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21 Up South Africa: Mandela's Children - documentary DVD review
21 Up South Africa: Mandela's Children Not rated by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) rating: 4 1/2 stars
Featuring: Frans, Katlego, Thembisile, Willem
Director: Angus Gibson   Studio: First Run Features
DVD release: 22 July 2008   Runtime: 70 min. (1 disc)
Format: Color, DVD-Video, NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen
DVD Features: Audio tracks (English - Dolby Digital), Closed captioned, Photo gallery, Filmmaker biography, More about the UP Series

South Africa. Once the bastion of racism where apartheid - or racial segregation - pitted people and communities against each other, this country has over the past two decades tried to put this ugly legacy behind it. 21 Up South Africa: Mandela's Children is the story of 18 children followed at the ages of seven, fourteen and 21 years of age. From 1992, when these kids were around seven and apartheid has just been abolished, through 2006, this documentary chronicles the lives of a set of young people, black and white, rich and poor, leading lives separated by apartheid. That attitudes have changed is obvious, but how much of that translates into bettering the lives of the underprivileged South Africans is not certain.

For instance Willem, at 21 in residence at Johannesburg University, is quite ambivalent about race today. It wasn't always so. When asked about black boys in school, this seven-year-old had muttered, "We don't like them, they are not white." At 14, his school was amongst the first in the country to integrate black kids. Race does not seem that important to Willem. Not anymore.

That's not so for Thembisile and many others, like Andiswa and Luyanda, for whom race has dictated their lives or what becomes of it. Raised in black townships at Sweto, Capetown and Durban and living in small tenements that resemble squatters' camps, most of them are unemployed. For them, life doesn't seem to have changed much since their childhood and the dark days of apartheid. Still, all is not lost. Says Frans, who still lives in the tenement in a Johannesburg township where he was first filmed as a seven-year-old child, "I am not so poor that I can't eat, but our standards are still very low."

The story is different for people of other Diaspora, such as Indians. Arthi, the spoiled seven-year-old from a reasonably affluent family, is now well settled into the legal profession. Though the family has suffered personal losses since she was seven, their lifestyle hasn't been too affected. They now live in a wealthy gated community. It is the same story for those blacks who have had access to a privileged education. Katlego, who went to an elite white school steeped in European culture, has great prospects under black economic empowerment programs. Lunga, who was able to go a white school thanks to his language skills in English, is also on a career growth curve: he lives in Johannesburg and studies human resources in a predominantly black university.

Poignant and tragic in parts as we watch some of the kids filmed earlier fall prey to AIDS, 21 Up South Africa: Mandela's Children also shows us the new face of South Africa, where education, training and enterprise are helping in the long struggle to reach equality and democracy.

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reviewed by Shampa Chatterjee
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