It’s just the tip of the iceberg: Lebogang Rasethaba on ‘The People versus The Rainbow Nation’

Last night was the television premiere of The People versus The Rainbow Nation, a much anticipated documentary film directed by Lebogang Rasethaba

With the rise of the #RhodesMustFall movement towards the start of 2015 becoming a catalyst for institutional and societal evils such as racism, classism, sexism, and more, South Africa was soon witness to the nationwide, student led #FeesMustFall movement. Now more than ever, the notion of a ‘rainbow nation’ is being torn down.  

Approached by MTV, Lebogang was tasked with the challenge of documenting this nationwide movement in a concise and wholly representative film to be screened nationally on both MTV and MTV Base. After last night’s screening, we got in touch with him for a quick discussion on his experience of filming the project, what he learned throughout the process, and where he’d like to see The People versus The Rainbow Nation go.  

Lebogang Rasethaba - People vs the Rainbow Nation

So you were approached by MTV to make a film about the #FeesMustFall protests. How did you initially go about conceptualising the film and when did filming on the project begin? 

I think I was petrified at first, because how do you make a film about a topic that’s essentially as old as time? Race, as we all know, is one of the oldest social constructs. So it was essentially about finding a way to talk about the thorniest issue in history and somehow translate it into a contemporary and relevant cinematic experience. We worked closely together into shaping the narrative that essentially wanted to illustrate more than just explain; and therein lies in the power of filmmaking. We had the opportunity to show very simply by following five young students from different universities how the age old structural forms of power that were created at the beginning of time still continue to shape our so-called rainbow nation.  

Likewise, this specific movement was constantly in a state of flux. How much did you need to change the concept throughout the filming process?  

I am basically an old ass beat up raggedy doll with lots of amazing new patches…patches of insight, awakening and shedding the inter-generational blood that haunts my existence. I know that sounds dramatic as fuck but that’s precisely the point.

You feature commentary from many well-known South African media personalities. How and why did you select these individuals? 

I don’t see them as media personalities, they are the mothers and fathers of my awakening. They were already active in these topics before this documentary was even conceived to me, I was honoured to have their voices in the film. 

With a national movement like #FeesMustFall, positionality is key. You’ve said that you initially weren’t the right guy for the job, but throughout the process, you became the right guy. How did you navigate this project as a straight male and eventually become the one for the job? 

I don’t know, maybe I’m still not the right guy for the job…but I am a guy who is learning a lot. I am still a straight male now, but I guess I move around the world with a lot of more awareness of what that implies. 

Do you have plans to screen the film at any academic institution around the country or make the film available to the public for those who can’t view it on DSTV? 

I would love nothing more.

Lastly, what are you hoping South African audiences take away from this film?  

This film is only the tip of the iceberg. 

Watch the full documentary below. 


Portrait of Lebogang Rasethaba by Darren Gwynn. 


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