May 31, 2007
Surfing Soweto

Watch the program: Part 1 | Part 2

In South Africa it’s illegal to film on the urban trains. The government agency that runs this service is very worried about the public seeing what actually goes on. So when we had the idea to make a film on this subject we were not sure we would ever be able to get any actual footage of kids surfing trains.

Then as luck would have it, just when we were doing research, the private security guards, who are responsible for policing the trains and the stations, went on strike. At that time, however, we had not yet secured any commission or budget for the film. It was a tough call because we knew it was a perfect opportunity, or maybe the only opportunity as it turns out, to film freely on the trains but we had no money at all.

This documentary was made with no budget and deferred payments. It was made only because we knew train surfing would tell an important story about the youth of Soweto.

With no guards or private security people on the trains to prevent us from entering the stations at will with our camera we were able to film some of the only footage ever shot of train surfing in Soweto. The disadvantage of this however was we ourselves had no protection at all. And South African trains are a well known hang out for criminals and gangsters so filming was quite a nerve-wracking experience.

At one point while we were filming with one of our main characters, Lefa, the police actually stopped the train while it was between stations and locked all the doors so they could conduct a carriage to carriage search. This was right at the height of the strike when criminal activity on the trains had reached epic proportions. Lefa reacted immediately when this happened and disappeared into another coach leaving Dimi alone with the "illegal camera." Luckily she looked respectable enough and her bag wasn’t searched on this occasion.

The other nerve wracking part of shooting this documentary was the constant terror that the boys would be killed during filming. It is one thing to be making a film about such a dangerous activity but all together another to be causing it. We were as careful as we could possibly be in terms of ensuring that no harm came to anyone participating in the film. But accidents do happen and each day we came home from filming we both silently said prayers thanking whatever power there is from giving us another accident free day. Luckily no one was hurt or injured during our filming.

One of the funniest things that happened on the shoot was the day when we were filming with Prince. From the time we met him early in the morning at his house he carried a grey briefcase, which he was at great pains to ensure was looked after at all times while he surfed. At the time we didn’t know he was a hairdresser. We asked him what was in the case. It was funny watching a hardened train surfer open his briefcase and reveal hair brushes and a hair dryer.

Since the documentary has been aired on South African television there has been extensive interest in our characters and their antics. Metro Rail, which is the government agency that runs the train service, has now hired Mzembe and Lefa.

Today they work as consultants whose job it is to go around and persuade vandals and train surfers not to embark on such dangerous activities. Prince has opened a number of hair salons around Soweto and is building himself to be quiet a successful businessman. When Lefa’s girlfriend Nhlanhla’s parents saw the documentary on TV they were horrified to learn of her relationship. She has been suspended from the church youth group. She has since broken up with Lefa.

From Sara and Dimi.
Just saw the Show on CNN. Reminded me of Bombay and the dare-devils that ran the length of the local trains, back and forth, ducking the cables. And then, there were some, who stood at the very front edge of the train, travelling at 80 kms. a hour - a slight change in speed and it could have meant instant death! Wish someone would do a story on the travelling on Bombay trains and the risks that every traveller takes even getting on them!
Just don´t understand what goes on in these young men´s brains.... if anything at all. We just lost one young 22 year old man on the 12th of May here in Denmark. Smacked right into a viaduct that had a 74 cm clearance. Hope he didn´t know what hit him.
As a South African, it's amazing to see this story on an international stage like this. I was completely shocked when I first saw it in a newspaper called the Sowetan back in 2005. Seeing it in motion adds a whole new level to this dangerous 'sport'.

Interestingly last week Carte Blanche (an MNet 'news' service) showed the one boy actually being struck by the the cable and him falling of the train and a close-up of his bloody body lying on the trackside. It was probably too grotesque for family viewing.

