Rough Aunties

Rough Aunties


Reviewed by: Val Kermode

“There can be no clearer revelation of a society’s soul than the way it treats its children.” - Nelson Mandela.

There seems to be something deeply wrong with the soul of South Africa. The women who call themselves “rough aunties” are the Bobbi Bears, an organisation set up by a white woman called Jackie to protect abused and neglected children in the Durban area. Jackie has trained Zulu and white South African women, some of whom have themselves been the victims of abuse, to work with these children and provide a safe haven.

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The camera follows the women as they accompany the police on night raids, often taking the victims with them to identify the perpetrators. We see the women on the phone dealing with a social service system which often returns children to their abusers.

In extremely intimate scenes the women talk gently with children, using the brightly coloured bears which have become their trademark. The children are persuaded to put stickers on the bears to indicate which body parts were violated. One of the most moving scenes among many in this harrowing film is completely silent. A beautiful and very young child quietly places a sticker over a bear’s mouth.

When I watched this film, many in the audience were in tears, but one of the women, Eureka, reminds her team that it is never time to stop crying. Tears are the normal reaction to what these women face on a daily basis. There is a wonderful solidarity among them, and when they are not working they find time for laughter, especially at just how rough they have become in the language they use, necessary because, as one woman says: “This makes me want to kill somebody.”

Kim Longinotto takes us into the lives of some of the 'aunties', and this is where the film comes unstuck. A long time is spent on the case of a robbery and attack on a member of Eureka’s extended family, and also on the sad death of Shubaba, the young son of 'auntie' Sdudla, who drowned while crossing a river. Jackie tries to stir local women into action against the company which has been extracting sand from the river. This feels like too much of a side issue, and the scenes of mourning are allowed to continue for much too long.

Altogether the film feels too long and drawn out, yet fails to answer many questions. How was the Bobbi Bears organisation set up in the first place? What is the scale of its operation? How is it financed? The only clue here is a VW logo on T-shirts. I would also like to have known just how the organisation is regarded by the authorities. Some of the answers can be found on its website, but their inclusion could have made the film stronger. Despite this, here is a film which will stay in the memory for a long time.

Reviewed on: 05 Nov 2009
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A documentary looking at a women's organisation dedicated to rescuing abused children.
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Director: Kim Longinotto

Year: 2009

Runtime: 103 minutes

Country: UK

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