IOL Youth Day Film Festival: Sifiso Khanyile's UPRIZE! puts a unique spin on June 16

By Riana Howa Time of article published Jun 15, 2020

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Johannesburg - “We started off with a protest, we ended off with a struggle for liberation.” So says Sibongile Mkhabela, one of the Soweto 11, in UPRIZE!, a documentary by Sifiso Khanyile.

UPRIZE! is included in the selection of documentaries and features IOL is showing for free for the 24 hours of Youth Day as part of our Youth Day Mini Film Festival. We urge you to use the day to pause and watch your rise with our curated selection of films focused on youth issues and activism.

Khanyile’s 2017 documentary UPRIZE! not only captures what happened on June 16, 1976, but also what came before: the rise of the Black Consciousness Movement, arts, culture and music of the time, the changing world that the students were living in; as well as what came after: the spread of resistance and the mobilisation of the youth to defeat the apartheid regime. 

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The film was funded by the National Fund and Video Foundation. 

"They put a call out that they were going to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the student uprising of '76. I responded to the call out with a proposal which was accepted and that’s how I got to make the film," Khanyile says.

"I’d been thinking about and writing a documentary on protest art in South Africa for a while. So when I got the opportunity to make UPRIZE!, I changed my proposal to suit the theme of 1976, June the 16th."

Khanyile managed to keep an arts thread through his film speaking to musicians like Abigail Kubeka and Sipho Hotstix Mabuse and writer Mongane Wally Serote.

"We have a wide variety of people in the film. We spoke to some of the Soweto 11, who I think to some degree were tired of talking about the June 16 story but I guess they were seduced by our approach. We kind of looked at the events from a different point of view. We were looking at the cultural and political influences. A lot of the time people are focused on the events of that day, so we got a lot of people saying 'I like your idea, I like that it's different and I want to be involved ... 

"Because it speaks about the Zeitgeist of the township in 1976 but also about the community that participated and influenced the lives of the Soweto 11. So we had a more wide approach, we wanted to speak to musicians, we wanted to speak to writers, we wanted to speak to people who were members of SASO (The South African Student Organisation) just as much as we wanted to speak to the people who planned the march."

Khanyile says showing what came after was also very important to them.

"In our research, all this information about how 1976 took on many trajectories after the event was fascinating for us. On the one hand you have people going into exile to take up arms against the apartheid state … the young people were going in droves to join the armed forces of the ANC and the PAC, but also how it influenced other movements like the committee of 81 in the Western Cape for example.

"So it seems that 1976 had a big spillover effect. History has kind of reduced it to a single image, that of Hector Pieterson, but also what you know about it is just Soweto and about the Afrikaans. So what we found was missing from that narrative is how organised the students were and how their struggle was so much bigger than just the Afrikaans language decree, it was a much broader liberation struggle."

"So it was important for me to look at the influences that come before but also looking at how the 1976 youth influenced other student movements and other student leaders to help liberate the country," Khanyile says.

UPRIZE was Khanyile's directorial debut and he says he has just finished another documentary. “I've just finished my second feature documentary. It’s called A New Country and it looks at the 25 years of democracy from an economic point of view, in terms of South Africa being one of the most unequal societies in the world. We pose the question: 'How did we get to this point?' I've just completed the documentary and I’m looking forward to putting that out as well."

See more from Sifiso Khanyile here.

Along with UPRIZE! IOL's Youth Day Film Festival's selection includes Professor Siona O’Connell’s documentary The Wynberg 7: An Intolerable Amnesia about a group of high school students imprisoned in the 80s, Weaam Williams’award-winning film Hip Hop Revolution; Nadine Cloete’s powerful and heartbreaking short film Miseducation; artist Haroon Gunn-Salie's site-specific work Zonnebloem renamed; the story of Keletso, a young geologist, who is passionate about the protection of the beautiful environment she grew up in, Rehad Desai's look at the #FeesMustFall movement entitled Everything Must Fall and more.

Watch along with us this Youth Day and reflect on where we have come from and the battles ahead.  

IOL

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