“Shoreline”: the Series

satellite image of cape peninsula

satellite image of the cape peninsula

Over a period of thirteen weeks, SABC 2’s documentary, Shoreline, explored South Africa, its people, history, culture and ecology through an in depth and thorough investigation of one of our most beautiful natural resources. The 2 800 kilometres of coastline that bound South Africa on its Eastern, Southern, and Western sides comes alive as a zone where human stories, the natural environment and the impersonal forces of history collide and interweave into a rich tapestry that points to the struggles and triumphs of life. Beautifully, and at times epically, photographed, the series of documentaries delve into numerous points of interest and emotive facts about life along our shoreline. If nothing else, the series inspired me to research some of the property for sale in Plettenberg Bay.

One of the primary motivations behind the series was to capture on video South Africa at a particular time in its history, and focalise the historical moment through the eyes of a diverse range of citizens who all have one thing in common: they all live in a coastal region. You could join in the project of documenting this natural resource if you have the means to buy a camera and upload images to a blog accessible to internet users. Of central importance, too, was to record an encyclopaedic overview of the natural environment that South Africa is honoured to enjoy along its coasts. Not wanting one aspect of the documentary to dominate over another, the format of each episode follows a standard pattern in which Peter Butler, the series’ “anchor” presenter introduces which portion of the coast is being looked at, and what the major themes to be explored are, after which point the experts take over and go into some depth about their particular field of expertise.

Exploring the splendour of the natural environment, and specifically focusing on the ocean and its reserves of life, is marine biologist Eleanor Yeld. Enthusiastic and passionate about her subject, Yeld offers knowledge and insight into our oceans that cannot but make the viewer fall in love with the beauty that exists in a world we only have limited access to.

Gavin Whitelaw, as the series’ resident archaeologist, uncovers the relics of time immemorial. South Africa is fortunate enough to have an incredible window into human history: besides the UNESCO World Heritage site at the Cradle of Humankind, early humans living along the coast left us a multitude of intriguing clues as to how our species lived eons before the age of the internet and space exploration. Like Yeld, Whitelaw makes his field of expertise come alive through his vivid descriptions and wealth of knowledge.

Delving into the worlds of history, culture and identity is Nomalanga Mkise. As a historian, Mkise is well informed, not only about matters relating to the facts of time past, but, remarkably, about what questions to ask her interviewees. She is able to draw meaning out of the seeming chaos, and stitch together narratives that help the viewer see our current society in the context of it being a reflection of past events whose effects will continue to resonate without cessation into the future.

Undeniably, Shoreline is a series that deserves more attention than it has received thus far for its originality, quality, and value as an insight into a country whose identity is still in the process of being formed. All 13 episodes are available in a box set, and you can buy the DVD Box set online (they are well worth the expense).