Shooting in Alexandra - Part ONE

Alexandra is more than just a juxtaposition to Sandton. It is a sign that while unleashing the most ruthless system of governance on majority Black people in South Afrika – the Boers also had a sense of humour. To create two worlds just a few kilometres of each other, separated by a freeway is but the worst form of mental torture one can inflict on people they don’t like.

An academic I chatted with some few years ago said that even if you were blindfolded and driven through Sandton and later taken to Alexandra you can still feel the contrast. “in Sandton you will smell the sweet aroma of freshly-mowed lawn while Alexandra will give you a stench of raw sewerage and dry urine only synonymous with squalor”

We took the shoot for Cast The First Stone to Alexandra for a simple reason that the story of how Father Nicholas negotiates his calling through pain and ‘divine’ deception is set in Alexandra. In the film Alexandra is not just a backdrop but an integral part of the story character. It is not just a wallpaper at the mercy of glorification by a film crew out to smell raw sewerage and bid this failed experiment goodbye when it wraps. Alexandra is a reality some call home.

We turned up in Alex on Monday morning and as we knew were welcomed by hordes of people living under the sun, drinking, smoking, doing their laundry while some were just going about their day. The first thing you notice through the eye of a social scientist is that unemployment is rampant. Overpopulation gives Alex its gritty realism, the poverty aesthetic often loved by documentaries about why sad stores continue to be told. Alex has a Beijing complex.

Cast the First Stone is set in this disappointment. The hundreds of people who wake up to face an empty day are mirrored in the characters of Bongani, Mpho and Sipho. The bad role-modelling often synonymous with townships serves as a slate onwhich the three township youths find their future already chalked. Such hopelessness can only be explored in a township such as Alexandra. The people of Alex are clean and proud. They are humble and policed by an ever visible SAPS police van, sedan or kombi. They work hard when there’s work to do.

They offer their toilets to the crew members at no fee. It’s a relief given that we pay R2 to use a public toilet in town. We pay nothing to these people with nothing – who want so much.

As the crew gathers expensive equipment and rolls metres of cable for the day as rain comes down, the only relief one feels at leaving 6th Avenue as we found it is that Cast the First Stone will tell the story of this community to a bigger audience – people will explore Alex – minus the stench of raw sewerage and numbing poverty.

However we feel duty-bound to portray the rat holes – the human passages, the slum, the dilapidation through the lens of a camera. Maybe Cast the First Stone will be a small mirror and a minor step – but we know it will be a giant leap since the Alexandra Renewal Project.

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