writer Wally Serote, who makes Alex come alive with his writing; Simon Noge, the famed Gunners footballer and activist also known as “Slow Poison’; Louisa Rivers, who truanted from school to join the 1956 Women’s March on Parliament; Moses Mayekiso, a trade union leader who was central to the Six Day War in Alexandra in 1986; Paul Mashatile and Obed Bapela, leaders of the student movement in the 1980s; and of course, Nelson Mandela (Madiba), who first tasted mass struggle during the 1943 bus boycott in Alexandra.
Alexandra, My Alexandra will be launched by exclusive invite in Alexandra on 21 September with a screening of a theatre cut of episode three, directed by Norman Maake, himself a child of Alex.
The episode covers the township in the 1950s, shortly after the Nationalists gain power and begin to introduce Acts of Parliament that have serious repercussions on the men and women of Alexandra. With the black township’s close proximity to the city of Johannesburg, at a time when white supremacy was forcing the notion of the city as a white space where Africans could only enter for work, it was almost as though the pass laws were specifically designed with Alexandra in mind. The episode celebrates the township’s unique flair for musical talent and its sporting heroes, both on the football field and the boxing ring. The decade is also one of movie stars being mimicked by the gangsters of the day. The episode deftly illustrates the close relationship between influx control in the form of pass laws and the increasing terrorisation of Alexandra’s residents by gangsterism, to the extent that,
“There is not one single person at the time in Alex who can say, “I was never a victim. Not one. We have a story to tell.’ (Jacob Bobape)
Comments series producer Rehad Desai: “The story of Alexandra, its colourful characters, its highs, lows and ultimately, its pioneering cultural and political influence on the rest of the nation, gives us a vista into our nation’s past and present. Many Alexandrans feel their story is yet to be told and fully understood and we hope to do some justice to that through this series.’
According to Maake, directing on this series was a very special experience. “As a filmmaker I am always confronted by the question of identity. Alexandra, My Alexandra has helped me to discover the roots of early urban black people and their struggle, desire and quest to rightfully belong here. And now I know that this right they fought for with everything is my inheritance.’
The SABC, the Gauteng Film Commission and the National Heritage Trust are also supporting Alexandra, My Alexandra, which can be expected to be aired on SABC in 2013.
The series has been developed with education and entertainment in mind and will eventually be available as a boxed DVD set for use in schools and in universities, accompanied by an online educational resource.