When I was approached to interview the lead actors from Mandla Dube’s Freedom Day movie, “Silverton Siege”, I agreed.
After all, we always champion local content.
The night before the press junket, I watched the movie with Thabo Rametsi (Calvin Khumalo), Noxolo Dlamini (Mbali Terra Mabunda) and Stefan Erasmus (Aldo Erasmus) as the protagonists.
The opening frames were of the three freedom fighters dodging gunfire after their mission is sabotaged and the police close in on them. It was uncomfortable to watch as it harked back to a time when democracy was a hope, not a reality.
You ache for these characters, who are in a desperate situation. But there is an unmistakable fire in their belly and a tenacity that refuses to be extinguished by the possibility of death or an arrest.
As they seek refuge in a bank in Pretoria, emotions run high for them, the hostages and the police, some of whom are very trigger-happy.
I watched the movie, wrestling with the uneasy emotions.
And that is why I feel that this movie, which is based on a true-life event, is Dube’s magnum opus. The director of “Jiva!” and “Kalushi: The Story of Solomon Mahlangu” even called it his “strongest work so far”.
He added: “The hope is that filmmakers from Africa are given more opportunities at decolonising the narrative of who we are.
“I also hope that the youth of today can draw inspiration from the ‘Silverton Siege’ trio, and know that they have the power to change the status quo, and most importantly that their stories matter.”
Afterwards, I did some research into this glossed over historical event. And it made me appreciate Dube’s storytelling even more.
As such, I couldn’t wait to gauge Rametsi and Erasmus’s thoughts, especially on slipping into the skin of real-life characters.
Rametsi says he knew of this project when he worked with the director on “Kalushi”. Over the past 6 to 7 years, he was privy to the different versions of the script.
“I found it exhilarating and I was really impressed by the infused action into the real depth of the storytelling. That was the first thing that leapt out at me even though I had reservations about the character itself.
“Those reservations pulled me into choosing him because I didn’t like the character or attach to him. And I was like, ‘this is why you should play him’.”
Erasmus admitted to only realising the immensity of the project when he got the part.
He added: “Working with Mandla, Thabo and Nox really helped shape the character Aldo. I’m very grateful for the care and empathy with how they handled their characters because they gave me the fire and fuel for my character.”
What really hit him hard were those initial scenes.
Erasmus admitted: “I think one of the moments that stood out for me and it really hit home was that Church Square chase where there were all of these cars - and they were period accurate with 1980 fords – and you are sitting there going, ‘Whoa!’
“You are seeing the police in uniform and there’s an apartheid flag in the background as well - and you have to remind yourself, ‘Oh we are doing a movie.”
Rametsi added: “These people had to make big sweeping decisions under immense pressure and in unprecedented circumstances. These aren’t soldiers or warriors. They were forced to act.
“It’s about the fact that we can’t ignore injustice. We cannot ignore when we are being oppressed … it’s so important to tell these stories.”
The movie also stars Arnold Vosloo, who plays police officer Johan Langerman, Sarah Kozlowski, Clayton Boyd, Tumisho Masha, Michelle Mosalakae and Elani Dekker.
What Dube did – and masterfully so – was to unite symbolically every individual, race, point of view or struggle, notwithstanding.
Reflecting on how this was captured in poignant moments, Rametsi explained: “Not everyone gave into the idea of being separated, as propagated by the government at the time.
“MK was started by a white Russian man, Joe Slovo. There were people of different races in the struggle. Langerman is a victim of the system, as well as our three characters and the people in the bank.”
Both actors sang the praises of Dlamini.
Rametsi smiled: “To speak about Nxolo Dlamini is one of our favourite things to do. She was the heart and soul of the production. Also, she gives one of the greatest performances we have seen in a South African movie and I would argue, one of the greatest physical actions we have seen.
“I think she should be the next ‘Black Panther’ if they haven’t got one.”
Erasmus agreed: “I think she is phenomenal. Her energy never dies. It is one of the things I was very grateful for.”
Essentially, this movie homes in on the cost of freedom and the sacrifices made.
At the very end, a character questions the price of freedom. It’s a very loaded statement when you look at the situation in context.
Rametsi agreed: “You know Jacques (Gombault), the actor who did it, asked to do the scene as many times as possible. He kept doing it. Then I remembered I saw in his eyes what he was doing.
“He summed up the film in that breath. He served in the army and he lived through this whole thing and he didn’t want to do this a disservice.”
This is when the words of George Santayana come to mind: “Those who don't know history are destined to repeat it.”
Rametsi added: “On Freedom Day, considering where we are as a country, as people, the fight never ends – A luta continua, the struggle continues.
“We shouldn’t take for granted that just because a certain amount of young, able, fighting people took us to one point, we should be relaxed.
“We should continue that fight not just for freedom but for excellence and to be the greatest we can possibly be to ensure the next generation can be that.”
I coudn’t agree more. This movie is a powerful reminder of why we should never forget the past or become complacent.
“Silverton Siege” premieres on Netflix on Freedom Day.