Reggie Yates on Extreme South Africa

The BBC presenter travels to Johannesburg, Cape Town and Pretoria, where he discovers white ghettos, meets violent gang members and experiences segregation in the modern 'Rainbow Nation'

Presenter Reggie Yates recently travelled to South Africa to shoot a hard hitting series about extreme communities. Strangely, the show wrapped just before former president Nelson Mandela died, giving its subject matter a timely significance. In the new three-part show Reggie Yates’ Extreme South Africa (9pm, Feb 20th on BBC3), Yates visits a violent gang town, where he helps in a local hospital, dealing with dozens of stab victims. He also visits a poor white settlement camp in a park and later meets influential preacher giving hope in exchange for hard cash.


“When I started going over to Africa for Comic Relief, I just felt this massive desire to be there more often, and to see different sights,” says Yates, whose family hail from Ghana.

“I went [to South Africa] with friends for New Year one year and saw the shiny, touristy stuff. I also did the markets. It was lovely to initially see it through the prism of a fun holiday.”

However, during his BBC3 show his new experience of South Africa couldn’t be further away; he finds himself in a hospital in scrubs, helping a junior doctor by holding a patient’s hand as the doctor opens his chest. Yates recalls what the doctor said. “‘Right, come over here and feel this man’s skull,'” says Yates. ‘”Here, stick your finger in his head. You can feel it.’ It was mental. Absolutely mental.” Junior doctors come to this area, of Cape Flats just out side Cape Town, to train because they see more trauma cases than anywhere else. “In one night we must have seen 30 or 40 stab victims; people had been stabbed in the heart and the head,” says Yates. 

On his recent trip to South Africa Yates visited Johannesburg, Cape Town, Pretoria, and a place called Coronation Park. “Coronation Park was just unlike any where I’d ever been. It was a place where 90 per cent of the settlement was white,” Yates continues, “They were literally living in shacks and there were kids running around the dirt barefoot. Some people have jobs. The majority don’t. Some are on drugs. There are people there who haven’t worked for years, and there are also people there who blame the government and see black people as being the privileged South Africa now. It was just a really strange scenario, to be in Africa and see white people living in poverty and to meet white people who think black people are now the chosen race in Africa.”

Yates expected to see the ‘Rainbow Nation’ that was presented in the World Cup. “What I ended up finding was small pockets of integration with massive segregation,” says Yates, who believes that there is a lot of work to be done post Mandela. “One man can only do so much,” he says, “what he did was incredible for the country, but there is also still a lot of struggle and still a long way to go, a lot of moving forward from the attitudes of apartheid.” 

In the upcoming series, Yates tries to understand different communities by immersing himself in different worlds and potentially dangerous situations. He opted not to wear a bullet proof vest like Ross Kemp would in his series Extreme World.

“We had security and all those other things, but you can’t go in being extra cautious as you can rub people you’re talking to the wrong way,” explains Yates. “I’m not a journalist. I’m not a news presenter. I’m a normal guy who puts himself into situations to talk in the eyes of the audience,” says Yates. “That’s what I’m trying to do, to humanise these interactions as much as possible.”

We asked Yates how people can help with South Africa’s issues. “I’d say go,” explains Yates. “I think everyone should go to South Africa to experience it.

“We made [the programme] to present South Africa in an authentic and real way,” he continues, “There’s nothing like seeing a place for what it really is. There’s the tourist experience, and then there’s the experience of the people living there. We got as close to the experience of the people living there as we possibly could.”

While incredible tourist experiences are possible, Yates believes that in order to understand the nation we need to look beyond the glossy sites and get a better perception of South Africa. “Cape Town is probably one of the most beautiful places I think I’ve ever been to in my life,” he says, “It’s incredible. There are some amazing places that you can go to, beaches, incredible restaurants and places to hang out. But now I’ve seen the poverty, I’ve got a much more rounded view.”

Watch Reggie Yates’ Extreme South Africa at 9pm, Feb 20 on BBC3.

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