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Filming of the movie about the life of Solomon Mahlangu, a struggle hero, finished at Pretoria’s Palace of Justice in Church Square a few weeks ago. Diane de Beer spoke to some of the players.
IT’S BEEN a long time coming, but filmmaker Mandla Dube knew it would be. Dube is keeping his fingers crossed that his first feature film, Kalushi: The Story of Solomon Mahlangu, takes flight.
While studying for his Master’s at Wits he was interested in managing heritage in a digital world and discovered the story of Solomon Mahlangu.
First he met State Theatre artistic director Aubrey Sekhabi and they teamed up to produce Kalushi – The Story of Solomon Mahlangu as a drama with the plan of moving it into television drama or film. Rivonia Trials followed and the third of the series was going to feature the Silverton Siege.
The first two projects worked well, but Dube realised that he was more interested in film-making than theatre. “I needed to get started,” he says and that’s how he focused on the Solomon Mahlangu story.
“I didn’t want to tell it as an apartheid story; those have been done,” he says. He wanted to highlight the heroism of a young man hardly known in his own country. “He was a foot soldier who got the calling.”
What really intrigued him was this son of a single mother who wasn’t political to start with, yet was willing to give up his life even though other outcomes were suggested.
His story has been the driving force of Dube’s determination to tell it with South Africans.
The all South African cast includes Thabo Rametsi (ITV’s Wild at Heart series) in the pivotal role of Mahlangu, alongside Thabo Malema (The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency), Louw Venter (Semi-Soet and Kite), Marcel van Heerden as the judge (Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom), Welile Nzuza (Vehicle 19 ), Shika Budhoo, Pearl Thusi and acclaimed poet and playwright Dr Gcina Mhlophe as Solomon’s mother, Martha Mahlangu. Kalushi’s brother, Lucas Mahlangu, serves as a cultural adviser to the production.
The story follows the personal journey of Mahlangu, whose life was tragically cut short at the age of 23 when he was executed by the government of the time. Despite being innocent of the killing of two civilians during an attempted escape from the police, he was sentenced to death under the charge of “sharing the common purpose of the group” of activists. This horrifying treatment of the youngest freedom fighter to be executed generated protests by the international community.
“The impact of his story also led to many other people leaving the country and taking up the cause.”
From Mamelodi, Solomon Mahlangu himself was a typical teenager who, because of poverty, wanting to help his family and for his own pocket, started hawking on the trains. It was here that he was brutally accosted and sodomised by the railway police while also forced to eat all his own wares. That was what precipitated his own involvement and departure from the country, says Dube.
For those wondering about the name of the film, Kalushi was Solomon’s middle name. “It’s the Sotho word for shepherd,” says Dube. What he finds so astonishing is that everything just seems to fall into place around Mahlangu’s hero status – something he didn’t try to achieve. “As a result of his actions, he was a shepherd to many who found their way into the struggle – as he did.”
Dube hopes the film will raise the bar for telling local stories that can go wider. He has opted for authenticity rather than star status, and the funding has come wholly from South African sources.
During the filming on my visit at Pretoria’s Palace of Justice, it was clear to see who was in charge.
“It’s important especially for the youth to know where we come from and where we’re going,” Dube says. “What we have now should be a liberation for everyone.” That’s what the story attempts to achieve. You see where Mahlangu comes from and what happens in his life, how he gets involved and becomes the conscience of a nation. “He came full circle,” says Dube. “and with his execution, completely accepted his fate.”
He was in fact one of the few people who didn’t have to be helped on the stairs to his final destination. “That’s what happens to heroes,” says Dube. “They’re so busy looking out for the souls of others, they forget their own.”
It’s a film for people who care about the next person. “This is how we honour Solomon Mahlangu. It’s about our humanity as human beings.
“He wasn’t a Nelson Mandela,” says Dube, but what he admires about Mahlangu is that he represents the best in ordinary people. That’s why the movie was so important to Dube. “Until the lion can tell their own stories, the hunter will always be glorified.”
The project has been hailed as a critically important South African story, and has received support from the government, notably a personal letter of endorsement by President Jacob Zuma as well as the blessing from the Mahlangu family.
Money came with the help of the Unisa Foundation that assisted with procuring of funds from the National Lottery Distribution Fund for Arts, Culture and Heritage, the Department of Trade and Industry’s Film Incentive Scheme, the Department of Arts and Culture, and the National Film & Video Foundation. Zuma recently launched The Solomon Mahlangu (Bursary) Fund – established by the National Youth Development Fund in the Presidency dedicated to the young hero.
The film marks the 35th anniversary of the death of Solomon Mahlangu, who will be remembered for his last words: “My blood will nourish the tree that will bear the fruits of freedom. Tell my people I love them. They must continue the fight.”
• The planned release for the movie is 2015.