×

Durban: ‘Kalushi’ Tells Tale of South African Freedom Fighter

Celebrated as a hero of the anti-apartheid struggle, the late South African freedom fighter Solomon “Kalushi” Mahlangu has life-sized statues adorning city squares and a soccer stadium named in his honor. It’s only now, though, that his story has been told on the big screen, thanks to the feature-film debut of Mandla Dube, whose biopic “Kalushi” was a hit this week at the Durban Intl. Film Festival.

Eight years in the making, the movie, which traces the short and revolutionary life of Mahlangu before his execution by the apartheid government at the age of 23, has already been hailed as a “hugely important film” by a leading South African film critic.

For Dube, who once mooted telling Mahlangu’s story in a four-part TV series, “Kalushi” offers a chance to pay tribute to one of the iconic heroes of the liberation struggle on the “large canvas” he deserves.

“I feel that Solomon Mahlangu’s story is so large in scope that it deserves the cinema,” he says.

A street hawker turned freedom fighter, Mahlangu joined the struggle against apartheid as a teenager. After being brutally beaten by the police, he fled the country to receive training in Mozambique and Angola under the tutelage of the African National Congress’ military wing, Umkhonto weSizwe (MK), before returning to South Africa as an MK operative.

Tracked by the police once he returned to South Africa, he was involved in a shootout that claimed two innocent lives. Convicted of murder and terrorism by the apartheid government, he was sentenced to death by hanging, famously proclaiming from the gallows, “My blood will nourish the tree that will bear the fruits of freedom.”

Though his story is well-known across South Africa, Dube was surprised to find how little his students knew about Mahlangu during his time as a professor at Johannesburg’s University of the Witwatersrand a decade ago. “I just saw the apathy amongst my students,” he says. “They were not interested in the history of the country.”

Their apathy prompted Dube to rethink his own role as a filmmaker, asking, “What are we here for? What kind of story do we want to leave behind?”

“Kalushi” is the first in a proposed trilogy on historic chapters from the anti-apartheid struggle, which the helmer says was inspired by Oliver Stone’s famous trio of films on the Vietnam War. For Dube, though, his “legends of freedom” trilogy is more than just an homage: a graduate of the American Film Institute, he was mentored by cinematographer Robert Richardson, who worked with Stone on “Platoon” and “Born on the Fourth of July.”

In L.A., Dube honed his craft alongside such greats as Bill Dill, Wally Pfister and Allen Daviau, then cut his teeth shooting rap videos for the likes of Keith Ward before working on a number of Hollywood films, including “The Italian Job” and “Men in Black 2.”

When he returned to South Africa, after spending large portions of nearly two decades abroad, he was emboldened by the progress in the film sector. He credits government bodies like the National Film & Video Foundation and the Dept. of Trade Industry with “breaking that barrier [and] introducing black directors and producers into the fold.

“They’ve given a lot of support trying to break the old status quo of only white directors being there to tell stories,” he says.

The changes South Africa has witnessed in recent years have spread far beyond the film sector. The apathy that inspired Dube to make “Kalushi” a decade ago has been replaced by a roiling protest movement in the past year, with tens of thousands of students taking to the streets to call for wide-ranging reforms.

At marches demanding an end to tuition fees, Dube says protesters have often sung a praise song for Mahlangu, who died nearly two decades before most of them were born.

“It’s just serendipity,” he says. “A revolution of that nature taking place now…it’s amazing.”

More Film

  • Ryan Simpkins

    Ryan Simpkins Joins Fox-Disney's 'Fear Street' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Ryan Simpkins has joined Fox-Disney’s second installment of 20th Century Fox and Chernin Entertainment’s “Fear Street” trilogy, based on the novels by R.L. Stine. Leigh Janiak is helming all three films. Previously announced cast includes Gillian Jacobs, Sadie Sink, Emily Rudd, McCabe Slye, Kiana Madeira, Olivia Welch, Benjamin Flores Jr., Ashley Zukerman, Fred Hechinger, Julia [...]

  • MPAA Logo

    Motion Picture Association of America Hires Emily Lenzner as Communications Chief

    The Motion Picture Association of America has appointed veteran public relations executive Emily Lenzner as its executive VP of global communications and public affairs. She will report to Chairman and CEO Charles Rivkin and oversee the trade group’s communications team in the U.S. and internationally. Lenzner will start Aug. 1 and be based at the MPAA’s [...]

  • 'Cats' Teaser Trailer: See Taylor Swift

    Taylor Swift Unveils Feline Moves in 'Cats' Behind-the-Scenes Teaser

    Taylor Swift fans finally get to see some of the results of all those years spent studying her roommates Meredith and Olivia — and also, not incidentally, some time with a choreographer — in a new behind-the-scenes teaser for the movie “Cats.” The three-and-a-half-minute featurette has footage of Swift striking crouching feline moves as well [...]

  • CGR’s Immersive Premium Format Set for

    Immersive Theater Technology Set for US Debut in Los Angeles

    French multiplex company CGR Cinemas has selected the Regal LA Live as the first U.S. theater to use its Immersive Cinema Experience technology. The ICE format will be unveiled in the fall at the downtown location in a partnership between CGR and AEG. The companies made the announcement Wednesday but did not reveal which title [...]

  • Amazon Developing Original Series Based on

    Amazon Studios Buys 'Selah and the Spades,' Will Develop Original Series (EXCLUSIVE)

    Amazon Studios has acquired worldwide rights to “Selah and the Spades,” a gripping look at a prep school drug dealer, Variety has learned. The film marks the feature debut of writer and director Tayarisha Poe and had its world premiere at this year’s Sundance Film Festival where it was a favorite with critics. Amazon has [...]

  • The Ultimate Guide to 2019 Comic-Con

    The Ultimate Guide to 2019 Comic-Con Parties and Activations

    Hollywood is heading down the California coast to San Diego because It’s time for 2019 Comic-Con International. The annual cosplay celebration officially kicks off tomorrow, July 18, with a preview happening tonight. Here, Variety gives you a guide to this year’s parties and activations. Make sure to check back for updates. Wednesday, July 17Amazon Prime [...]

  • The Wound African Cinema Berlin Film

    Finance Forum Brings African WIP Into Focus at Durban FilmMart

    The 10th edition of the Durban FilmMart, which unspools parallel to the 40th Durban Intl. Film Festival, will feature 10 fiction and 10 documentary works-in-progress taking part in its annual Finance Forum. The leading co-production market on the continent, the Forum brings together producers, distributors, sales agents, broadcasters, funding bodies, and other industry players from across the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content