Young South Africans rise up

12 June 2016 - 02:00 By Shanthini Naidoo
John Kani, Jarryd Coetsee and Atandwa Kani on set.
John Kani, Jarryd Coetsee and Atandwa Kani on set.
Image: Supplied

Jarryd Coetsee, 27, is director and screenwriter of The Suit, which is making waves on the international film festival circuit. Coetsee studied filmmaking in London on a scholarship from the Oppenheimer Memorial Trust and the Met Film School.

He worked in Los Angeles before returning to South Africa to found his own film company, which will "make feature films celebrating local stories on an international scale".

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Your first memory that set you on the path you're on today?

I can't single out one memory, but I have always had a wild imagination and I have always been a storyteller. Filmmaking is a means to be a storyteller by using your imagination to orchestrate a team of artists and technicians. I've always been captivated by the written word.

Think about it: a San man makes seemingly arbitrary marks on a cave wall somewhere along the Cape coast, and thousands of years later we stumble upon them and are able to connect with him across the ages. It's a phenomenal transcendence of the human spirit.

What does being a young South African mean to you?

It is invigorating because there's a collective sense that we are changing ourselves and our country for the better. We're in the process of negotiating a transition from being colonial subjects to democratic citizens. Inasmuch as we are seeking to forge a new identity in the volatile post-colonial space that we inhabit, we're unbinding the primarily socio-economic manacles of the past.

Though we have differing perspectives on how to unfetter ourselves from this legacy, the point is: most of us are committed to progress. Young South Africans are infused with a pioneering spirit and we want to see our progressive values reflected in our government.

Your favourite and least favourite things about South Africa?

My favourite thing is the ingenuity and innovation of our people. Think of young innovators like Siyabulela Xuza who developed a cheaper and safer rocket fuel by experimenting in his mother's kitchen in an Mthatha township. The rapid advance in technology has provided a channel to accelerate our development. It also levels the playing field. All one really needs to gain an education these days is a cellphone and Wi-Fi hotspots.

I'm also energised by a general sense of irrepressible joy despite the scourge of vast social inequalities. Where else in the world do people dance to express their dissatisfaction?

My least favourite thing about South Africa is the lack of maturity in some of our leaders who attempt to censor others, occasionally in a violent way. As frustrating as it can be sometimes not to reach consensus, it's important to remember that people have suffered immense privations, dangers and death to enable us to listen to each voice.

What role does the youth play now?

To continue to speak truth to power, especially since we have a vested interest in the future success of South Africa.

We've always been guided by principled, progressive young leadership. For example, Jan Smuts was 28 when President Kruger summoned him ... as the ZAR's new state attorney, Mahatma Gandhi was in his early 20s when he protested the grievances of Muslim Indian traders in Pretoria, and Nelson Mandela was even younger when he joined the anti-imperialist movement in the Eastern Cape. We should continue that tradition.

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Describe the South African youth of today in five words.

Progressive, optimistic, innovative, thoughtful, determined.

How do you feel about your future in South Africa?

I want to share our unusual stories both at home and abroad. Of course we have serious problems, but we have been blessed with exceptional young minds to overcome them and to improve our country.

Do you feel like a role model to others of similar age?

I don't actively pursue being a role model for anyone, but I hope that in living the truth as it has been revealed to me, it will unconsciously enable others to do the same thing for themselves.

What message would you like to impart to them?

Change yourself for the better and you change the world for the better.

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