// South Africa's answer to Slumdog makes stars of poor children
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« on: Jul 21, 2009 11:35 PM »


An 11-year-old township girl will walk down the red carpet this week at the premiere of an award-winning film described as South Africa's Slumdog Millionaire.

Sobahle Mkhabase is among seven children plucked from impoverished backgrounds who have won plaudits for their roles in iZulu Lami which, in the Zulu language, means My Secret Sky.

Sobahle has already won a best actress award at the Tarifa festival in Spain, where the film was also honoured. It has won further prizes at African film festivals in Cannes and Zanzibar.

Shot in a month on a budget of just 4.5m rand (£350,000), My Secret Sky receives its first domestic screening on Thursday at the Durban international film festival.

Comparisons with Slumdog seem inevitable. Thembi, 10, played by Sobahle, and her eight-year-old brother Kwezi, played by Sibonelo Malinga, are left alone in their rural homestead after their mother dies. Their only possession is a traditional Zulu mat she had created to enter in a craft competition.

They head to Durban for the competition but run into a gang of street kids. Although the film is hopeful in tone, there are difficult and violent scenes, including Thembi narrowly escaping being raped.

The child actors, who attended extensive workshops, were selected over 18 months from auditions of 3,000 in streets and schools in KwaZulu-Natal province. Many had never been inside a cinema. Sobahle, like her character, has no contact with her father and lives in a township.

Jeremy Nathan, the film's producer, said: "They all come from really poor homes. They are at school living in various degrees of difficulty. They are all tremendous kids and learned a lot from the process.

"I don't think the premiere will be anything on the scale of Slumdog or Harry Potter, but in a small South African way I hope there will be some glitz and glamour for them to experience. They're amazing little people."

He added: "The story is told from a children's point of view on the world. Without them it wouldn't work at all."

The movie is made almost entirely in the Zulu language and is aimed at a domestic audience rather than Hollywood. Madoda Ncayiyana, its director and co-writer, said: "South Africa has so many interesting stories to tell, yet our film industry is an emerging industry spoilt by overseas junk. Unfortunately, we think it's the right thing to bring in those cliches.

"But audiences are moving away from that. iZulu Lami was filmed using performances which are honest and I expect South African audiences to enjoy it."

The film has been submitted to the London film festival to be considered for a UK premiere later this year. Ncayiyana is working on his next screenplay, with a role written for Sobahle, who wants to pursue a career as an actor.

'If he woke up and had enough food for the day and shelter (a roof over his head) and he does not fear for his safety, then it is as if he has been given the dunya.'
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