TELEVISION / Growing up in public

Click to follow
'WE HAVE problems lots and lots of times,' said the small black boy. When pressed to amplify this remark he gave his interviewer a withering look and stated the obvious - ' . . . like killing each other.' Seven Up South Africa (ITV) the latest franchise from a prize-winning documentary which seems to have more outlets than McDonald's, quickly removed from you any consoling notion that the age of innocence would anaesthetise the pain of growing up in South Africa.

Most of the black children in Angus Gibson's compelling film could recall scenes of violence and then point down the street to their location. They weren't always telling the truth (one boy's excited memory of his father shooting a mugger dead seemed to owe more to the universal tendency to tell fibs than any local conditions) but the constant presence of guns, shootings and stabbings in their conversations was evidence enough. They didn't have the complaisant tolerance of many seven-year-olds, that sense that the world they inhabit is, in broad terms, unimprovable. In the most poignant case, a small girl living in a squatter camp with her grandmother, the response to most questions was a pained look and a refusal to talk.

The programme makes an implicit promise of a glimpse into the future, a promise derailed by the fact that most children still seem unsure whether the questions are a genuine interrogation or a test which they can pass by providing the right answers; they teeter between guileless candour and a more guarded response, which comes dressed in borrowed vocabulary. The effect is clumsy and mostly charming, like a child clumping around the house in grown-ups' shoes; in South Africa, though, they sometimes clump around in jackboots.

'There will be blacks until first break,' said a young Afrikaner, Willem, explaining how integration would work at his country school. 'After break there will be none . . . we'll beat them up . . . they stink.' His obliging smile told you that this would meet with parental approval. A black pupil at an exclusive private school answered the question about what was wrong with the country with the simple phrase 'There's darkness,' a diagnosis that didn't leave much room for treatment.

There were signs of hope too - in the appetite for education of young blacks and the unselfconscious friendship of black and white boys playing football. But your only real hope for the future was that these children wouldn't learn the lessons of hatred passed on by their parents.

If you were under the impression that the thriller could sink no lower than Virtual Murder, then Gummed Labels (C4) might have been designed to put you right. Laurens C Postma had taken a lot of different ingredients, cut them up into roughly shaped chunks and stewed them together in a sauce of portentous voice-overs and music video camera angles. This is how you make a hash, and that's exactly what you got.

Comments