2019 marks twenty-five years since the official end of apartheid. South Africa’s first free elections in 1994 spoke of a promise to the whole world to continue the fight for civil rights until all peoples would be free. And in fact, the microcosm of Jabulile’s story points to a widespread bitter truth for poor black women across South Africa, in the U.S. and in many other parts of the world: the long walk to freedom is not over.
Apartheid remains entrenched in the social and economic institutions that determine Jabulile’s place in life. Stories of individuals caught up in this system shed light on the effects of long-term bias in our society and give a voice to those who suffer. We need to tell stories which show the truth about continuing inequity – in order to inspire people like Jabulile to break the cycle of poverty – and also to motivate western audiences to reflect upon the current systems which perpetuate such racial inequality.
Director Sarah Gross grew up in a mixed race family. Two of her black siblings were adopted at the ages of 8 and 9 from an abusive foster home. Although they all grew up together in the same middle class family, she saw how they struggled over the years to try to make up for the poverty and deprivation from which they had come. Gross witnessed how her siblings’ skin color continued to impact their professional possibilities into adulthood.
“If you are willing to work for it you can become anything you want.” This was the great American message with which Gross and her siblings grew up. Not spoken but equally clear was the flip side truth: “If you are poor it is your own fault.” Gross’ family’s experience belied this.
When Gross first went to South Africa in 2014, she was shocked to see the extent to which apartheid still rules. It took her straight back to her childhood’s deep distress over the struggle of her siblings to overcome the invisible binds of social and racial inequity. Visiting the women of Kopanang over the past three years and filming their transition into self-management, Gross has learned to appreciate the triumphs along the way.