"Rebuilding Family structures is crucial to empowering South Africa's women"

Sunday, 24 March 2013
Sara Blecher


"Rebuilding Family structures is crucial to empowering South Africa's women"


To mark International Women’s Month 2013, we invited contributions from a number of influential women from a variety of professional backgrounds, of both African and Non-African descent, and all engaged with the progress of women from the continent around the world. We asked them a series of questions including what more needs to be done to address the challenges facing African women in the 21st century, which women inspire them and what words or quotes motivate them.  Sara Blecher, critically acclaimed film-maker, (Otelo Burning, Surfing Soweto) is our seventh contributor. 


Sara Blecher, Film-Maker, South Africa

In my opinion the biggest challenge in South Africa today is that over the last hundred years family structures have been systematically decimated. The causes for this are varied and complicated from the migrant worker structures perpetuated by apartheid to the huge and often unaffordable price of lobola. But fixing this is the best way of improving the lives of all our citizens and in particular women because it is they who often bare the brunt of these dysfunctional family units.

Recently I completed a documentary called Surfing Soweto  - in which we document the lives of three of the most notorious train surfers in Soweto. We spent four years making this film and during that time I got really close to all three of the train surfers. The most important thing I learned during this time was how difficult it was for all three of them to make the passage from boyhood into manhood without fathers. It struck my how critically important it is for a young boy to have someone to guide them through this process. Years ago this role was fulfilled by strong father figures, uncles or other male members of the family and boys were sent to initiation schools. But these days as many of these cultural institutions have broken down  - boys learn to become men on the streets. And this is bad. The street is not a place to learn what it means to be a man.  And it is not a place to learn how to treat women.

This, in my opinion, is one of the main challenges facing our country; to try and rebuild family structures. Its only by doing this that we will begin to really tackle the high levels of violence against women we are currently experiencing. In South Africa a woman is raped every four minutes. These statistics are horrific and much of the research I’ve recently been reading points to the lack of family structures as a central cause of this.

I can’t speak for the whole of Africa, but certainly in South Africa there has been a conscious attempt to try and redress inequalities of the past. This includes both gender and race inequalities. I think this has given women enormous opportunities to explore all sorts of fields they weren’t able to imagine before.

Hilary Clinton inspires me. She’s terrific. Despite suffering defeat in her race for the presidency, she hasn’t stopped working to try and have an impact on the world.  She is an inspiring example of great dignity, huge courage and fortitude, an astounding intelligence combined with a strong moral core. 
Her life has shown clearly that if you don’t push the envelope you don’t know what's on the other side. I think that’s something we African woman are starting to understand.

Another woman who inspires me is Joyce Banda, the President of Malawi.  She shows what’s possible when you lead an African country with integrity and the will to really improve people’s lives.  She makes me proud to be a woman. And proud to be an African.

Sara Blecher is a film-maker. Her film, Otelo Burning is on general release in the UK from the 12th April.