After two years of development and production, Alexandra My Alexandra!, a groundbreaking six-part social history documentary on one of South Africa’s oldest townships, will be launched at Wits University on 16 June 2013, the 37th anniversary of the 1976 students uprising.

Inspired by the acclaimed book Alexandra: A History, published in 2008, the series explores the huge significance of the township, a microcosm of South Africa’s cultural diversity and plurality of voice.

“We approached the authors of the book, Noor Nieftagodien and Philip Bonner, and through them the Alexandra Heritage Society, and entered into an agreement to make a six-part documentary series that would get this history out in a way that a book cannot do,” series producers Anita Khanna and Rehad Desai said in a statement. Production was managed by the Human Rights Media Trust and Uhuru Productions.

With 80% of the funding supplied by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund, the eight-month production period began in January 2012, and the first completed episode screened as part of Alexandra’s 100-year anniversary celebrations in September 2012. The 12-month editing process winds up in May 2013, in time for the 16 June launch.

The story of Alexandra, its colourful characters, its highs, lows and pioneering cultural and political influence on South Africa, lends itself both to local and international TV and DVD distribution. In 2012 the producers secured a licence with the SABC, which will screen the series in August this year. In April the series will be taken to the MIP TV market in Cannes for international distribution, while Fireworx Distribution will handle DVD distribution at home.

“Our intention is to create a series that entertains, informs and inspires,” the producers said. “The approach taken is that of a history from below, the people of Alexandra as much as possible telling their own history, not just of the political legacy of Alexandra, which is rich in itself and has its heroes and heroines, but the music, the poetry, the sporting heroes and the gangsters.

“Alexandrans have proved themselves natural and entertaining storytellers. While their tales are vivid, giving us a vista into our nation’s past and present, the series will not only preserves and records its history, but brings its contemporary reality to audiences far and wide. It is a movable heritage object that can be shared and potentially exhibited through many spaces – from public broadcast platforms, to civil society groups, schools and museums.”

The series features interviews with over 60 Alexandrans: the writer Wally Serote, who makes the township come alive in his work, and Simon Noge and Dan Twala, whose parents worked for Herbert Papenfus, the land speculator and politician who established Alex. Others include Louisa Rivers, who truanted from school to join the 1956 Women’s March on Parliament; Moses Mayekiso, who led the 1986 Six Day War in Alexandra; Paul Mashatile and Obed Bapela, who were central to the youth movement in the 1980s; current South African Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, a child of Alexandra; and, of course, Nelson Mandela himself, who first tasted mass struggle during the 1943 bus boycott in Alex.

These voices tell of deep and important history, but, the producers say, “their memories of struggle are human ones, and therefore interspersed with those of love, births, laughter and pain, and eventually joy, expectation and sometimes disappointment.”

The series also sees appearances from Walter Sisulu, Ahmed Kathrada, Dolly Rathebe, Thandi Klaasens, Miriam Makeba, Caiphus Semenye and many other prominent South Africans from Alexandra’s rich past. It is filled with some astonishing archive, much of it never seen before.

In addition to the principal sponsor, the National Lottery Distribution Trust, Alexandra My Alexandra! was also supported by the History Department Fund at Wits University, the Alex Heritage Committee, the National Heritage Council, the Gauteng Film Commission and the SABC. Distribution has been supported by the National Film and Video Foundation and international marketing by the Department of Trade and Industry.