On December 3rd 2006 HBO aired what was billed as a documentary and entitled “ ITHUTENG.” Unfortunately this documentary aired after allegations of fraud have arisen directed towards a significant individual in the documentary: Jackie Maarohanye (often referred to as “Mama Jackie”).
I do not have direct knowledge of any of the facts surrounding the controversy swirling around Mama Jackie and her Ithuteng School in Klipspruit, Soweto, South Africa. I have not spoken directly to any of the participants involved. I have not spoken to any of the donors, school officials or students. Because I have no direct knowledge about this matter, I can only point to the various accounts that have been published about this matter in the general media without claiming to know whether the allegations are true or not. I will point to just one of these articles, this one written and published by the online publication of the UK Guardian (“Guardian Unlimited”) entitled: “'Angel of Soweto' a fraud, TV show claims”.
It is my understanding that HBO was aware of the controversy surrounding Jackie Maarohanye and her school prior to the documentary being aired. It is also my understanding that HBO did not give any notice to the viewing public of that controversy prior to its being aired.
The problem that I find with HBO’s airing this documentary without giving prior notification of the controversy is that it could be very necessary for viewers to be aware of this controversy in order to judge the content of the film.
According to a December 3rd, 2006 Los Angles Times news article (“Soweto school scripted lies, students say”)
“HBO plans to run a card at the end acknowledging the allegations.” But a visit to the HBO website promoting the film, http://www.hbo.com/docs/programs/ithuteng/index.html and to the website providing a synopsis of the film http://www.hbo.com/docs/programs/ithuteng/synopsis.html I found no mention of the allegations.
A quick look at the schedule that HBO has posted for the film reveals that HBO currently intends to air the film eighteen more times between December 5th 2006 and January 29th 2007. http://www.hbo.com/apps/schedule/ScheduleServlet?ACTION_DETAIL=DETAIL&FOCUS_ID=627400
This makes me wonder how many viewers will be motivated to contribute to Mama Jackie and her Ithuteng School before the allegations of fraud are resolved. There are many worthwhile charities in Africa and elsewhere in the world, and by appearing to promote an organization that is currently under a cloud within its country HBO could be doing a great disservice to sincere potential donors to worthwhile charities and to those worthwhile charities as well.
The film was directed by 16 year-old Willie Ebersol in his first filmmaking attempt; and it was produced by Willie’s brother Charlie Ebersol and friend Kip Kroeger. This was an extraordinary accomplishment by Willie Ebersol, but foremost on my mind coming away from this experience is to ask myself the question: Is It That HBO Just Doesn’t Care?