This Is What It’s Like To Be A Millennial In Gentrifying South Africa

Filmmaker Nisa Ahmad explains why her documentary Generation Soweto needs your support.

July 29, 2015

At some point over the past few years, millennials became a punchline. As our world continues to change faster than ever, the gulfs between young people today and our parents' generations seem to be growing, magnified by new technologies and new economic circumstances. But that reality isn't restricted just to the U.S.—much is the same in South Africa, where youth culture in cities like Johannesburg and Cape Town is vibrant and dynamic, as South African millennials attempt to grapple with their futures. Nisa Ahmad, a Los Angeles-based filmmaker, discovered that on a vacation to South Africa, and she returned to document that energy in a new film that follows the lives of four young people who've grown up in the shadows of South Africa's racially segregated past.


"The film is a look at current political and social climate, 20 years after the ending of Apartheid in South Africa. We explore the job market, entrepreneurship, and the rising costs of living, technology in a developing country and what gentrification means to them," the film's producers explain on the IndieGoGo funding page for Generation Soweto They're asking for a total of $80,000 to help with production and post-production costs, much of which so far have been covered out-of-pocket by the crew. We asked Ahmad to explain why Generation Soweto needs your support, and what life is like for young people in today's South Africa. Read her answers below, and watch the trailer for the film above.


Tell me about the genesis of this project.

I took a leisure trip to South Africa. I spent time in both Cape Town and Johannesburg. Upon arrival to Johannesburg, I was struck by what a large city it was and what a buzz it had. I went home with such a buzz from the trip and understanding that I needed to spend more time there that I immediately booked a return trip. I wanted to go back with a video camera and properly capture what I had seen. I told my dear friend Ben Chaves, who is a director of photography and he was so taken by my enthusiasm that he booked his own ticket and flew across the world with me to shoot the trailer for Generation Soweto.

What do you hope to accomplish with Generation Soweto?


My hope is to begin to disband some of the false narratives that we have been fed about the continent of Africa. It's also my intent to share stories that illustrate the similarities between millennials around the Globe. I went in search of relatable stories, universal stories, and likable people to tell those stories. Luckily, I think I found them.

What media narratives, if any, do you hope to challenge with the project?

What I realized in traveling to South Africa was that even worse than the false narratives people have, no one really knew much of anything about South Africa post-Mandela. The irony of that was almost astonishing. I'm a child of the '80s so I grew up in a world where although I'd heard of the beauty of Cape Town, it was not a place I thought I'd ever be able to visit due to Apartheid. The history of Apartheid South Africa was so close to our Jim Crow era that I'd always felt akin to the people of South Africa. South Africa is a part of our world, not just worlds away.


It's been 20 years since the end of Apartheid. What changes have you observed in South African society?

That fact I, as a Black woman, can enjoy a leisurely meal in Cape Town at a five-star restaurant is of course one of the biggest changes. Over 20 years ago that wouldn't have even been possible. The tension of racism is still palatable, so thick you can taste in places like Cape Town, where for the most part you still only see Black South Africans working but not often as patrons. Something that oppressive and damaging does not just go away. The distribution of wealth is still for the most part in the hands of the former oppressors, but there are two marked differences that are worth noting; hope and opportunity and that is why Generation Soweto is so important to me. These young people have a shot at social equality and a life that wasn't even fathomable to their parents or grandparents.

What parallels are there between the lives of millennials in South Africa and those in North America? What differences are there?

A Sunday afternoon in parts of Johannesburg—like Maboneng or Braamfontein—looks just likes parts of Brooklyn or Oakland. Global gentrification has made Johannesburg, a city once isolated from the rest of the world, much like the rest of the world. The similarities of millennials in North America and those of South Africa are striking, however the most noted difference is there is a sense of urgency that our North American millennials may not have. The millennials of South Africa, the black millennials especially, are looking to succeed in a country where the majority of people who look like them live in abject poverty. In the face of that type of poverty, there is an urgency to succeed. Our millennials have much less to over come.

This Is What It’s Like To Be A Millennial In Gentrifying South Africa