Sarafina (1992)




Director:     Darrell James Roodt.

Starring:     Leleti Khumalo (Sarafina), Whoopi Goldberg (Mary Masembuko), Miriam Makeba (Angelina), John Kani (School Principal), Dumisani Dlamini (Crocodile),  Mbongeni Ngema (Sabela).

This story is set in the year 1976 and is dedicated to the many young students in South Africa who fought and died against apartheid.



The story is set in the slum township of South Africa. Whoopi Goldberg plays the part of the combination music and history teacher, which might at first seem a strange combination of specialties, until one realizes the importance of music to the historical struggle against apartheid in South Africa. Sarafina is a young girl who is an idealist who combines both a desire to become a big star with political consciousness (she virtually prays to Mandela). She loves her music/history teacher because she also shares her two passions.

The white South Africans become very upset about reports of vandalism against white targets coming from the teenagers at the school. They start an investigation in the school and uncover the fact that the history teacher is not following the official, authorized, racist syllabus. The investigators focus in on the teacher. Visiting her teacher at the teacher's home, Sarafina finds an AK-47 rifle, and learns that the teacher's husband is involved in fighting against the white troops. Contemplating the rifle opens up thoughts of how much others sacrifice for the movement and the means, sometimes violent, that they employ.

Eventually the troops take the history teacher to prison. Extremely upset, Sarafina becomes involved in the efforts against black informers in the township. This leads to her participation in the murder of a black policeman.

The white police come to the school to arrest one of the students. The students react with outrage and come out into the schoolyard where the troops open fire on them, killing many. Then many of the students are imprisoned, interrogated, and tortured with beatings and electric shocks.

A deeply shaken and saddened Sarafina begins to reexamine her earlier, naive idealism and realizes that she has to reject violence as an answer to white repression. She also comes to a reconciliation with her mother, now knowing how difficult it is just to survive in a brutally racist regime.         

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:


Soweto is an urban area located in Johannesburg, Gauteng, northeast South Africa. It was set up under the Apartheid system. The area borders the city's mining belt in the north. The name is an English syllabic abbreviation for South Western Townships.

1976 (April 30) students of Orlando West Junior School in Soweto refuse to go to school.  The strike spreads to many other Soweto schools. A student from Morris Isaacson High School, Teboho 'Tsietsi' Mashinini, suggests that the student leaders meet June 13, 1976 to discuss what should be done.

1976 (June 13) students form an Action Committee that then organizes a mass rally for June 16.

1976 (June 16) the Soweto Uprising begins. There were mass protests against the government's policy to enforce education in Afrikaans rather than English

Police opened fire in Orlando West on 10,000 students marching from Naledi High School to Orlando Stadium. 23 people died on that June 16 day in Soweto.

The government began a program of violent repression. Political activists left South Africa to get training in guerrilla resistance.

Abroad, the event led to the introduction of economic and cultural sanctions against South Africa.  .



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