By Sabina Zaccaro
Itâs 1992. Baby Vusumzi lives with his mother, Mavis, in a small house in a black township called Thornhill, one of the places blacks were moved to during apartheid. Vusumziâs father has just died of pneumonia and Mavisâ work as a cleaner all they have to survive.
In the new South Africa, 12 years after apartheid, over 40 people a day are being murdered in places like this. âThe people are all right till pay day, then all hell breaks loose,â says 10-year old Vusumzi.
âThey often get drunk and have their wage packets stolen. Some of the poor people steal because theyâre very hungry.â Asked how he would improve things, he says, âI would stop grown-ups from raping children.â
Vusumzi is one of the children who was followed by tve since 1992. For 20 years, tve has filmed the lives of 11 children, born in 10 countries across the planet at the time of the Rio Earth Summit, to see if the promises of a cleaner, healthier, bettereducated and less dangerous world would be fulfilled in their lifetimes.
âNow thereâs a new Earth Summit in Rio, weâve returned to each child to discover what happened to them,â director Bruno Sorrentino told TerraViva.
Half an hourâs drive from Vusumziâs house, Sorrentino finds another world. A fertile lowland, home to white-owned farms. It is where Justin was born, at a time of upheaval in South Africaâs Eastern Cape. Apartheid has only just ended and white farmers viewed as settlers by radical black movements are being attacked. Justinâs father and his wife Amanda sleep with a revolver under the mattress, and the radio to call the police in case of trouble.
When apartheid came to an end, many things started to change. Peopleâs attitudes have changed, Justinâs family says. âPeople want to get together and make the country work and the political situation work instead of being antagonistic towards each other and saying the other one is the âbig bad daddyâ, you know? Theyâre working together to try and make a better place.â
When Justin was born in 1992, only white children attended school. But that belongs to the past. âLike, a friend doesnât have to be the proper colour for you,â says Justin. âHe can be any, as long as heâs a true friend. Always help youâŠplay with you. Yeah, doesnât matter what colour he is for me.â
Vusumzi and Justin grow up in a South Africa marked by separate development, where division is not so much about race but wealth. Once in university at the age of 19, Justin feels like he has the future in his hands. âWhen I left my name behind in Queenstown I left all the insecurities I had, all the things I wasnât confident about in myselfâŠ. (now) I feel like I have found myself. Iâm still learning, and growing, but for the most part, I know who I am. And I know where I want to be. And I know what I need to do to develop, to grow. Iâm an ambitious young adult.
Vusumzi was not lucky enough to even attempt a different life. When he was 17, his mother had to leave home to try to find work in another town. While she was away, Vusumzi was stabbed by a drunk boy in a street attack.
Three years later, Mavis is in front of Vusumziâs killer. She wants to forgive him. âFor 20 years, we have followed the lives of these 11 children born at the first time world leaders had got together to promise future generations a better world. Itâs been an incredible adventure,â Sorrentino told TerraViva.
Education turns out to be a fil rouge, a common thread in all of these children stories.
âWhen I started I had no idea of what the stories would be in the end. We chose the parents, not the babiesâŠBut yes, education has become a really strong theme as being seen as the universal way out. Thereâs nothing new in this but itâs interesting to see how strong it is.â The three-episode film telling the stories of 10 children, and the too short story of Vusumzi, is part of the multimedia ReframingRio project and was presented Monday, Jun. 18 in Rio. More can found on the tve website.