Nearly six million people in South Africa were living with HIV and Aids, according to a 2009 estimate – more than in any other country.
Of many challenges facing the nation – the epidemic has often been brushed under the carpet, poisoning communities with stigma and shame.
Life Above All, follows the life of a young woman who is fighting terrible prejudice in her village and is intertwined with the battle against Aids.
The film is an adaptation of Chanda’s Secret a novel by Allan Stratton.
It stars a young unknown actress, Khomotso Manyaka as Chanda, a 12-year-old girl trying to hold her family together amid poverty, Aids and fading hopes.
Chanda sets an example to the adults around her, and hard-hitting scenes feature her sick mother, her brothers and sisters, prejudiced neighbours and a girl her own age driven into prostitution.
The film covers several of the nation’s social problems, most of which arise out of poverty. The storyline touches on themes of prostitution, of alcoholism, an Aids epidemic and the death of young children.
It is a coming of age tale, but all the more powerful as it is a reality that thousands of youngsters in the country are face every day.
The story starts when Chanda’s baby sister dies and her mother gets ill. The village is full of rumours and instead helping, their fellow villagers cast judgement and because people think Chanda’s mother, Lillian has Aids, they shun the whole family.
Most of the adults in the story are useless. Her step-father drinks heavily, so it falls on Chanda to try and keep the family together.
She has a tough battle on her hands to get help for her mum, run the house for her younger step-sisters, and help her friend Esther who has dropped out of school to work as a child prostitute.
In 2009, an estimated 310,000 South Africans died of Aids, according to the Aids charity, Avert. About 18 per cent of people aged from 15 to 49 there are HIV positive and nearly one-in-three women aged from 25 to 29, and more than a quarter of men aged from 30 to 34, are living with HIV. The nation’s HIV and Aids epidemic has had a devastating effect on its children – there are an estimated 1.9 million Aids orphans there, where one or both parents have died from the virus.