I hope this documentary won't inspire youths around the world to try this.
Hey CNN Friends
Im a really good fan of Untold Stories as much as larry kind, really enjoyed the last program of "Surfing Soweto" which transport me to a very different reality from my tv set, those kids seems really desoriented and wanted some media, you just gave it to them, didnt know CNN was competing with anyway i hope in a near future I will be able to find videos of your programs on the web site, just like where I can even watch some programs recorded on line, my regards oscar grimaldo
It is no wonder black south africans are the most murderous culture in the world. It is no wonder they murder my culture in the most brutal ways.
How could they have any respect for life if they do not even have respect for their own lives.
Trains are not even safe inside in South Africa because they attack travellers so i guess its better the criminals sit on top and if we lucky they may fall off.
i was left bemused and speechless when i saw this doc. It shows how far people can go for an adrenaline rush. I do pray the authorities get this teenagers and channel their unbelievalbe skills into something more productive and less dangerous! I must commend the producers. A very good job!
Saw this a few minutes ago. Very well filmed, and however, it was very nervous just watching these kids...
The kids should do something better in South Africa. They just bored and nothing else to do!
Seem to me to be really brave boys looking for a way between the American dream of riches and contact with G-d.
I don't think it has anything to do with the colour of their skin. Remember, they were on drugs. I saw this documentary on Mnet's Carte Blanche a couple of days ago. It was really shocking.
'Bitch Nigga'...if that's not a nickname that just cries out for help, I don't know what is!!! Imagine how South Africa would excel across all sports if these boys just channelled that energy & passion towards LEGAL sports!!!
I was able to watched the documentary film of this Surfing Soweto. it makes me sad seeing them doing things that young people shoudnt do because first of all it can kill life. its too dangerous. i think we must help young people right now not only in Africa but all over the world to turn their passion in the things they will feel that they are needed. Young people has so much potential they are outspoken, they are always alive, they are talented. There are so much in store for them that sometimes adults missed that because they see them as nothing. I challenge everyone whose reading this to help young people to develop that leaders within them like we do here in our place in the Philippines.
It's interesting that they say "luckily no one was killed". Saw the South African release of this documentary, and a boy Was killed, in a gruesome and sad way. They also interviewed his mother. Very very sad.

On another note. The comment by "Juan" really disturbed me. How can you make such out right racist comments? Do you not understand anything about how social backgrounds influence children and their development and action? And where do you get your information for that gross generalization "black south africans are the most murderous culture in the world"? Come on man. Those are children. And they're dieing doing that. Maybe "Juan" should reflect a little more on the legacy of Apartheid...
Juan, Please don't expose yourself on how racist you are by making such disturbing comment about african people which you are referring as black. Don't forget that you are the product of your surrounding environment. You might say their are most murderous culture, maybe they were expose to most racist colonizing culture(your culture) in the world. Please change your mindset, this is not about culture.
this documentary was on special assignment on SABC

you guys should stop blaming apartheid for everything, these young stupid men are doing
Congratulation for "Surging Soweto" documentary. I hope this documentary won't inspire youths around the world to try this. Thank you for this opportunity!
Now can we please forget about apartheid? It's over, done, klaar. Maybe our forefathers had something to do with it, but come on, we as youth had just about as much to do with it as a panda in a chinese zoo had to do with it. We didn't choose this legacy.

Blame their parents, their upbringing. Every parent has the choice and the responsibility to raise children properly, no matter what the circumstances. And would you rather have some drugged up kid surfing the train you're riding in, or holding you up with a knife inside the train?

I can just thank my lucky stars I don't have to use MetroRail anymore, what a waste of energy and time and money. If this is not a perfect example of TIA, I don't know what is.

'Nuff said.
I just watched the documentary, surfing Soweto. I think the producers did not put much effort into bringing out the real issue. I believe this is the kids who have lost their lives surfing, the families who have lost loved one to surfing and actions being taken to reduce surfing.
I feel it was very wrong of the producers to concentrate more on the 'glory' part of the story and CNN for posting this documentary 'as is' without additional in depth analysis. I asked my self what the goverment (S.A) and the community were doing to end this madness but could not get an answer as this is not presented here. As for CNN i think 'Oscar' best describes who i think of this story.

I also disgusted by the words of the racist 'juan' is pretty typical. I think its a case of nostalgia and i am glad that his likes moved out of the new south africa when they did. the new south africa and africa in general has no place for such retrogressive attitude. I can only feel sorry for 'juan' and people who think as he does.
The phenomenon of train surfing if not unique to south africa but is trait common amongst the youth in the world. In different places, train surfing will be replaced by other equal destructive tendencies for example, here in the UK its called the yob culture that is characterized by anti-social behavior that has culminated in deaths, drug and alcohol abuse and wanton destruction of property.

