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Opening the closet, prison cell to society

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Next month, e.tv will be showcasing five documentaries that cover controversial yet topical subjects. Debashine Thangevelo caught up with the producers of All that Glitters and Concrete Jungle – Second Chance to find out more about the inspiration behind their doccies…




Producer Michelle Simon offers viewers insight into the world of the gay youth in Durban and how they have fallen prey to the material merits of relationships with older men.

Simon says: “Initially, the idea was to focus on one of the gay characters. But we kind of changed the content to also reflect on the social oppression and why people are afraid to come out of the closet.”

She points out that one of the contributing factors is the desire to conform to the social norms as dictated by society. Of course, there are other mitigating factors such as religion and peer pressure.

The producer explains: “Basically, the documentary addresses why we, as a society, place so much pressure… If it was a society that wasn’t so judge-mental and people felt free to be themselves, it wouldn’t put people at risk.”

Given the taboo around being gay, despite the giant strides made in gay rights around the world, Simon encountered a few obstacles in getting people to share their life and exper- iences on camera. After all, many of them are still in the closet and lead double lives.

She nods: “It was easy interviewing people willing to talk about the issue. Not many wanted to be publicly known. It wasn’t so much about their sexual orientation, either; it is about the interactions they have had.”

It also looks at how the youth are being wooed with material gifts by their much older partners, some of whom are married and lead a heterosexual public life.

“Some of the interviewees’ identities are protected. We have a lead character, but we do not divulge names. All in all, we have between six and eight talking on camera. They are able to give insight into this particular sector and the experiences they have encountered. Some are students, some are academics,” she says.

One of the emerging themes is the rural vs urban experience. Another is how religion dictates the measures taken to conceal their sexual orien- tation.

Simon is hopeful that viewers will, in watching this documentary, shed their prejudices towards gays.

She continues: “They will gain insight into these people’s experiences, struggles and lives. The bottom line is, we are all human. It doesn’t matter what we practise in our personal spaces. Society needs to be more accepting.”




SOAP buffs will be familiar with Mduduzi Mbaso as Rhythm City’s Suffocate, a gangster-turned-businessman, on e.tv.

What they don’t know about this actor is that he has a talented producer wife named Fatima Metsileng and that he has also done charitable work with inmates.

In fact, the idea for Concrete Jungle – Second Chance was drawn from Mbaso’s interaction with inmates. And his wife fleshed it out into this documentary.

Mbaso explains: “I conceptualised it and my wife wrote and directed (as well as produced) it. We wanted to show how hard it is to get out of prison and face the world and the community on your own.

“The people coming out of prison don’t have anything in terms of work.

“I have been working with inmates for the past nine years. I have been motivating them. Before it was done while working with Bongani Linda, who has since passed away, through the Victory Sonqoba Theatre Company. He used to take us to prison to perform for inmates and, in so doing, motivate them. I have been pushing that.”

Metsileng, who makes her TV debut with this doccie, offers: “Like he (her husband) says, it was his idea. I think people who are on the outside don’t know the basic reasons why these people get into prison. You know the saying: ‘every action has a reaction’. That is the approach we took as there are many circumstances that lead one to be imprisoned.”

I questioned whether it glorifies life as a convict and she says: “It definitely is not. Once I got involved with the motivating project of inmates, I got to see the other side and what makes them tick.”

In getting to see life through their eyes, she also got a different perspective of the warders.

“For me, it was an eye-opener,” she shares.

Because of the time constraints, they didn’t go too broad with their storytelling. Instead, they homed in on the real-life tale of Ralph Rachibi.

Metsileng continues: “In a nutshell, he was like any other guy growing up in the township. His dad was a polygamist and he was brutally killed in the township.

“He grew up to become an art student and then decided to join the army and served as a soldier. While on leave, he came home and that is when a turn of events unravelled his life…

“Obviously, we are trying to put it across objectively. We want our audiences to make up their own mind on the whole situation in its entirety. I hope that people can take away from it that there are many ways of dealing with pain and anger. Because Ralph’s anger spiralled out of control, he found himself serving a 25-year sentence, although, after 13 years, he was let out on good behaviour.”


• All That Glitters airs on e.tv on January 5 and Concrete Jungle – Second Chance on February 2 at 6.30pm.

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