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Cape Town - Oscar-winning Hollywood star Forest Whitaker, here to shoot the movie Zulu alongside co-lead Orlando Bloom, has plenty of nice things to say about Capetonians.
After meeting locals in Hangberg, Khayelitsha, Kensington and Crossroads, the 50-year-old who won an Oscar in 2007 for his role as Uganda dictator Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland is impressed by the commitment of locals to fight injustices yet “share so much”.
Speaking on Saturday at a University of the Western Cape event to mark the 174th Freedom of the Slaves Day, Whitaker was slimmer than his Amin character, and casual in grey suit and checked shirt.
During question time he said he saw “individuals who came together to work as a community, to clean out or clear out”. They had a “clear understanding that together they can change a lot of things… Many individuals here fight against injustice. Some are confronted with life-threatening situations but they continue to strive to change things and to find solidarity. For me, that gives me hope. This is something that’s lacking in other countries. But in the people I met here, there was hope.”
He had seen communities “trying to grab hold of themselves… and control their lives”
“I never expected people to share so much. [And] they speak out a lot,” he said.
Whitaker has also starred in The Colour of Money, Platoon, Good Morning Vietnam, The Crying Game, Phone Booth and Panic Room.
The actor and director, who is a UN goodwill ambassador for peace and reconciliation, was joined on the podium by Stellenbosch University historian Professor Hans Heese and UWC political scientist Professor Keith Gottschalk.
Whitaker said he was a descendent of a slave; his great great grandfather was a slave in the US.
Recalling growing up in Los Angeles, he said it was a journey to break away from “the internal bondage of slavery that continues to plague myself and others”.
“I questioned myself, whether I’m capable enough, strong enough, but I believed I deserved to find happiness.”
Years of abuse had embedded feelings of worthlessness in the DNA of his slave ancestors.
“These are the messages that move through our emotional and spiritual DNA, that we’re trying to break away from. Invisible chains hold us back.”
He warned there was nothing “enlightening about shrinking… we are all meant to shine. Our light can break the shackles of our pain, and rid us of the enslavement of our minds so that we can be slaves no more,” he said.