SOUTH AFRICA'S REAL BILLY ELLIOT
“I want to dance in front of Queen Elizabeth”, says eleven-year-old Faakhir Bestman, one of the most talented ballet dancers to ever emerge from the ‘Cape Flats’, an impoverished ghetto on the outskirts of Cape Town, South Africa, that is notorious for drugs, gangs and violence. “I feel like if you go in an aeroplane, you can see everything from the sky, you can see the highest building. I want to travel the world. That’s my goal, what I want.”
Faakhir’s dreams are already beginning to come true. He attended the Royal Ballet Summer School in London last year, came top of his class and was presented with a special certificate of excellence. Now he has just won a place at the prestigious American Academy of Ballet Summer School for Excellence in New York for this year. If he does well in the US he will be one step closer to achieving his dreams of international success and lifting his family out of poverty and violence. All we have to do now is raise the funds for his fees, airfare and expenses.
Even in the context of South Africa, Faakhir comes from an extremely deprived background. His mother is a 'tik' or crystal meth addict. He and his 4 siblings, including a severely disabled younger sister, Akeeda, and 5 cousins are being raised by his 61-year-old grandmother, Aysha, in a tiny council flat in Hanover Park. It's a bleak and crime-ridden area of the Cape Flats that is the frontline between two warring drug gangs – ‘The Americans’ and ‘The Mongrels’. The enire family survive on welfare payments of just £20 a month.
Aysha had to step in when Akeeda was just two-months old and her mother was so out of her head on drugs that she was failing to turn up to the hospital to feed her child. When she was born Akeeda weighed just over three and half pounds. “I’m 61 but I can look after them”, Aysha says. “I can do anything for them. I don’t worry if the Mummy is still drugging.”
The temptation of the easy riches available from a life of crime is always present. But Faakhir is determined to make it out of the Flats and to lift his disabled little sister and his other siblings out of crippling poverty and free them from the ever-present threat of gang violence.
Faakhir started dancing to entertain Akeeda when he was just two-years-old. “My sister can’t talk or walk or eat but she smiles when I dance”, Faakhir says. “When they shoot outside I hold her hand and rub her head. We’re scared but I’m going to dance all over the world and I will take her with me.”
“We live in one of the best roads in the area”, says Aysha. “But the gangsters come from other places and use our road for shoot-outs. They rob the people in the street and people are afraid to walk here. But Faakhir overlooks that because inside he is not worried because he knows he'll succeed.”
Faakhir’s talent as a dancer was spotted by Abeedah Medell, the principal of the Eoan Group School of Performing Arts in Cape Town. “I was doing my rounds, watching the classes when I saw him and I said to myself, ‘classical ballet needs this boy.’ I gave him a scholarship immediately.”
Faakhir isn’t deterred by the fact that the other boys at his day school call him “moffie”, slang for gay. “They call me ‘moffie’ but I just say, ‘you’re jealous because you can’t dance. You’re just jealous.’”
“He did his first exam last year”, says Abeedah, “and he got the highest marks of all our students. I’m very proud of him. I’m proud of all the ones who succeed. You try to heal them through the arts. You know that they have domestic problems and social problems. But when you see their face, all you know is that you are dealing with a child’s energy.”
“How do you deny someone who dances to make someone else’s life better,” she asks, breaking down in tears. “How do you deny someone with his gift?”
Faakhir’s extraordinary talent has already been recognised by the Royal Ballet Summer School that he attended in the summer of 2015. He came top of 24 boys and was awarded a special certificate of achievement. This year he did a live audition for the American Academy of Ballet in Cape Town, and was one of only two boys selected. He was awarded a 25% scholarship.
We need to raise £3,750. Faakhir's fees are £1,562 at today's exchange rate but we also need to raise funds for his airfare, accomodation and expenses over the three weeks of the summer school.
I am a British documentary filmmaker who grew up in southern Africa. I'm interested in foreign cultures, environmental and social issues and I've been making films for the BBC, ITV and C4 for over 20 years. Separately, I'm making a film about Faakhir (as yet unfunded). But every penny raised here goes exclusively towards Faakhir's ballet education and training.