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‘His blood is nourishing the trees that must still bear the fruits of freedom’.
Freedom did not come without a price. It was not only the struggle heroes whom we name roads, buildings, and parks after who paid that price. It was not only the brave men and women who endured exile, survived torture or gave their lives, who paid the price.
The grieving mother who never saw her son realize his promise; the doting girlfriend who was robbed of the warmth of a love she would create to welcome home a husband; the caring brother who had to deputize for their father in the struggle hero’s life when he was killed senselessly by an unforgiving regime.
Many people in South Africa paid the price for the Constitutional democracy we enjoy today. And you are reminded of this when you watch ‘Kalushi: The Story of Solomon Mahlangu.’
In 2017 we find ourselves in a time when our elected leaders refuse to be held to account; a time when the shackles of colonisation threaten to deny our students their education; a time when captured state organs fail to deliver on the promise of the Constitution to millions of South Africans.
In 2017, this is an important film. It is a stark reminder that much of what the 1976 generation was fighting for is still valid today.
We first meet Solomon Mahlangu (Thabo Rametsi) a few days before the historic events of June 16, 1976. He is a young man from Mamelodi township near Pretoria. He is a high school student and a hawker, dutifully carrying his pass book. He wants to do well by his family and please his girlfriend. He is yet to be seduced by the ideology and aspirations of freedom espoused by political movements in the struggle against apartheid.
He makes the decision to go in to exile to join the African National Congress and its armed wing, Umkhonto WeSizwe, following a humiliating and degrading experience with the South African Railways Police Service. He leaves behind his family and girlfriend to join Tommy London (Welile Nzuza), Lucky (Jafta Mamabolo) and his good friend Mondy (played exceptionally by Thabo Malema) in crossing the border.
This is Mandla Dube’s feature film directorial debut of a script adapted from a play he co-wrote and co-produced with the State Theatre’s Aubrey Sekhabi. Dube tells Charl Blignaut of the City Press that this is not an anti-apartheid film. He says ‘Kalushi is a love story, on many levels. It’s a coming-of-age story about a young man pulled into the struggle because of police brutality.’
Dube directs the feature with great sensitivity. He neither praises nor judges Mahlangu. He does not idealise the young man, even when Mahlangu reflects on a very romantic ideal of the ‘revolution being the greatest act of love.’
Thabo Rametsi is a strong, though quiet actor. He allows us to see the compassion and the naivety of the youthful Solomon Mahlangu. And when he makes that decision to join the movement, we see a man determined to see the bold vision of freedom for all realised. He is one of many before him, and many who will come after him. The script, sadly, does not allow us to share fully in his evolution to the audacious and celebrated cadre of the struggle he is now.
Rametsi is well supported by the rest of cast. Special mention has to go to Thabo Malema and his superior portrayal of Mondy Motloung. And of course, Wandile Molebatsi, who only has a few minutes on screen as Mahlangu’s cowardly cousin, Phineas. His performance makes you wish that he had been given more lines.
The film does have its flaws. The editing could have been more efficient. The pacing more even. The accents of the various actors could have been more consistent with the period portrayed. And Dube could have delivered a more refined moving picture experience when he was directing the scene that informs the life changing decision that is taken by Mahlangu.
But do not let any of this deter you from seeing this important film.
The late OR Tambo would have celebrated his 100th birthday this October. In paying tribute to him at his funeral in 2003, the late Nelson Mandela said ‘Tambo lived because his very being embodied love, an idea, a hope, an inspiration, a vision.’
We all need to be reminded of this vision. And ‘Kalushi, The Story of Solomon’ will reignite that conversation again, I hope.
Mahlangu’s blood is still nourishing the trees that will bear the fruits of freedom.
KALUSHA: THE STORY OF SOLOMON MASHANGU Director: Mandla Dube Writers: Mandla Dube and Leon Otto Stars: Thabo Rametsi, Thabo Malema, Welile Nzuza, Jafta Mamabolo, Louw Venter, Fumani Shilubana, Pearl Thusi, Gcina Mhlophe,
WATCH: EWN goes behind the scenes of 'Kalushi', South Africa's latest historic film about struggle icon Solomon Mahlangu.
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