It is a chilly Tuesday evening in Liphakoeng – a community perched on a hillside above the industrial zone of Ha Thetsane in Maseru. People are just getting home: many of them are workers in the nearby textile factories, and it is a long walk up the steep tar road before they turn onto the dirt paths that lead to their homes.
On this workday evening, however, something unusual is happening in this community. On a small, rocky patch of ground underneath a tree and beside a small food stall selling fruits and snacks, a giant blow-up screen has been set up. Music is pumping from speakers and as it gets dark, people are beginning to curiously gather around the noise and lights.
This is the first of a series of screenings that the Siyakhona Media Studio @ Kick4Life is holding in communities in and around Maseru. It has now been seven months since the team of eight began their intensive training in filmmaking and citizen journalism. This evening, they are screening Fresh Cut – their first “magazine show” – which includes a series of short five-minute films that profile a variety of local personalities, topics and current affairs.
The central piece of the show, however, is a sixteen-minute call-to-action film called The Darkest Hour, which explores the lack of access to clean water that many communities in Maseru continue to face.
“Siyakhona works with communities to find out what burning issues they are facing. We went out and spoke to people and we found out that one of the most urgent issues they face is access to safe drinking water,” explains Malefu Taoana, of the Siyakhona crew members.
“We visited Tšenola Lepereng, a community in Maseru where many people struggle to get safe drinking water. We worked with one of the villagers there – an elderly lady who sometimes has to wake up at 2am to go and fetch water with her grandchildren, and even then sometimes finds that there is a queue of people waiting at the well. We spent the whole day with her filming her story, following her through the day and seeing for ourselves how much she struggles to get water.”
“Affordable water and sanitation is a human right, and we are trying to make sure that people have access to this,” says Malefu. “Lesotho sells water to other countries, but so many Basotho people don’t have water themselves.”
On this Tuesday in Liphakoeng, many of the people who are walking past the screening are carrying buckets of water on their heads. This too is a community where access to water is a daily struggle for most residents. In the growing dark, more and more people gather as, one after the next, the Fresh Cut films are played. The Darkest Hour is screened last, and by this time there is a sizeable group of people standing around – their interest sparked by what is clearly an issue that is relevant to their lives.
At the end of the screening, the Siyakhona crew invites members of the audience to come up and express their opinions about the topic. People come up one by one, with little hesitation, and speak firmly, sometimes angrily, into the microphone. They narrate the frustrations, the string of promises made and broken by politicians and officials, and the need for members of the community to speak out and take action.
“We have been getting positive reactions to the screenings from people,” says Malefu. “A woman I spoke to at one of the screenings told me that it makes her happy to see that there are people who care for them. People in her community have been complaining about water for a long time, but they haven’t been heard. She believes that Siyakhona will bring change into their lives.”
“We are working with the Transformation Resource Centre (TRC) to collect 10,000 signatures for a petition that will be handed to the government. We are also trying to inspire communities to work together to find short-term solutions, such as finding ways to protect a local well from livestock, or getting a cooperative together to buy a water pump.”
“We are trying to reach as many communities as we can, and at the moment are doing three screenings a week. We’ve partnered with Sesotho Media and Development, and will soon be moving to communities outside of Maseru. We’ve collected 606 signatures so far, and we’ll keep going until we reach the goal of 10,000.”
Written by: Leila Hall