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.