Sunday Tribune

The story of an un­sung hero

Mandla Dube’s crit­i­cally ac­claimed Kalushi is fi­nally on cir­cuit. Alyssia Bir­jalal in­ter­viewed the di­rec­tor about his film on the strug­gle hero Solomon Mahlangu


Ithe sto­ries that are less of­ten told that make for great movies, and Kalushi: The Solomon Mahlangu Story is a per­fect ex­am­ple of this.

Writ­ten and di­rected by Mandla Dube, this film won sev­eral awards in­clud­ing the Rapid Lion award at the 2016 Rapid Lion Film Fes­ti­val and fea­tured in var­i­ous film fes­ti­vals around the world.

It was also well re­ceived at last year’s Dur­ban In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val.

With an all-south African cast that in­cludes Thabo Rametsi, in the piv­otal role of Mahlangu, along­side Thabo Malema, Louw Ven­ter, Mar­cel van Heer­den, Welile Nzuza, Shika Bud­hoo, Pearl Thusi and poet and play­wright, Dr Gcina Mhlophe, who plays the role of Martha Mahlangu, the story re­volves around Solomon Kalushi Mahlangu, a young man largely for­got­ten by his­tory but who was the voice of so many when no­body was lis­ten­ing to the youth.

Mahlangu was the son of a do­mes­tic worker with a fa­ther who aban­doned him. He at­tended Mamelodi High school up to stan­dard eight, but did not com­plete school as a re­sult of the school’s clo­sure due to on­go­ing ri­ots.

Later, he joined the ANC and left the coun­try to be trained as an Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) sol­dier – on his re­turn as a cadre and heav­ily armed, he as­sisted with stu­dent protests.

In 1977, Mahlangu and his com­pan­ions were at­tacked by the po­lice in the Goch Street shootout, a few man­aged to es­cape, how­ever two civil­ians were killed and two wounded. Mahlangu and Mondy Jo­hannes Mot­loung were ar­rested.

They were both sub­se­quently charged with two counts of mur­der and sev­eral charges un­der the Ter­ror­ism Act. Mahlangu pleaded not guilty to the charges.

The judge ac­cepted Mot­loung as re­spon­si­ble for the ac­tual killings – but due to him be­ing un­fit to stand trial, and be­cause both men (Mahlangu and Mot­loung) had a com­mon pur­pose, Mahlangu was there­fore found guilty and sen­tenced to death by hang­ing on March 2, 1978 at the age of 23.

Writer and di­rec­tor Mandla Dube said telling this story was a part of his legacy project.

“I al­ways knew that I wanted to tell Solomon Mahlangu’s story, but I wasn’t sure whether it was go­ing to be a TV doc­u­men­tary, a TV se­ries or a film, after re­search­ing ex­ten­sively I knew I needed a big­ger can­vas to work on and so mak­ing a film was the best op­tion for me to pay tribute to this un­sung hero of the lib­er­a­tion strug­gle,” said Dube.

Ini­tially, Kalushi, started off as a stage pro­duc­tion at the SA state the­atre in 2010 ti­tled Leg­ends of Free­dom and ran for a stag­ger­ing eight weeks.

There­after it was turned into an ex­hi­bi­tion, and, with the Nel­son Man­dela Foun­da­tion and South African Post Of­fice, stamps were also pro­duced in Solomon Mahlangu’s hon­our.

Another rea­son for the mak­ing of this movie was that Dube was sur­prised to find out how lit­tle his stu­dents knew about Mahlangu dur­ing his time as a pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of the Wit­wa­ter­srand.

“I just saw the ap­a­thy among my stu­dents. They were not in­ter­ested in the his­tory of the coun­try. They were not con­cerned about how it is that they are en­joy­ing this free­dom. And I wanted to be the one to teach them about him – that’s when I thought of film­mak­ing,” said Dube.

He said some is­sues that the film touched on were xeno­pho­bia, love, over­com­ing the odds, self-hate, the com­ing of age and iden­ti­fy­ing with the story.

“Back then, Solomon Mahlangu and for­eign­ers were all friends. There is a scene in the movie with a char­ac­ter named Coca-cola and he is a Mozam­bi­can. They deal with the is­sue of xeno­pho­bia. I think if Solomon were alive to­day, he would be very up­set with the sit­u­a­tion in the coun­try re­gard­ing this.

“We also ex­plore a young ro­mance be­tween Brenda and Solomon and their lost love. What would have hap­pened had he been alive? Would the two still be to­gether? What if they had chil­dren? Maybe their chil­dren would also be fight­ers in the strug­gles we face to­day,” said Dube.

Dube recog­nised his cast for all their hard work in por­tray­ing the mes­sages per­fectly.

“The cast was beau­ti­ful. They re­ally dug deep within them­selves to bring out the story in the way I en­vi­sioned. It was re­ally hum­bling to have worked with them and our hard work paid off,” he said. Kalushi: The Solo­man Mahlangu Story is on cir­cuit.

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