Alexandra, My Alexandra is a South African documentary series produced by Uhuru Productions and based on the book Alexandra, A History by Noor Nieftagodien and Philip Bonner, which charts the history of the Alexandra township from 1912 to the present day, through which the township's epic struggle for survival and for human dignity can be understood.
The series premiered on SABC1 on Monday 10 March 2014, at 18h00. New episodes broadcast weekly. There are six hour-long episodes in the series.
A 6-part, 48-minute documentary series on the history of Alexandra township, this documentary was timed to coincide with the centenary celebrations, marking 100 since Alexandra's first freehold plots were sold to Africans by Herbert Papenfus of the Alexandra Township Company.
Based on the book Alexandra, A History by Noor Nieftagodien and Philip Bonner (Wits University Press 2008), the series charts the history of the township from 1912 to the present day, over six one-hour episodes.
Billed as "a history told from below" a host of Alexandra residents, past and present, provide the stories through which the township's epic struggle for survival and for human dignity can be understood.
Alexandra, My Alexandra was directed by Rehad Desai and co-directed by Marie Human. The series was produced by Anita Khanna and Rehad Desai for Uhuru Productions, with original music composed and produced by Ian Osrin and Andre Abrahamse.
Episode 1: A Place in the City (1912-1940)
When gold was discovered in South Africa in the late 1800s, prospectors from across the world flocked to Johannesburg, the City of Gold.
In 1905, a man called Herbert Papenfus bought a piece of land close to the city and divided it up into plots. He sold these to Africans. The area became known as Alexandra.
In this pocket of a racially dividing South Africa, close to an urban centre, Africans could be in control of their own destiny. But with various Acts of Parliament designed to support white supremacy the township found itself under continual threat of removal.
In order to defend their right to self govern, African freehold owners find themselves pushed more and more into the arena of national politics.
Episode 2: At the Centre of the Storm (1940s)
Throughout the 1930s, Alexandra grows rapidly and most whites are oblivious to the conditions Africans live in. While they depend on their labour, they make every attempt to ensure that Africans live as far away as possible.
As a result, transport costs to the city are a hefty part of day-to-day living expenses for Alexandran workers. This sparks a series of bus boycotts that show the growing strength of working class organisations in the township.
When Nelson Mandela arrives in Alexandra, a radical new leadership of the ANC, dominated by the Youth League, is born. On May 26th 1948, the Afrikaner Nationalists win the general election on a ticket of apartheid.
The Nationalists are voted in by constituencies with specific interests in the control of black labour. With the Nationalists in, nothing in Alexandra will ever be the same again.
Episode 3: Suits, Saxophones and Struggle (1950s)
Alexandra by the 1950s has become a cultural capital. Musicians of the period include Jika Twala, Caiphus Semenya, Hugh Masekela, Miriam Makeba and the Dark City Sisters.
Alexandra also provides some of the nation's greatest boxing heroes, such as Black Hawk, because for young men in particular, it is essential to feel tough on the streets.
Pass Laws continue to exact a heavy burden on Alex's population particularly the young and pass arrests and prison begin to influence youth culture, youth politics and the rise of gangs like the Spoilers and the Msomis.
The Bus Boycotts kick off again in 1957 when PUTCO announces a one-penny increase in fares and Voerword declares that uncontrollable townships need to be brought under control, in short raising the spectre, once again, of the removal Alex.
Episode 4: Dark City, Soul City (1959-1979)
In Sharpeville, 69 unarmed protesters are killed by the apartheid state. The state declares a state of emergency and bans both the ANC and the PAC, forcing both organisations underground.
In the year that follows, the state displays unnecessary force, which prompts Mandela to declare that the chapter on non-violent resistance is closed. Within a few months MK is formed.
The Soweto Uprising of June 16, 1976 ignites a countrywide student revolt. The following day in Alexandra, 29 are killed making it the most violent day yet in the township's history.
1976 has birthed a new generation of student activists, and the Alexandra Student League (ASL) is created, informed by Black Consciousness. Meanwhile, after the disruption of 1976, the State renews its plan for removal with a vengeance.
The 3050 remaining families live in fear and uncertainty, no-one knowing exactly when they will be moved.
Episode 5: Young Politics, Young Love (1980s)
In early 1985, youth leader and MK member, Vincent Tshabalala is led into an ambush and killed in a gun battle with the police. His funeral is one of the largest political funerals to date in the township, and marks the first major demonstration of public support for the ANC for many years.
This is followed in 1986 by the fatal shooting of Michael Diradingwe at Jazz Stores. The youth organisation immediately begins to mobilise support for Dirandingwe's funeral.
When police fire tear gas at mourners, they ignite a six-day war. During this war, a new civic is created and Alexandra witnesses the emergence of a high level of democratic people's power.
Alexandra has catapulted to the forefront of the struggle. It is for this very reason that Alexandra becomes a primary focus of the state's efforts to get black townships under control in the 1990s.
Episode 6: From Revolution to Reform (1990s)
Within months of FW de Klerk taking power, Nelson Mandela is released and four years of negotiations begin to end apartheid. By 1991, the Madala hostel is at the centre of what is to become a prolonged and bloody period in Alexandra's recent history.
Alexandra becomes the focal point for IFP mobilisation on the Reef.
The final chapter in Alexandra's civil war comes with the approach of the democratic elections of 1994.
The elders of Alexandra, one hundred years ago, saw a place of opportunity. They fought for their rights to the city. They stood as a community, very often with women acting as the glue and youth as custodians of a rich unravelling township culture of music, sport and politics that would travel the world.
Yet it is still virtually impossible to get a foothold in the city, and Alexandra offers just that to the many thousands of landless people seeking opportunities in Johannesburg.
This is an ongoing story of a township that remains neglected while it sits beside one of the wealthiest areas in Johannesburg.