I believe each society needs to be courageous enough and deal head on with this continued destruction of our youths, not glorify and run away from these issues. As for the "juan's " of this world, the 21st century has no place for you.. YOU ARE A MINORITY.
Those kids appeared to me as though they desire to show off to other friends so as to show that they can do something, which may be regarded extraordinary for some youths (Just like a skateboard, which I think is really dangerous sport, but nevertheless young people love it and actually it looks great in a way).Young people seem to have a great deal of passion for adventurous activities and thrill. Hence, I reckon more proper sports that those kids can enjoy should be introduced and at the same time a train surfing must be banned.
I may understand the need for thrill or addiction to Adrenaline, but there are limits. This is also an indication of lack of Role Models in the society.

Bitch Nigga, finds it amusing to impress young girls with the stunts and is proud of his "apprentices", which is quite saddening on how he visualises on the small maybe petite things in life.

May these young people be given a better bed to lie on, built on promise and hope to do better with their potential
Sports experts should look at surfing more closely. I hope it can became one of the best competed sports. There are many competed sports that are deadly but attracts thousands of spectators, why not surfing? Furthermore this does not happen only in Soweto also in Bombay. So the first international game will be Soweto versus bombay.
I think this is the development of a new sport. Now sports experts should sit down and come up with necessary rules, sports garment and so on.
There are many deadly sports in todays world but still they attract thousands of spectators, why not surfing?
Well, I have been living in South Africa almost all my life. (i am 17 and right now in Matric, +- the age of the train surfers) unfortunately i do not live near Soweto and have never heard about the Train Surfers until it came out on a local documentary programme (Carte Blanche).

I enjoyed the documentary as it was exceptionally filmed however, there was one film footage in Crate Blanche showing a guy going into the undercarriage and staying there while the people are filiming.

Right now, there is a massive strike by government workers in SA at the moment. Most of these children are out of school... Education is the crucial factor that will enable these children to get themselves out of poverty and live a better life. But some schools have been closed for more than 4 weeks now..

Things like this will encourage juvenile delinquencies like Train Surfering and drug usage. The SA government has end this strike and has to provide such basic services for these people in order for things like train surfing to be a thing of the past.
I enjoyed the documentary very much. I have lived in south africa for almost all my life but i did not know about it until a local documentary aired it on TV.

I would like to say that the reason for these type of train surfings is not only due to the "bad seeds" of society. It is also due to the government's inefficient enforcement of security on the trains and the failure of the education system in South Africa. Right now, government school teachers are on strike and have been so for more than 4 weeks...... these students have had hardly any schools for that entire time. The Youth exploits things that are already rotten or weak. They do not simply "create" such big problems. I think the SA government needs to dwelve deeper into this problem as i believe this is not a matter of train security... the roots of the problems are much deeper.
i didnt have the oportunitie to watch the propgram but i saw the preview and ican imagine how thrilling it must be.
the way i see it is a mixture of young people that has personal to social issues that need attention from whom it may concern. The other thing is that these kids do want to prove something to any other extrem sport( if one sees it what they do as a sport), it is addictive and they cant stop...since it is wrong , maybe it should be taken seriously in a way of developing more professional stunts to the south african film industrie, i live in germany and have seen a show about best stunt of the would take some of them out of the streets and make them consider their lives in a more serious way...theres nodoubt that they have courage to do dangerous will bedificult to finish maybe use it as something to make this boys have a diferent profession!!!
I thought that I had seen all about rascality until I saw your program yesterday of Youths literally carrying their lives in their hands. Yes, I agree with the commentator who wondered if the boys had any brains at all as only people with strong suicidal disposition would engage in the dangerous game of 'train surfing'. I enjoy the Lesson & Morals implicit in the program and hope that the rascals would have a change of heart. I was moved with emotion at the anguished mother on the program bemoaning her only son's misbehavior and scared stiff for the day when she would receive a call to come "collect the bones of her son". Very moving & Pathetic. I doff my hat to you guys for a great and Terrific job that you are doing on this remarkable program. Thanks.
Hi, I am Alexander aka "the trainrider" or "Extreme Trainsurfer". Hope you read this. Just wanted to thank you with all my heart for the grandiose Research about Soweto trainsurfers. Me and my friends were fascinated by all the characters in your Report. We also noticed many similarities to ourselves. It was seriously the best program about trainsurfing we have ever seen on tv.

Greetings from Germany
World’s Untold Stories showcases courageous correspondents telling intimate stories of society's most vulnerable people. Often gritty, always powerful tales that open our eyes to a world that is at times disturbing and captivating. Storytelling that is raw and unyielding in its impact. World’s Untold Stories will bring the viewer tales from all corners of the world, and shine light on activities almost never exposed.

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