I first watched Bongeni Ngema’s SARAFINA! when I was about 13. I hadn’t yet learnt about Apartheid in South Africa, and watched it because it was a a musical and I loved their singing and dancing. I didn’t speak a smidgen of  Zulu or Xhosa, but I sang along to all their songs in my own rhyming jibberish. I thought, at the time, that although this was a movie and a musical-why would anyone make a movie about white policemen in an African country beating up students? It made no sense. Why would anyone do that? Even after learning about the South African liberation struggle, Nelson Mandela, Robben Island, Apartheid and everything else in the history books about South Africa, it still seemed like a story that was told a long time ago. It didn’t seem real.

That was until I grew up. And traveled. Traveled far and wide enough to know that SARAFINA! was not just a musical and a story that was told years ago. When I finally knew what a kaffir, a sjambok, a boer was, Apartheid became real. And not just the history of it, but the legacy of its era.

I watched SARAFINA! again last night, and I got goosebumps. This was all real. I now understand why the white policemen were beating up students. And why the students were so angry. The Sharpeville Massacare that I learnt about in history. The refusal of a people, young people, students to accept and live in a system that presented them as less than…human. Their passionate singing and dancing. Their tears-which could have been real. They must have been real. Pain like that takes generations to heal.

The making of this movie in itself must have been some kind of a catharsis. Healing of some kind happened on that set. In those streets.

Over fifteen years later I watched SARAFINA! and I finally get it.

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