Reminding us of the miracle of South Africa’s transition

It is not a new story, but it carries a new meaning – South Africa is a miracle that is rising.

This meaning was felt and embraced by local and international figures at the world premiere screening of Miracle Rising: South Africa in Johannesburg on Thursday evening.

Directed by Brett Lotriet Best, the documentary is told through the narratives of world-renowned figures such as Bill and Hilary Clinton, Charlize Theron, Desmond Tutu, Oprah Winfrey, Whoopi Goldberg and others. It also includes footage of graphic moments of death, assassinations and the bombings that took place at the behest of the country’s first free elections. It details the timeline of South Africa’s crucial moments during the transition from apartheid to democracy, played to an emotional, but proud, audience.

Initially I was concerned (and others have shared this view) about what non-South Africans (those featured in this documentary) were going to tell me about my country’s history that didn't already know.

But to my surprise, I was left feeling different about what it means to be a young South African today, almost 20 years after we entered into democracy following a long painful oppression. To hear intense respect for my country expressed by world leaders made me realise that our positive mark on this world goes back way further than just the 2010 World Cup.

Moreover, I look around and see all the struggles that we are faced with today, the ‘residue’ of unspoken pain, continued racism, poverty and crime and the results of promises not kept. And I stop and think that, if we could get through the 1990’s, where violence, bloodshed and a civil war was an imminent threat, then getting through our current issues should be a piece of cake.

Through this screening I learned that I am a part of the legacy of Madiba. I am what Madiba and others fought for. I am the miracle that they are talking about.

Miracle Rising is superbly written, and stands out among the myriad of narratives told about South Africa in the 1990s. Former president Nelson Mandela, the beacon of this rising miracle, is featured not just as a the man who lead South Africa on the road to freedom, but also as the negotiator who, while opening the path for resolutions, had made it clear that respect for the ANC was non-negotiable.

Commentators in this documentary bring forward powerful details about the deaths of Chris Hani, Joe Slovo, Ruth First, Steve Biko and the other revered revolutionary figures who are featured in this documentary. These facts are shocking, particularly to young South Africans who, as one audience member described it, have only a "textbook knowledge of South Africa’s history”.

In the documentary, Pallo Jordaan relates the story of the morning he heard about the tragic death of Chris Hani. These are some of the scenes in this documentary that are bound to make a young South African stop and ponder – and realise that what was taught to us in schools as just another death in South Africa’s history could have been a tipping point.

Democracy's difficult birth
The difficulties surrounding the 1994 elections, such as the rigging of the electronic system (that counted the votes) by some political parties and the delay in the arrivals of ballot papers are detailed and revealed, as is the way civilians came to the rescue by offering their services.

Dudu Ngcaba, New Business Development executive at Inala Technologies told the Mail & Guardian after the screening: “You know, I was a young lad during the 1990’s, but I particularly remember how tough those few days of our first elections were. I was part of the group in the Eastern Cape who was handing out and delivering ballot papers. It was so nice to see a movie that actually highlights those critical moments that some might not see as crucial to our country’s survival.”

Apart from the significant details that commentators bring to South Africa’s story of transition in this documentary, it is not a new story. But its power stems from the messages from world figures who, if not directly involved in the revolution, were viewers from abroad. And their message is clear – South Africa is a miracle. 

Director Best spoke to the Mail & Guardian about the film's reception here, compared to its London premiere last week. He said: “What was really great for me was to see how the South African audience received the documentary with such emotion but at the same time, humour”.

He referred to scenes of AWB leader Eugene Terblanche, and the outburst of laughter from viewers at his assurance to the media that a ‘free and democratic election’ would never happen in South Africa.

Asked what he wants viewers to get out of the documentary, Best said: “I want people to realise the unbelievable power they hold in their hands at every moment of every day. History is not shaped by politicians; it is fundamentally created by the decisions of all of us, and choosing to forgive and let go – even the most unimaginable, intolerable situations – brings the kind of freedom that idealists dream of.”

Emotional reactions
Hanif Randera, brother of Dr Fazel Randera who was a member of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission said after the screening: “It was really powerful. I just hope a lot of decision-makers get to see it. I will definitely recommend it to my colleagues.”

Praise for Miracle Rising: South Africa was also shared on Twitter after the screening.

@stacesuperr said: “So a documentary changed my life today! This is my country, this is my home! Cyril make me proud 🙂 #MiracleRising.”

There were a few tweets aimed at South Africa’s current leadership. ‏@SimonHudson_CxO said: “Mr Zuma you may be the head of the @anc but you are not a leader your deeds cheapen the sacrifice of those that put you there #miraclerising”.

He also said: “Every South African should watch #miraclerising if only to realise how zuma and his cronies have betrayed those who made it possible.”

Miracle Rising: South Africa will be shown on Sunday evening at 8.30pm on the History Channel. It will go live to 300-million homes in 150 countries around the world.

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

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