The Great Granny Revolution
Ndaba Dlamini17 March 2008
"I wish I was born in Canada," says one old woman from Alexandra township in the film The Great Granny Revolution, a documentary focusing on the lives of grandmothers from Canada and South Africa.
Uttered in complete innocence, the old woman's words portray the daily hardships and suffering that the grandmothers, or gogos, of one of Johannesburg's oldest townships endure.
The documentary, produced by Brenda and Robert Rooney, tells the story of Canada's Wakefield Grannies and their partnership with South African grandmothers raising Aids orphans. The film oscillates between the crowded, noisy and dusty streets of Alex, as the township is affectionately known, to the tranquil, lush suburban areas of Quebec.
Lucia Mazibuko is one of the Alex gogos. She has lost two daughters, a son-in-law and a grandson to HIV/Aids. She is now caring for two grandsons, one of whom is HIV-positive. Another is Magdeline Ramakobo, a widow who lives with her HIV-positive daughter and two grandchildren in a one-room shack.
The scenes are tragic and moving. Ramakobo shows her humble abode, which serves as kitchen, dining room, bedroom and bathroom, to the Rooneys. Her gentle humour, however, belies a deep sadness that is etched in her old face.
And the stigma of HIV/Aids in the township is highlighted when Mazibuko openly states that she locked her HIV-positive daughter in the house for fear of being ridiculed and ostracised by her neighbours. "I killed my daughter," she admits in the film.
Working with children orphaned by HIV/Aids at Alexandra township's East Bank Clinic, psychiatric nurse Rose Letwaba discovered many of her patients were being raised by these gogos; this led her to set up a support group for them. In 2004, Letwaba spoke to a small group of people in Wakefield, Canada about her work with these extraordinary women and the next day, the then 80-year-old Norma Geggie, a member of the Wakefield Grannies, decided to do something about it.
The Great Granny Revolution is the story of what happened when 12 women gathered at Geggie's home in Quebec to offer their moral and financial support to this group of gogos in Alex. With partner Brenda Rooney, a founding member of the Wakefield Grannies, filmmaker Robert Rooney documented the group's growth as they inspire their community and others to follow their example.
Speaking at the recent launch of the documentary, Joburg's member of the mayoral committee for community development, Nandi Mayathula-Khoza, said the role of older persons in South African society had changed drastically. Because of HIV/Aids, old women, instead of being taken care of, had become primary caregivers of their grandchildren, whose parents had succumbed to Aids.
"It is indeed in this context that the leadership of the City of Johannesburg decided to partner the Alexandra grandmothers and the Wakefield Grannies of Canada in a pilot project of this nature and enhance Joburg's initiative of the basket of services for orphans and vulnerable children and granny-headed households," Mayathula-Khoza said. "The project has the potential to change the lives of both young and old in Joburg forever."
Mayathula-Khoza added that this international partnership was an uplifting story of hope in the face of loss and of the power of individuals to make a difference.
Wandile Zwane, a director in the department of community development, said the city had developed a programme to care for orphaned children.
"Together with some non-governmental organisations, we are in the process of locating orphans and all those granny-headed families. In the next financial year, we will have a plan how best to help these grannies."
As part of the film's launch, a two-day workshop with grandmothers from the city's seven regions and the Wakefield Grannies was held on 6 and 7 March at the Alex-Kopano Centre in Alexandra. Gogos in Johannesburg, who will facilitate the development of a support model for granny-headed households, were trained over the two days.
The Canadian high commissioner in South Africa, Ruth Archibald, said that the film was an inspiration to the women of Canada and South Africa. Despite the different lifestyles of the grandmothers from Canada and Alex, the two groups had a lot in common - the capacity to love.
She said the film and the workshop would hopefully inspire most women in South Africa to form such twinning of granny groups in affluent suburbs like Sandton and Fourways with gogos in Alex and Soweto.
Quoting American feminist and journalist Gloria Steinem, Rooney said: "One day an army of grey-haired women may quietly take over the earth."
Source: City of Johannesburg