Six faces of freedom


A series recently broadcast by the South African Broadcasting Corporation
(SABC), Freedom is not Free offered a fascinating insight into the lives and
worldviews of young people in South Africa and their experiences of the complex
society of the country post-1994.

Airing just in time for national celebrations of the 20th anniversary of the first
democratic elections, Freedom is not Free devoted each of its six episodes to
telling the story of one very unique resident of South Africa between the ages of
24 and 30. The idea, explains series producer and director Takalani Mulaudzi of
Tshedza Media, was not to rehash ongoing questions of race and politics –
although these matters do come through in some of the stories. Rather Mulaudzi
and her crew set out to find interesting young South Africans and examine their
lives to find out how they experience or consume South Africa’s much-praised

The world of the born-frees

“My generation, meaning people in their 30s, seem to carry a lot of baggage and
understandably so. We seem to carry a lot of our history and we see everything
in terms of colour, we talk legacy, we attribute stuff to the past. The so-called
born-frees see things differently and we wanted to hear that voice and really
get into how they see things – we were surprised,’ Mulaudzi says of her show,
which was originally intended to tell stories about children of exiles – those who
had grown up outside of the country and then returned in, just before or just
after 1994. The concept then expanded to include people who originate from
other countries on the continent and have now settled in South Africa for
various reasons. The final series consists of six 48-minute episodes, three of
which deal with South Africans born in exile, while the other three deal with

The cultural diversity represented by the subjects is astounding – all the more
so when considering that they exist within the South African context. The six
people that Freedom is not Free places under the microscope are Zwo Farisani,
who was born in South Africa and then fled into exile with his family when he
was two years old; Bruno Nzasibira, whose family came to South Africa on an
“extended holiday’ in order to get away from the Burundian genocide; Thando
Moleketi, a South African born in Zimbabwe; Gugu, a Mozambican who made her
way to Johannesburg in order to find a place to work and live; Philani Brown,
another exile, whose mixed parentage both enriched and complicated his
experience of South Africa; and finally, Dire, an Ethiopian Muslim who sought
asylum in South Africa to escape persecution in her own country.

Personal journeys

Mulaudzi says: “The series was mainly to say, what has happened 20 years on?
And what are the views of the people who live in and consume this democracy?
What are their experiences? They do touch on the experiences of race. They
also touch on career paths they have chosen and other matters that are
important to them. It’s very personal, the journey they take us on but it’s with
reference to the country and the space they were in. It is quite a journey.’
Mulaudzi had to take on the directing role by default when the director she had
contracted for the project took on another assignment not long before shooting
was due to begin. While she notes that wearing both directing and producing
hats did create a slight conflict (she had to call upon her accountant to rein in
some of her less budget-friendly directorial impulses) she found the experience
a rewarding one, particularly as the kind of show she wanted to create required
her to build strong personal connections with her interviewees. By the time the
cameras rolled, the subjects were at ease with her and the crew, understood
what the aims of the project were, and were well equipped to talk about those
aspects of their lives most relevant to the concept of the show. Some of the
secondary characters required a somewhat different approach, however, and
Mulaudzi had to use some more sophisticated directorial tools to get the
information she needed.

“It’s easy to have a conversation about yourself,’ she says. But I found that
with some of them, when you went into the themes of the show – they found it
difficult to speak about freedom, democracy and all of these concepts. They
seemed to be heavy words for them to deal with. I had to find ways to link our
themes to the story that they had been telling. You need to consistently probe
until they give you the answer you’re looking for but don’t realise it.’

Shot using the trusty Canon 5D on various locations around Johannesburg, with
some forays into other parts of the country, Freedom is not Free is a fascinating
and intimate document of South African democracy and the many, complex ways
in which it has affected the lives of the country’s residents, told from the point of
view of those who, through their unique life experience, are able to place that
democracy and freedom in perspective.


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