It takes determined Granny Power to make a difference

By Kgomotso Moncho

The role of a grandmother is a special one, but her role in filmmaking, as well as in the HIV and Aids pandemic, has never before been addressed.

A documentary, called The Great Granny Revolution, brilliantly brings this issue to the fore and shows what a difference grandmothers can make when they band together.

The documentary tells the story of the Wakefield Grannies - 12 Canadian women who offer moral as well as financial support to a group of gogos (grandmothers in Zulu), who are raising Aids-orphaned grandchildren in Alexandra township, Johannesburg.

With his partner, Brenda - a founding member of the Wakefield Grannies - Robert Rooney documents the growth of both groups as they inspire their communities and others to follow suit.

They have now helped to start about 200 granny groups across the country and the Wakefield Grannies have a few grandaddies involved too.

The Great Granny Revolution was shot independently, with the help of the Canadian High Commission.

"Broadcasters don't want to hear about old women. But this film shows that old women are getting exciting," Brenda Rooney said.

The idea to do the film came about when Robert and Brenda helped to organise an event for Nelson Mandela in Toronto in 1998. A show for one of the most famous men in the world simply had to include Canada's most respected group, Cirque du Soleil.

"But for Cirque du Soleil to be part of this, they had to get something in return. It was then agreed that a group would go back with us to South Africa to train the street kids in Durban at the World Aids Conference," Brenda explained.

It was at the World Aids Conference, in 2000, that the Rooneys were inspired to film a documentary about Aids in southern Africa.

"The interesting thing about shooting that documentary was that we interviewed the members of Cirque du Soleil that we had brought with us.

"They asked the right questions, that I could not ask as a filmmaker, such as: 'Why aren't the pharmaceuticals (companies) making medication available?' " Brenda said.

The documentary was called Condoms, Fish and Circus. It was also filmed in Malawi and Zambia and Brenda took the film back to Canada.

"The point was to show that in Africa, unlike here in Canada, where mostly drug addicts and homosexuals die of Aids, the disease attacks ordinary people."

At one of Brenda's screenings, a South African psychiatric nurse, Rose Letwaba, who works with children orphaned by HIV and Aids at the East Bank Clinic, in Alexandra, spoke about learning that many of her patients were being raised by their grandmothers.

She then formed a gogo support group for them. Hearing this, the then 80-year-old Norma Geggie, a Canadian in the audience, formed the Wakefield Granny Society.

At first, the grannies communicated by letters and gifts, but when they finally meet each other one realises the strong friendships they have created.

It's easy to see the pathos that goes with this film, but there are also funny moments. The grannies are not defeated, they are determined.

And that's the power of this documentary - it's positive message that there is hope.